|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
China's quiet rise casts wide shadow
By Edward Cody, Washington Post, February 26, 2005
With stronger economic ties between East Asian countries and China has come a rise in Beijing's political and diplomatic influence, according to a variety of sources in China and the region. Treading softly but casting a big shadow, they say, China has emerged as an active and decisive leader in East Asia, transforming economic and diplomatic relationships across an area long dominated by the United States.
The shift in status, increasingly clear over the past year, has changed the way Chinese officials view their country's international role as well as the way other Asians look to Beijing for cues. In many ways, China has started to act like a traditional big power, tending to its regional interests and pulling smaller neighbors along in its wake. [...]
China's foreign relations establishment has long adhered to an adage offered by the late Deng Xiaoping: "Never be a leader." In deference to that concern, Foreign Ministry officials recoil when the word leadership is used to describe what they are doing. Nonetheless, as the country's economic strength has grown, so has the confidence of its foreign policy and a recognition that the United States is no longer the only country on which others in Asia rely for leadership.
"China has sensed that there is an emerging transition of power in East Asia between China and the United States," said Shi Yinghong, who heads the People's University Center for American Studies in Beijing. Outside Asia, China's most immediate foreign relations concern has become an appetite for oil and other raw materials needed to sustain the economic boom. Tao Wenzhao, a senior researcher at the American Studies Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China had been carrying out "commercial diplomacy" far and wide. [complete article]
Tel Aviv bomb rocks peace process
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, February 26, 2005
Tentative hopes of reviving the Middle East peace process were jolted last night when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a seafront karaoke nightclub in Tel Aviv, killing at least four people and wounding dozens.
An air of palpable shock hung heavy over Israel's second city after the first suicide bombing in Israel for almost four months - and the first since the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, succeeded Yasser Arafat earlier this year.
Mr Abbas swiftly vowed to round up and punish the perpetrators, damning the attack as an effort to sabotage the ceasefire deal he concluded barely two weeks ago with the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
But the attack met with dismay, resignation and impatience on the Israeli side, while the US insisted that the Palestinians take action. [complete article]
Lebanon guided by the Nasrullah factor
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, February 26, 2005
Any person who was in Beirut on May 24, 2000, the day Hezbollah liberated South Lebanon, understands how immensely popular the enigmatic Hasan Nasrullah is in the country's Muslim, and particularly Shi'ite, community. Any person watching his speech five years later, this month, after the US started to press for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and the disarming of Hezbollah, of which Nasrullah is the head, knows how easy it might be for the United States to get Syria to leave Lebanon, but how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to disarm or weaken the Shi'ites.
Syria said on Thursday that it was ready to work with the United Nations to implement a Security Council resolution requiring its approximately 17,000 troops to quit Lebanon, but that speeding up the pullout would require stronger Lebanese security forces. International pressure on Syria to pull out its troops and relinquish its political grip on its tiny neighbor intensified after the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese blame Syria for his killing in a huge blast in Beirut.
Napoleon Bonaparte once said: "I have tasted power. I won't give it up." Disarming Hezbollah, and writing them off the political scene in Lebanon, would be like asking the Iraqi Shi'ites, who have now tasted power after decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein, to leave office willingly, abandon their new-found rights, and return to the wretched state they were in during the previous 100 years. [complete article]
Egypt's Mubarak calls for democratic election reforms
Associated Press (via NYT), February 26, 2005
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday ordered a revision of the country's election laws and said multiple candidates could run in the nation's presidential elections, a scenario Mubarak hasn't faced since taking power in 1981.
The surprise announcement, a response to critics' calls for political reform, comes shortly after historic elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, balloting that brought a taste of democracy to the region. It also comes amid a sharp dispute with the United States over Egypt's arrest of one of the strongest proponents of multi-candidate elections.
"The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will," Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.
Mubarak -- who has never faced an opponent since becoming president after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat -- said his initiative came "out of my full conviction of the need to consolidate efforts for more freedom and democracy." [complete article]
Rice calls off Mideast visit after arrest of Egyptian
By Joel Brinkley, New York Times, February 26, 2005
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday abruptly called off a planned trip to several Middle Eastern countries that had been scheduled for next week, a decision that came apparently because of the arrest of a leading Egyptian opposition politician last month.
The decision highlighted a rift with an important ally over President Bush's push for democratic change. It came a day after Mr. Bush's tense meeting with Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, who was clearly uncomfortable with Mr. Bush's criticism of Russia's democracy.
The linchpin for Ms. Rice's trip had been a planned meeting in Cairo of foreign ministers for the Group of 8 industrial nations and the Arab League to discuss economic aid and democratic change in the Middle East.
But that meeting was postponed by Egypt on Sunday in an early sign of the tensions that have been building even as the Bush administration has praised Egypt for its help in the Israeli-Palestinian mediation after Yasir Arafat's death. [complete article]
Chechnya conflict seeps over border
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2005
It was a little after 6 a.m. when the "bandits," as they are officially known, burst into the house with police hot on their heels.
Amid shouts, screams and the occasional burst of small-arms fire, 16 sleepy families in three adjoining houses tumbled into their bathrobes and slippers and out into the snow. The bandits holed up in the cluttered apartments. Police laid siege outside.
By the time it was over 16 hours later, the row of houses was little more than a pile of rubble, still licked by fire from flamethrowers and rocket-propelled grenades. The mangled and charred bodies of five bandits and one police officer lay among the ruins. Shortly after 10 p.m., a 44-ton T-72 battle tank rumbled over the wreckage and delivered the coup de grace, crushing any trace of life and the families' remaining possessions.
Here in Dagestan, a southern Russian region wedged between the troubled republic of Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, they call what happened Jan. 15 near the end of quiet Magistralnaya Street the One-Day War. The name is misleading in one respect, many agree: It was but one day of many.
The Chechen conflict has seeped beyond its borders into the northern Caucasus region, and Dagestan is one of the new fronts. The bandits, as the Russian authorities call them, are Muslim insurgents who have crossed over from Chechnya or launched battles on their home turf. The police, like those in many areas of Russia now, wear full camouflage and arrive at their house calls in armored vehicles equipped with battle gear. [complete article]
The remaking of al-Qaeda
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, February 25, 2005
More than four years since the launch of the campaign to catch Osama bin Laden "dead of alive", the US has initiated a new phase in the "war on terror" to counter perceived threats from al-Qaeda generated by a new breed of operatives spawned in the post-September 11 era. Unlike the pre-September 11 al-Qaeda, the structure, central command, depth and whereabouts of the latest incarnation remain largely a mystery.
An Asia Times Online investigation based on interviews with well-placed sources in Pakistan who have been in coordination with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at a very senior level attempts to shed some light on today's threat from al-Qaeda.
What is known is that the al-Qaeda network has been battered over the past few years, with curbs on its ability to access money and coordinate. Out of this, though, new groups have sprung up worldwide, strongly politically motivated, patient and with the broader perspective of toppling pro-US governments. This development has not gone unnoticed in Langley, Virginia - CIA headquarters - which has advised Washington to develop a counter-strategy to be on a "war footing" all over the world in the shape of alliances with Europe and a powerful North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence in South and Central Asia and the Middle East. [complete article]
"Anti-Islamist" crusader plants new seeds
By Jim Lobe, IPS, February 24, 2005
Despite the apparent decision by President George W. Bush against re-nominating him to the board of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), "anti-Islamist" activist Daniel Pipes is working as diligently as ever to protect the United States and the Western world from the influence of radical Islamists.
He has proposed the creation of a new "Anti-Islamist Institute" (AII) designed to expose legal "political activities" of "Islamists", such as "prohibiting families from sending pork or pork by-products to U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq", which nonetheless, in his view, serve the interests of radical Islam.
"In the long term...the legal activities of Islamists pose as much or even a greater set of challenges than the illegal ones," according to the draft of a grant proposal by Pipes' Middle East Forum (MEF) obtained by IPS.
Pipes is also working with Stephen Schwartz on a new "Centre for Islamic Pluralism" (CIP) whose aims are to "promote moderate Islam in the U.S. and globally" and "to oppose the influence of militant Islam, and, in particular, the Saudi-funded Wahhabi sect of Islam, among American Muslims, in the America media, in American education ...and with U.S. governmental bodies..." [complete article]
Official admits Iran may hide nuclear program in tunnels
Associated Press (via IHT), February 26, 2005
Iran may be hiding its nuclear technology inside special tunnels because of threats of attack by the United States, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator said in an interview published Friday.
Hassan Rowhani, who has been negotiating with Germany, Britain and France over Iran's uranium enrichment program, was asked by an interviewer for the daily Le Monde: "Is it accurate that Iran has built tunnels meant to serve Iran's nuclear activities?"
Rowhani responded that reports Iran was building tunnels to hide its nuclear technology "could be true," he said.
"From the moment the Americans threaten to attack our nuclear sites, what are we to do? We have to put them somewhere," Rowhani said. [complete article]
R rating dropped for "Gunner Palace"
By William Booth, Washington Post, February 25, 2005
In a rare reversal, members of the board that rates motion pictures decided Thursday to give the new Iraq war documentary "Gunner Palace" a PG-13 instead of an R, agreeing with the filmmakers that the raw language of real American soldiers in Baghdad was appropriate for younger audiences -- who themselves might be considering joining the armed forces.
Last month, the Classification and Ratings Administration gave "Gunner Palace" an R rating, not because of the violence it contains but because of the repeated use of harsh language by members of the 2/3 Field Artillery (who call themselves "gunners"), stationed in a particularly lethal neighborhood in Baghdad after the fall of the city. The palace in the title refers to the soldiers' occupation of one of Uday Hussein's former mansions. [complete article]
Revenge killings of members of Saddam's former regime rise
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, February 25, 2005
Shiite Muslim assassins are killing former members of Saddam Hussein's mostly Sunni Muslim regime with impunity in a wave of violence that, combined with the ongoing Sunni insurgency, threatens to escalate into civil war.
The war between Shiite vigilantes and former Baath Party members is seldom investigated and largely overshadowed by the insurgency. The U.S. military is preoccupied with hunting down suicide bombers and foreign terrorists, and Iraq's new Shiite leaders have little interest in prosecuting those who kill their former oppressors or their enemies in the insurgency.
The killings have intensified since January's Shiite electoral victory, and U.S. and Iraqi officials worry that they could imperil progress toward a unified, democratic Iraq. [complete article]
Iraqis claim capture of key members of Zarqawi insurgency
By David Enders, The Independent, February 26, 2005
Iraqi authorities claim to have made a series of breakthroughs in the battle against the insurgent group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which has carried out a bloody catalogue of car bombings, kidnappings and beheadings across Iraq.
Government officials said yesterday that a key lieutenant to the Jordanian-born terroristhad been captured, claiming that the aide played a crucial middle-man role in the operations of his organisation which has been linked to al-Qa'ida.
Talib Mikhlif Arsan Walman al-Dulaymi, also known as Abu Qutaybah, was captured during a raid on 20 February in Anah, 160 miles north-west of Baghdad. He was allegedly responsible for arranging all personal meetings between members of the terrorist network and Zarqawi. Iraqi authorities added that Dulaymi "filled the role of key lieutenant for the Zarqawi network, arranging safehouses and transportation as well as passing packages and funds to Zarqawi. His extensive contacts and operational ability throughout western Iraq made him a critical figure." [complete article]
Negotiations on Iraq government look protracted
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, February 25, 2005
The frontrunner to be Iraq's next prime minister held talks with the country's top Shi'ite cleric on Friday on ways to include all parties in politics as negotiations on forming a new government looked set to drag on.
"There is an important issue we discussed: the participation of our brothers who could not take part in the election," Ibrahim al-Jaafari told reporters after meeting Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the southern city of Najaf.
"The next government requires consultation and consensus." [complete article]
Ayatollah Sistani endorses Al-Jaafari
Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 25, 2005
United Iraqi Alliance candidate Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Friday that Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has endorsed his nomination for prime minister.
The endorsement by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani came after members of the clergy-backed alliance openly questioned its decision Tuesday to nominate the 58-year-old leader of the conservative Islamic Dawa Party as its candidate for prime minister following Iraq's historic Jan. 30 elections.
"Ayatollah al-Sistani blessed the decision taken by the alliance about the prime minister post. He respects and supports what the alliance have decided," al-Jaafari said after meeting with al-Sistani for more than two hours in the southern holy city of Najaf. [complete article]
Comment -- Perhaps as an indication that he has run out of patience with the ongoing wrangling over who will become Iraq's new prime minister, Ayatollah Sistani seems to have effectively ended the debate. Allawi's last minute bid to keep his job was perhaps, as Juan Cole suggested, nothing more than an attempt to secure a cabinet position.
World population to hit 9B in 2050
By Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press (via Seatle PI), February 25, 2005
The world's population will increase by 40 percent to 9.1 billion in 2050, but virtually all the growth will be in the developing world, especially in the 50 poorest countries, the U.N. Population Division said.
