Iraq: Food shortages loom

Iraq’s government recently announced that a 12-year-old food rationing system set up in response to the U.S.-led embargo against the Saddam Hussein regime will end by next June. UN officials had praised the program as “the world’s largest and most effective relief effort.” Pressure from the World Bank propelled the action.

Food prices will rise and fuel subsidies will be cut, according to the Uruknet website. Since the U.S. invasion, availability of rationed food has waned and corruption has overwhelmed the program. Already hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children suffer from chronic diarrhea and “wasting” that experts attribute to protein deficiency.

Cuba: Guantanamo gets new prison

Interviewed by an AP reporter, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, head of “detention operations” at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, confirmed the existence of a lockup there for so-called high value prisoners.

Lawyers for detainee Majid Khan claimed earlier that the former Baltimore resident and 14 other alleged al-Qaida members had been separated from 260 other prisoners held at Guantanamo, occupied illegally by the U.S. government.

Buzby explained that Camp Seven had been built in 2006 to prevent retaliation against prisoners who turned informant, as well as to ward off terrorist attacks. The area is serviced by its own contingent of military guards and interrogators.

Bangladesh: Garment workers fight crackdown

The government’s Jan. 12 ban on trade union and political protests provided the setting for the arrest Jan. 24 of Mehedi Hasan, a Bangladeshi field investigator for the US-based Workers Rights Consortium. Garment industry owners, wary of Chinese and Japanese competition, high interest rates and a U.S. recession, have mounted an anti-worker offensive. Company police at World Dresses killed one worker and wounded another. Street demonstrations ensued. Some 350 factories were closed down.

Clothing exports, crucial to the nation’s economy, generated $1.4 billion in income over July-November 2007 — down from the year before, the New Age newspaper reported.

Eritrea: No fuel for UN troops

Eritrea cut off fuel supplies to the 1,400-soldier UN force monitoring the border between it and Ethiopia. The troops are there as part of the settlement of a two-year war that ended in 2000 killing 70,000 people. The UN force may have to abandon its mission because of the fuel cutoff.

A week after renewing its mandate, the UN Security Council, urged on by Washington, resolved Feb. 4 that UN troops would leave unless fuel became available.

Two-way charges of territorial infringement have persisted for seven years. Now troops of both nations are massing along their shared border, according to IPS news service.

The Bush government is closely allied to Ethiopia, which the State Department characterizes as “an African frontline state in the war on terrorism.

Venezuela: Courts favor Exxon Mobil

Having refused to enter into negotiations with Venezuela over nationalization of its facilities in the petroleum-rich Orinoco Delta, Exxon Mobil Corporation announced Feb. 7 that British, Dutch and U.S. courts had frozen $12 billion in overseas assets of Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA pending resolution of the impasse. Other companies had previously agreed to nationalization proposals.

Interviewed by TeleSUR, analyst James Petras claimed that a precedent has been set for “renegotiating the whole project of petroleum nationalization” as part of a U.S. strategy to weaken the government and “strangle the economy.”

The court rulings caused Venezuelan bonds to drop in value on overseas markets in anticipation of a protracted legal battle.

Germany: Steelworkers out on warning strike

Demanding their share of rising industrial profits, 10,000 German metal workers conducted a warning strike Feb. 7 to back up demands for an 8 percent wage increase for 85,000 workers, increased pay for apprentices, and reduced schedules for older workers.

Over 12 factories, located mostly in Germany’s industrialized Ruhr region, were idled as union leaders prepared for a fourth session of negotiations set for Feb. 12-19.

IG Metall leader Oliver Burkhard told Deutsche Welle, “Today’s strikes are just a taste of what we could do,” adding, “We are demanding a fair share of the unprecedented boom.” Employer counterproposals are expected.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney (