Pope John Paul II Dies
BY RICHARD BOUDREAUX
APRIL 3, 2005
VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II died Saturday, ending a long, painfully public struggle against a host of debilitating ailments and a globetrotting reign that made him one of the towering figures of his time. He was 84.
The Polish prelate who led the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years succumbed in his apartment at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace at 9:37 p.m., papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.
Weakened for more than a decade by Parkinson’s disease, the pope was overcome by fever, infection and heart and kidney failure last week after two hospitalizations in as many months. He slipped in and out of consciousness Saturday, surrounded by the only family he had: five Polish priests and bishops and four Polish nuns who had looked after him for years.
John Paul’s death ended the third-longest papacy in the church’s 2,000-year history. Knowing it was near, cardinals from around the world had already begun converging on Rome. They are to gather at the Vatican for a secret conclave to choose his successor, almost certainly from among their own ranks.
The election is likely to be contentious, John Paul's deeply conservative stamp on the church, his intolerance of dissent in Catholic doctrine and his determination to centralise authority in the Vatican, has left his following divided.
The rift reaches into the ranks of the cardinals and a dozen or more have been mentioned as successors with no clear favourites.
Electors Gather to Pick a Pope
BY TRACY WILKINSON AND RICHARD BOUDREAUX
APRIL 18, 2005
VATICAN CITY — The subtle campaign to succeed Pope John Paul II, a condensed season of hushed conversations and private reflection, gives way in earnest today to the effort to elect a new leader for the Roman Catholic Church.
Solemnly, 115 red-cloaked cardinals will say Mass and then gather in the Sistine Chapel for a ritualistic, secret meeting known as a conclave. Within a few hours, they will begin dropping ballots into silver, bronze and gold-plated urns.
In public comments before imposing a gag order on themselves on April 9, and in less formal conversations since several cardinals have signalled which way they were leaning.
And then there are other hints that have burst into public view. One cardinal writes a full-page editorial in a Catholic newspaper; another publishes a conveniently timed book. Supporters of still another show up in St. Peter’s Square with a huge banner promoting him. However, several cardinals said they had not yet made their choice.
“It would sure be nice if the hand of God just came down from the ceiling and said, ‘This one.’ It would make life a lot easier!” Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles said. “But that’s not happening yet.”
Going into the conclave, the papal candidate with the most support appears to be the hard-line doctrinal watchdog Joseph Ratzinger, a Bavarian-born cardinal who turned 78 on Saturday. He and his supporters advocate a “church that is not timid,” and their agenda has attracted the ultra-conservative order Opus Dei, which has two cardinals inside the conclave. The Ratzinger agenda sees Western secularism and the growing popularity of Islam as the greatest threats to Christianity, a divisive view that leaves many cardinals uncomfortable with his orthodoxy.
Cardinals opposing Ratzinger have suggested Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a much-admired figure in progressive circles, who has not ruled out changes to priestly celibacy or contraception of female deacons and has the clearest opposing vision to Ratzinger.
Since a Vatican conclave requires 2/3rds support it is thought that each candidate could effectively block the other creating a deadlock that would throw the race open to a number of other candidates.
If Ratzinger falls away, other conservative allies including Venice Patriarch Angelo Scola, 63; Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, 60; or Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, 68. Could step up.
Or more moderate followers like Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, 71, head of the powerful Congregation of Bishops or Italian Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi or Brazilian Hummes who have combined social activism and conservative theology.
A number of dark horse candidates include The Belgian Danneels, Josa Da Cruz Palicarpo of Portugal or Ivan Dias of India ...
The New Pope
BY LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD
APRIL 26, 2005
VATICAN CITY — The Roman Catholic Church after over a week of decision-making, finally came to its conclusion ending a decisive chapter, as the conclave once again shied from selecting a front-runner.
The election of Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi speaks quiet volumes about what the cardinals seek from the new pope, a continuation of the old. After 26 years under the charismatic Pope John Paul II. John XXIV will carry on much of John Paul's traditions, having collaborated closely on issues like abortion, birth control and euthanasia, while keeping his more outspoken persona on issues of poverty and social justice.
Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert said the new pope was chosen to unite conservatives and liberals together “He is an exponent of compromise, but a real honest conservative,"
It also showed the church was coming closer to home by selecting an Italian Pope once again, reinforcing the impression the church is a colonial enterprise run in Europe by Italians, John XXIV is little known outside of his native country, however, he is beloved in his diocese for his outspokenness and frequent personal visits.
