BBC: Mexico arrests Edgar Valdez, leader of one of the largest drug cartels

Mexican police have arrested alleged drug trafficker Edgar Valdez, a US citizen also known as Barbie, Mexico’s attorney general says. Edgar Valdez is linked to the influential Beltran Leyva drug cartel. Mr Valdez has been fighting Hector Beltran Leyva for control of the gang, previously led by his brother Arturo until he was shot dead last December.

Earlier this month, police found four decapitated bodies hanging from a bridge in the city of Cuernavaca and their heads were discovered nearby with a message warning that anyone supporting Edgar Valdez would risk a similar fate.

National security spokesman Alejandro Poire told a news conference Mr Valdez had links with criminals across South and Central America. “This capture constitutes a blow of great impact against organised crime,” he said.

The US authorities had offered $2m (£1.3m) for information leading to the arrest of the 37-year-old, who was also known as “El Comandante” and “El Guero”, as well as “Barbie”, because of his fair complexion and blue eyes. Mr Valdez has been charged with distributing thousands of kilos of cocaine in the eastern US between 2004 and 2006.

His arrest comes weeks after security forces killed Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, a top member of the Sinaloa drug cartel and believed to be the right-hand man of Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, the country’s most-wanted drug lord. The war against the drug cartels has left some 28,000 people dead since Mr Calderon came to power.

He has deployed the army against the traffickers in many parts of the country, despite the opposition of many of his critics. The federal police force in Mexico said on Monday it had sacked almost 10% – some 3,200 – of its officers this year for corruption, incompetence or links to criminals.


David Brooks NY Times: Nation Building Works

The U.S. venture into Iraq was a war, but it was also a nation-building exercise. America has spent $53 billion trying to reconstruct Iraq, the largest development effort since the Marshall Plan.  So how’s it working out?

On the economic front, there are signs of progress. It’s hard to know what role the scattershot American development projects have played, but this year Iraq will have the 12th-fastest-growing economy in the world, and it is expected to grow at a 7 percent annual clip for the next several years.

“Iraq has made substantial progress since 2003,” the International Monetary Fund reports. Inflation is reasonably stable. A budget surplus is expected by 2012. Unemployment, though still 15 percent, is down from stratospheric levels. Oil production is back around prewar levels, and there are some who say Iraq may be able to rival Saudi production. That’s probably unrealistic, but Iraq will have a healthy oil economy, for better and for worse.

Living standards are also improving. According to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, the authoritative compendium of data on this subject, 833,000 Iraqis had phones before the invasion. Now more than 1.3 million have landlines and some 20 million have cellphones. Before the invasion, 4,500 Iraqis had Internet service. Now, more than 1.7 million do.

In the most recent Gallup poll, 69 percent of Iraqis rated their personal finances positively, up from 36 percent in March 2007. Baghdad residents say the markets are vibrant again, with new electronics, clothing and even liquor stores. Basic services are better, but still bad. Electricity production is up by 40 percent over pre-invasion levels, but because there are so many more air-conditioners and other appliances, widespread power failures still occur.

In February 2009, 45 percent of Iraqis said they had access to trash removal services, which is woeful, though up from 18 percent the year before. Forty-two percent were served by a fire department, up from 23 percent.

About half the U.S. money has been spent building up Iraqi security forces, and here, too, the trends are positive. Violence is down 90 percent from pre-surge days. There are now more than 400,000 Iraqi police officers and 200,000 Iraqi soldiers, with operational performance improving gradually. According to an ABC News/BBC poll last year, nearly three-quarters of Iraqis had a positive view of the army and the police, including, for the first time, a majority of Sunnis.

Politically, the basic structure is sound, and a series of impressive laws have been passed. But these gains are imperiled by the current stalemate at the top. Iraq ranks fourth in the Middle East on the Index of Political Freedom from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit — behind Israel, Lebanon and Morocco, but ahead of Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and Tunisia. Nearly two-thirds of Iraqis say they want a democracy, while only 19 percent want an Islamic state.

In short, there has been substantial progress on the things development efforts can touch most directly: economic growth, basic security, and political and legal institutions. After the disaster of the first few years, nation building, much derided, has been a success. When President Obama speaks to the country on Iraq, he’ll be able to point to a large national project that has contributed to measurable, positive results.

