Selasa, 7 Januari 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Analysis - U.S. fears grow about Iraq, but response remains limited

Posted: 07 Jan 2014 08:40 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is considering expanding its support to Iraqi forces as they fight off a renewed al Qaeda threat, but Washington's ability to significantly increase security assistance to Baghdad will remain limited.

U.S. officials say they are in discussions with the Iraqi government about training its elite forces in a third country, which would allow the United States to provide one modest measure of new assistance against militants in the absence of a troop deal that allows U.S. soldiers to operate within Iraq.

No further details were immediately available about where that might take place or how many troops it might involve.

Reluctance to further empower Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki or put American boots on the ground constrains U.S. support for Iraq as it battles militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al Qaeda affiliate, in Anbar province, and seeks to reverse a striking surge in violence across the country in the last year.

The United States is sending missiles, surveillance aircraft and other gear that may help Iraqi forces rebuff al Qaeda in the western province, a Sunni Muslim stronghold.

But Washington also wants Maliki, a Shi'ite, to do more to reach out to minority Kurds and Sunnis who accuse him of fanning sectarian tensions.

The conflict in Anbar is the latest in a string of events pitting Maliki against Iraqi Sunnis, many of whom resent the Shi'ite domination that has followed the U.S.-led ouster of Sunni leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Colin Kahl, a former senior Pentagon official specializing in the Middle East, said the U.S. military's ability to conduct overt activities in Iraq was extremely limited, but that the Obama administration was likely providing the Iraqi government with intelligence to help them target al Qaeda.

"As we do so, we have to be mindful that we are not empowering Maliki's bad behaviour, and we need to be careful not to do anything that makes it look like we are taking sides in a sectarian fight," Kahl said.

Beyond such modest support, and despite growing U.S. fears that the war in Syria is fuelling a regional al Qaeda comeback, U.S. officials say their hands are largely tied in Iraq.

Secretary of State John Kerry made clear last weekend the Obama administration has no appetite for sending U.S. troops back.

"This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis," he said. "We're not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we're going to help them in their fight."

And without a Status of Forces Agreement, which provides a legal underpinning for stationing U.S. soldiers overseas, the United States can hardly conduct overt military activities in Iraq.

Maliki, too, would be loathe to be seen inviting back U.S. troops whose presence many Iraqis saw as an occupation force.


Since 2011, when the Obama administration abruptly pulled U.S. soldiers from Iraq after failing to reach a troop deal with Maliki's government, the upheaval of the Arab Spring and the war in Syria have helped push Iraq from the centre of U.S. foreign policy discussions.

As the Pentagon seeks to wind down the war in Afghanistan, and Kerry pursues diplomatic deals to address Iran's nuclear ambitions and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, increasing bloodshed in Iraq has not altered that calculus.

The reluctance of the Obama administration - and of Maliki himself - to revisit the years of U.S. military involvement in Iraq has dramatically curtailed U.S. influence there.

Since the departure of U.S. forces in 2011, the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, has become the anchor of U.S. security assistance for Iraq. At least 100 Pentagon employees there oversee military sales to Iraq and advise Iraqi ministries.

But some covert activities can take place. The Iraqi government invited U.S. special forces to return to provide counterterrorism and intelligence support to local forces, according to a report in The New York Times.

Some in the U.S. Congress, including influential lawmakers such as John McCain, warn of Maliki's autocratic tendencies and close ties with Iran. They complain he has continued to allow Iran to send military assistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad across Iraqi airspace and has not lived up to promises to protect Iranian dissidents in Iraq.

Ken Pollack, a former White House and intelligence official who was a leading advocate for the 2003 war with Iraq, said the current U.S. focus on the return of al Qaeda, with its possible intent to strike the West, overlooked the true sectarian and political roots of recent conflict in Iraq.

"Sending weapons isn't going to fix the problem," he said. "It's going to force the Maliki government to rely on force."

