Oft-delayed Dreamliner Finally Rolls

EVERETT, Wash., Aug. 8 (UPI) — The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which had been delayed for years and overran its budget by millions of dollars, finally rolled on the runway in Everett, Wash.

Boeing said it would deliver the 787 to Japan’s All Nippon Airways next month in Tokyo, CNN reported Sunday.

“We are rolling out the first delivery airplane, the first 787. That’s an amazing thing for those who have worked on the program five, six, seven years, here at Boeing and our partners around the world,” said Scott Fancher, Boeing’s vice president and general manager of the 787 program.

The plane is scheduled to be the first to carry commercial passengers in the 787 Dreamliner series that has been fraught with delays and overruns but holds promise to revolutionize air travel. The aircraft is the first commercial airliner made mostly of carbon composites or super durable plastic, meaning it will be a lighter plane that Boeing said could consume an environment- and bottom line-friendly 20 percent less fuel than conventional airliners.

Boeing is developing two Dreamliners. The first version, the 787-8, can carry 210-250 passengers on domestic routes, CNN reported. The 787-9 can hold 250-290 passengers and is designed for lengthier international routes.

All Nippon Airways has ordered 55 Dreamliners. Mitsuo Morimoto, the airline’s senior vice president, said All Nippon will develop new routes based on Dreamliner’s capabilities.

“We plan to use the 787 to expand our business, particularly our international routes. We plan to increase our revenue from international routes significantly and the 787 will play an instrumental role in this,” Morimoto said.

Boeing said it will inaugurate the 787 Dreamliner on a special charter from Tokyo to Hong Kong in the fall.

General Say Use Military Against PKK

ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Police forces in Turkey won’t be able to take on Kurdish militants with the same effectiveness as the national military, a retired general said.

Ankara announced it was planning to extend police operations in southern parts of the country as part of counter-terrorism operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Ilker Basbug, former chief of the Turkish General Staff, who retired last year, questioned whether the police was the right force to handle the operation.

“No one can conduct an anti-terrorism fight in rural and mountainous regions except military troops,” he was quoted by Turkish daily newspaper Today’s Zaman as saying. “This (the police proposal) would be ridiculous.”

A PKK attack in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir killed 13 soldiers last month. Iran and Iraq are bickering over Iran’s military operations along the border targeting PKK affiliates in the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan.

“There are military posts and units deployed over vast areas to limit the movements of terrorist groups,” said Basbug. “If those areas are left unattended, this would give the terrorists a wide range in which to maneuver.”

Yemen Still Investigating Saleh Attack

SANAA, Yemen, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Yemeni authorities said they were still investigating the June 3 attack that put the country’s president in the hospital for more than two months.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar were released from a military hospital in Saudi Arabia last weekend. Both were gravely injured in a June 3 attack on a mosque at the presidential palace in Sanaa.

Authorities in Yemen said they were still investigating the attack, the officials Saba news agency reports.

An editorial in Saba last month said members of the opposition movement in Yemen were collaborating with al-Qaida to overthrow the government, saying there were similarities between the attack and the October 2000 attack by al-Qaida against the USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden.

Saleh has clung to power for much of the year. Despite international pressure to do so, he’s refused to sign a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council to resign.

Opposition groups have been calling for an interim council created to prevent his return. Saleh has ruled Yemen since 1978.

A return date to Yemen by either leader wasn’t announced.

U.N. Voices Concerns Over Famine Victims In Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 8 (UPI) — United Nations officials say they’re concerned about reports of women and young girls subjected to rape and sexual harassment while fleeing famine in Somalia.

Bunmi Makinwa, the United Nations Population Fund regional director for Africa, expressed the agency’s worries during a visit to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

“UNFPA is working with partners to offer lifesaving psychosocial assistance to women who have survived sexual violence. Indeed, UNFPA was informed by partners that many women had been subjected to rape and sexual harassment during their long journey to the camp,” Makinwa told Capital FM news of Nairobi.

More than 470,000 Somalis have gone to the Dadaab camp since the famine was declared, and an estimated 1,300 people fleeing Somalia enter the Kenyan border every day.

“It is distressing to hear the stories of women with small children who had to walk for over 25 days to get to the refugee camp,” Makinwa said. “People arrive in the camp with nothing apart from their life and the clothes they are wearing.”

Sustained efforts would be needed to provide for affected communities in the famine regions, he said.