In a report Thursday, the division said the population in less developed countries is expected to swell from 5.3 billion today to 7.8 billion in 2050. By contrast, the population of richer developed countries will remain mostly unchanged, at 1.2 billion.
"It is going to be a strain on the world," said Hania Zlotnik, the division's new director. She said the expected growth will be concentrated in countries that already struggle to provide adequate shelter, health care and education.
The report reconfirmed many trends, including an increasingly aging population in developed countries. But it said immigration would prevent the overall population in richer countries from declining.
The United States is projected to be the major net recipient of international migrants, 1.1 million annually, with its population increasing from 298 million in 2005 to 394 million in 2050, the report said. [complete article]
Comment -- Like most reports released by the UN, the latest warnings (PDF) on global population growth are unlikely to generate more than fleeting interest on the pages of most of America's leading newspapers. Yet the figures released yesterday are stunning! During the period of President Bush's first term in office, the world's population grew by 380 million people - 90 million people more than currently live in the United States.
At the forefront of a global response to population growth, the United Nations Population Fund has among its primary objectives "to help women, men and young people plan their families and avoid unwanted pregnancies" yet under pressure from a small group of Christian extremists (backed by powerful interests inside and outside Congress), the Bush administration is still blocking the release of Congressionally-approved funding for the program. Moreover, the Bush administration recently refused to join an appeal from more than 250 world leaders who "have urged the United Nations to promote a population agenda that seeks women's education, health care and family planning." (For more information on the United Nations Population Fund, go to "United States Committee for United Nations Population Fund".
By H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe, February 25, 2005
One thousand years before Pericles and the golden age of Athens, the Chinese were weaving silk, casting in bronze, and carving objects of beauty out of jade. Some of the world's greatest poetry was written in China when Alexander the Great was a toddler. In 240 BC, Chinese astronomers noted the passage of Halley's Comet, something that would not be done in the West for another millennium.
Thus I was bemused by Donald Rumsfeld's recent comments that China was a country "we hope and pray enters the civilized world in an orderly way."
A Pentagon spokesman, in a role similar to the fellow who follows the circus elephant with a shovel, jumped in quickly to explain that the secretary of defense did not mean to suggest that China was not a civilized country, only that it had been an inward-looking country that was now emerging as a global actor. True enough, but increasingly, it seems, "civilized" actors are those who play roles written for them by the Bush administration. [complete article]
The downside of democracy
By Juan Cole, Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2005
With the emergence of Shiite physician Ibrahim Jafari as the leading candidate for Iraqi prime minister earlier this week, the contradictions of Bush administration policy in the Middle East have become even clearer than they were before.
President Bush says he is committed to democratizing the region, yet he also wants governments to emerge that are friendly to the U.S., benevolent to their own people, secular, capitalist and willing to stand up and fight against anti-American radicals.
But what if democratic elections do not produce such governments? What if the newly elected regimes are friendly to states and groups that Washington considers enemies? What if the spread of democracy through the region empowers elements that don't share American values and goals?
The recent election in Iraq is a case in point. The two major parties in the victorious Shiite alliance are Jafari's party, the Dawa, founded in the late 1950s to work for an Islamic republic, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, the goal of which can be guessed from its name. To be fair, both have backed away from their more radical stances of earlier decades. But both parties -- and Jafari himself -- were sheltered in Tehran in the 1980s by Washington's archenemy, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and both acknowledge that they want to move Iraq toward Islamic law and values. [complete article]
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, February 24 2005
Beirut is not the heart of the world, although it's often hard to convince the Lebanese of that. Long gone are the days when whole generations of spies, journalists and other shady characters hung out at the waterfront bar of the St. George Hotel and called it "the center of the center of the Middle East." After the shadow of full-scale Syrian occupation fell over the country in 1990, effectively ending Lebanon's 15-year civil war -- and also its independence -- the old libertine and libertarian mystique faded. Lebanon still had a certain freedom and energy, its fractious people remained more independent-minded and its battered institutions more democratic than those of many other Arab nations, but as it sank to the status of a vassal state, Lebanon's spirit no longer seemed to have much relevance for the rest of the region.
Now, very suddenly, it does. In the days since former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was blown up on Feb. 14 (while driving in front of the St. George, as it happens), Beirut has become the new epicenter for democratic hopes in the Middle East. [complete article]
Syria to pull back troops in Lebanon
By Sam F. Ghattas, Associated Press (via The Guardian), February 24, 2005
Syria said Thursday it will begin withdrawing its troops in Lebanon closer to its own border, a move designed to blunt international demands for a complete pullout and to ease a groundswell of anti-Syrian sentiment.
But a dissatisfied United States said the move was not enough and demanded a full withdrawal from the Mideast nation.
"This needs to happen immediately," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said. A resolution by the U.N. Security Council "calls in clear, unequivocal terms for all foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon." [complete article]
'Enough' is etched on Lebanon's faces
By David Ignatius, Daily Star, February 25, 2005
"Enough!" That's one of the simple slogans you see scrawled on the walls around former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's grave site in Beirut. And it sums up the movement for political change that has suddenly coalesced in Lebanon and is slowly gathering force elsewhere in the Arab world.
"We want the truth." That's another of the Lebanese slogans, painted on a banner hanging from the Martyrs' Monument near the mosque where Hariri is buried. It's a revolutionary idea for people who have had to live with lies spun by regimes that were brutally clinging to power. People want the truth about who killed Hariri last week, but on a deeper level they want the truth about why Arab regimes have failed to deliver on their promises of progress and prosperity. [complete article]
Syria may be closing its Arab door
By Michael Young, Daily Star, February 24, 2005
No sooner had Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa announced on Monday afternoon that Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed to withdraw his army from Lebanon, than the Syrians issued a clarifying statement. Moussa had misunderstood; Syria had only meant a redeployment inside Lebanon, not a withdrawal.
On a day when U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that Syria "end its occupation of Lebanon"; that Bush and French President Jacques Chirac issued the same instructions, and set a May deadline for the pullout; that Moussa traveled to Damascus to effectively save the Syrian regime from itself by offering a negotiated way out of its Lebanese impasse; and that tens of thousands of people marched in the streets of Beirut demanding that Syrian forces leave their country; on that day, Assad chose to again embrace the politics of the ostrich by sticking his head in a hole and discounting the world around him. [complete article]
Gaza strongman Dahlan returns to center stage
Agence France Presse (via Daily Star), February 25, 2005
Mohammed Dahlan, the strongman of the Gaza Strip, will play a key a role in negotiations with Israel after his appointment Thursday as civil affairs minister in a new Palestinian Cabinet. The appointment formalizes the return to front-line politics of a man who has been playing a key behind-the-scenes role in recent weeks during negotiations with his old sparring partner, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Dahlan quit as security minister in September 2003 after then Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas resigned from the post which he had held for little more than 100 days.
He was one of the few people who was prepared to stand up to late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. [complete article]
Israel 'plans West Bank homes boom'
BBC News, February 25, 2005
Israel plans to build more than 6,000 new homes in settlements in the West Bank, an Israeli newspaper quoting the state land authority has reported.
Yediot Ahronot says the government will also legitimise 120 unauthorised settlement outposts.
The report says the expansion would coincide with Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
The US-backed roadmap peace plan calls on Israel to freeze all settlement activity and scrap dozens of outposts. [complete article]
Sharon's List: The doomed settlements, a guide
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, February 25, 2005
When Ariel Sharon began singling out settlements for future eviction, he knew just where to look.
Arguing that Israel could best cement its grip on major West Bank settlement blocs - which polls show are supported by the majority of Israelis - by relinquishing control over the areas Israelis care about least, Sharon began with the unwanted stepchild enclaves of Gaza and the northern West Bank.
Years of opinion surveys have shown that these were settlements a majority of Israelis wished never had existed. Settlements for which even the settlement movement itself had shown little support. [complete article]
Israeli officials smile, and build more outposts on the ground
By Issa Samandar, Daily Star, February 25, 2005
Saeed Talib is an American citizen and a West Bank farmer. Neither is standing him in good stead at the moment. He has not been able to tend to his land in the village of Turmus Ayya on the road north to Nablus for four years, and he is afforded no legal recourse from any quarter.
Some six years ago, a settlement outpost was established near the village. The settler who first drove up his caravan on an empty hilltop has since become notorious. All the villagers know him as Boaz. He is no longer alone. Now, some 50 caravans stand beside his. According to Israeli law, these settlement outposts are illegal. But the Israeli government has nevertheless provided them with paved roads, electricity and running water.
Saeed and his fellow villagers have been allowed onto their land for only a few days a year since the second intifada began in 2000. These are during the October-November olive harvest season. The farmers are desperate. Two days a year, only to harvest, is neither here nor there. For the rest of the year they are prevented from tending their land, from planting seedlings or from weeding and trimming. [complete article]
Insurgents step up attacks on Iraqi journalists
By Susannah A. Nesmith, Knight Ridder, February 24, 2005
Raeda Wazzan was headed home from work after picking up her 10-year-old daughter. That's the last her colleagues at Iraqiya, the state-run television station, know about her.
Suspected insurgents released Wazzan's little girl three days after Sunday's kidnapping, but no one has heard from Wazzan, the latest journalist to find herself in the insurgents' crosshairs. Her friends suspect she may have been killed and say her daughter was lucky.
While the insurgents have grabbed headlines by taking foreign correspondents hostage, Iraqi journalists and their families, have been in just as much danger. And in recent weeks, the insurgents seemed to have stepped up attacks against the country's public television station and against an Arabic-language station funded by the United States. [complete article]
Iraqi women eye Islamic law
By Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, February 25, 2005
Covered in layers of flowing black fabric that extend to the tips of her gloved hands, Jenan al-Ubaedy knows her first priority as one of some 90 women who will sit in the national assembly: implementing Islamic law.
She is quick to tick off what sharia will mean for married women. "[The husband] can beat his wife but not in a forceful way, leaving no mark. If he should leave a mark, he will pay," she says of a system she supports. "He can beat her when she is not obeying him in his rights. We want her to be educated enough that she will not force him to beat her, and if he beats her with no right, we want her to be strong enough to go to the police."
Broadening support for sharia may not have been the anticipated outcome of the US mandate that women make up one third of the national assembly. But Dr. Ubaedy's vision is shared by many members of the United Iraqi Alliance, a list of religious Shiite candidates that won a majority of seats. She says the women on the UIA list are meeting now to coordinate their agendas and reach out to women from other parties. [complete article]
Iraq's neighborhood councils are vanishing
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, February 25, 2005
As leader of both his district and neighborhood councils, retired Iraqi Army Col. Abdel Rahim saw himself as a warrior on the front lines of democracy. He braved intimidation and corruption to share in the American dream of transforming Iraq.
But on one August morning his dream came to an end. As he pulled away from his home, a white sedan screeched to a halt on his front bumper. A van blocked his rear. Four gunmen pumped his car full of bullets. Six rounds hit Colonel Rahim.
Rahim, a bald sparkplug of a man, was one of four members of Baghdad's Hay Somer neighborhood council killed in a two-week period last year. The council was one of the last holdouts of the dozens of local councils in Baghdad the US set up in 2003 as Iraq's first experiment in representative government for generations. [complete article]
Journalist is jailed for 14 years after 'insulting' authority
By Daniel Howden, The Independent, February 25, 2005
A prominent Iranian journalist and blogger has been sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges ranging from spying to aiding counter-revolutionaries. His sentence comes as part of the latest clerical crackdown on freedom of speech.
Arash Sigarchi, a regional newspaper editor, was accused of inciting a riot through his writings and insulting the authorities. His lawyer, Mohammad Saifzadeh, questioned the authority of the court and said he would appeal.
The trial was held behind closed doors in the absence of his lawyer; it is not known whether Mr Sigarchi was even present. A Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, who has also faced questioning from the "revolutionary court" - is expected to represent him at the appeal. [complete article]
Bush listened to Europe - now watch him ignore all the advice he got
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 24, 2005
So did President Bush's five-day trip to Europe amount to anything? Were fences mended, rifts repaired, bridges unburned? The president's entourage wants us to think so. Consider their elated spin on the president's remark that he would "think about" one of his allies' propositions.
It came during his photo op with the Slovakian prime minister, when a reporter asked Bush whether he might join Britain, France, and Germany -- the EU-3 -- in their negotiations to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear-weapons program. The widely quoted part of Bush's reply: "I was listening very carefully to the different ideas on negotiating strategies. ... I'm going to go back and think about the suggestions I've heard and the ways forward."
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, highlighted the passage while talking to reporters afterward, adding, "I think he wants to go back and think about it and talk to his national-security team." One White House reporter sidled up to a "senior administration official" to ask if this signaled a "shift." Yes, the SAO reportedly replied. "Last fall," he elaborated, "we were yelling at each other." [complete article]
By Roger Speed and Michael May, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April, 2005
The United States has more than 6,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons consisting of warheads delivered by long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), bombs, and cruise missiles. About 3,000 additional intact warheads are retained in reserve or inactive stockpiles. There are also a few hundred "tactical" (non-strategic) nuclear bombs carried by relatively short-range, dual-capable (conventional and nuclear) aircraft stationed in Europe and a few hundred submarine-launched cruise missiles kept in storage in the United States.