Pollack and others have urged the administration to condition security assistance on conciliatory steps by Maliki, perhaps by bringing in minority leaders into his government.

After Maliki made a plea for increased military sales in a visit to Washington in November, the administration has been working to speed up delivery of military equipment, including Hellfire missiles and surveillance aircraft.

An Iraqi request for Apache attack helicopters has not yet moved forward, largely because of congressional concerns. Congress has approved the sale of F-16 fighters to Iraq, but they are not expected to be delivered until fall.

Train carrying oil derails, catches fire in New Brunswick, Canada

Posted: 07 Jan 2014 07:40 PM PST

(Reuters) - A train carrying propane and crude oil has derailed in northwest New Brunswick, Canada, causing a fire and the evacuation of local residents but there were no reports of injuries, according to local officials and the railroad.

The Canadian National Railway train, which carried "dangerous goods" including propane and crude oil, derailed near the village of Plaster Rock at about 7 p.m. local time (2300 GMT), according to Jim Feeny, director of public and government affairs at CN. An unknown number of cars were involved.

This latest derailment comes a little more than a week after a train carrying crude oil in the booming oil state of North Dakota derailed and exploded.

A series of explosive derailments has reignited the push for tougher regulation as a boom in U.S. oil production has drastically increased the number of oil trains moving across the continent as pipelines fail to keep up with growing supply.

The derailment in New Brunswick happened about 6 km (3.7 miles) east of the village of about 1,000 in a mainly wooded area, according to Sharon DeWitt, emergency measures coordinator for Plaster Rock. As a precaution, the few homes in the 2-km area around the derailment site have been evacuated.

DeWitt said fire officials say the cars appear to have been mostly empty except for some propane residue, and are burning.

"They'll in all probability burn themselves out by morning," said DeWitt. "We'll monitor it." She said the wind is blowing out of the west, so there's no concern of fumes coming into the village.

Feeney said CN is still assessing the situation, and cannot say if propane or crude oil cars are derailed or are involved in the fire.

There have been five major accidents in the past year involving a train carrying crude oil. The most devastating occurred in Quebec in July last year, when a train derailed and exploded in the town of Lac Megantic, killing 47.

Some politicians have called for a phase-out or retrofit of old tankers that do not meet current safety standards and are prone to puncture.

Bangladesh election unrest squeezes key garment sector

Posted: 07 Jan 2014 07:20 PM PST

DHAKA (Reuters) - On the outskirts of Dhaka, Babylon Garments has shortened work shifts to eight hours from the usual 10 and plans to shutter production lines as months of election-related violence disrupts transport and prompts global retailers to curb orders.

The company, which supplies shirts, trousers and other apparel for global retailers including Wal-Mart Inc, is one of the biggest players in Bangladesh's $22 billion (13.4 billion pounds) garment industry that has seen orders cut nearly in half in the last three months - the worst drop in two decades, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association


"December is usually a season when we are packed with orders to a point where we can't take any more but look at this year - it's a completely different story," said Muhammad Saiful Hoque, assistant general manager of Babylon Garments, as workers sewed checked shirts for British-based Tesco Plc.

Industry officials say the unrest in the run-up to Sunday's disputed election has been worse for business than the April collapse of Rana Plaza, an illegally built factory in which more than 1,100 workers were killed in a disaster that prompted calls for safer working conditions and more accountability on the part of the global retailers that buy Bangladesh's clothing exports.

The disruption to Bangladesh's garment industry, the world's second biggest after China, as well as a shutdown by striking garment workers in Cambodia, another big supplier, means global retailers face a supply squeeze.

Garment orders are typically placed at least three months in advance.

"The impact won't be immediately felt but the delay in shipping finished orders will hurt the global retail market around June," said Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the BGMEA, which says up to $1 billion in orders are at risk in the coming weeks if the situation does not improve.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the country sources from more than 70 countries, which allows it to plan for any potential supply chain interruptions. He said he was not aware of any issues related to developments in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

Michael J. Silverstein, a senior partner with the Boston Consulting Group based in Chicago, said Bangladesh is a critical supplier of clothing for world markets and too large to replace.