The election was a clash of ideologies that required dozens of candidates to be considered and reportedly at one point John XXIV was taken out of consideration after he failed to win enough votes, before the conclave came back to him. Soon after the decision the bells tolled and the white-haired man newly clad in papal white grinned …
(Left to Right) Time Magazine featuring Pope John XXIV on the cover
The United States
Regarding more earthly matters, President Edwards's first 100 days in office were coming to an end, and his administration was still striving for its first major achievement. A bill designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs. The President had exploded out of the gate, with his vast and expansive proposal to cover the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare recipients. As prices were continuing to bloat nationwide, the President and his legislative allies gathered to present his vast plan, which would constitute the largest government programme in decades.
The 400-billion-dollar Medicare Modernisation and Expansion Act or more commonly the Drug Bill would cap the costs of prescription drugs for the elderly by empowering the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies and allow the importation of foreign drugs. The President stressed urgency “We cannot afford for any more time to go by on this, people’s lives are counting on it.”
President Edward promotes the Drug Bill
The President hoped to utilize his political capital to ram the bill through congress before the Republican opposition fully developed. But the proposal already had its enemies ready and waiting. Republican leadership including Senator Bill First and Representative Tom DeLay urged that the process be slowed down, Frist (a former surgeon) insisted on compromise, saying that “unless there is a safe way for this bill to be implemented, I won’t put the American people in jeopardy”
specifically referencing the portion of the bill concerning drug importation. And DeLay also pushed for negotiations “both sides agree we can’t ignore this issue, but we can’t destroy any possible compromise”.
Some form of compromise could prove necessary to prevent a Senatorial filibuster where Democrats needed 5 Republican votes providing they lost no votes on their own side. The unveiling of the plan opened pandora's box to heavy lobbying efforts from those opposed to it. Conservative forces rallied against the effort calling the Edwards plan a “prescription for regulation”
by allowing the government to dictate prices potentially damaging the availability of top-of-the-line drugs and hindering the research and development process.
Especially right-wing groups derided any compromise as a mistake “We cannot pass this bill”
said Pat Toomey R-Pa “Democrats should go back to the drawing board we can’t afford yet another massive government entitlement”
and were quickly joined by most House Republicans in total opposition to the plan.
The importation plank spawned considerable controversy from Republicans and Pharmaceutical groups who claimed the decision would be ‘unsafe’ "Every relevant federal regulatory agency from the Food and Drug Administration to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the U.S. Customs Service has condemned importation as unsafe and risky for patients,"
the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America said in a statement. But Democrats insisted that the introduction of differently priced competition would lower overall costs and prove just as safe.
And Republicans were especially opposed to the proposal to allow Medicare to directly negotiate the prices, and even some Democrats were concerned by it. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, denounced the bill as “a step down the road to a single-payer, government-run health care system.”
And Senator Grassley Republican of Iowa insisted that “the government should stay out of the markets … price competition works”.
However the bill gained significant public support including from the powerful and large senior lobbying group the AARP, which appealed to their membership to call potentially wavering Senators ''We are beginning an all-out effort to lower the high cost of prescription drugs,''
said William D. Novelli, chief executive of AARP. Representing its 35 million strong membership, additionally, polling consistently showed strong bipartisan support (above 80%) for the measures, and speaker of the House Gephardt made that clear “The public is behind this, it’s the answer we’ve been desperately looking for”.
(Left to Right) Republican opposition, Bill Frist and Tom DeLay, AARP chief Will Novelli and Speaker Gephardt
The numbers were thin but the plan successfully rallied enough sceptical Democrats like Montana’s Max Baucus or Nebraska’s Ben Nelson alongside centrist Republicans like Susan Collins or Arlen Spector to defeat a possible filibuster passing broadly along party lines in the House, while in the Senate they were joined by 7 Republicans passing the measure 62 – 38.
The victory for the landmark bill came just after the president's first 100 days in office on May 6th 2005, where the President at a signing ceremony characterized the measure as “the most important expansion of health care coverage for Americans since Medicare was created … we are finally bringing affordable prescription drugs to our seniors”
and he still enjoyed strong approval ratings, above 60% by this point in his administration, buttressed by his additional successes in passing a Stem Cell research bill, a reversal from the Bush administration and a change in federal abortion rules, while Republican Senator Lott derided the passage as “a disaster, competition reduces the price of drugs, not government mandates”
and Senator DeMint was upset that “Under the guise of negotiation, this bill proposes to enact draconian soviet price controls on pharmaceutical products”
The President was clearly invigorated by the success and was keen to move on to other legislative promises, regarding the minimum wage.
President Edwards signs the Drug Bill
Though Saddam had successfully seen off an American invasion by sufficiently appeasing U.N. members with its pledge of demilitarization and he heroically put down a CIA coup, the country remained under intense, increasing pressure.
Pummelling sanctions, the degradation of the nation’s infrastructure and the ever-present American air forces hanging over the south of the country were all playing their part in tearing up the fabric of Iraq’s society. Iraqi troop movements were impossible inside the zone and the destruction of military bases and communications meant Iraqi units were unable to effectively communicate with one another. It amounted to a massive fragmenting of Baghdad’s control over the south of the country, forced to delegate power to local governors and commanders.
Saddam’s personal power had also been damaged, the American military strike that took place a year ago, (widely perceived as an assassination attempt) led to an increasingly reclusive President who neglected to make public appearances, additionally the death of his son and (and presumptive heir) Qusay in the strike, sparked worry in the minds of Saddam’s loyalist and enemies alike, fearing it may pave the way for Saddam’s other notoriously maniacal son Uday to take power after Saddam.
However, it was Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who was the second most powerful figure in Iraq, for he represented the Shia of Iraq, the Islamic faction that made up the majority of the country only to be oppressed by the Saddam regime, banning their religious processions, executing their leaders and presiding over a savage system of intimidation, fear and violent reprisal that let left a trail of thousands upon thousands of Shia bodies in its wake.
Through it all, Sistani had remained untouched by the regime, under unofficial house arrest, barred from public speaking for fear his words would arouse action. But the Saddam regime was under the knife and things were only getting more unstable. The Persian-born man of god, from his home in Najaf the spiritual capital of Shia Islam, acted as a holy guide to many despite his imprisonment. His stature was recognised abroad, even forming a small part of American plans to overthrow Saddam the previous year hoping that he would commission a fatwa against Saddam and urge Shia to take action, instead several of his published edicts warned Iraqis against acting on behalf of foreign powers.
(Left to Right) President Saddam Hussein and Grand Ayatollah Sistani
But in August 2004 the Ayatollah began to suffer from health complications. In reaction, the regime, likely spooked by the spectre of accusations of killing Sistani and the possibility of a revolution, permitted Sistani to leave the country to seek medical treatment in London. But while he recovered from his heart transplant through the winter, the regime made the decision to bar his return, warning that the Iraqi government could not guarantee his safety due to threats by 'terrorists'.
Sistani remained silent, but in March 2005 his son supposedly quoting him reported great unease over the decision and urged a peaceful resolution to the standoff, but plenty of his acolytes thought differently.
The Shia community was outraged by the decision and there were already organisations hoping to encourage that outrage. Several prominent Shia-focused organisations were in opposition to continued Ba-athist rule and made up an intricate web of schemers.
The most prominent was the Islamist groups, The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Da’wa party both Islamic parties with a long history of opposition to Saddam the former being created in support of the Iranian revolution and actively aided Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. Both groups became notorious enemies of Saddam, and he accused them frequently of undermining his rule, the group's goals were similar but with key ideological differences SCIRI favoured a centralised Iranian model while Da’wa favoured an Arab socialist one. Both were generally viewed as Iranian proxy groups and were classified as such by the American state department.
The other prominent group was the more western aligned Iraqi National Accord, under Ayad Allawi who strayed away from Islamist thought, he had a notorious rivalry with the other western exile Achmed Chalabi whose organisation had played a prominent role in the younger Bush administrations designs, but suffered from scrutiny, mockery and funding cuts after the failed 2004 uprising, allowing Allawi’s more discreet group to take prominence and most outside funding.
(Left to Right) Shiite exiles and their organisations
Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and SKIRI, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Da'wa, Ayad Allawi and the INA
The organisations were based mostly in Iran and the greater region but some held prominent press outlets in London. In the wake of Sistani’s exiles many exiled clerics came together and on April 14th issued a signed agreement that declared their open disgust of Saddam, accused him of 'demolishing the country' and called upon Iraqis to rise up against the “corrupt secular Baathist regime
”, only days later, in the holy city of Najaf, spontaneous anger broke out, graffiti lined walls, murals were defaced, fights between civilians and security forces broke out, and throngs of worshippers marched toward the Kufa mosque only to be gunned down leaving scores dead in the streets. After the day of rage, a brutal suppression was carried out by the infamously brutal governor Aziz Salih Numan and further restrictions were placed on Shia activities. Afterwards, the regime responded by claiming that the unrest was thanks to “western connivance”
and a renewed 'faith campaign' began, as religious leaders were forced to preach total support for the government and make explicit references to Saddam as a descendent of the prophet proclaiming him the “new wonder of the world that would overshadow the Pyramids”.
With the Iraqi military forced to concentrate in southern cities to dissuade urban revolt, it meant that hundreds of miles of Iraqi desert lay unpoliced and one day, a prominent Shia cleric decided to slip back into the country, Moqtada al-Sadr a descendent of Iraqi religious royalty, whose prominent father and uncle were executed by the regime in 1999 carefully infiltrated the country from his Iranian exile, unaligned with any existing exile groups he was able to use his name alone to command respect in the households he ensconced himself in, drawing his followers together to whisper plans, his plans to drive the serpents out.
Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr
While Massoud sat for tea with the Taliban, negotiating the future of the country, actions began outside of either party's control. While Massoud was the spiritual head of the Northern Alliance there was no getting around that it was still a collection of warlords, singularly united in opposition to the Taliban and to some it was still too early to negotiate peace.
While the north had wholly fallen under the alliance's control, the rest of the country remained (at least nominally) under the Taliban’s whim, and several groups were preparing to pre-empt the negotiations to take back their freedom from the Taliban. April 2005 was the perfect opportunity, Taliban forces were fraying across the country, some in open retreat after Mullah Omar’s edict to defend the capital.
First, there were the Hazara, who dwelled in the awe-inspiring mountainous centre of the country with the strongest tribal culture in the tribal Afghan countryside, resulting in their aggressively independent nature that brought about brutal Taliban repression described as ethnic cleansing, driven by the Taliban’s desire for revenge, jihad and Pashtun nationalism. The Hazara and their leaders were committed to the fight against the Taliban and gave vital assistance to the alliance when it needed it most by providing arms from Iran. And now, as the Taliban was falling back, after a decade of resistance, the Hazar acted alongside the notorious Uzbek Warlord Dostum in their 10,000-strong army determined to break the Taliban front lines to take the west and centre of the country.
(Left to Right) Hazara leader Mohaqiq and Uzbek leader Dostum
Dostum and the Uzbeks similarly spared no quarter to the Taliban, he couldn’t escape the feeling of humiliation when they forced him into exile in Turkey in 2001, or the descriptions of first-hand accounts of Taliban whipping Uzbek wives, mothers and daughters, but he also was humiliated by Massoud, the freedom fighter who flashed his teeth before the cameras and appealed to western aid, while Dostum a mere grubby warlord was chastised for his supposedly inhumane actions. He was the most independent of the Alliance members extremely wary of being betrayed by his bedfellows, but now he had a powerful ally, respect, and Kalashnikovs.
Through April, Uzbek and Hazara tribesmen picked up old guns and turned them on the Taliban, a dormant war returned to the mountains, Taliban bases were attacked one by one and the countryside burned with dispensed ammunition and detonated explosives, Russian planes scoured the skies mercilessly demolishing encampments in a dirty and gruesome offensive. The attacks earned Dostum the nickname Jang Salar (Bloody Warrior).
Mountain by smoking mountain Dostum and Mohaqiq (The Hazara militia leader) rolled back the winnowing Taliban forces, unable to effectively counterattack and forced to retreat from the provinces, relishing in victory Dostum put the fright down his radio waves “soon the forces of free Afghans will cross the Hindu Kush and uproot Omar”
an explicit threat to take the fight to Kandahar and he began to boast of his military accomplishments to western press where he embellished himself as the true ‘Kingmaker in Afghanistan’
, in the span of a month Alliance forces doubled the size of their territory before their vast manoeuvres necessitated rest and resupply, Dostum revelled “these men are not warriors, they are tourists”
he told ABC (Australia Broadcasting Corporation).
… Somewhere in Oman
“I think we’ve found our base,” M██ informed A█████ that afternoon when he stopped by the computer. Sitting in front of the massive screen, A█████ zeroed in on the point where Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan provinces meet. The canyon bottom was a fertile river valley wide enough for low-altitude air supply drops and helicopter landing zones. The most likely attack routes, along the river, were easily monitored and very defendable. And according to Karzai, the nearby villages were friendly to his cause.
“We’re gonna need more men for this, a whole platoon at least”
“But this is the heart of Taliban country”.
“And we don’t want to be making any big bootprints”.
“This is some real clandestine shit huh”.
The attempt to strengthen the Pashtun opposition while maintaining ongoing negotiations between the Northern Alliance and Taliban depended on the whole southern operation remaining concealed, it meant low tech and low noise, Russian weapons, Ak-47s the iconic weapon of the Mujuhadin, 600 purchased through Albania along with and 300,000 rounds of ammo and 200 RPG’s in.
A man entered the room.
“Their beauties aren’t they?” the man said looking toward the cache in front of them.
“Yep,” said A█████, who presumed that the man was CIA and had the clearance to be there. “Well, I just wanted to introduce myself, excited to be part of something like this,” the man said, handing over a business card. “We’re gonna be looking out for you” he chuckled. A█████ glanced at the card Pinnacle Aerospace, he quickly read it before throwing it in the trash.
‘Real clandestine shit’ he thought.