U.S. weapons reportedly have a wide range of yields. U.S. ballistic missiles carry only high-yield warheads (more than 100 kilotons), but some nuclear bombs and cruise missiles reportedly have flexible low-yield options, down to less than a kiloton.  The accuracies of U.S. strategic delivery systems are reportedly around 100 meters.
The NPR [Nuclear Posture Review] argues that the several thousand nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal will not be adequate to implement the Bush doctrine: "New capabilities must be developed to defeat emerging threats such as hard and deeply buried targets, to find and attack mobile and relocatable targets, to defeat chemical or biological agents, and to improve accuracy and limit collateral damage. Development of these capabilities, to include extensive research and timely fielding of new systems to address these challenges, are imperative to make the New Triad a reality."
The administration apparently believes that if it can limit "collateral damage"--unintended death and injury to civilians and unintended property damage--nuclear use would be more politically acceptable and credible. Most weapons in the current arsenal would produce unacceptably large collateral damage, so the administration argues that new low-yield, high-accuracy nuclear weapons must be sought. To that end, the Bush administration has sought to authorize the weapons labs to renew previous programs to examine a broad range of new nuclear weapons concepts, including low-yield weapons. [complete article]
Three little words matter to N. Korea
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 22, 2005
What's in a phrase? Everything, in the craft of diplomacy.
This is the story of three little words -- "no hostile intent" -- and the fierce tussle within the Bush administration over them as officials tried to develop a policy to confront North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
To a non-diplomat, the phrase might seem typical of the awkward and diffuse verbiage frequently uttered by men in pinstriped suits. But to the North Korean government, hearing those words from the United States looms large as the diplomatic equivalent of the Holy Grail.
Yet President Bush has never uttered them. Neither has Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell did, especially in the final months of his tenure -- and he frequently suggested Bush had said them, too. [complete article]
See also, Pyongyang waiting for the spring (Gavan McCormack, TomDispatch).
Pentagon seeking leeway overseas
By Ann Scott Tyson and Dana Priest, Washington Post, February 24, 2005
The Pentagon is promoting a global counterterrorism plan that would allow Special Operations forces to enter a foreign country to conduct military operations without explicit concurrence from the U.S. ambassador there, administration officials familiar with the plan said.
The plan would weaken the long-standing "chief of mission" authority under which the U.S. ambassador, as the president's top representative in a foreign country, decides whether to grant entry to U.S. government personnel based on political and diplomatic considerations.
The Special Operations missions envisioned in the plan would largely be secret, known to only a handful of officials from the foreign country, if any.
The change is included in a highly classified "execute order" -- part of a broad strategy developed since Sept. 11, 2001, to give the U.S. Special Operations Command new flexibility to track down and destroy terrorist networks worldwide, the officials said.
"This is a military order on a global scale, something that hasn't existed since World War II," said a counterterrorism official with lengthy experience in special operations. He and other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is classified. [complete article]
Kurds name their price for putting Shia party in power
By Patrick Cockburn and David Enders, The Independent, February 24, 2005
The Kurds are to stick to their demand for the oil city of Kirkuk and a degree of autonomy which is close to independence as negotiations begin to form the next Iraqi government. The coalition of Shia parties, the United Iraqi Alliance, has 140 seats in the 275-member National Assembly but despite its electoral triumph other parties are waiting to see if it will hold together. The coalition was cobbled together out of disparate groups under the influence of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
"The coalition is not as strong as we thought - with all of the weight of Sistani, it didn't get an absolute majority," said a Kurdish politician who asked not to be named. Nevertheless Iraqi Shias, 60 per cent of the population but never previously in power, feel that their moment has come.
The Kurds are in a strong position to press their demands because they have 75 seats. In the past they were always the core of the opposition to Saddam Hussein and their leaders have far more political and administrative experience than returning Shia exiles. The Kurds are the only people to support the US occupation.
Kurdish leaders say they will refuse to compromise over Kirkuk or the autonomy of the three northern Kurdish provinces from which Saddam Hussein retreated in 1991. They will also reject applying Islamic law in Kurdish regions. [complete article]
For more on Kirkuk, read Nir Rosen's feature article from last weekend's New York Times magazine, In the balance.
Kurd who will seal Saddam's fate
By Anthony Loyd, The Times, February 24, 2005
With the Kurds securing a strong second place in elections last month, and the victorious Shia having chosen Ibrahim al-Jaafari for the Prime Minister's job on Tuesday, Mr Talabani, 71, is the favourite for the presidency.
Yet there would be many ironies in him becoming titular head of a country whose rule he has spent most of his life fighting to escape.
"In my life I didn't think at all to be minister, or prime minister or president," he said. "I was thinking that the Kurdish struggle is a prolonged one and it will continue for many, many decades."
Since the 1991 Gulf War, the Kurds have enjoyed considerable autonomy and relative prosperity in the former no-fly zone of northern Iraq. As leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main Kurdish parties, Mr Talabani refuses to acknowledge that most of Iraq's five million Kurds now yearn for outright independence and appears to favour more realistic goals that would not lead to the break-up of Iraq. [complete article]
The man to heal Iraq
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, February 24, 2005
American helicopters drone overhead as guards open the gates to the compound. They grip Kalashnikovs while a colleague uses a mirror to check the underside of the car for bombs. Credentials are scrutinised once, twice, three times. At an inner gate a sentry does a serious frisk, not the usual pat-and-go. Mobile phones are handed over. "And your watches." They, too, disappear into a drawer. Two Americans with crew cuts and flak jackets with grenades, flares and ammunition clips are the escorts through the mansion's grounds. There is a moat with brown water, apparently bereft of life, until a fish leaps out and plops back in.
Of his many Baghdad palaces this was said to be one of Saddam Hussein's favourites. Now it is occupied by the man poised to replace him as ruler of Iraq. Ibrahim al-Jaafari is a very different man from the deposed dictator but he shares an occupational hazard: lots of people want to kill him.
To those who knew him as a mild-mannered family doctor in Wembley, north London, the transformation must be astounding. He is the epitome of a GP. A neatly trimmed beard, a bowl of sweets for visitors, chit-chat about the weather, reminiscence about a trip to Dublin, the voice so soft you sometimes have to lean forward to catch the words.
This week the main Shia alliance which won last month's election chose Jaafari to be its candidate as the next prime minister of Iraq, making his elevation a virtual certainty. It will sandwich him between the aspirations of a divided people, and the competing interests of America, Iran, Israel and insurgents, to name but some of those jostling for influence. [complete article]
Rebels confess to beheadings on Iraqi TV
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, February 24, 2005
Captured Iraqi insurgents who claim to have beheaded dozens of hostages were shown on television yesterday saying that they practised on chickens and sheep before moving on to people.
The state-run Iraqiya television station aired lengthy interviews with at least six men who said they were involved in gangs which kidnapped and killed dozens of people in the northern city of Mosul.
Speaking with little sign of remorse, the men said they were told they would be made princes after 10 beheadings.
The broadcasts, which began earlier this week, appeared to be a government-backed initiative to cast the insurgents in the worst possible light and to accuse Syria, which the men claimed had trained and paid them, of masterminding the atrocities. [...]
The broadcast echoed the televised confessions and humiliations of Saddam Hussein's opponents before his regime was toppled .
Iraqiya TV went on air in 2003 with funding from the Pentagon.
Viewers have responded with a mix of horror at the grisly details, fascination that the men look so normal, and suspicion that the public is being manipulated with broadcasts that air at least twice a day. [complete article]
Iraq expert, Juan Cole, says that it is "embarrassing that Allawi thought he could peddle this horse manure to the Iraqi and American publics."
British soldiers found guilty of abuse
By Audrey Gillan, The Guardian, February 24, 2005
Two soldiers were yesterday convicted of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in a case that has seriously undermined the standing of the British army and been dubbed the country's Abu Ghraib. Another pleaded guilty and a fourth was sentenced last month.
Judge Advocate Michael Hunter said that the scandal had "undoubtedly tarnished the international reputation of the British army and to some extent the British nation too". He described the behaviour uncovered by the court martial as brutal, cruel and revolting, and said it had jeopardised the safety of soldiers in Iraq.
The men were found guilty at a court martial in Germany of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the British Camp Breadbasket outside Basra two weeks after the conflict was declared over in May 2003. The abuse was captured in photographs which were published around the world. [complete article]
An 'a la carte' coalition between U.S. and Europe
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 24, 2005
Two years ago, as the United States prepared to invade Iraq, much of the opposition in Europe focused on the need to restrain the American "hyperpower" from running roughshod over international norms.
But as President Bush nears the end of his goodwill tour of Europe this week, it is increasingly clear the attitude has shifted. With the United States pinned down in Iraq, where the continued deployment of nearly 150,000 troops has severely strained the U.S. military, European leaders no longer expect further military expeditions in Bush's second term. And so they have been gracious -- but assertive, thus reflecting how far the United States has fallen from "hyperpower" status -- a term coined about America by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine.
Indeed, analysts said, European leaders are increasingly united against U.S. positions and feel emboldened to go their own way on such issues as Iran and China. [complete article]
Bush may weigh the use of incentives to dissuade Iran
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, February 24, 2005
President Bush said Wednesday that he and German, British and French leaders had discussed negotiating tactics to try to get Iran to give up its suspected nuclear weapons program, and his national security adviser later left open the possibility that Mr. Bush would consider offering incentives to dissuade Iran from its nuclear ambitions.
The tactic of incentives, favored by the Europeans, had been roundly rejected by the Bush administration as recently as two weeks ago.
Despite the glimmer of what the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, described as a "convergence" of the Americans and Europeans on the tactics to be used in negotiations with Iran, the president gave no indication that the United States would directly join in the talks, as the Europeans want. [complete article]
Canada says it won't join missile shield with the U.S.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times, February 24, 2005
The Canadian government has refused to take part in a planned North America missile defense system despite personal lobbying by President Bush here last November, United States diplomatic officials said Wednesday.
The long-awaited decision from Prime Minister Paul Martin was a symbolic setback for the Bush administration when it is trying to heal rifts with allies that emerged from the invasion of Iraq.
It was conveyed privately to senior United States officials this week in Ottawa and at the NATO summit meeting in Brussels, United States diplomats said. Asked about the issue on Wednesday in Parliament, Mr. Martin would not confirm that a decision had been made, but according to newspaper reports here quoting anonymous sources, an official announcement will be made this week. [complete article]
U.S. takes to the airwaves in hunt for Bin Laden
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, February 24, 2005
Spying hasn't worked, and neither has shooting. So America has turned to its great cultural weapon to flush out Osama bin Laden - television.
After a fruitless three-year hunt, the US is funding advertisements on Pakistani television which it hopes will touch the hearts of those close to the elusive al-Qaida leader.
As photos of Bin Laden and 13 other wanted men flicker across the screen a voice implores: "Who are the people who are suffering from terrorism? Our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters! Who can stop these terrorists? Only you!" [complete article]
Church council seeks pressure on Israel
By Rachel Zoll, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 23, 2005
The governing body of the World Council of Churches has asked its members to consider bringing economic pressure on companies that benefit from Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories. American Jewish leaders have condemned the recommendation as biased.
The Central Committee of the Geneva-based ecumenical group said Monday that its members should look to the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.), as a model for pursuing divestment. The Presbyterians voted last year to research divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza -- a strategy the World Council committee said was "commendable in both method and manner" and "uses criteria rooted in faith."
However, the Presbyterian vote sparked a crisis in U.S. Jewish-Christian relations that remains unresolved despite several meetings between leaders of both faiths. [complete article]
Allawi forms secular coalition to rival Shiite alliance in Iraq
By John F. Burns, New York Times, February 23, 2005
The interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, stepped up his bid to remain in the office today by announcing the formation of a new secular coalition that he and his supporters have said will seek to outmaneuver Shiite religious parties in the contest to form a new transitional government.
Mr. Allawi's move came a day after the Shiite alliance that won a bare majority in last month's elections named one of its leaders, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, as its candidate for prime minister. Mr. Jaafari heads an Islamist party, Dawa, whose official policies call for the "Islamization" of Iraqi society, but he has recently asserted that any government he headed would reach out across ethnic and religious lines and take a moderate position on divisive issues like the role of Islam.
By establishing what he called a "national democratic coalition which believes in Iraq and its principles," Dr. Allawi signaled his readiness to mount a potentially polarizing battle for power with the Shiite alliance. At his news conference today, he hinted that this would include attempts to lure defections among secularists elected on the Shiite alliance's list, stripping the alliance of the two-seat majority it won when it took 140 of the 275 seats in the new assembly. [complete article]
Palestinian leader gains Fatah faction's backing for cabinet
By Alan Cowell, New York Times, February 23, 2005
After three days of political impasse, the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, secured support within his Fatah party late today for a new cabinet composed largely of professionals and technocrats supposed to institute changes in Palestinian political life, Palestinian legislators said.
