Russian energy ties with Iran send US a message

With European and US companies out of the competition, Russia’s Gazprom has an edge as it bids for a bigger role in developing the world’s second-largest gas reserves

AS the United States warns the world away from business with Tehran, Moscow’s tightening ties to Iran’s energy sector underline Russia’s differences with Washington over Iranian nuclear plans and Kosovo’s independence.

While the timing of Moscow’s announcement on Tuesday may have been political, the deal for Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to take on big new Iranian oil and gas projects was a long time in the making and dovetails with Gazprom’s strategic ambitions, analysts said. Gazprom, the world’s biggest gas producer, will play a larger role in developing Iran’s giant South Pars gas field and will also drill for oil.

“The Russian government and the United States are at loggerheads over how to engage with Iran, with Russia actively favouring a more open relationship,” said Ronald Smith, chief strategist at Alfa Bank. “This makes Gazprom rather indifferent to American policy wishes.” The US accuses Iran of using uranium enrichment to develop weapons, while Tehran says it needs nuclear power. Russia has been reluctant to impose more UN sanctions on Iran.

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Bush: no compromise on phone immunity in spy bill

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) – U.S. President George W. Bush said on Thursday he would not compromise with the Democratic-led Congress on his demand that phone companies that took part in his warrantless domestic spying program be shielded from lawsuits.Bush has demanded Congress protect companies like AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications from civil lawsuits that accuse them of violating Americans’ privacy rights in the administration’s anti-terrorism program.

The Senate approved a measure that would grant the companies retroactive immunity but the House of Representatives has opposed it. The surveillance program began in 2001 after the September 11 attacks and some 40 lawsuits are pending.

House and Senate Democrats said they would try to find a compromise even as they said their Republican counterparts refused to permit staff to meet with them on Thursday.

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Moscow threatens force over Kosovo

Formal recognition of Kosovo as an independent state by the EU or NATO obligates Moscow to resort to ‘brute force,’ Russia’s envoy to NATO says.In a video link-up from Brussels Dmitry Rogozin said, “if the European Union works out a common position, or if NATO breaches its mandate in Kosovo, these organizations will be in conflict with the United Nations,” Interfax news agency reported.

“We too will have to proceed from the view that in order to be respected we must use brute force, in other words armed force.”
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Turkey Says It Has Sent Ground Troops Into Iraq

The US is not protecting their most reliable ally in Iraq. More quagmire and mayhem to come.

SAMSUN, Turkey – Turkey’s military said it had sent ground troops into northern Iraq Thursday night in an operation aimed at weakening Kurdish militants there, the first confirmed ground incursion since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

The Turkish General Staff announced the action on its website on Friday. It gave no details of how many troops went or how long they would stay, and said only that they would return once goals had been achieved. Private NTV television reported 10,000 troops were involved and said they had pushed about six miles into Iraqi territory.

A Turkish analyst, commenting on NTV, said the attack appeared aimed at dealing the Kurdish militants, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a surprise blow before the snow melts and the guerillas make their traditional spring advance into Turkey to attack Turkish troops. The analyst said the operation would likely last between three and four days.

It was not clear what, if any, role the United States played in the incursion, which set one of its closest allies in a troubled region, Turkey, a NATO member that shares borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria, against another, Iraqi Kurds, the most important American partners in the Iraq war.

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Afghanistan sitting on a gold mine: minister

Of course, thats why the Americans wanted it, duhhh.

KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan is sitting on a wealth of mineral reserves — perhaps the richest in the region — that offer hope for a country mired in poverty after decades of war, the mining minister says.

Significant deposits of copper, iron, gold, oil and gas, and coal — as well as precious gems such as emeralds and rubies — are largely untapped and still being mapped, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel told AFP.

And they promise prosperity for one of the world’s poorest countries, the minister said, dismissing concerns that a Taliban-led insurgency may thwart efforts to unearth this treasure.

Already in the pipeline is the exploitation of a massive copper deposit — one of the biggest in the world — about 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Kabul.

“There has not been such a big project in the history of Afghanistan,” Adel said.

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Iraq waits on word from al-Sadr

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Iraq waits on word from al-Sadr

| Thursday, Feb 21 2008 12:47 PM

Last Updated: Thursday, Feb 21 2008 12:51 PM

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has decided whether to extend his Mahdi Army’s cease-fire, and sent the message in sealed envelopes to be opened at the beginning of Friday’s sermons, one of his officials said.

Photos:

IRAQ AL-SADR

Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr carry symbolic coffins to commemorate the fourth anniversary of a Shiite uprising against U.S. forces in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. Al-Sadr will have a statement read in mosques at Friday prayer services addressing whether his Mahdi Army will extend a six-month cease-fire that’s helped reduce violence throughout Iraq, a Shiite lawmaker said.

IRAQ AL-SADR

Followers of a radical anti U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr carry his portrait during a ceremony to mark a fourth anniversary of the Shiite uprising against the American occupation in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. al-Sadr will have a statement read in mosques at Friday prayer services addressing whether his Mahdi Army will extend a six-month cease-fire that’s helped reduce violence throughout Iraq, a Shiite lawmaker said.

IRAQ BRITISH TROOPS

Iraqi policeman stands by a road side bomb crater that struck a British patrol on Wednesday night in Basra, Iraq, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. There were no reports on possible casualties.

IRAQ BRITISH TROOPS

Iraqi policeman stands by a road side bomb crater that struck a British patrol on Wednesday night in Basra, Iraq, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. There were no reports on possible casualties.

Although the content of the message, delivered Thursday to 200 loyal clerics around Iraq, was not known, there were strong indications from officials in his organization that the anti-U.S. firebrand would extend the six-month cessation of what had been an undeclared war against the U.S. military since 2004.

The cease-fire has been one of three important factors that have helped reduce violence since mid-2007. The two others are the influx of thousands of U.S. troops last summer, and emergence of Sunni-dominated groups that are fighting against al-Qaida in Iraq.

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Attacks against American targets up around Baghdad as al-Sadr cease-fire in doubt

BAGHDAD (AP) – With deadly attacks against U.S. targets increasing around Baghdad, anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raised the possibility Wednesday that he may not renew a six-month cease-fire widely credited for helping slash violence.

The cease-fire is due to expire Saturday, and there were fears, especially among minority Sunni Arabs, that the re-emergence of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia could return Iraq to where it was just a year ago – with sectarian death squads prowling the streets of a country on the brink of civil war.

A surge of violence would also make it all the more difficult for Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to reach agreements on sharing power and wealth, and greatly complicate the debate in the United States on whether and how quickly to withdraw troops.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman, blamed Iranian-backed Shiite extremists for a flurry of rocket attacks – including one Monday against an Iraqi housing complex near the country’s main U.S. military base that killed at least five people and wounded 16, including two U.S. soldiers.

Smith also said one American civilian was killed and a number of U.S. troops and civilian personnel were wounded in a rocket attack in the southeastern area of Rustamiyah Tuesday night. He did not elaborate, but there is a U.S. base in the predominantly Shiite area.

He said those attacks and another on Tuesday were carried out by ”Iranian-backed Special Group criminals,” a term the military uses to describe groups that broke away from the Mahdi Army militia or refused to respect the cease-fire al-Sadr declared last August.

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