“People are really struggling and it will take a lot of efforts to help them. But we know it is possible.”

Al-Qaida-linked Rebels Pounded In Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 8 (UPI) — The withdrawal of Islamist insurgents from Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, is a major gain for the shaky Western-backed Transitional Federal Government and comes as the United States is stepping up a covert war against the group that’s linked to al-Qaida.

As the Americans escalate counter-terrorism operations in Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden, they have also stepped up covert airstrikes against al-Shabaab in Somalia, a failed state that has been gripped by clan warfare and anarchy for more than two decades.

U.S. officials say the Somali organization, which pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden’s successor and longtime deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri in June, is developing stronger ties with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.

There have been at least three airstrikes against al-Shabaab in recent weeks. The first was April 6, when a jihadist commander was killed in the southern town of Dhobley. Some reports said 35 fighters were slain.

On June 23, a U.S. Predator drone carried out a nighttime missile strike on a convoy at al-Shabaab’s military camp at Qandal outside the southern port of Kismayo. It was the first known drone attack by the Americans in Somalia. Two jihadist commanders were killed, al-Shabaab communiques stated.

Somalia’s RBC Radio identified one of the dead as Ibrahim al-Afghani, an al-Shabaab’s top commander who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan with bin Laden.

Afghani reportedly traveled to Pakistan after 9/11 with Aden Hashi Ayro, al-Shabaab’s ruthless and reclusive field commander who was killed in a U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile attack May 1, 2008, as he met with al-Shabaab leaders.

Al-Shabaab has been losing ground in Mogadishu against a TFG offensive, launched in May and spearheaded by Amisom, and also has been wracked by internal schisms.

It’s not clear whether the escalating U.S. operations were a major factor in al-Shabaab’s decision to pull out of the capital.

The primary U.S. objective appears to be blocking what officials say are moves by al-Shabaab and AQAP to strengthen ties.

The Americans say the two groups together pose a serious danger to the United States and a strategic threat if they can control the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, a vital shipping route that’s the gateway between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

But despite these allegations, the level of the connection remains unclear. Al-Qaida veterans are known to have worked with al-Shabaab in recent years. But the two groups have had very different objectives.

AQAP is a hard-core and increasingly dangerous branch of al-Qaida committed to the global jihad.

Al-Shabaab is rooted in Somalia’s archaic clan system and on past evidence is infinitely more parochial in outlook and ideology, although some of its leaders do advocate attacking the Americans and their allies.

Al-Shabaab’s main objective is to overthrow the U.S.-supported TFG in Mogadishu.

It’s a fractious, corrupt and inept administration installed by the West in December 2006 and is only kept in power by the support of a 9,000-strong African Union “peacekeeping force” known as Amisom.

The only attack al-Shebaab has conducted outside Somalia was twin suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, in July 2010 that killed 74 people.

Uganda, which neighbors Somalia, supports the TFG and provides thousands of troops for Amisom.

If there are moves afoot toward a grand alliance, they suffered a severe setback June 7 when al-Qaida lost one of its top operatives and a key liaison with al-Shabaab.

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in which 240 people died, was killed when the driver of his sports utility vehicle stumbled into a government roadblock in Mogadishu.

The April 19 capture of another pivotal figure in efforts to get AQAP and al-Shabaab to coordinate operations was another setback for the jihadists.

Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a senior al-Shabaab figure, was seized by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command aboard a fishing boat heading for Somalia from Yemen.

He was held aboard the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Sea, and interrogated for more than two months before being flown to New York July 4 to be indicted on terrorism charges.

A senior U.S. official noted Warsame “clearly served as an important conduit between the two organizations,” which are “directly engaged in plotting against the United States or our interests.”

S&P Lowers Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Ratings

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Standard & Poor’s downgraded ratings on mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Monday, saying the decision was tied to its U.S. credit rating downgrade.

“The downgrades of Fannie Mae [the Federal National Mortgage Association] and Freddie Mac [the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.] reflect their direct reliance on the U.S. government. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship in September 2008 and their ability to fund operations relies heavily on the U.S. government,” Standard & Poor’s said in a statement posted on its Web site.

In addition, S&P said it lowered its credit ratings and related issue ratings on 10 of 12 federal home loan banks and the senior debt issued by the FHLB system from triple-A to AA-plus. It also said it made the same downgrade for federal farm credit banks, but that the ratings change didn’t affect individual farm member banks.

