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Bad Guys

Greece Throws in the Towel, Bows to German Jackboot

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The European Central Bank
Greeks expect to agree a deal with the Eurozone leaders today, Monday, that will cede much of their country's independence. Greece will become an economic - and to a large extent a political - colony of Germany and its allies. Berlin will have a say in everything from the choice of prime minister to the types of medicines dispensed by pharmacies.

In return for €230bn, made up of €130bn in fresh loans and €100bn in write-downs on privately held Greek government bonds, Greece is relieved from its immediate debt burden. But the money does not go to the Greek government, still less to the Greek people. It simply leaves them to live off the money they earn.

For all the television pictures of rioting protesters, clouds of tear gas and burning buildings in central Athens over the last week, a striking feature of the political landscape is the lack of resistance to the German terms. The Greek political elite sound and look stunned, grudgingly surrendering to the demands of the Troika (EU, IMF and European Central Bank), but bereft of ideas about what else to do.

Bad Guys

Capitol Hill terror suspect ensnared by US intelligence agencies

El Khalifi

Courtroom sketch of Amine El Khalifi
On Friday Amine El Khalifi was arrested on charges of attempting to carry out a suicide bombing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The circumstances of his arrest immediately raise suspicions that he was the target of entrapment by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

El Khalifi was arrested in a parking lot near Capitol Hill with what he believed were an explosive vest and a submachine gun. Both items, which were actually inoperable dummies, had just been given to him by undercover government agents who had driven him to the scene and given him instructions. El Khalifi apparently believed he was part of an Al Qaeda terrorist cell, but the individuals he thought were his Al Qaeda companions were in fact working for the US government.

Because the explosive vest was a fake, El Khalifi "posed no threat to the public," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said Friday. Nevertheless, the Obama administration went out of its way to characterize the arrest as a "foiled terror plot" and a national victory in the "war on terror."

Nuke

U.N. Inspectors to Press Iran Over Nuclear Concerns

Iran
© ISNA
U.N. nuclear inspectors headed to Iran on Sunday for talks aimed at getting Tehran to start addressing their mounting concerns that it may be seeking to develop atomic bombs.

"We hope to have a couple of good and constructive days in Tehran," Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said at Vienna airport as the five-member team prepared to depart.

"The highest priority remains of course the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme," he told reporters, making clear he wanted to see concrete results in the discussions with Iranian officials.

Western diplomats have played down any hopes of a major breakthrough in the February 20-21 meeting, even though it comes just a few days after signs of a possible opening for diplomacy in the long-running nuclear dispute.

"I'm still pessimistic that Iran will demonstrate the substantive cooperation necessary," one envoy said.

The outcome, after an inconclusive first round of discussions last month, could determine whether the international stand-off over Iran's uranium enrichment programme escalates further or offers scope to reduce tensions.

Bad Guys

Saudi Arabia - Mujtahidd: A Tweeting Thorn in the Side of Al Saud

Janadriya Festival
© Fahad Shadeed / Reuters
Families visit the 27th Janadriya festival on the outskirts of Riyadh 13 February 2012.

A controversial campaign by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia to discredit twitter has failed to silence @mujtahidd, a rising tweeting star exposing the corruption of the royal family. In an exclusive interview with Al-Akhbar, @mujtahidd spoke about his motives and vision for change in the Saudi kingdom.

Last month, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh issued a statement calling on Muslims to avoid Twitter. He argued that Twitter is used to "spread lies," "issue fatwas without basis and not supported by evidence," and "smear" important religious and political figures. Many were not convinced by this argument and began to speculate about the real reason behind the Saudi mufti issuing such an injunction against Twitter in particular, as opposed to the other websites and forums popular among Saudis.

So what is happening on Twitter in Saudi Arabia, where the highest number of users in the Middle East are found? There is indeed something out of the ordinary, and he goes by the twitter tag of @mujtahidd (studious in Arabic). Since last November, @mujtahidd has been tweeting about the most prominent members of the ruling family. In the process he has revealed a great deal about their various acts of corruption and financial scandals, in addition to details about their extravagant lifestyles supported by state coffers.

The list of individuals linked to the royal family targeted by @mujtahidd thus far includes the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and a number of his sons, including Royal Diwan chief of staff Khaled Tuwaijri, Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz (who @mujtahidd revealed has recently undergone bypass surgery), and Nayef's son Prince Saud, who is currently serving as his father's chief of staff.

Others targeted include Minister of Defense Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, Deputy Minister of Defense Khaled bin Sultan, Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, Chairman of Al Hilal Saudi Football Club Abdulrahman bin Musa'ad, Prince Nayef bin Mamdouh, and head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice Abdul Latif al-Sheikh.

Arrow Down

Canada: Baird speech dropped pro-Palestinian remark, docs reveal

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© The Associated Press/Sebastian Scheiner
Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, walks during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012.
A Canadian expression of goodwill toward the Palestinian people was left on the cutting-room floor when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird addressed the United Nations General Assembly last fall.

Baird rejected early departmental drafts of his maiden address to the UN that said Canada is a "leading supporter" of the Palestinian people and outlined major spending that backed that assertion, The Canadian Press has learned.

Baird ended up delivering a much tougher address than envisioned by his speech writers, one that unequivocally emphasized Canada's support for Israel -- a position for which he makes no apologies and which has generated much criticism of the Harper Conservatives.

Copies of the draft texts of the speech, obtained under the Access to Information Act, show Baird used a radically reworked text when he represented Canada for the first time at the General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2011.