The agreement was depicted by legislators as a breakthrough strengthening the hand of President Mahmoud Abbas as he presses for changes sought by Palestinians, the United States and Israel after the death of the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in November.
The new cabinet list is now set to be put before the full Palestinian Parliament on Thursday, according to Hatem Abdul Kader, a Fatah legislator. The Fatah movement accounts for around three-quarters of Parliament's 84 members, and Mr. Qurei needs 43 votes to win approval of his 24-member cabinet. [complete article]
Palestinians freed, but barrier path still draws ire
By Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, February 22, 2005
The hope and skepticism among Palestinians over whether the current cease-fire can expand into peace is coloring reactions to Israel's release of 500 Palestinian prisoners Monday.
The step freed 118 administrative detainees who were never charged with any crime - as well as men convicted by military courts of crimes including shootings, possession of weapons, or ties to terrorist organizations.
It came a day after Israel's cabinet finalized the path of the controversial separation barrier and gave the final go-ahead to withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
These steps are all unilateral ones by Israel. Despite conciliatory pronouncements since a summit meeting in Egypt between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas two weeks ago, the two sides have yet to develop a solid cooperative relationship. [complete article]
Israel to disarm militant settlers
By Amy Teibel, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), February 23, 2005
Israel's police said yesterday they would disarm Jewish militants who threaten violence ahead of a Gaza Strip pullout and assign nearly all field officers to remove settlers and control protests -- signs of mounting concern the withdrawal could turn bloody.
Jewish settlers said they would set up a military-style operation to try to block the evacuation, set for this summer -- partly through civil disobedience and partly by lobbying lawmakers to bring down the government. [complete article]
Terrorist plot to kill Bush alleged
By Jerry Markon and Dana Priest, Washington Post, February 23, 2005
Federal prosecutors unveiled broad terrorism charges yesterday against a Northern Virginia man who had been detained in Saudi Arabia for nearly two years, accusing him of plotting to assassinate President Bush and trying to establish an al Qaeda cell in the United States.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 23, conspired with confederates in Saudi Arabia to shoot Bush on the street or kill him with a car bomb, according to a six-count indictment unsealed yesterday. The indictment said Abu Ali sought to become "a planner of terrorist operations" and compared him to leading al Qaeda figures associated with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Abu Ali's family and supporters denied the charges and said he had been tortured while he was being held by authorities in Saudi Arabia. Abu Ali's attorney said he intends to plead not guilty.
Law enforcement sources said the plot against Bush, which the indictment says was hatched while Abu Ali was studying in Saudi Arabia, never advanced beyond the talking stage. One source involved in the case said the U.S. government had hoped Saudi Arabia would bring charges against Ali, in part because of the lack of evidence linking him to any al Qaeda activities. [complete article]
THE ARC OF AMERICAN POWER
Why Europe ignores Bush
By Tony Karon, Time.com, February 21, 2005
Machiavelli's advice to political leaders was that it's more important to be feared than to be loved. That's no help for President Bush on his European tour; in spite of the warm words he's exchanging with European leaders, the reality is that the Bush administration is neither loved nor feared in growing sectors of the international community -- increasingly, it is simply being ignored.
New evidence of this trend, which has developed in the wake of the war in Iraq, emerges every week: Last Friday, Russia's President Vladimir Putin pooh-poohed the U.S. claim that Iran seeks nuclear weapons, and Moscow agreed to move ahead with delivering the nuclear fuel for Tehran's reactors despite Washington's opposition. And in case you missed the message, Russia has also agreed to supply advanced surface-to-air missiles to Syria, the latest focus of U.S. ire in the Middle East -- again in defiance of Washington's stated wishes.
It's hard to avoid the irony in Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's suggestion, in the wake of the fall of Baghdad, that the U.S. should "forgive Russia, ignore Germany and punish France" for opposing the war. On this trip, and Rice's preparatory one, it's more than clear that in fact they're trying hard to forgive France and Germany. And it's equally clear that Russia has no interest in U.S. "forgiveness" -- President Putin is ignoring the Bush administration. [complete article]
Comment -- The past four years -- which were supposed to be the beginning of a new American century -- have seen the neoconservative vision become a victim of its own success. Those who took pride in trumpeting America's imperial destiny ironically made that claim seem plausible to a world that felt more threatened than protected by the strength of the superpower. And while demonstrations of the limits of American power find new expressions almost every day, those outside the United States who might draw some measure of comfort at the sight of George Bush reaching out to Europe, recognize that though American power is now clearly constrained there is no indication that the American appetite for power has in any way diminished.
Neoconservative supporters of the Bush administration ever-mindful of impending danger warn that the latest threat to the world comes from Europe's apparent willingness to lift its embargo on arms trade to China. Writing in the Washington Post last Sunday, American Enterprise Institute resident fellow, Thomas Donnelly, argues that:
The immediate objective of the PLA's [People's Liberation Army] modernization effort [which would be boosted by the sale of European weapons technology] is the subjugation, either by intimidation or direct military action, of Taiwan. But the larger target is the United States and its position as the guarantor of freedom and stability in the region -- what the Chinese government calls American "hegemony." Beijing wants to develop the military capacity to deter the United States and its regional allies from acting in Asia. Lifting the embargo will go a long way toward helping the Chinese reach that goal.The problem, in the eyes of many Europeans, is that under George Bush's leadership the United States cannot credibly claim to be the guarantor of freedom and stability in East Asia -- or anywhere else for that matter. To those who still fear the expansion of American power, the rise of Chinese power may seem far less forbidding.
Bush tries to allay EU worry over Iran
By Michael A. Fletcher and Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, February 23, 2005
President Bush said Tuesday that concern about possible U.S. military action against Iran "is simply ridiculous," but he added at a news conference that "all options are on the table" in dealing with suspected Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.
After meeting with NATO and European Union officials, Bush welcomed modest pledges from opponents of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to help train and equip security forces there. While U.S. and European officials said there was an improved tone in their discussions, serious divisions remained over U.S. policy toward Iran and the Bush administration's objection to European plans to lift an arms embargo against China.
U.S. charges that Iran wants to build nuclear weapons have raised concern in Europe about U.S. military planning. Bush has repeatedly said he wants diplomacy with Tehran's theocratic government to work.
"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous," Bush said. "And having said that, all options are on the table." [complete article]
Bush leans on Putin. Will he budge?
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2005
Nearly four years after Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin formed warm personal ties, relations between Moscow and Washington are again chilly, and testing the partnership.
Thursday's much-awaited summit in Slovakia could redefine US-Russian ties, as two different worldviews contribute to rising tensions over the spread of democracy, a potentially nuclear Iran, and missile sales to Syria.
The rekindled US focus on democracy - after three years of seeing nearly every foreign policy issue through the prism of the war on terror - has deepened anxiety for Russia leading up to the summit.
Bush's comments Monday in Brussels that the US and Europe "should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia" underscores how at odds the two leaders are over the importance of democratic reforms.
Although both nations remain committed to strategic issues of nuclear nonproliferation and the war on terror, the Kremlin has deepened its authoritarian rule, opposed the US invasion of Iraq, and accused Washington of trying to lure former Soviet states into the Western camp, by helping orchestrate revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. [complete article]
U.S.' prewar visions get further out of focus
By Patrick J. McDonnell and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2005
Two years ago, as the U.S. planned to march into Baghdad, many in the Bush administration had a vision for Iraq's first freely elected government in decades. It would be a pro-U.S. regime that would support American military bases, embrace U.S. businesses and serve as a model for democracy in the region.
Now as Ibrahim Jafari seems certain to become Iraq's new prime minister, the U.S. faces the prospect of dealing with a government whose views may be closer to Tehran's than to Washington's. And U.S. officials are left wondering how many of their assumptions will prove true. [complete article]
BUSH FAMILY WAR PROFITEER
Company's work in Iraq profited Bush's uncle
By Walter F. Roche Jr., Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2005
The Iraq war helped bring record earnings to St. Louis-based defense contractor Engineered Support Systems Inc., and new financial data show that the firm's war-related profits have trickled down to a familiar family name — Bush.
William H.T. "Bucky" Bush, uncle of the president and youngest brother of former President George H.W. Bush, cashed in ESSI stock options last month with a net value of nearly half a million dollars.
"Uncle Bucky," as he is known to the president, is on the board of the company, which supplies armor and other materials to U.S. troops. The company's stock prices have soared to record heights since before the invasion, benefiting in part from contracts to rapidly refit fleets of military vehicles with extra armor.
William Bush exercised options on 8,438 shares of company stock Jan. 18, according to reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He acknowledged in an interview that the transaction was worth about $450,000. [complete article]
Revealed: the rush to war
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, February 23, 2005
The [British] attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, warned less than two weeks before the invasion of Iraq that military action could be ruled illegal.
The government was so concerned that it might be prosecuted it set up a team of lawyers to prepare for legal action in an international court.
And a parliamentary answer issued days before the war in the name of Lord Goldsmith - but presented by ministers as his official opinion before the crucial Commons vote - was drawn up in Downing Street, not in the attorney general's chambers.
The full picture of how the government manipulated the legal justification for war, and political pressure placed on its most senior law officer, is revealed in the Guardian today. [complete article]
Read an extract from Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules, by Philippe Sands, describing the process through which Britain's attorney general constructed a legal case for war.
In opposition, Lebanese find unity
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2005
For a country associated with sectarian strife, Lebanon is showing unprecedented displays of interfaith solidarity, spurred by outrage at the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and resentment at Syria's continuing hegemony.
With Syria blamed for Mr. Hariri's death in a massive bomb blast on Feb. 14, Lebanese Muslims and Christians have taken to the streets of Beirut in unparalleled numbers to call for an end to Damascus's long domination of its tiny Mediterranean neighbor.
"This is the beginning of something important," says Gebran Tueni, editor of Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper, speaking during a demonstration on Monday that brought tens of thousands of Lebanese to central Beirut. "It's the first time you have Christians, Muslims, and Druze asking for the same thing: a Syrian withdrawal and a democratic society in Lebanon." [complete article]
Shiite party taps al-Jaafari as choice for prime minister
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, February 22, 2005
The dominant Shiite Muslim political ticket on Tuesday picked its candidate for prime minister: Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a man who some fear could lead the nation toward theocracy.
The 58-year-old doctor got the nod after several days of intense negotiations behind closed doors when onetime Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi withdrew under heavy pressure by the United Iraqi Alliance, the cleric-led Shiite coalition that won a majority of seats in the new National Assembly.
Al-Jaafari is likely to get the two-thirds majority of assembly votes he needs to win appointment by means of a deal with the main Kurdish ticket, which has been promised the less-powerful presidency. That post is to be filled by veteran Kurdish politician Jalal Talabani.
Although al-Jaafari's term would last only until the end of the year, when Iraq is scheduled to hold new elections, he'll oversee the crucial process of drafting Iraq's permanent constitution. The drafting of the constitution has the potential to split the nation along ethnic lines or to draw it toward stability and democracy. [complete article]
In Iraq, to be a hairstylist is to risk death
By Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2005
A bomb rips through a women's hair salon, shattering wall-length mirrors and shredding posters of coiffures.
In another neighborhood, gunmen fire wildly into a busy barbershop, killing the owner and three teenage boys waiting for haircuts.
At yet another shop, a masked visitor presses a note into the palm of a horrified haircutter. The message: "Our swords are thriving for the neck of barbers."
Iraq's insurgency has long targeted local police, government leaders and national guardsmen as a means of destabilizing the nascent democracy, but now guerrillas have taken aim at a far more unlikely line of work.
In what some describe as a Taliban-like effort to impose a militant Islamic aesthetic, extremists have been warning Iraqi barbers not to violate strict Islamic teachings by trimming or removing men's beards. Giving Western-style haircuts or removing hair in an "effeminate" manner, they say, are crimes punishable by death. [complete article]
Chalabi withdraws bid to be next Iraqi PM
Associated Press, February 22, 2005
Interim Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari was chosen Tuesday to be his Shiite ticket's candidate for prime minister after Ahmad Chalabi dropped his bid, senior alliance officials said.
Pressure from within the ranks of the winning United Iraqi Alliance forced the withdrawal of Chalabi, a one-time Pentagon favorite, said Hussein al-Moussawi from the Shiite Political Council, an umbrella group for 38 Shiite parties.
"They wanted him to withdraw. They didn't want to push the vote to a secret ballot," al-Moussawi said.
The 140 members were to put the decision between Chalabi and al-Jaafari to a secret ballot by Tuesday's end.
The decision came after three days of round-the-clock negotiations by senior members of the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance, which emerged from the Jan. 30 elections with a 140-seat majority in the 275-member parliament, or National Assembly. [complete article]
Comment -- For a while, it was looking like Chalabi was adopting the Bush-2000 Rovian strategy: act like the winner and the skeptics will get sidelined. But though Chalabi can remain confident in his ability to string along American journalists, success in Iraqi politics perhaps calls for a broader range of skills than are required for effective campaigning in the US.