On Friday, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating from triple-A to AA-plus, sending a negative ripple through markets worldwide.

Russia, Georgia Trade Barbs On Anniversary

MOSCOW, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Russia, on the anniversary of its war with Georgia, said the country’s president is “ill-bred” though it didn’t make the same claim against the Georgian people.

Russian forces responded when the Georgian military invaded the separatist republic of South Ossetia in 2008. The conflict spilled over to engulf forces from Abkhazia, another separatist republic.

Moscow recognized both republics shortly after the conflict and signed agreements in 2010 to build permanent military installations in the breakaway regions.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station in a Monday interview the war wasn’t over because Moscow wanted to occupy his country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by saying Saakashvili was “a pathology and anomaly of the Georgian people and, moreover, is ill-bred,” Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports.

Protests turned violent in Georgia early this year after pensioners argued that life was better under the Soviet Union.

The International Court of Justice, meanwhile, had ruled that it had no jurisdiction in a case of alleged human rights violations by Russians in the two separatist regions in Georgia.

Abu Ghraib Release Upsets Iraqis

BAGHDAD, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Iraqi citizens expressed outrage after a U.S. Army corporal accused of torture at the country’s Abu Ghraib prison was released from prison during the weekend.

The U.S. army released Charles Graner from a Fort Leavenworth, Kan., prison during the weekend after he served more than six years of a 10-year prison sentence. He, along with six members of his military police company, was charged in 2004 with abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib detention facility west of Baghdad.

One Iraqi man, Riyadh Khalifa, 37, told the Voices of Iraq news agency that the decision to release Graner was humiliating to the thousands of Iraqi civilians jailed and killed following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

“He must be retried and sentenced to death or life imprisonment or else his retrial by an independent Iraqi court,” he was quoted as saying.

His comments echoed others who called for an Iraqi trial for Graner.

The uproar comes as Iraqi officials consider the withdrawal deadline for U.S. forces in the country. U.S. military forces under a 2008 status of forces agreement are to leave Iraq by the end of December.

Lawmakers in Baghdad gave the country’s prime minister the authority to consider hosting U.S. military trainers beyond the deadline.

London Chides Zimbabwe Over Diamond Fields

LONDON, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Authorities in Zimbabwe are called on to conduct a transparent investigation into allegations of torture at the country’s Marange diamond field, London said.

Security forces in Zimbabwe are accused of operating torture camps at diamond fields, the BBC discovered. People who were released from the camp described the mine as a “place of torture where sometimes miners are unable to walk on account of the beatings.”

Zimbabwe in November 2009 agreed to a phased withdrawal of armed forces from diamond fields and pledged to certify that shipments from the Marange diamond field were conflict-free, part of the requirements of the Kimberly Process.

British Middle East and North African Minister Alistair Burt called on authorities in Zimbabwe to conduct a transparency investigation into the claims.

“The United Kingdom is absolutely committed to eradicating the trade of conflict diamonds,” he said in a statement.

The Zimbabwean army seized the lucrative Marange fields in 2008 and some reports have said Marange diamonds are funding the Zanu-PF Party headed by President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe threatened last year to leave the Kimberley Process.

An auction of diamonds from Zimbabwe last year brought in less than expected revenue as the country struggles with transparency issues with the stones.

Geithner To Remain As Treasury Secretary

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) — U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has told President Obama he plans to stay in his job through the fall of 2012.

Geithner has been battling the U.S. economic crisis since 2007, first as a Federal Reserve official then as Treasury secretary, and had considered leaving after Congress raised the debt ceiling, reaching an accord with Obama on cutting the federal deficit last week.

Several events factored into Geithner’s decision to stay, The Washington Post reported Sunday. First, the deal to begin reining in the country’s deficit and debt fell short of what the administration wanted. Second, the economy worsened in the last few weeks. Third, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time late Friday. The White House, concerned about finding a suitable replacement, pressured Geithner to stay.

Geithner participated in an emergency conference call involving the seven major economic powers Sunday to discuss the impact of the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.

“Secretary Geithner has let the president know that he plans to stay on in his position at Treasury,” Treasury spokeswoman Jenni LeCompte said in a statement. “He looks forward to the important work ahead on the challenges facing our great country.”

Geithner was an architect of the Wall Street bailout in 2008 and withstood sharp criticism in his first year as Treasury secretary, including calls for his resignation.