Is the dollar doomed?

World Bank chief and Trilateral Commission member, Robert Zoellick, has dropped another hint that the US dollar will increasingly be replaced by other currencies in global currency reserves. Could this be another nudge towards the "Amero" for North America?

A North American Monetary Union (NAMU) was posited as early as 1999 by number of "think tanks" including the Fraser Institute and Howe Institute. Some observers have criticised the NAMU plan which they see as building upon the foundations of the disastrous North American Free Trade Agreement and the next step towards a de facto North American Union under the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

Reuters quoted Zoellick saying that: "The United States would be mistaken to take for granted the dollar's place as the world's predominant reserve currency. Looking forward, there will increasingly be other options.

"We need a system of political economy that reflects a new multi-polarity of growth. It needs to integrate rising economic powers as 'responsible stakeholders' while recognising that these countries are still home to hundreds of millions of poor and face staggering challenges of development."

Iran recently announced it aims to drop the dollar completely in calculating its Oil Stabilisation Fund and replace it with other currencies such as the Euro. Tehran encouraged other nations not to buy oil in dollars anymore. Scores of other nations including Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, most of Latin America, Sudan, and Russia have taken steps to marginalise the use of the dollar in global trade. You may remember that Iraq did just this before she was invaded not long after, in March 2003. Watch out...

Surrogates: Who's behind the attacks in Iran? (part one)

Iran's leaders vowed to supply a "crushing response" to those responsible for a bomb blast that killed at least 42 people including several members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard force in southeastern Iran on Sunday. The province where the attack took place, Sistan-Baluchistan, straddles the western borders of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It forms a key transport route for the international trade in narcotics from Afghanistan to Europe and the illicit transport of innumerable other products, not least violence. The attack is the deadliest the region has seen since a bomber attacked a Shi'ite mosque in Zahedan, the province's capital, in May of this year. Iranian state media was quick to announce that a Sunni muslim group called Jundullah, known by various other names including the Army of God and the Iranian People's Resistance Movement, had claimed responsibility for the deaths and it wasn't long before Iranian officials had openly accused the US, Pakistan and Britain of having a hand in the attacks. One Zionist commentator wrote in the Jerusalem Post that Iran had experienced "a taste of its own medicine".

Jundullah is a Baluchi sectarian separatist group that operates on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border. The exact extent of foreign support is disputed and the US has publicly denied it has provided direct assistance to the Jundullah militants. But officials have privately been reported to have said that the relationship exists and that it is managed in a way so as 'to avoid congressional oversight'. The six Revolutionary Guard members killed included the force's second-in-command who was in Sistan-Baluchistan to meet with Sunni and Shi'ia tribal leaders to discuss mediating the tensions there.

John Leyne (pictured left), the BBC's Tehran correspondent, offered his analysis on the bombings but unfortunately he either failed to mention or was unable to include an aspect of recent Iranian history that's crucial to the factual accuracy of the story, something that was included in a piece about the Zahedan attack five months ago, but for some inexplicable reason was omitted from the BBC's coverage of Sunday's bloodletting: that the US and Pakistan have supported Jundullah since at least 2005. This, said Mr Leyne after Zahedan, was the region's 'open secret'.

As the BBC reported at the time: "It is a common accusation from the Iranians...and the facts of this case may never be known. But it is an open secret that former US President George W Bush directed large amounts of money to try to destabilise Iran and there is no sign the policy is any different under President Barak Obama."

We've known for some time that the Bush Administration did funnel large amounts of cash (possibly around $400 million) covertly into the pockets of the Army of God as part of a program to destabilise the country's religious leadership. This included funding Iranian dissident groups in the region and intelligence gathering on Iran's nuclear weapons programme and all of this was exposed in detail in a piece by the always excellent Sy Hersh in 2008 in the New Yorker. Abdolhamid Rigi, brother of Jundullah leader Abdolmalek Rigi, told a room full of journalists earlier this year that Jundullah was created and supported by the United States which is also where they received their orders from. Could this be true? Rigi said: "They (US officials) told us whom to shoot and whom not to. All orders came from them. They told us that they would provide us with everything we need like money and equipment." Could this be the honest testimony of a man disillusioned with what was going on? Rigi, it must be noted, was facing the death penalty in an Iranian court when he made those remarks so there is the strong possibility that he was coerced into making the statement. But, on the other hand, it would not be so surprising if it were true, given the historical record of the US and her allies for clandestine intervention in the region stretching back over a century. Rigi also suggested that the group 'had a relationship with al-Qaeda' that ended in 2003 after a falling-out over strategy in Iran. This I will return to later.

NATO/US Special Forces' cross-border 'operations' from south-eastern Iraq have been ongoing since at least 2007, with the explicit authorisation of the President, and have included targeted killings, kidnapping and torture. The operations, conducted primarily by the NSA, DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency), the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have probably been going on since not long after the invasion in 2003, but were significantly expanded in 2007. JSOC's secret military task force, operating inside Iran, needs absolutely no congressional oversight, unlike even CIA operations, as the Bush Administration interpreted the law in a way that classified these operations as "clandestine military activities" meaning that as the President is Commander-in-Chief he/she is in direct command of these operatives. In other words, the President has his own private death squad in Iran.