For some, a loss in Iraq turns into antiwar activism
By Evelyn Nieves, Washington Post, February 22, 2005
Five minutes after President Bush began his State of the Union address, Cindy Sheehan clicked off her television set.
She would read the transcript, watch the salute to the parents of a Marine killed in Fallujah, chew over such words as "ultimate sacrifice" and "fight against tyranny" -- the next morning.
But that night, live, in her living room, so close to her son's photos and medals on the foyer wall -- no. It was too much to hear the cheering for the man who had sent her son to Iraq on the premise that Saddam Hussein stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Casey Sheehan, a former Eagle Scout and altar boy who had joined the Army hoping to serve as a chaplain's assistant, was killed at age 24 in a war he wasn't sure why he was fighting. And more soldiers like him were dying every day. Where was the outrage? [complete article]
Interrupted by war, the struggle to care for family and business
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, February 22, 2005
Specialist Shannon A. Cooper gets through each day with a muscular ebullience that helps keep regret and longing at bay. She was separated from her two daughters when she mobilized for training with the 42nd Infantry Division of the National Guard last spring and has not seen them since she flew out of McGuire Air Force Base last fall to begin her yearlong tour of duty in northern Iraq.
What made the separation even worse was that several days before Specialist Cooper shipped out, her marriage collapsed, and she had to move her daughters out of the couple's home in Syracuse and into her father's home in Union Beach, N.J.
"When I call and they're crying on the phone, I want to be home so bad," Specialist Cooper, 34, said in an interview last week on Forward Operating Base Speicher, an American military base several miles north of here. She has been assigned to run a morale-boosting coffee shop for her company. Her mission, she said, is to dispense "smiles and hugs" and make the soldiers feel better in a grueling situation. But as she spoke, tears leaked through her cheery resolve and welled on the rims of her eyes. [complete article]
Syria pledges pullout again amid protests by Lebanese
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, February 22, 2005
Syria repeated longstanding promises on Monday to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, as tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Beirut in the largest anti-Syrian protests since the killing a week earlier of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister.
Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, made the pledge in a meeting in Damascus with Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, but political analysts were quick to dismiss the offer as little more than wordplay. [...]
"Assad stressed more than once his firm determination to go on with implementing the Taif agreement and achieve Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in accordance with this agreement," Mr. Moussa told reporters.
Yet hours after Mr. Moussa's comments, the Syrian government sought to minimize their effects. Syria's information minister, Mehdi Dakhlallah, said the statements simply re-emphasize established Syrian policy, while the country's official news service, SANA, did even not report the pronouncement.
"There is nothing new here," Mr. Dakhlallah said. "There is a joint Lebanese-Syrian policy that has been made. We are ready to withdraw in five minutes if the Lebanese government asks us to." [complete article]
Anti-Syria chorus echoes through Beirut
By Rym Ghazal, Daily Star, February 22, 2005
At exactly 12.55 p.m. a crowd of tens of thousands of people went completely silent, whereas a second before they were screaming out their hunger for "freedom, sovereignty and independence." Seven days after the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, tens of thousands of Lebanese carrying anti-Syrian banners swarmed the seafront area where Hariri was killed last Monday, roaring thundering chants of "Yalla, Syria out."
"We have had enough of Syrian secret intelligence ruling our country and killing those they don't like," shouted Joseph Njeim, as he distributed black and white flags printed by university students with the slogan: "We will fight till we get our freedom."
"We want our independence and our freedom to rule our own country," he said as he disappeared amongst a sea of Lebanese flags to that of the disbanded Christian Lebanese Forces and party flags of the Progressive Socialist Party headed by Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt. [complete article]
Joshua Landis, writing from Damascus observes:
If Lebanon has seen a renaissance of spirit, Syria has had its spirit drained. The Ba'th (Renaissance) Party is in all time disarray. Fa'iq Ismail of the Progressive Front wrote the other day that the Party would not discuss "domestic maters" in its much anticipated meeting this summer. Only foreign topics would be on the table. That means no party reform as many had hoped, no legalization of new political groupings, and no end to the straight jacket of socialism and one party rule. If Lebanon is entering a new era of freedom with new leaders, Syria is mired in the old. There are no demonstrations here.
Syria has a unique opportunity to fulfill the course of history
Editorial, Daily Star, February 21, 2005
The writing is on the wall. It is scrawled in very large, angry letters all over Beirut, and it can be seen in the office of French President Jacques Chirac, and it can be seen trailing, like graffiti, behind U.S. President George W. Bush wherever he goes. The question now is, "Is Damascus blind?"
The writing says that Syria must leave Lebanon and grant to the Lebanese their right to determine their own affairs. Sooner or later, the prophecy inherent in the words will be fulfilled - they must. It is the course of history, and the momentum of Lebanese history has been gathering pace over the last few months: Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last Monday, it has reached a fever pitch of pace.
A mass demonstration in Beirut one week after Hariri's slaying was a statement of communal unity that has rarely been witnessed in Lebanon - it has been likened to the buildup to the country's 1943 independence from France. It was a declaration for the Lebanese longing for true sovereignty. It is a declaration being echoed in Washington and Paris: Last night in Brussels, Bush and Chirac issued a joint statement calling for the immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. They also reiterated their support for the UN investigation into Hariri's murder that is expected to begin work in Beirut this week. The European Union is also coming on board. [complete article]
EU chief dampens mood of entente with Bush
By Alec Russell and David Rennie, The Telegraph, February 22, 2005
The EU's foreign policy chief cast public doubt on the health of the transatlantic partnership yesterday, puncturing the euphoric claims by European and American officials that President George W Bush had opened a new era in relations.
Javier Solana disputed the American view that last month's elections in Iraq had vindicated the US decision to invade and questioned whether the Bush administration's promises of a new era in relations with Europe meant anything.
The comments by Mr Solana, EU's high representative for common foreign and security policy, struck a discordant note with the upbeat tone adopted by Mr Bush and European leaders as the president embarked on a four-day reconciliation tour. [complete article]
President Bush: A Palestinian state on scattered territory cannot work
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 22, 2005
U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday placed achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement at the top of NATO's list of priorities.
Bush, speaking in Brussels on the first day of a fence-mending trip to Europe, called for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state with territorial contiguity in the West Bank. "A state on scattered territories will not work," he said.
The president pledged support for the peace talks and Palestinian reforms, but also underscored the need for Israel to end its settlement activity. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution is now within reach, he said, adding that Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and Palestinian reform could give momentum to changes throughout the Middle East." [complete article]
Palestinian PM in cabinet crisis
BBC News, February 22, 2005
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has scrapped his proposed cabinet list and promised a fresh team after angry MPs threatened to vote him from office.
Almost all MPs who spoke in a stormy parliament session opposed a cabinet they said was stacked with members of the old guard tainted by corruption.
A new line-up of reform-minded technocrats will be presented on Wednesday, Mr Qurei told parliament. [complete article]
The real Afghanistan
By Pankaj Mishra, New York Review of Books, March 10, 2005
Few countries in modern times have had to wait for better days as long as Afghanistan has. A bright future seemed imminent in late 2001, when the United States overthrew the Taliban regime. But the past seems hard to shake off in Afghanistan, and no events in it more so than the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979, and the American decision to help radical Islamists wage a jihad against Soviet communism.
The next two decades of war killed more than a million Afghans and displaced up to six million besides destroying much of Afghanistan's basic infrastructure -- dams, bridges, irrigation systems -- and littering the country with land mines. The United States lost interest in Afghanistan soon after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, while Afghans continued to pay a high price for having hosted one of the bloodiest battles of the cold war. In late 2001, the United States was faced with fresh responsibilities in Afghanistan. It was obliged not only to engage in nation-building -- a task President Bush rejected during a presidential debate with Al Gore in 2000 as unsuitable for the United States -- but also to provide basic security to more than 25 million people in a country as big as Texas. As it turns out, the way the Bush administration conducted the war, and dealt with its aftermath, has complicated both tasks. [complete article]
Afghan living standards among the lowest, U.N. finds
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, February 22, 2005
Three years after the United States drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan and vowed to rebuild, the war-shattered country ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the United Nations 2004 Human Development Index, according to a new report from the United Nations.
It was trailed only by a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone.
The survey, "National Human Development Report: Security With a Human Face," released Monday in Kabul, is the first comprehensive look at the state of development in Afghanistan in 30 years. In addition to ranking Afghanistan in the development index for the first time, the report warned that Afghanistan could revert to anarchy if its dire poverty, poor health and insecurity were not improved.
"The fragile nation could easily tumble back into chaos," concluded the authors of the study, led by Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, the report's editor in chief. "The basic human needs and genuine grievances of the people, lack of jobs, health, education, income, dignity and opportunities for participation must be met." [complete article]
Iranian distrust of America is 50 years in the making
By Behzad Yaghmaian, USA Today, February 22, 2005
The recent revelation of secret U.S. reconnaissance missions inside Iran and President Bush's inaugural speech, which included his promise to end tyranny around the world, brought back memories for me and many Iranians. Those recollections include a coup d'etat in 1953 that led to a distrust of America that lingers today.
I was born a few days after America helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and reinstalled the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Afterward, my birth was never mentioned without some reference to Mossadegh and America. As a child, I remember being afraid of America.
Later, though, in high school, I became a fan of America, especially its music and movies. I loved Westerns and saved pictures of movie stars. Yet, like many Iranians, I could not shake my misgivings.
As I grew older, these conflicting feelings of admiration and distrust became stronger. For example, I grew fond of U.S. political and social values. But I also realized that America had stolen from me the possibility of growing up in a free and democratic Iran. As a result of the CIA-planned coup d'etat, I grew up in a corrupt dictatorship. [complete article]
Iran won't give up its nuclear program
Associated Press (via USA Today), February 22, 2005
Iran on Tuesday shrugged off growing pressure from the United States to abandon its nuclear program, saying it was not violating international laws that allow the peaceful use of atomic energy.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said his country was well within its rights to develop its nuclear program, which he insisted was in accordance with regulations set by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran will not give up its nuclear program and will not be cowed by Washington, he said.
"We are not going to renounce our universally recognized right" to develop the nuclear program, Kharrazi said.
"We are not concerned about the threats from Americans because they know themselves that Iran is very different from other countries. We are capable enough to defend ourselves," Kharrazi told a meeting organized by a state-run foreign policy think tank. [complete article]
Global blogger action day called
By Jo Twist, BBC News, February 22, 2005
The global web blog community is being called into action to lend support to two imprisoned Iranian bloggers.
The month-old Committee to Protect Bloggers' is asking those with blogs to dedicate their sites on Tuesday to the "Free Mojtaba and Arash Day".
Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad are both in prison in Iran. [complete article]
For more on Iranian blogs see Wikipedia.
Pullback of Syrian troops from Lebanon likely as discontent grows
By Michael Matza, Knight Ridder, February 21, 2005
Mounting pressure on Syria's regime to ease its grip on neighboring Lebanon produced a promise of action Monday in a statement from Damascus that Syria "soon" will take unspecified steps to withdraw its troops.
The statement by visiting Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa came as President Bush told European leaders that Syria must end its three-decade "occupation" of Lebanon and more than 100,000 Lebanese demonstrators rallied in central Beirut, shouting, "Syria, out!"
"From the littlest baby to the oldest man, we want our country back," said Maurice Baz, 84, a retired lawyer. Baz said that the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a bombing last week produced an outpouring of Lebanese opposition to the presence of Syrian troops. [complete article]
Israeli cabinet backs pullout plan
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, February 21, 2005
Israel's cabinet on Sunday solidly approved Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers from the Gaza Strip later this year.
The 17-to-5 vote in favor of the disengagement plan was a major personal and political triumph for Sharon, who has fought for more than a year for approval to withdraw about 8,200 settlers from 21 settlements in Gaza and cede the lands to the Palestinians. Thousands of Israeli soldiers based in and around the settlements would also be evacuated.
The plan, which Israel's ultra-nationalists and settler groups oppose, also calls for withdrawing about 500 settlers, and the soldiers who protect them, from four settlements in the northernmost areas of the West Bank. [complete article]
The calm before the storm
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, February 21, 2005
The impression one gets from the goings-on among the Palestinian public and leadership is that the question isn't whether the bloody clashes will start up again - but when. In other words, when will the relative calm end and the routine of terror attacks and violence return?
The reason for the few-and-far-between terror attacks in recent weeks is not only the efforts of the new government of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his deals with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but primarily the public mood in the territories, where people are weary of the hardships of the intifada. There's a desire for some peace and quiet in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This was expressed well by the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, who explained over the weekend that his organization had agreed to participate in maintaining the calm because Hamas and its activists are committed to rebuilding and development in the territories to the same degree that they are committed to the struggle and liberation.