"The majority of the customers believe Bangladesh will not go dark, for example stop shipping," he said. "They do believe there will be delays and a need for alternative supplies."


Bangladesh's garment industry accounts for 80 percent of the country's exports and is so important to the economy that it has typically been spared from the political unrest that periodically racks the South Asian nation, even though many textile tycoons are politically active.

Several factory owners are members of parliament, representing either the ruling Awami League or the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which boycotted the poll in protest at Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's refusal to hand power to a neutral caretaker government to oversee the vote.

More than 100 people were killed in clashes ahead of the election, with the unrest accompanied by roadblocks that have pushed up transport costs by 10 to 20 percent, according to the BGMEA - a worry for an industry that operates on wafer-thin margins and needs to keep costs low to be competititve.

The unrest had shown no signs of abating since Sunday's poll, with seven people killed in further violence on Monday and one reported death on Tuesday, during a 48-hour strike called by the opposition after the poll.

AKH Group, a large supplier that produces for H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, Marks & Spencer Plc and Fast Retailing's Uniqlo, said it was becoming nearly impossible to meet delivery commitments.

"Trucks are stuck on the roads for days and there is very little you can do about it other than somehow pay through the roof to get them going," AKH Group's Deputy Managing Director Abul Kashem said.

Some shipments are costing the company as much as 1 million taka ($13,000), compared with the 20,000-30,000 taka it usually takes to send the same truckloads, as transport costs have surged due to roadblocks across the country, Kashem said.

Buyers have cut orders by 25 percent on average and H&M, one of AKH's biggest clients, has cut its orders by 30 percent, he said. H&M, however, said it had not cut orders with AKH by 30 percent, and so far has not been affected by the unrest.

The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear, although supply chains in Bangladesh are often complex, involving a series of buyers and middlemen.

Analysts at Morningstar said in a note that H&M had protected itself well from potential disruptions by using a large number of manufacturers and ordering in small batches.

A Marks & Spencer said the British high street stalwart was closely watching the situation in Bangladesh and Cambodia, but had not reduced orders and at this stage did not anticipate any effect on supplies. A Uniqlo spokesman said the company had not reduced production or orders from Bangladesh.


Neighbouring India has taken most of the orders that have been lost, while the rest have gone to Pakistan and China, according to data from the BGMEA.

"Rana Plaza dealt a heavy blow to the reputation of this country but that still didn't impact the confidence of buyers and inflow of orders the way the recent crisis has," said Babylon's Hoque.

Babylon's production of shirts fell to 750,000 pieces in December from 850,000 in the same period last year, and was expected to fall below 700,000 by February due to the lack of demand, he said.

Of the 12 large retailers Babylon supplies, seven or eight were placing orders in reduced quantities, while the rest have completely stopped, he said.

If deliveries are late, the supplier must pay compensation, said Rubana Huq, managing director of Mohammadi Group, which supplies Wal-Mart, H&M, Inditex's Zara and others.

"I have just paid 12,000 euros to a client. Our goods were three weeks late. I couldn't afford not to," she said.

Inditex declined comment on the situation in Bangladesh.

With as much as half of capacity idle at big factories, small manufacturers who make up a third of the industry and largely rely on subcontracted orders from bigger suppliers are especially vulnerable.

Turja Apparel, a small garment factory in Dhaka, has no orders after January 20 and owner Kazi Babul was not hopeful he would get new ones until the political situation stabilises.

He said he may shutter his factory for now.

"Small factory owners have suffered heavily after the Rana Plaza collapse as no one wants to give us orders, and now the political situation has taken away the little that we were getting."

($1=77.75 taka)

(Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in Dhaka, Phil Wahba in New York, Sophie Knight in Tokyo, James Davey in London and Emma Thomasson in Berlin Editing by Tony Munroe and Alex Richardson)


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