The JSOC teams were formed as a reaction to Iran's actions in Iraq but have caused tension between the US military and politicians as they have been granted total authority and that authority lies with the President's office alone, undermining the 1986 Defense Reorganisation Act, that defined the chain-of-command from the President to the various regional commanders, such as US Central Command, that oversees US military activities in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The tragic irony of all this is that once more the US and its allies are using Sunni fundamentalists to commit campaigns of violence in the Muslim World, as they did with the anti-Soviet brigades during the 1980s. There is, of course, no direct evidence that the US authorised this Sunday's attack.

Ramzi Yousef, convicted over the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM; pictured above-left at Guantanamo Bay), alleged to be the 'mastermind' behind the attacks of September 11, 2001, are Sunni extremists. KSM, as it happens, is thought to be a former leader of Jundullah. There have also been reports that the 'real' KSM was killed in 2002 in a shootout in Karachi and the prisoner in Cuba is a patsy.

As well as Jundullah, the US has covertly supported the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or M.E.K., and the Kurdish Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAC), despite the MEK having been on the State Department's list of terrorist organisations since the 1990s. Both groups, operating from bases inside northern and central Iraq, have been accused of committing political killings by the Iranians. It is another fateful twist of history that the US supports PJAC, who regularly commit atrocities in Turkey as well, when during the 1990s the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations regularly looked the other way when the Turkish Air Force used US F-4 fighters and Cobra helicopters to bomb Kurds in northern Iraq.

The practice is also employed against the 'Pakistani Taliban' in Waziristan, and so the US is also directly involved in this 'secret war' through its repeated use of unmanned Predator drones (pictured left), controlled like a computer game from military bases in the US, to shoot missiles at Pushtun farmers there. The use of these drones requires people on the ground within a few hundred metres to give the precise location and so requires a network of spies and informants who then often bare the brunt of any retaliation.

In the defence-intelligence jargon these agents and groups such as Jundullah, MEK and PJAC, are referred to as "surrogates" as they are employed, some knowingly and others not so, to protect US strategic interests. The potential for "false-flag" operations to trigger an all-out war on Iran will persist, and, though the appetite for bloody foreign adventures has waned in the West because of Iraq and Afghanistan this could change quickly, as was evidenced in January 2008 when Iranian patrol boats surrounded a US vessel near the Straights of Hormuz. The key soundbite produced for CNN et al. in this particular episode was a video made by the US DoD where an Iranian voice is heard saying "You will explode". However it subsequently emerged that the voice probably came from somewhere else entirely. Could this have been a deliberate attempt to trigger a war by the US? Or, as press reports later suggested, a "prankster"? Again, this sort of behavior would be nothing new.

With coverage of Iran in the media focussing on 'the nuclear issue' one must ask if the intelligence agencies have a hand in it, as they did in the run-up to the war in Iraq, when British spy agencies were revealed to have planted stories in the British press to aclimatise the public into accepting the already foregone conclusion: that we were going to bomb the ancient cities of Iraq into the ground.

You may be forgiven for thinking the same is now happening with regards a war on Iran. On Friday 23 October the American Enterprise Institute (that bastion of right-wing propaganda) will host John 'too right-wing for the Bush administration' Bolton, 'torture lawyer' John Yoo, and Michael Rubin, at a panel discussion titled "Should we attack Iran" where, among other things, they will discuss whether an unprovoked Israeli attack on Iran 'would break international law or be legitimate self-defence'. Any guesses as to what their conclusions will be? Bolton has already revealed his position on the issue, in the well-versed Orwellian manner he has nurtured over the years, and seemingly without a hint of irony, he was quoted as calling for a nuclear first-strike by Israel on Iran, at an event called "Ensuring Peace".

At another AEI event earlier this month called "Next steps on Iran" and co-hosted by the Brookings Institution, Zionist Senator Joe Leiberman said: "The secret construction of this facility, whose size, configuration, and location are inconsistant with a peaceful energy program, fits into a pattern of deception and concealment by the Iranians about their nuclear activities that stretches back over twenty years." Replace the word "Iranians" with "Israelis" and he would be referring to the Dimona reactor that Israel hid from the world for decades, and was only revealed by courageous activist Mordechai Vanunu who now faces a life of persecution by the state.

There are various motives behind the escalation of aggression towards Iran in recent years, most recently the country's decision to switch from dollars to mostly Euros in its oil dealings. This will provoke outrage on Wall Street as it did when Saddam Hussein did it in 2000. Could this be the casus belli the war profiteers have been looking for?

A few important things to take note of: There remains no evidence that Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon; Balochistan has massive reserves of oil, minerals, and is a key strategic point in the region between Pakistan/Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf; the "secret nuclear facility" in Iran does not breach international law, in fact, Iran complied with IAEA rules a full year ahead of schedule according to the NPT.