Of course, to be honest, he’ll also have to say how fragile and incomplete this success is. Iraqi material conditions are better, but the Iraqi mind has not caught up with the Iraqi opportunity. There is still very little social trust. Iraq is the fourth-most-corrupt nation on earth, according to Transparency International’s rating system. The role of women remains surprisingly circumscribed. Iraqi politicians clearly find it very hard to compromise (though they may be no worse than American politicians in this regard).

Human capital is lagging. Most doctors left Iraq after the invasion, and it is hard to staff health clinics. The engineers left too, so American-built plants lie dormant because there is no one with the skills to run them. Schools are suffering because of a lack of teachers.

Ryan Crocker, the former ambassador, recently wrote an article in The National Interest noting that fear still pervades Iraq. Ethnic animosities are in abeyance, but they are not gone. Guns have been put in closets, but not destroyed.

If he is honest, Obama will have to balance pride with caution. He’ll have to acknowledge that the gains the U.S. is enabling may vanish if the U.S. military withdraws entirely next year. He’ll have to acknowledge that bottom-up social change requires time and patience. He’ll have to heed the advice of serious Iraq hands like Crocker, Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings and Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, and shelve plans to withdraw completely.

Such a move may rob him of a campaign talking point. But it will safeguard an American accomplishment that has been too hard won.

The Gaurdian: Pakistan Betting Crisis Throws Cricket in Crisis

Scotland Yard detectives have confiscated the mobile phones of three of the Pakistan cricket team‘s leading players as part of an investigation into one of the biggest betting scandals in the sport’s history that is threatening to engulf the game. 

The cricketers, captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, were questioned along with wicket keeper Kamran Akmal by detectives following allegations that they were involved in a betting scandal during the Lord’s Test match, won by England.

 As well as the phones, detectives took away documents and other possessions in plastic bags.Police have contacted the Crown Prosecution Service, and officers from the Met’s economic and specialist crime command are leading the investigation. 

The allegations centre on the timing of three no-balls – where the bowler oversteps the line – delivered by Amir and Asif during the game. Undercover reporters from the News of the World, posing as representatives of a “far east gambling cartel”, allegedly paid a middleman £150,000 and in return were told exactly when the balls would be bowled.

 Butt refused to be drawn on the allegations during a news conference but insisted he and his team-mates had “given our best … “I would say that everybody in this team has given 100%”.The England captain, Andrew Strauss, said he was “absolutely astonished” by the allegations. “There was no prior warning or anything like that … First astonished, then pretty saddened straight away.”

 The alleged fixer, 35-year-old Mazhar Majeed from Croydon, was arrested yesterday on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers. He was last night released on bail without being charged. 

His brother and business partner, Azhar Majeed, said the allegations were “just rubbish” and “laughable”. He added: “I’m extremely worried. Nothing like this has ever happened to us. Ever. I have no idea as to what happened and what’s led to him counting out that money.” In video footage released by the News of the World, Mazhar Majeed is apparently seen with a pile of money in front of him, allegedly given to him by undercover journalists for revealing the timing of “spot-fixes” during the match.

 The spot-fixing scandal is the latest in a long list of cheating allegations that have dogged the Pakistan cricket team. Questions were first raised in the mid 1990s when Australian players Shane Warne and Mark Waugh accused the then-Pakistan captain, Salim Malik, of offering them bribes to perform poorly.

Four years ago, the team was accused of ball tampering during a tour of England. The Australian umpire Darrell Hair ruled that Pakistan had forfeited the Test at the Oval by refusing to take the field in protest over his ball-tampering ruling.  In May this year the International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption unit looked at the team’s poor performance after being heavily beaten by Australia during a tour of the country. It was last night reported that they were considering an examination of up to 80 Test and one-day matches involving Pakistan. Saeed insisted today cricket in the country was not “institutionally corrupt” and said the claims in the News of the World were unproven.

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has called for a detailed report from the Pakistan Cricket Board. The country’s sports minister, Ijaz Hussain Jakhrani, promised strong action would be taken against any player who was found guilty. “If any players are found guilty of being involved in fixing they will be banned for life,” he said.

BBC: Somali Militants Bomb Presidential Palace: 4 African Union Peacekeepers dead

It is not clear if any Somalis were hit by the shells, fired as Islamist insurgents continue to battle government forces. Those killed were from Uganda, one of just two countries to have sent troops to Somalia to help the government. Last month, at least 76 people were killed in Uganda in bombings which a Somali group said it had carried out.