But there are limits to this weariness, and the seeds of trouble can be seen in the field. The first is the prisoners' affair. The publication of the list of 500 prisoners whom Israel is about to release (and it doesn't include prisoners from East Jerusalem) was met with protest rallies in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as threats of hunger strikes. Palestinian spokespersons said it was an insult, that it was like spitting in the face of Abu Mazen, while Palestinian cabinet minister Ghassan al-Khatib, exaggerating somewhat perhaps, said that since the Sharm al-Sheikh summit, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service had arrested approximately the same number of Palestinians they had hoped to release now. There were expectations in the territories for the dramatic release of 3,000 (according to Mohammed Dahlan) or 5,000 (Marwan Barghouti) prisoners, and not for a repeat performance of the Israeli style of freeing prisoners who had been sentenced to short jail terms and were slated for release soon anyway. [complete article]
Allies must not leave yet, says Iraq leader
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, February 21, 2005
The leader of an Islamic party who is expected to be named Iraq's new prime minister in the next few days has urged Tony Blair not to pull out British troops.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who would be the first Shia to be in charge of the Iraqi government, confounded his critics by saying that his country could not maintain order without the help of foreign soldiers.
"Iraq's security services need more personnel, training and equipment," he said yesterday. "We need their presence for a certain time till we can depend on ourselves 100 per cent.
"There are many people still working for Saddam Hussein, terrorists from outside, and there is still the 'mafia'. Blood is spilled. How would it be if the troops left?"
Iraqi Sunnis demand a voice in the new government
AP/AFP (via IHT), February 21, 2005
With the Shiite majority still reeling from carnage that left nearly 100 people dead over two days, tribal leaders from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority scrambled Sunday to demand a say in Iraq's first freely elected government in modern history.
With a new cabinet perhaps only days away, tribal chiefs representing Sunni Arabs in six provinces issued a list of demands - including participation in the government and drafting a new constitution - after previously refusing to acknowledge the vote's legitimacy.
"We made a big mistake when we didn't vote," Sheik Hathal Younis Yahiya, 49, a representative for northern Nineveh, said. "Our votes were very important."
He said the main reason most Sunni Arabs did not vote were threats from insurgents and "not for a sectarian reasons, as many people said."
"We call upon the government to appoint some of our dignitaries in the National Assembly to take their role in the coming political process and especially draft the new constitution," he said. [complete article]
Violence trumps rebuilding in Iraq
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2005
Skyrocketing security costs have forced American officials here to slash about $1 billion from projects intended to rebuild Iraq's shattered infrastructure, dealing another blow to U.S. plans to pacify Iraq by improving basic services.
William Taylor, a U.S. diplomat who oversees Iraqi reconstruction efforts, said the country's violent insurgency had created a "security premium," gobbling up money that otherwise would have been spent to provide clean water, electricity and sanitation for Iraqis. [complete article]
Prisoner uprising in Iraq exposes new risk for U.S.
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, February 21, 2005
A bloody inmate riot three weeks ago at the biggest U.S.-run detention facility in Iraq has exposed an increasingly hard-core prison population that is confronting U.S. forces with a growing risk of prison violence, according to military officers.
U.S. troops who dealt with the clash tell of a chaotic and threatening situation. They say the extent of violence surprised them. They also say the nonlethal weapons available to them at the time for crowd control proved largely ineffectual. [complete article]
Aboard Air CIA
By Michael Hirsh, Mark Hosenball and John Barry, Newsweek, February 28, 2005
Like many detainees with tales of abuse, Khaled el-Masri had a hard time getting people to believe him. Even his wife didn't know what to make of his abrupt, five-month disappearance last year. Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was taken off a bus in Macedonia in south-central Europe while on holiday on Dec. 31, 2003, then whisked in handcuffs to a motel outside the capital city of Skopje. Three weeks later, on the evening of Jan. 23, 2004, he was brought blindfolded aboard a jet with engines noisily revving, according to his lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic. Masri says he climbed high stairs "like onto a regular passenger airplane" and was chained to clamps on the bare metal floor and wall of the jet.
Masri says he was then flown to Afghanistan, where at a U.S. prison facility he was shackled, repeatedly punched and questioned about extremists at his mosque in Ulm, Germany. Finally released months later, the still-mystified Masri was deposited on a deserted road leading into Macedonia, where he brokenly tried to describe his nightmarish odyssey to a border guard. "The man was laughing at me," Masri told The New York Times, which disclosed his story last month. "He said: 'Don't tell that story to anyone because no one will believe it. Everyone will laugh.' "
No one's laughing these days, least of all the CIA. NEWSWEEK has obtained previously unpublished flight plans indicating the agency has been operating a Boeing 737 as part of a top-secret global charter servicing clandestine interrogation facilities used in the war on terror. And the Boeing's flight information, detailed to the day, seems to confirm Masri's tale of abduction. [complete article]
Prepackaged news gets GAO rebuke
By Christopher Lee, Washington Post, February 21, 2005
The Government Accountability Office warned federal departments last week against using a popular public relations tool that already has landed two agencies in hot water for breaking federal anti-propaganda laws.
In a Feb. 17 memo, Comptroller General David M. Walker reminded department and agency heads that prepackaged news stories that do not identify the government as their source violate provisions in annual appropriations laws that ban covert propaganda.
"It is not enough that the contents of an agency's communication may be unobjectionable," Walker wrote. "Neither is it enough for an agency to identify itself to the broadcasting organization as the source of the prepackaged news story." [complete article]
Army having difficulty meeting goals in recruiting
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, February 21, 2005
The active-duty Army is in danger of failing to meet its recruiting goals, and is beginning to suffer from manpower strains like those that have dropped the National Guard and Reserves below full strength, according to Army figures and interviews with senior officers .
For the first time since 2001, the Army began the fiscal year in October with only 18.4 percent of the year's target of 80,000 active-duty recruits already in the pipeline. That amounts to less than half of last year's figure and falls well below the Army's goal of 25 percent.
Meanwhile, the Army is rushing incoming recruits into training as quickly as it can. Compared with last year, it has cut by 50 percent the average number of days between the time a recruit signs up and enters boot camp. It is adding more than 800 active-duty recruiters to the 5,201 who were on the job last year, as attracting each enlistee requires more effort and monetary incentives. [complete article]
U.S. FORCES CAN'T DEFEAT IRAQI INSURGENCY
Rep. Skelton: ...what are the metrics for success? In other words, what is the strategy to win? We must win there. What is our strategy? Would you tell us, Mr. Secretary? [...]
Secretary Rumsfeld: With respect to the Iraq situation, the answer to your question is that it will be the Iraqi people that defeat that insurgency.
Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, February 16, 2005We aren't fighting to win anymore
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2005
Americans of a certain age will recall Douglas MacArthur's pithy aphorism: "There is no substitute for victory." The remark captures an essential element of our military tradition. When the United States goes to war, it fights to win, to force the enemy to do our will. To sacrifice our soldiers' lives for anything less -- as MacArthur charged was the case in Korea and later unambiguously became the case in Vietnam -- smacks of being somehow un-American.
But among the various official statements being issued to explain events in Iraq, any mention of military victory has become notable by its absence. Tacitly -- unnoticed even by the war's critics -- the Bush administration has all but given up any expectation of defeating the enemy with whom we are engaged.
In the early days of the insurgency, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez vowed to use "whatever combat power is necessary to win," displaying all the pugnacity of a George Patton or Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf. "That's what America expects of me," declared Sanchez in December 2003, "and that's what I'm going to accomplish." Senior commanders no longer make such bold promises. Nor do senior civilian officials in Washington.
Indeed, today the Bush administration's aim is not to win but to relieve itself of responsibility for waging a war that it began but cannot finish. Debate in national security circles focuses not on deploying war-winning technologies or fielding innovative tactics that might turn the tide, but on how we can extricate ourselves before our overstretched forces suffer irreparable damage. [complete article]
Insurgents wage precise attacks on Baghdad fuel
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 21, 2005
Insurgent attacks to disrupt Baghdad's supplies of crude oil, gasoline, heating oil, water and electricity have reached a degree of coordination and sophistication not seen before, Iraqi and American officials say.
The new pattern, they say, shows that the insurgents have a deep understanding of the complex network of pipelines, power cables and reservoirs feeding Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
The shadowy insurgency is a fractured movement made up of distinct groups of Sunnis, Shiites and foreign fighters, some of them aligned and some not. But the shift in the attack patterns strongly suggests that some branch of the insurgency is carrying out a systematic plan to cripple Baghdad's ability to provide basic services for its six million citizens and to prevent the fledgling government from operating.
A new analysis by some of those officials shows that the choice of targets and the timing of sabotage attacks has evolved over the past several months, shifting from economic targets to become what amounts to a siege of the capital. [complete article]
Talking with the enemy
By Michael Ware, Time, February 20, 2005
The secret meeting is taking place in the bowels of a facility in Baghdad, a cavernous, heavily guarded building in the U.S.-controlled green zone. The Iraqi negotiator, a middle-aged former member of Saddam Hussein's regime and the senior representative of the self-described nationalist insurgency, sits on one side of the table.
He is here to talk to two members of the U.S. military. One of them, an officer, takes notes during the meeting. The other, dressed in civilian clothes, listens as the Iraqi outlines a list of demands the U.S. must satisfy before the insurgents stop fighting. The parties trade boilerplate complaints: the U.S. officer presses the Iraqi for names of other insurgent leaders; the Iraqi says the newly elected Shi'a-dominated government is being controlled by Iran. The discussion does not go beyond generalities, but both sides know what's behind the coded language.
The Iraqi's very presence conveys a message: Members of the insurgency are open to negotiating an end to their struggle with the U.S. "We are ready," he says before leaving, "to work with you." [complete article]
American troops prepare for assault on Sunni stronghold
By Kim Sengupta and David Enders, The Independent, February 21, 2005
American and Iraqi government forces have surrounded the city of Ramadi in preparation for an expected full-scale attack on the city, which has in effect slipped into the hands of insurgents.
The operation, with US Marines forming the main attack force, comes less than three months after the massive and controversial assault on Fallujah and follows a pledge by Washington to pacify the remaining rebel strongholds.
The people of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad and adjacent to Fallujah, have been placed under a curfew during the operation, codenamed River Blitz. According to the US military, the operation is at the orders of the Iraqi interim authority and follows suicide bombings and other attacks on Shia Muslims marking the festival of Ashura. At least 50 people were killed in two days. The US and the Iraqi interim government have blamed the blasts on the Sunni resistance and in particular the group led by the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [complete article]
Suicide bombers aim at a Shiite holy day in Iraq
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 20, 2005
Six suicide bombers, including one on a bicycle, hurled themselves into Iraqi crowds and set off explosives on Saturday, killing as many as 39 people and wounding about 150 in a wave of mayhem intended to disrupt Ashura, the holiest day in Shiite Islam.
The attacks came on a day of huge and often delirious celebrations by hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites around the country, marking the seventh-century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussein. The bombings Saturday pushed the two day death-toll here to at least 74, following five suicide attacks Friday. [complete article]
A diplomatic tsunami is brewing over the corpse of Lebanon's government
Editorial, Daily Star, February 21, 2005
Lebanon and Syria are not unlike the Pacific Basin that produced the tsunami that recently devastated Southeast and South Asia. Here in Beirut, however, it is a diplomatic tsunami that is brewing, with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri akin to the earthquake that produced the tidal wave. Even the initial effects of this storm are serious enough, and Syrian President Bashar Assad and the regime he heads have taken a battering. More, much more, should be expected.
As the storm gathers force, Syria's supporters here are becoming less imaginative by the day. Indeed, the government appears leaderless and directionless except for a blind obsession to cling to power. Prime Minister Omar Karami, for all intents and purposes, may as well not exist.
This lack of leadership has created a vacuum into which other actors are stepping. Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and parliamentary speaker and Amal Movement leader Nabih Berri have, it seems, nominated themselves to represent a disheveled and disoriented government. Once again it is possible that Lebanon is witnessing the ascendance of community leaders to fill the gap left by a crumbling national government. [complete article]
THE NEW NUCLEAR ARMS RACE
Flirting with Armageddon: welcome to a new arms race
By Paul Harris and Jason Burke, The Observer, February 20, 2005
It was 1.22am last Monday on the frozen Alaskan island of Kodiak when the missile flared upwards into the night sky. As the rocket's flames disappeared into darkness, United States military chiefs waited with baited breath to see if their multibillion dollar 'Son of Star Wars' defence shield would work.
Thousands of miles away on the Pacific island of Kwajalein another missile was primed to intercept the Alaskan launch, soaring to destroy its target in the upper atmosphere and thus 'save America from nuclear devastation'. It never made it. The test failed.
On Kwajalein metal supports holding the interceptor rocket failed to disengage. If it had been real the enemy nuke would have hit its target. The system has now failed in six out of nine tests. Many experts believe it simply does not work.
But this does not deter the Pentagon. It is in a frenzy to put a missile shield around America. The threat from nuclear attack is now once more at the centre of strategic planning. The missile defence shield is not seen as a throwback but as a vital part of defence. Nuclear weapons too remain in US plans, it is now looking at developing a whole new range of 'bunker buster' nukes.
A new nuclear arms race is gripping the world. Many experts believe the likelihood of such an attack is greater now than it was during the Cold War. North Korea has already claimed it has nuclear weapons, Iran could be on the brink of building them. Both nations could trigger arms races among their neighbours. The international system set up to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons has sprung a series of leaks. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned of a 'cascade' of states going nuclear. [complete article]
Nuclear reality: America loses bite
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 20, 2005
Not so long ago, the terrifying rules of nuclear chicken were clear.
When only superpowers and their allies held nuclear arsenals, deterrence worked, because all sides understood the horrific consequences of a misstep. Even during the most unnerving confrontations, like the Cuban missile crisis, there were clear "red lines" beyond which no sane leader would intentionally step. And as nuclear technology spread, new red lines emerged. Israel enforced one 24 years ago, when it destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor rather than let him get near a bomb.
But the lesson of the past few years is that red lines have blurred, to the point where they are now little more than pink smudges. And now, no one seems to know the rules. Not the Bush administration, as it sends conflicting signals about what it and its allies will do if diplomacy fails to disarm Iran and North Korea. Not Kim Jong Il, or the Iranian mullahs, as they test new and undefined limits. And why not test them?
They all know that India, Pakistan and Israel joined the nuclear club without ever accepting the rules laid out in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Even after India and Pakistan set off tests in 1998, the sanctions America imposed were relatively mild and short-lived. As soon as America needed Pakistan's help after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the country was transformed from nuclear outlaw to "major non-NATO ally." [complete article]
Comment -- As I've said many times before, the core issue here is that in honest negotiations and the development of an international consensus, proliferation cannot be separated from disarmament. The fact that the United States has decoupled the two objectives means it is governed by a single principle: the desire to maintain and wield global power. This undermines the very possibility that other nations could be persuaded to balance their individual interests with those of the international community. Underlying this fracturing of interests is the Bush administration's own unwillingness to entertain the idea that the interests of the world could ever take precedence over those of America. On the human level, who wants to make a deal with a hypocrite?
'Hariri assassins not Australian suspects'
By Nayla Assaf, Daily Star, February 19, 2005
The official theory remains centred on the blast being the work of a suicide bomber, despite a number of credible sources insisting that the blast was caused by a bomb placed below the surface of the road where Hariri's convoy was passing. The huge crater in the road left behind by the bombing tends to add weight to this theory according to independent security experts.
According to former senior adviser of the United Nations Interim Forces In Lebanon (Unifil), Timur Goksel, the assassination could not have been a car bomb.
Goksel, who spent much of his term in South Lebanon dealing with explosions said: "If it were a car bomb, the damage would have been lateral and not vertical and the Saint Georges Hotel would have been swept away."
Goksel believes the explosion "almost certainly" came from the ground upward.
The opposition Free Patriotic Movement Web site shows a series of photographs and diagrams from the site of the blast which it insists prove the blast came from beneath the ground. [complete article]
Comment -- The photographs of the blast site might not amount to conclusive evidence but this sure looks like very compelling evidence that this was not a suicide bombing. The fact that the Syrian-backed Lebanese government has nevertheless been disseminating stories about the involvement of shadowy fundamentalist groups certainly creates the appearance that they are attempting to cover someone's tracks.
Syria rejects U.S. call for Lebanon pullout
By Hala Jaber, The Times, February 20, 2005
Syria has defied American demands to withdraw its forces from Lebanon and to disarm Hezbollah militants, insisting that Israel must first pull out of the Golan Heights.
The government in Damascus has been under growing pressure from Washington since last week's assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister and forthright critic of Syria's military presence in his country. President George W Bush recalled the US ambassador to Syria and demanded an international investigation of the killing.
Ayman Abdel Nour, a leading Syrian analyst, said yesterday that Damascus had now told senior American officials that a unilateral withdrawal of its 15,000 troops was out of the question until Israel ended its occupation of the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in 1967 and annexed 14 years later. [complete article]
Deep roots hold Syrian influence in Lebanon
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2005
The sandbags and tanks are long gone, and soldiers are rarely seen in the streets. Syrian military control isn't on display anymore in Lebanon, aside from some army bases and the clutches of soldiers who stand guard at checkpoints on country roads.
These days, Syrian influence has quietly permeated the parliament, the president's office, the financial sector and virtually every other institution. Syrian soldiers were meant to keep the peace after Lebanon's civil war. Instead, Syria has taken over.
"It's a creeping annexation," said former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel. "Syria considers its presence here not as something temporary, not as a foreign occupation, but as something natural. They think that Lebanon is a part of Syria."
Pressure to withdraw Syrian soldiers, whose ranks in Lebanon are estimated to number about 16,000, has swelled since former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated last week in Beirut. Damascus, the Syrian capital, has responded to the calls with defiance.
To Syria, Lebanon is a freewheeling market, a place to earn and keep money. It's also a crucial bargaining chip in case of negotiations with Israel. Moreover, many Syrians view this graceful, sun-washed Mediterranean country as a fundamental part of the historic Syrian nation. [complete article]
A big dilemma for the Lebanese
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, February 20, 2005
Several Lebanese analysts were encouraged by events that took place over the weekend in the northern and eastern regions of the country - near the town of Minia north of Tripoli, and in the vicinity of Baalbek, both regions under Syrian control.
A group of Lebanese citizens began attacking and burning the tents where Syrian workers live, demanding they leave Lebanese soil. At the same time, there has been a decrease in the number of people crossing the border between Syria and Lebanon since the murder of Rafiq Hariri, last week.
The popular opposition to the Syrian presence in Lebanon is not only being directed against the 15,000 Syrian soldiers; before the murder, it was voiced against the Syrian economic control in Lebanon, and this embodies perhaps the most important implication of the murder on Syrian policies in Lebanon. After all, there are close to 1 million Syrian laborers in Lebanon today who bring in close to $1 billion every year to Syria. [complete article]
By Nora Boustany, Washington Post, February 20, 2005
From his first year as Lebanon's prime minister, Rafiq Hariri knew he was a hunted man.
One day in 1993, about 10 months into his tenure, I went to interview Hariri at his art deco villa. As we talked, I noticed that he was barely listening to my questions. His face ashen and glistening with beads of sweat, he led me to a square garden behind the house to chat privately. But even then, as we strolled and conversed, he kept looking nervously over his shoulder.
He was just back from Damascus, where he and Lebanon's president and speaker of the parliament had been dressed down by Hafez Assad, Syria's president then, as though they were office boys who had spilled the coffee. The reason: The Lebanese leaders had sent their army into towns just north of Israel to disarm the Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah, which Assad felt was a useful tool of Syrian policy. [complete article]
Syria likely to defy calls for pullout from Lebanon
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 19, 2005
The Syrian government has reacted defiantly to accusations that it had a hand in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, underscoring a strategic interest in Lebanon that makes it unlikely international pressure will force Syria to withdraw forces from its smaller neighbor.
The rage and grief over Hariri's death Monday in an apparent car bombing in Beirut have angered the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which has denied any involvement in the slaying and refused calls by Lebanese leaders and the Bush administration to remove its 15,000 troops in Lebanon.
Syrian officials have accused Lebanese opposition leaders, now preparing for parliamentary elections that are shaping up as a referendum on Syria's presence in their country, of taking advantage of Hariri's killing to further their political agenda. But the bombing also appears to serve Syria's goals at a time when Hariri and other Lebanese leaders were posing a growing threat to Syria's influence in the country and to Assad's leadership. [complete article]
In the balance
By Nir Rosen, New York Times, February 20, 2005
There were two days left before election day, and Gen. Rostam Hamid Rahim, guerrilla war hero and a member of Iraqi Kurdistan's regional Parliament since 1992, was determined that every Kurd vote. Known as Mam (Uncle) Rostam, he told me he had joined the Kurdish nationalist militia, or peshmerga ("those who face death"), at age 15, in 1968. In 2003, he led the peshmerga into the northern city of Kirkuk -- the fourth-largest city in Iraq and its most ethnically mixed and contested -- following the American-led invasion of Iraq. Now 51, he still wore an olive shirt tucked into baggy olive pants, with a sash wrapped around his waist and a khaki vest: the traditional Kurdish garb. A black-and-white-checkered scarf encircled his head; he moved it back every so often to scratch his closely cropped hair.
On this Friday afternoon, Rostam had already visited a polling station around the corner from the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdish party Rostam belonged to, led by Jalal Talabani. (Rostam is the union militia's field commander for Kirkuk.) His next stop was the Panja Ali refugee camp, next to the Shorja neighborhood where Rostam was born. Saddam Hussein destroyed the neighborhood with bulldozers in 1991 to punish rebellious Kurds and expel them north to the three provinces of Iraq (Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk) that Hussein had earlier cordoned off as Iraqi Kurdistan. Hussein's Kurdistan was intended to give the Kurds some autonomy -- and to provide a dumping ground for Kurds pushed out of the wealthier areas bordering it, above all the city of Kirkuk and the oil-rich province, also called Kirkuk, for which it serves as a capital. Hussein had even renamed the province Tamim, Arabic for "nationalization."
Now, in the wake of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, hundreds of Kurdish families had returned to Kirkuk, some living in tents, others in hastily constructed houses. In the camp, Rostam sat down along with other local Kurdish officials, including the deputy head of security for Kirkuk, who fought with Rostam against Hussein years before. Surrounded by a hundred men from the refugee camp and its nearby polling station, gesticulating for added emphasis with his broad thick shoulders and arms, Rostam repeated the same message he had been telling Kurds throughout the city whenever he campaigned: "You have to vote, for the sake of our future." Rostam exhorted his audience to vote for the party representing the Kurds and, taking their victory for granted, asked that "when the election results are announced, please don't shoot in the air." [complete article]
Shias stand firm against the bombers
By Rory Carroll, The Observer, February 20, 2005
Prayers were just ending at the al-Baya' mosque in west Baghdad on Friday when the two young men stepped from a minibus taxi and approached the entrance. They wore black, like the hundreds of worshippers gathered inside and outside, but something was wrong.
The younger one, no older than 18, tried to pass security guards without being searched while his companion, about 25, walked to the far side of the entrance before heading for the doorway.
That was as much warning the Shia mosque had that it was under attack, the latest target of suicide bombers who strike almost daily in Iraq on a scale never before seen anywhere, a test case in terror for the population.
Once challenged by the guard, witnesses said yesterday, the teenager's rigid expression turned to terror, the eyes widening, the mouth gaping. He knew what was about to happen. [complete article]
Man who may lead Iraq eyes ex-Baathists
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, February 18, 2005
As elections officials certified his Shiite Muslim coalition's majority in Iraq's new National Assembly on Thursday, the leading candidate for prime minister said he was preparing plans to "purify the state's institutions" of former Saddam Hussein loyalists who had committed crimes.
Ibrahim Jafari, currently Iraq's interim vice president, said he wanted to tighten rules on dealing with former members of Hussein's Baath Party -- one of the most divisive issues the new government will face.
In an interview, Jafari said he was committed to ridding the government of anyone who profited as a Baath official or carried out the oppressive policies of a party that he said "committed crimes against the Iraqis more than what Hitler or Mussolini did." [complete article]
U.S. feeling pressure to rebuild Fallujah
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, February 20, 2005
A few days before U.S. ground forces invaded her city in early November, Raja Hamdi Hussein locked the gate of Taburak primary school, where she is director of girls, and fled to Baghdad to wait out the assault.
When she returned this month, she looked around the school and cried, Hussein said in her small office, cold from the wind that was blowing in through shattered windows. The white walls were covered with messages that U.S. troops presumably left when they searched the premises for insurgents and weapons.
"Fallujah Kill Bodys," one message read. "USA No. 1," said another. And on a wall behind her, next to framed verses from the Koran, the Islamic holy book: "We came. We saw. We took over all. P.S. To help you."
Schoolbooks were strewn about, the doors were broken down and student records were torn and scattered, Hussein said. The scene was almost too much to face, she said, grappling with how to move on with her life amid the rubble of the nearly two-month battle.
Like many residents who have returned to Fallujah, Hussein is not sure how she feels about the military operation that silenced a terrifying insurgency but left the city in ruins and with an occupying force whose armored vehicles roam the streets. [complete article]
A U.K. diplomat says Britain is part of a worldwide torture plot. Is he telling the truth?
By Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, February 20, 2005
Craig Murray is a very undiplomatic diplomat. Former ambassadors are supposed to be tending their flowers in Home Counties gardens, but this one is not. He is, instead, making extraordinary allegations, the most damaging of which is that Britain is using information obtained from torture to imprison people indefinitely. So convinced is he of the truth of this and other claims that he plans to stand against his former employer, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, at the general election.
Not for this man the emollient, languorous language normally associated with his profession. Our former ambassador in Uzbekistan is nothing if not forthright. "Unreliable information, obtained under torture in countries where it is routine, can be used against people in Britain," he told The Independent on Sunday in his first interview since leaving the Foreign Office last week with a £315,000 payoff. "On the basis of such information, they can be detained in Belmarsh prison or in future be put under house arrest for life. It impacts here in the UK."
