A retired British businessman and millionaire Christopher Tappin has pleaded guilty in a Texas court to charges of attempting to sell batteries to Iran for surface to air missiles. He admitted to aiding and abetting two business associates in attempting to sell "zinc/silver oxide Reserve Batteries" to Iran, which is used in Hawk Air Defense Missiles, defying export regulations. A U.S. federal indictment was filed in 2007 after a sting operation. Tappin was extradited from Britain in February. The case has brought extradition arrangements under scrutiny from opponents who claim harsh sentences force suspects to reach plea deals instead of standing trial. Tappin is expected to be sentenced on January 9, and will likely be sentenced to 33 months. Prosecutors said they would not oppose him serving his sentence in Britain. Had he not pleaded guilty, he could have faced up to 35 years in jail.
Syrian forces have reportedly withdrawn from their last base near the town of Saraqeb. The base is about 30 miles southwest of Aleppo at a junction between two major highways, one linking Damascus to Aleppo, and the other connecting Aleppo with the Mediterranean port of Latakia. After having lost the strategic town of Marret al-Numan to the opposition, the retreat has left the area "completely outside the control of regime forces" according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and will make it increasingly difficult for President Bashar al-Assad's forces to resupply troops in Aleppo. The move came after opposition fighters reportedly killed an estimated 28 soldiers in attacks on three checkpoints on the highway leading from Damascus to Aleppo. The attacks have come under severe scrutiny after a video allegedly showed 10 of the soldiers being summarily executed. The United Nations and Amnesty International have condemned the killings saying the opposition forces could be committing war crimes. Five opposition fighters were also reportedly killed in the associated clashes. Meanwhile, government forces continued air strikes across Syria on Thursday.
- Kuwait has warned it will be stricter on demonstrators breaking the ban on protests after authorities allowed the release of former opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak on bail.
- Dozens of gunmen have occupied Libyan's Parliament over cabinet appointment disputes.
- After years of speculation, Israel has admitted to the 1988 killing of former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat's deputy, Khalil al-Wazir, in a raid in Tunisia.
Arguments and Analysis
New constitutions take shape (The Economist)
If A camel is a horse designed by committee, it is not surprising that the constitutions being drafted in Egypt and Tunisia look like curious beasts. Rows have raged over who gets to sit on the drafting committees. The members must bridge classic differences between left and right, and betwixt advocates of parliamentary and presidential systems. And the religious parties that dominate the constituent assemblies in both countries must also square the long-vexed question of relations between Islam and the state, down to whether foreign tourists may still frolic on local beaches.
Since their revolutions almost two years ago the two countries have followed divergent paths. Tunisia's was the more practical. It held elections a year ago to pick a 217-person temporary parliament. One of its tasks is to devise a constitution. Egypt's course has been messier. The junta of generals who assumed temporary power charged the parliament, elected last December with a 75% majority of Islamists, with choosing a constitution-drafting board. But courts disputed its first choice of members and then, shortly before presidential elections in June that ended the generals' tenure, dissolved the parliament too. Just before being disbanded, the parliament selected a different 100-person constituent assembly. The composition of this body, which is heavily weighted towards Islamists, has also been challenged in court, but it carries on in legal limbo.
Pulling the U.S. drone war out of the shadows (The Washington Post)
"IT'S BEEN 10 years since the first strike by an armed U.S. drone killed an al-Qaeda leader and five associates in Yemen. Since then, according to unofficial counts, there have been more than 400 "targeted killing" drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia - countries where the United States is not fighting a conventional war. About 3,000 people have been killed, including scores - maybe hundreds - of civilians. And though the United States is winding down its military mission in Afghanistan, the Obama administration, as The Post's Greg Miller reported last week, "expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years."
All of this causes increasing unease among Americans of both political parties - not to mention many U.S. allies. They are disturbed by the antiseptic nature of U.S. personnel launching strikes that they watch on screens hundreds or thousands of miles from the action. They question whether drone attacks are legal. They ask why the process of choosing names for the kill list as well as the strikes themselves are secret and whether such clandestine warfare does more harm than good to long-term U.S. interests."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey