The War Next Door - México Drug Death Toll Surpasses 1,000 in 2010

The spiraling drug-related violence in México has now claimed 1,015 lives in the first 34 days of 2010. It's the fastest that dubious milestone has been achieved. In 2009, the 1000th death did not occur until February 24th, the 54th day of the year. It took 113 days to top that marker in 2008, 134 days in 2007, 181 days in 2006, and 254 in 2005. At the present rate, one Mexican is being killed every 48 minutes in drug-related violence.

Though the drug-related violence is often depicted as an internecine affair over control of a $10 billion dollar market in the United States, the number of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire is increasing rapidly and in horrific fashion. Last weekend, masked gunmen stormed a party in a working class neighborhood of cinderblock homes and killed 16 teenagers who had gathered to watch a boxing match on television. Some of the victims were shot as they tried to flee and their bodies were found near neighboring homes. The victims' ages ranged from 15 to 20.

Authorities now believe that the attack was carried out by mistake after arresting a suspect who served as the lookout during the attack. The main Juárez-based drug cartel had targeted the party because it had received reports that members of a rival trafficking group were in attendance. The orders were to kill everyone in attendance.

The violence continued on Monday when in another attack also in Ciudad Juárez, armed men burst into a bar around dawn and killed four men and a woman. Elsewhere, gunmen killed 10 people and wounded 15 in a bar in Torreón, a city in the northern state of Coahuila. The death toll continues to rise even as México has scored some victories over the drug cartels with the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the so-called Boss of Bosses, who was killed in a shoot-out along with six bodyguards that also claimed the life of a Mexican marine in mid-December and with the mid-January capture of Teodoro "El Teo" García Simental who gained notoriety for dissolving the bodies of his enemies in lye.

But vacuums at the top of drug cartels leave openings for ever-ambitious and evermore ruthless lieutenants to fill. The surge in violence we seeing is part of the climbing (killing) your way to the top in a drug cartel. El más macho gana. Still this should not be read that México is winning the war of drugs, that war cannot be won given human nature, the size of the market and the depths of poverty that exist on both sides of the Río Grande.

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Linking Up with the World

Here is the Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 edition of what's making news and interesting reads from around the world.  

Mexico's Year of Living Dangerously
It's the quiet war right next door. Drug violence claimed the lives of an estimated 7,600 people in Mexico in 2009 surpassing the record set in 2008 of 6,500 drug-related victims. Since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, over 15,000 have died in the spiraling violence. The violence was most acute in Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande border from El Paso, with an estimated 2,575 slayings in the city in 2009 versus an estimated 1,600 homicides in 2008.

A week before Christmas, Mexican Navy special forces killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva, one of the country's most wanted drug lords, in a shootout in the well-to-do resort of Cuernavaca , notching an important victory in President Calderón's three-year-old battle against the drug cartels. Four other suspected drug traffickers died, including one who apparently killed himself rather than be arrested. One Mexican Navy officer, Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Córdova was killed. The day after his funeral, masked gunmen broke into his mother's home of and gunned down his mother, brother, sister, and an aunt in a reprisal killing that shocked the country. 

More on Mexico's year of living dangerously at CNN and from The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

US Intelligence Believes Peter Moore Was Held in Iran
General David Petraeus, the head of US central command, confirmed the US intelligence assessment that Peter Moore, a British citizen had been working for US management consultancy Bearingpoint in Iraq when he was kidnapped in 2007 along with four bodyguards, spent at least part of his 31 months in confinement in Iran.

The British newspaper The Guardian had reported on Wednesday that evidence suggested that the five British men kidnapped in Iraq were taken in an operation led and masterminded by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The British Foreign Office has repeatedly said that there is no evidence that Peter Moore was ever held inside Iran, dismissing the report in The Guardian as "speculation". But General Petraeus flatly contradicted the official British view at a Baghdad press conference. US intelligence believes that the Britons were incarcerated in prisons run by the al-Quds force, a unit that specializes in foreign operations on behalf of the Iranian government.

An Oil Tanker Glut Stretches 26-Miles
Bloomberg reports that "a 26-mile-long line of idled oil tankers, enough to blockade the English Channel, may signal a 25 percent slump in freight rates next year."