The departure of Mr Murray, 46, from the diplomatic service is the culmination of an extraordinary two-year battle with his masters. His public denunciations of the Uzbek regime, and private complaints at American and British support for it, led to a confrontation in which he was accused of drunkenness and trading visas for sex with local women, and told to "resign or be sacked". The charges were leaked; when his marriage broke up over his relationship with a 23-year-old Uzbek hairdresser, Nadira Alieva, who now lives with him, that got out too. Now he plans to expose Britain's "hypocrisy" in the "war on terror". [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven plus days:
'Nobody is talking'
By James Meek, The Guardian, February 18, 2005
One day in the autumn of 1942 Kim Philby, an officer in Britain's secret intelligence service, received a message from a colleague in MI5. The MI5 man, Helenus Milmo, was in a state of near despair about a Spanish prisoner and suspected spy, Juan Gomez de Lecube, who had been under interrogation since his arrest in the Caribbean that summer.
Despite Spanish protests, Lecube had been transported across the Atlantic and imprisoned, incommunicado, in Britain's interrogation centre for suspected enemy agents at Camp 020, the codename for Latchmere House in Middlesex.
MI5 and MI6 had high hopes for war-shortening information from Lecube. They believed they had verified beyond doubt that he was a spy. They only needed to make him talk. But after a week, Milmo wrote: "No progress has been made ... it looks as though he is going to be an extremely obstinate nut to crack." Soon afterwards, Milmo wrote to Philby, seeking approval to apply special measures to the interrogation of the detainee.
Sixty years later, in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Milmo and Philby's counterparts in US military intelligence and the CIA faced what they believed was a similar dilemma. All over the world, US agents and soldiers were seizing and interrogating hundreds of foreign men whom they suspected held information that would enable new terrorist attacks to be prevented. Like Milmo, they began coming up against stubborn prisoners. Like Milmo, they wrote to those higher up the chain of command seeking permission for special measures to make the prisoners talk. [...]
Reading through the transcripts and letters relating to Lecube's interrogation in the Public Records Office at Kew, the modern reader awaits the moment the MI5 men would talk about hooding the Spaniard, stripping him naked, handcuffing him till his hands went numb, beating him up, subjecting him to extremes of cold and heat, menacing him with guard dogs, sodomising him or pretending to drown him with wet towels.
They did none of these things.
Violence towards the prisoner, or humiliation of the kind practised in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, was ruled out. "Never strike a man," wrote Robin "Tin-Eye" Stephens, the monocled commander of Camp 020, in his secret advice to interrogators. "For one thing it is the act of a coward. For another, it is unintelligent, for the spy will give an answer to please, an answer to escape punishment. And having given a false answer, all else depends upon the false premise."
And so Milmo's letter to Philby contained only a request to put into operation "Plan Squealer", which involved nothing more brutal than trying to convince Lecube that another spy had betrayed him. The plan failed. A few days after the war ended, the mysterious Spaniard was deported, vanishing from history.
In the feverish atmosphere of America in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Stephens's advice was reversed. In mutterings from the US secret service and op-ed pieces in the US media, it was suggested that moral courage demanded support for torture. "Nobody is talking. Frustration has begun to appear," a senior FBI official told the Washington Post a month after the attacks. A few days later, a CIA veteran was quoted in the LA Times: "A lot of people are saying we need someone at the agency who can pull fingernails out." Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard, wrote that judges should be able to issue warrants licensing the torture of suspects where the authorities somehow knew that the suspects were concealing information about "an imminent large-scale threat".
In Europe, new force for recruiting radicals
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, February 18, 2005
When robbers stole more than $300,000 from an armored car here in 1997, investigators were taken aback by the size and brazenness of the heist. But they really became alarmed when they discovered that one of the culprits had been under surveillance as a suspected Islamic extremist.
That man, Mustapha Darwich Ramadan, was arrested shortly before he planned to flee Copenhagen on a flight to Amman, Jordan, police said. He was convicted of robbery and served 3 1/2 years in prison. After his release in June 2001, Copenhagen police said, he struck again, robbing a money-transfer store of about $15,000. This time, he escaped to either Jordan or Lebanon, police said.
Since then, according to European intelligence officials, Ramadan has surfaced in Iraq as a leader of Ansar al-Islam, a radical group that U.S. officials say has carried out at least 40 suicide bombings and other attacks resulting in more than 1,000 deaths in the war-ravaged country.
Officials say Ansar also operates an extensive underground network that recruits young Muslims across Europe to join the insurgency in Iraq. Intelligence estimates of the numbers sent from Europe by Ansar and other groups vary from 100 to more than 3,000, but there is general agreement that the flow is increasing.
The religious face of Iraq
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, February 18, 2005
The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite leader in Iraq, seems through the prism of the Western media to be an elusive character. He has not met with coalition leaders directly, and he doesn't speak to reporters. His views on current affairs are known through statements made by those who surround him, which makes the ayatollah appear a remote, oracular, figure. Although he has avoided jumping directly into the political process, election results announced this week make his Shiite supporters the dominant force in the new government, and Sistani has proved in the past that he can muster tens of thousands of protesters to influence the course of the new Iraq. His impact on U.S. efforts to remake Iraq has been enormous. And yet he remains in many ways an enigma, an unseen hand and a powerful force guiding the country who knows where.
The specter of nuclear proliferation
By Graham Allison, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2005
If North Korea has, in fact, assembled an arsenal of six or eight nuclear weapons, so what?
Well, for one thing, North Korea's forced entry into the nuclear club is likely to trigger a "cascade" of nuclear proliferation -- as the U.N. High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change termed it -- in Northeast Asia. To be sure, in the weeks ahead, Japan and South Korea will publicly reaffirm their nonnuclear status, but privately, officials there are almost certainly discussing their options.
My firm prediction is that on the current course, before the end of the decade, we will see a nuclear Japan and a nuclear South Korea. And when Japan creates its own independent nuclear deterrent, China will unquestionably respond in what promises to be a rerun of the U.S.-Soviet arms race.
Moreover, that is not the worst we have to fear from a nuclear North Korea.
All eyes turn to Syria
By Michael Young, International Herald Tribune, February 17, 2005
If there was any doubt as to who killed the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, it was not evident in the street outside his home on Monday evening, or at his funeral Wednesday. Between lamentations on the wantonness of the crime, mourners issued a more pronounced refrain: "Syria out!"
Whether Syria did kill Hariri or not, it has already started paying the price, with the Bush administration pointing a finger at Damascus. In recent months there have been persistent reports that harm to the former prime minister, among others, constituted American and French "red lines" in the ongoing struggle between Syria and a broad, multisectarian Lebanese opposition front demanding a withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. This demand, which echoes UN Security Council Resolution 1559 (sponsored by Washington and Paris), has been strenuously resisted not only by Syria, but also by the pro-Damascus Lebanese authorities, particularly President Emile Lahoud.
In recent weeks, the tension between the two sides has escalated. Government officials and Syrian allies have savaged the opposition, accusing it of being in the pocket of the United States and Israel. Two weeks ago, charges of treason were topped off by a public threat from Prime Minister Omar Karami, which, in light of the Hariri murder, proved a wretched choice of words: "We'll show them," he told a gathering.
Battlefield in a larger conflict
By David Hirst, The Guardian, February 15, 2005
There is one broad certainty about the highly professional assassination of Rafik Hariri, the billionaire former prime minister who has dominated Lebanese politics since the end of the civil war in 1991. He fell victim to the hapless role this small, politically fragile and religiously divided country is once again playing: the battleground of international conflicts larger than itself. It played that role in the 16-year war; and while few really expect it to be plunged once more into such fratricidal strife, conflict has, with this murderous deed, reached a dangerous new level of intensity. And everyone fears there will be worse to come.
Some key actors in the civil war, such as the Palestinian guerrilla movement for which Lebanon had become the main base, are barely present today. But one of them, Syria, is, as before, at the very heart of Lebanon's quickly deepening crisis. Syria, the main external "victor" of the war and virtual overlord of Lebanon ever since, is pitted against a disparate array of forces, ranging from the US, France and Israel to all those within Lebanon who line up more or less openly in the anti-Syrian camp. As ever these are mainly, but far from exclusively, Christian. The pro-Syrians are mainly Muslim.
It is Syria, with only one real ally left in the world, Iran, that is on the defensive. So are its Lebanese allies, inside and outside the regime. The conflict is an outgrowth of American strategies in the Middle East, from the war on terror to regime change, democratisation and the invasion of Iraq. Syria is not a member of President Bush's "axis of evil", but, with Iran, it is increasingly targeted as a villain. It is regularly charged, for example, with aiding and abetting the insurgency in Iraq, interfering with the Arab-Israel peace process and sponsoring the Hizbullah militia in Lebanon. The Hizbullah are in turn accused by Israel of aiding and abetting Hamas.
EU-U.S. trainwreck over Iran?
By Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI (via Washington Times), February 14, 2005
The United States holds the only sticks and carrots that might conceivably make a difference. Sticks, short of military action, would be a U.N. Security Council censure of Iran and economic sanctions. Iran can circumvent any sanction regime by buying whatever it needs across the Gulf, in Dubai or Oman, an emirate and a country that enjoy close relations with Iran. EU3 countries would continue trading - via Dubai.
The carrots -- which range from $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets in the United States to the non-aggression pact Iran might buy in return for relinquishing its uranium enrichment to weapons-grade quality -- can be negotiated only in direct talks with the United States. Several U.S. administrations, beginning in 1953 with a CIA-engineered coup to oust Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and bring Shah Reza Pahlavi back from a brief exile in Rome, to the U.S. betrayal of the shah in 1978, interfered directly in the country's internal affairs.
The United States is willing to talk to North Korea in six-power talks, but not in four-power talks or face-to-face with Iran, where mullahs are models of mental health compared to the Stalinist monarch who tyrannizes his slave subjects in North Korea. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's president from 1989 to 1997, told USA TODAY's Barbara Slavin last week that "al-Qaida terrorists are our enemies, too."
Iraq winners allied with Iran are the opposite of U.S. vision
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, February 14, 2005
When the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq two years ago, it envisioned a quick handover to handpicked allies in a secular government that would be the antithesis of Iran's theocracy -- potentially even a foil to Tehran's regional ambitions.
But, in one of the greatest ironies of the U.S. intervention, Iraqis instead went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base -- and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door. It is the last thing the administration expected from its costly Iraq policy -- $300 billion and counting, U.S. and regional analysts say.
Yesterday, the White House heralded the election and credited the U.S. role. In a statement, President Bush praised Iraqis "for defying terrorist threats and setting their country on the path of democracy and freedom. And I congratulate every candidate who stood for election and those who will take office once the results are certified."
Yet the top two winning parties -- which together won more than 70 percent of the vote and are expected to name Iraq's new prime minister and president -- are Iran's closest allies in Iraq.
Peril in Iraq's constitution
By Peter W. Galbraith, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2005
Kurds and Shiites have radically different visions for Iraq's future. The Kurds are secular and pro-American and look to Western democracy for their political model. The Shiites want to make Islam the principal source of law and, although insisting they will not copy Iran's overtly clerical system of government, clearly see Iran as a friend and inspiration.
How to deal, for example, with Kurds who are proud of the progress that women have made in their region and Shiite clerics who want religious law written into the constitution -- law that includes provisions for daughters getting only half as much inheritance as sons? Even more problematic, Kurds and Arabs do not share a commitment to the idea of Iraq. Sunni Arabs have always been nationalistic, and the Shiites may become nationalists now that they are rulers. But the Kurds do not want to be Iraqi at all and will not accept a constitution that restores any central government authority over their region.
The neoconservative architects of U.S. policy on Iraq talk about the creation of an Iraqi constitution as if it were going to be a version of the American experience in Philadelphia in 1787, with divisive issues settled by a series of grand compromises. But some differences are so profound that a forced compromise could actually contribute to the breakup of the country (as indeed was true of the Philadelphia compromise on slavery).
Clearly, a constitution acceptable to all three of Iraq's main constituencies would be the best of all possible worlds, and it's not inconceivable that the Iraqis could somehow achieve it. But the question for Iraqi leaders -- and the Bush administration -- is how hard to push for a governing document when it could destroy a fragile but functioning government already in place.
Our man sold secrets to Iran, admits Pakistan
By Massoud Ansari, The Telegraph, February 13, 2005
Pakistan has conceded for the first time that Dr A Q Khan, the rogue nuclear scientist who is under house arrest in Islamabad, passed secrets and equipment to Iranian officials and is now considered the "brain" behind the programme that has put Teheran on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons.
An investigation by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, details of which have been disclosed to The Telegraph, confirmed that Khan, a hero in Pakistan as the "Father of the Bomb", and his associates sold nuclear codes, materials, components and plans that left his "signature" at the core of the Iranian nuclear programme.
The admission came during private talks in Brussels at the end of last month between European Union officials and senior ministers from Pakistan and India. The EU officials were told that cooperation between Teheran and Khan, 68, and associates from his Khan Research Laboratories began in the mid-1990s and included more than a dozen meetings over several years.
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