* An edited version of this post appeared on on 23/10/2009

Asia Chronicle latest...

After over a century of political tensions and often unguarded hostility, Turkey and Armenia reached an accord to establish diplomatic relations and reopen their long-suffering border. Whether the accord ultimately succeeds is a murkier question.

Gaza report backed-up by UN rights body

Richard Goldstone's report into war crimes committed by Hamas and the Israeli army in the assault on Gaza by Israeli forces (December 2008 - January 2009) has, thankfully, been backed up by the UN Human Rights Council, despite 11 abstentions and 6 votes against (including the US), the ballot passed with 25 votes in favour.

Update: Israel has demolished two houses in East Jerusalem.

'Defeating the Wa would win wide applause'

A senior official in Thailand's National Security Council (NSC) has warned that more than 200,000 refugees from Burma could flood into northern Thailand if fighting breaks our again across the border.

Karen State in pictures

A series of photographs released by the Karen Human Rights Group earlier this year offer a snapshot of daily life in Karen State in eastern Burma.

News briefing - 15/10/09

Britain has forcibly sent 39 Iraqi asylum seekers back to Baghdad, a refugee group has said

Teams of gunmen attacked three security sites today in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore while a suicide bomber hit a northwestern town, killing a total of 31 people

Agency says rape, killing and child abduction rife and 40,000 people displaced as Lords Resistance Army fights military

The Arctic could be largely ice-free and open to shipping [sic] during the summer in as little as ten years' time, a top polar specialist has said

Rohingya refugees denied freedom of movement in Bangladesh

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened an investigation into the Guinean military's brutal suppression of an anti-government protest

While Iraqi Kurdistan elects its own parliament and forges oil contracts independent of Baghdad, other ethnic Kurdish insurgents from Iran, Syria and Turkey are flooding into remote redoubts in the fearsome Qandil Mountains to battle nation-states that have presecuted them for decades

The political dynamics of conflict in Africa's most complex region must be understood if enduring solutions are to be found

In 2001, the London Observer published a series of reports claiming "an Iraqi connection" to al-Qaeda, even describing the base in Iraq where the training of terrorists took place and a facility where anthrax was being made as a weapon of mass destruction. It was all false

The US is preparing to escalate and retool in Afghanistan. But Pakistan shows why it can't win

Tortured Law

Tortured Law, a new 10-minute documentary by Alliance for Justice, examines the role U.S. lawyers played in authorizing torture. Join those calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to release the report of the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility, and hold accountable those who ordered, designed, and justified torture.

Inside the Kingdom: Secrets of Filming and Reporting in Saudi Arabia

"Journalist and author Robert Lacey will discuss the years he spent in Saudi Arabia writing his two books on the country" at the Frontline Club on Monday 26.

"A complex country defined by paradox, Saudi Arabia is a modern state, driven by contemporary technology that boasts some of the richest oil deposits in the world. Yet it remains under the influence of a powerful religious establishment and produced sixteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers."

Burma's New Constitution: A Death Sentence for Ethnic Diversity


As Burma's rainy season draws to a close, ethnic Karen villagers in eastern Burma are bracing themselves for a new military onslaught. It is expected that this new military offensive will be much larger than the one in June, which forced around 6,000 people to flee for their lives.

Oil is hell

A photoessay detailing the impact of oil production around the world.

Journey to the sinking lands

Dan Box's fascinating journey to the Carteret Islands, where the world's first mass evacuation due to climate change is now taking place, is available here on BBC Radio 4. Don't miss it...

Everyone should see this film

Watch the full-length film online at Thanks to the Police Federation, you won't find it in cinemas...

We all stand before history: remember Ken Saro-Wiwa

On November 10, 1995, Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed along with eight others. Their crime was to speak out against a corrupt regime and to highlight Shell's devastating impact on the country. As part of the Remember Saro-Wiwa Living Memorial project, artist Emily Johns has produced a series of posters for non-commercial public use and campaigning. They're available here.

Here's the text of his final statement, never heard by the tribunal:

My lord,

We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Neither imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.

I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company's dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.

On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni, loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine.

We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our Country and jeopardized the future of our children. As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, denigrate our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to make ourselves the slaves of those who ascribe to higher standards, pursue the truth, and honour justice, freedom, and hard work. I predict that the scene here will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn. Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains, some are tragic victims, some still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual.

I predict that the denoument of the riddle of the Niger delta will soon come. The agenda is being set at this trial. Whether the peaceful ways I have favoured will prevail depends on what the oppressor decides, what signals it sends out to the waiting public.

In my innocence of the false charges I face Here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: "All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor." Come the day.

Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa

For some background info on the ongoing struggle for human rights in the Niger Delta see the Niger Delta Solidarity Group, Amnesty's reports and Shell's response.

Possibly the best anti-war song ever

Battle of Ideas

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