The ships will unload 26 percent of the crude and oil products they are storing in six months, adding to vessel supply and pushing rates for supertankers down to an average of $30,000 a day next year, compared with $40,212 now, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 15 analysts, traders and shipbrokers. That’s below what Frontline Ltd., the biggest operator of the ships, says it needs to break even.

Traders booked a record number of ships for storage this year, seeking to profit from longer-dated energy futures trading at a premium to contracts for immediate delivery, according to SSY Consultancy & Research Ltd., a unit of the world’s second- largest shipbroker. Ships taken out of that trade would return to compete for cargoes just as deliveries from shipyards’ largest-ever order book swell the global fleet.

“The tanker market has been defying gravity,” said Martin Stopford, a London-based director at Clarkson Plc, the world’s largest shipbroker. Stopford has covered shipping since 1971. More than half of the ships are in European waters, with the rest spread out across Asia, the U.S. and West Africa. Lined up end to end, they would stretch for about 26 miles

More beneath the fold by clicking on comments.

Ashura, A Bloody 'Day of Blood' in Iran

Ashura is one of the holiest days in the Shi'ite calendar. It marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Iman Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who knowingly marched to his death at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH (October 10, 680 AD). The schism between Sunnis and Shi'ites dates to this event.

The Ashura ritual is widely performed in Iran and many other countries with large populations of Shiite Muslims, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Lebanon. During the annual Ashura commemorations, mourners, generally dressed in black, take to the streets to grieve over the death of Hussein. Many engage in self-flagellation. Elias Canetti in his landmark Crowds and Power gives the most vivid and crushing description of the ritual noting that the "frenzy which seizes the mourning crowds is almost inconceivable." Also known as the "Day of Blood," marchers have been known to whip themselves into such a hysteria that they actually self-flagellate themselves to death. For Shi'ites to die in this way opens the gates of all eight paradises.

Today, the "Day of Blood" lived up to its reputation though the pain was not self-inflicted but instead inflicted by an increasing brutal and despotic regime. I have read various reports claiming between four and eight dead in violent clashes between protesters of the so-called Green Movement that has developed since the disputed elections and the security forces. Importantly, there have been reports that some members of the security forces are refusing to obey orders.

From the Times of London:

At least four Iranian protesters were reported to have been shot dead in Tehran today — including a nephew of the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi — during the fiercest protests in the capital since the immediate aftermath of June’s hotly disputed presidential election.

The shootings mean that the confrontation between the so-called Green movement and the regime has entered a dangerous and volatile new stage, with the security forces prepared to use lethal force in an increasingly desperate effort to crush a resurgent and emboldened opposition.

A close aide to Mr Mousavi, the former Prime Minister defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June election, said that his 35-year-old nephew, Ali Mousavi, died in a Tehran hospital after being shot in the chest near Enghelab Square. A reliable opposition website, Parlemannews, also reported his death.

Details of the shootings were sparse, but one of the dead was said to be an elderly man and another a young woman, both killed when the security forces opened fire on the huge crowds of protesters that had gathered in central Tehran for the emotionally charged Shia festival of Ashura.

Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and the Democratic nominee in 2004, wants to go to Tehran to engage the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The moment for such a visit perhaps possible in the spring is now long past. This is not a regime you engage, this is a regime you isolate. At this point with events inside the Islamic Republic in such a state of flux, a visit by such a high level US official would simply send the wrong message.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Many opponents of Tehran's regime oppose such a visit, fearing it would lend legitimacy to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a time when his government is under continuing pressure from protests and opposition figures. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again this week to voice their opposition to the government following the death of a reformist cleric.

"We've eschewed high-level visits to Iran for the last 30 years. I think now -- when the Iranian regime's fate is less certain than ever -- is not the best time to begin," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"The wrong message would be sent to the Iranian people by such a high-level visit: The U.S. loves dictatorial regimes," said Hossein Askari, a professor at George Washington University and former adviser to Iranian governments.