 The battle for control of Mogadishu has intensified in the past week. Last Monday, a suicide attack on a hotel killed at least 32 people, including six MPs. The Islamist group al-Shabab said it had carried out the attack. Last month, al-Shabab said it was behind two bombings in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, in which more than 70 people died.

Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, controls much of southern and central Somalia, while the government – backed by the 6,000-strong African Union peace force – is confined to a few pockets of the capital.

But on Monday, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad appealed for more international help to contain the “evil al-Qaeda-al-Shabab alliance”. Last month African leaders agreed to send an extra 2,000 troops to Mogadishu. Meanwhile, there are reports that Ethiopian troops have been crossing into Somali over the last two days.

An unknown number of Ethiopians, with armoured cars, have carried out operations against al-Shabab insurgents in an area 20km (about 12 miles) inside Somalia towards the central town of Beledweyne. Al-Shabab has been fighting a pro-government militia for control of Beledweyne in recent months.

Foreign Policy Magazine: Cell Phones Help the Poor

The spontaneous and unplanned explosion of Mobile-Banking (m-banking) in the developing world has gone well beyond expectations. And the effects for development could be monumental. M-banking began with the widespread use of prepaid cell-phone airtime as an informal currency. Migrant laborers across the developing world would text the serial numbers on prepaid airtime cards to loved ones elsewhere in the country; the recipients of the text messages would then sell the serial numbers to local mobile airtime vendors in exchange for cash, minus a small commission. By remotely selling their airtime this way, laborers were able to avoid taking long bus rides home to the countryside to hand over cash in person.

M-bankers worldwide already use their mobile accounts as de facto savings accounts simply by keeping cash credit: A 2008 survey found that 75 percent of M-Pesa users were already using their mobile accounts to store money. Respondents found the service over five times safer as a vehicle for savings than traditional methods like keeping the money at home. In fact, more than 95 percent found the service not only safer but faster, more convenient, easier to use, and cheaper.

By 2012, mobile banking operators could see nearly $8 billion in revenue just by expanding their services to the currently unbanked, according to an estimate by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP). In the developed world, m-banking is gaining traction in Australia, Britain, Korea, and Singapore, as well as in the United States. But only in the developing world does m-banking have such extraordinary ancillary potential. M-banking is the best opportunity yet to deliver financial services to the 1 billion people in the world who don’t have a bank account, but do have a cell phone.

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W. Husain Supplement: This story reminded me of a song by K’naan- 15 Minutes Away

Foreign Policy Magazine: Watch Terrorist Suspect Sing on American Idol (This is why i love FP Magazine)

Dr. Khurrum Syed Sher-  Police allege the he had plans and schematics to make improvised explosive devices. Police seized 50 electronic circuit boards which they say could be used as remote-control triggers for bombs. They said one of the men was trained overseas to make explosive booby traps, but did not specify which one.

Sher, 28, appeared on the reality show “Canadian Idol” in 2008 singing a comical version of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated,” complete with dance moves that include a moonwalk. He told the judges he’s from Pakistan and likes hockey, music and acting.

Al Jazeera: SOMALIA IS GOING BACK TO WAR- Al Shabab has declared all out war on African Union soldiers and the people.

  The armed group leading the fight against Somalia’s beleagured transitional government has warned that it will turn Mogadishu into a “graveyard” for extra African Union troops sent to the country.

Al-Shabab, which has been accused of links to al-Qaeda, warned that a decision earlier this week to send extra troops to the Horn of Africa nation would only strengthen their resolve to overthrow the government. ” By the will of Allah, Mogadishu will be their graveyard, while their families will cry back home,” Ali Mahamud Rage, the group’s spokesman, said on Thursday. “(Somalia transitional) government initially failed to convince its infidel masters to boost their military presence in Somalia, and now that they are claiming to be sending more troops to Mogadishu, it will only intensify the holy war against them,” he said.

The African Union held a three-day summit in Kampala earlier this week where it agreed to boost its peacekeeping force by sending another 4,000 troops, saying it was important to improve security in Somalia and in surrounding countries. The decision came after al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a double bombing in Kampala that left 76 people dead on July 11, in Somalia has been engaged in fierce fighting with al-Shabab, but has been restricted to retaliatory fire by the mandate it has been operating under.

Human rights groups warn that if the troops are allowed to expand their operations, civilians in Somalia will be further exposed to violence. Thousands have been killed in crossfire this year alone as battles between government troops and al-Shabab fighters have raged in the streets of Mogadishu.