In his address, Baird drew a parallel with pre-Second World War appeasers of Nazi Germany, saying: "Canada will not accept or stay silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens. The Second World War taught us all the tragic price of 'going along' just to 'get along.'

Footprints

Germany drawing up plans for Greece to leave the euro

Plans for Greece to default, potentially leaving the euro, have been drafted in Germany as the European Union begins to face up to the fact that Greek debt is spiralling out of control - with or without a second bailout.
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© Reuters
Riot police chase away high-school students during an anti-austerity rally at central Syntagma square in Athens

The German finance ministry is actively pushing for Greece to declare itself bankrupt and to agree a "haircut" on the bulk of its debts held by banks, a move that would be classed as a default by financial markets.

Eurozone finance ministers meet on Monday to approve the next tranche of loans from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, designed to stave off national bankruptcy while the new Greek government puts the country's finances in order.

But the severe austerity measures being demanded have caused such fury in Greece, and the cuts required are so deep, that Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, does not believe that any government would be able to implement them.

His pessimism has been tipped into despair with a secret European Commission, Central and IMF report that even if Greece made good on its promises, it would not be enough to reach the target of bringing total debt to 120 per cent of GDP by 2020.

"He just thinks the Greeks cannot do what needs to be done. And even if by some miracle they did what has been promised, he - and a growing group - are convinced it will not pull Greece out the hole," said a eurozone official.

Bizarro Earth

Shootings, Bombings Across Iraq Leave 22 Dead

Twenty-two people have been killed and several others injured in shootings and bomb attacks in the capital Baghdad and the cities of Baqouba and Samarra, security officials say.
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© Press TV
File photo of the scene of a bomb attack in Iraq

Iraqi security officials said 15 people were killed and 21 others wounded in a car bombing at the entrance of the Baghdad police academy on Sunday.

Elsewhere, gunmen killed four people in an attack in the city of Baqouba, about 63 kilometers (40 miles) north of Baghdad, on Sunday.

In a separate shooting in the town of Abu Khamis, north of Baqouba, gunmen also attacked a police checkpoint on Sunday, killing three people and bringing the death toll to 22.

Video

US: Secretive Navy SEALs Take Starring Role in New Film

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© Agence France-Presse
(L-R front row) Directors Scott Waugh and Mike "Mouse" McCoy and (L-R back row) Navy Seals Mikey, Duncan and Vano attend the New York premiere of Relativity Media's new movie Act Of Valor. In a radical departure for America's special forces the secretive Navy SEALs are coming out of the shadows for a new Hollywood film, with elite commandos cast in starring roles
The secretive Navy SEALs are coming out of the shadows for a new Hollywood film, with elite commandos cast in starring roles in a radical departure for America's special forces.

In Act of Valor, the select troops who call themselves "the quiet professionals" take a turn as leading men on the big screen, reciting lines from a script as they race to prevent terrorists from carrying out an attack on the United States.

Filming began in 2007, before the Navy's Sea, Air and Land Teams were catapulted to fame for their daring raid last May that killed Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

US defense officials did not find out about the movie until after the fact, causing consternation at the Pentagon, which has an office that vets scripts and negotiates cooperation deals with Hollywood producers.

Although troops have appeared in movies before, such as Black Hawk Down, this film ventures into uncharted territory, possibly jeopardizing the anonymity that the special forces have sought to safeguard.

Stop

Iran Stops Oil Sales to British, French Companies

Iran has stopped selling crude to British and French companies, the oil ministry said on Sunday, in a retaliatory measure against fresh EU sanctions on the Islamic state's lifeblood, oil.
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© Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl
A view of Iran's Oil Ministry building in Tehran, Iran February 20, 2006.

"Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped ... we will sell our oil to new customers," spokesman Alireza Nikzad was quoted as saying by the ministry of petroleum website.

The European Union in January decided to stop importing crude from Iran from July 1 over its disputed nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at building bombs. Iran denies this.

Iran's oil minister said on February 4 that the Islamic state would cut its oil exports to "some" European countries.

The European Commission said last week that the bloc would not be short of oil if Iran stopped crude exports, as they have enough in stock to meet their needs for around 120 days.

Bad Guys

US, Britain Urge Israel Not to Attack Iran

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© AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
In this Sept. 27, 2000 file photo, an Iranian oil worker repairs a pipe at an oil refinery in Tehran.
The U.S. and Britain on Sunday urged Israel not to attack Iran's nuclear program as the White House's national security adviser arrived in the region, reflecting growing international jitters that the Israelis are poised to strike.

In their warnings, both the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and British Foreign Minister William Hague said an Israeli attack on Iran would have grave consequences for the entire region and urged Israel to give international sanctions against Iran more time to work. Dempsey said an Israeli attack is "not prudent," and Hague said it would not be "a wise thing."

Both Israel and the West believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb - a charge Tehran denies. But differences have emerged in how to respond to the perceived threat.

The U.S. and the European Union have both imposed harsh new sanctions targeting Iran's oil sector, the lifeline of the Iranian economy. With the sanctions just beginning to bite, they have expressed optimism that Iran can be persuaded to curb its nuclear ambitions.

On Sunday, Iran's Oil Ministry said it has halted oil shipments to Britain and France in an apparent pre-emptive blow against the European Union. The semiofficial Mehr news agency said the National Iranian Oil Company has sent letters to some European refineries with an ultimatum to either sign long-term contracts of two to five years or be cut off. The 27-nation EU accounts for about 18 percent of Iran's oil exports.