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Netanyahu Calls for a Unity Government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surprised the leader of the opposition, Tzipi Livni, with an offer to join the Likud-led right of center coalition government, saying Israel was faced with existential choices that required a broad coalition to form a unity government. By existential choice, Netanyahu is referencing Iran. The Kadima leader, and the former Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni did not reject the proposal out of hand.  The story in Haaretz:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked opposition leader Tzipi Livni, the chairwoman of Kadima, on Thursday to join a unity government. Livni did not immediately reject the offer, and added that if the offer is real "I always said that it is up for discussion."

Livni clarified that any decision regarding Kadima's moves will be taken by the party after thorough discussion and not by her alone.

Netanyahu told Livni that Kadima's addition to the government was crucial in light of the local and global challenges facing Israel today.

During their meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes, Netanyahu briefed Livni on political and security issues on the government's agenda, telling her that the basis for joining a unity government would be principles of peace and security that he outlined in his foreign policy speech at Bar Ilan University in June.

Netanyahu offered Livni to include four Kadima members in inner cabinet discussions, should Kadima join the proposed unity government, but he didn't offer ministerial portfolios.

The meeting between the prime minister and the opposition leader comes on the tail of Livni's accusation earlier Thursday that Netanyahu was trying to split Kadima, currently embroiled in a proxy war over the faction's leadership.

Kadima No. 2 Shaul Mofaz on Thursday demanded that Livni take the party to primary elections, telling reporters after their afternoon meeting that he hoped she would "listen to others, for once" and keep the party from breaking up.

The rift at the top of Kadima worsened on Wednesday, after MK Mofaz lashed out at Livni, saying it was her lack of leadership that has reportedly led 14 of Kadima's 27 MKs to start negotiations with Likud about moving to that party.

Mofaz met Livni at her north Tel Aviv home on Thursday afternoon, hours before the faction's council was to convene to discuss the future of the party.

Livni told Mofaz during the talks that she feared Netanyahu was "trying to split Kadima. It's on the table and it's a fact." She urged Mofaz, along with other senior members of the party to do everything possible to keep Netanyahu from "weakening Kadima."

Kadima, a centrist party by Israeli standards with 27 seats, is the largest single party in the 120-member Knessett. Israeli political observers seem to think that Netanyahu's offer is not much more than an attempt to destroy his only significant internal opposition by luring about a dozen of Kadima members to form a breakaway party and join the government.

Certainly events in the Middle East have been moving quickly over the latter part of 2009: a financial collapse in Dubai; a tribal revolt by a Shi'ite minority that has led to a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen; US drone attacks in Yemen targeting Al-Qaeda operatives; a border dispute between Iran and Iraq amidst attacks on Shi'ites; an Egyptian move to seal off the Gaza Strip; a rapprochement between Syria and Turkey that perhaps has left the Israelis worried; a historic visit to Damascus by Saad Hariri, the new prime minister of Lebanon; an Al-Qaeda attack against a Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in Riyadh; and the on-going but going nowhere talks between the West and Iran over the nuclear issue now set against the backdrop of increasing protests and unrest in the Islamic Republic. Never a dull moment.

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...all in this together

Last weeks turmoil in Pakistan has simmered down a bit (barely), but reading an op-ed in the NYT's this morning, boiling down the black-and-white choice for Iran to bombing or being bombed, doesn't really bring out the holiday spirit.

Senator Kerry might be going to visit Iran, which would be the first diplomatic trip there in about 30 years. Last year, Iran backed out of meeting with he chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Howard Berman, so its unclear, even if Kerry committed to the visit, whether the political situation inside Iran would allow it to fruition.

Here's what the op-ed declares:

Since peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work, and an invasion would be foolhardy, the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons.A military strike into Iran would be the most foolish foreign policy decision since George Bush chose to invade Iraq. If you want a reason to be thankful that McCain is not President, there it is for ya. There is an educated and worldly populace inside Iran that will eventually democratize the country.

The world, including the US and Israel, is going to have to get used to the reality that Iran will have/has nuclear weapons. It's not a great diplomatic reality to deal with, but the alternative is just a hideous path of war, and a insurmountable blow to any sort of allied relations with Iran in the near decades.

Then there's the whole ongoing escalation between India and Pakistan with their nuclear capability/dispute/whatever over there.

What a world.

In better news, the Peace Corps is headed back to Sierra Leone (I was a volunteer there in the early '90's).

Happy Holidays to everyone.

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