|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Death on the beach: seven Palestinians killed as Israeli shells hit family picnic
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, June 10, 2006
A barrage of Israeli artillery shells rained down on a busy Gaza beach yesterday, killing seven Palestinians, three of them children. The attack put further strain on the 16-month truce between Israel and the governing Hamas movement.
Witnesses described several explosions that also injured dozens of other people who lay on the beach, screaming and pleading for help. Some ran into the sea for fear of more shells hitting the sands at Beit Lahia, in the north of the Gaza strip.
Among the dead were three children, aged one, three, and 10. Their sister was swimming and survived.
The beach was packed with picnicking families enjoying the Muslim day of rest, and the explosions landed among them, scattering body parts along the dunes. Television footage showed a woman and a child laying dead on the sand, and another child screaming in agony while a lifeless man was carried away by an ambulance crew. [complete article]
Ghalia family lost six members in shelling, in 2005 they lost four
AP (via Haaretz), June 10, 2006
The hardest hit in the Israel Defense Forces artillery strike on a Gaza beach Friday was the Ghalia family, which lost six members, among them the father, one of his two wives, an infant boy and an 18-month-old girl.
Less than two years ago, four members of the family were killed when IDF shell hit the family farm in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia. The military had been targeting the area in response to Palestinian mortar fire.
Ali Ghalia, a Palestinian farmer, had taken his two wives and nine children on a trip to the beach, and the family was enjoying a picnic when the IDF artillery shell hit them. [complete article]
Hamas fires rockets at Israel after calling off truce
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, June 10, 2006
The ruling Hamas group fired a barrage of homemade rockets at Israel on Saturday, hours after calling off a truce with Israel in anger over an artillery attack that killed seven civilians at a beachside picnic in the Gaza Strip, according to Associated Press reports.
The end of the truce raised the prospect of a new wave of bloodshed and the resumption of suicide attacks that Hamas had suspended since reaching the cease-fire in February 2005.
The Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for at least 15 of the rockets fired after midnight, as well as a barrage of mortar bombs. The attacks caused no casualties, and the Israeli army said nearly all of them appeared to land inside Gaza. [complete article]
Abbas says will call referendum despite 'bloody massacre' on Gaza beach
By Mijal Grinberg and Assaf Uni, Haaretz, June 10, 2006
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was determined to push ahead with plans Saturday to call a referendum on a statehood proposal that implicitly recognises Israel, despite seven civilian deaths the day before when a Israel Defense Forces shell struck a Gaza beach, PA officials said. [complete article]
Olmert rejects Abbas plan to boost negotiations
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, June 10, 2006
The Israeli Prime Minister has dismissed as "meaningless" the referendum that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, plans to call today and rejects the document that Palestinians will vote on as a basis for negotiations. In terms that cast doubt on prospects for the negotiations with Mr Abbas being urged by European governments, Ehud Olmert used his first British newspaper interview to declare that the document, drawn up by a group of Fatah and Hamas prisoners, is "far behind" the principles for such negotiations defined by Israel and the international community. [complete article] He was more symbol than sweeping leader
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2006
His somber face, fiery invective and bloody legend helped lure foreign volunteers and cash to fuel the insurgency in Iraq. He taunted his enemies, stirred sectarian rage and took credit for some of the most shocking acts in the annals of modern terrorism.
But Abu Musab Zarqawi was mostly a looming image, a man whose contribution to the war derived largely from his symbolic value. As a military commander, he held sway over just a fraction of a fraction of the fighters who daily sow bloodshed in Iraq. [complete article]
Comment -- Zarqawi's death fits on a trend line. Unfortunately for the Bush administration and the Iraqi government this isn't a trend of increasing success in quelling the insurgency. On the contrary, it seems to reflect a growing hostility between native and non-native Sunni insurgents. Zarqawi's loss may be a blow to foreign jihadists, but many Iraqi Sunni insurgents may now be quite comfortable seeing him "promoted" yet operationally sidelined as a jihadi emeritus.
As for turning points, they can only be discerned clearly with hindsight. The one such moment this year came on February 22. For the demolition of the golden dome at Samarra's Al Askari Mosque, American and Iraqi officials still claim they regard Zarqawi as a prime suspect. Yet the calculation to destroy a symbol rather than create yet another scene of indiscriminate mass carnage, seems intimately connected in design to the ruthlessly systematic sectarian killings that have followed. Much as Shia and Sunni political leaders might want to claim that foreigners have been trying to foment civil war, all the evidence now indicates that this has indeed become first and foremost a power struggle within Iraq. Figures such as Zarqawi would inevitably be peripheral to such a conflict, however much they -- or the U.S. -- might want to magnify their importance. The short, violent life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
By Mary Anne Weaver, Atlantic Monthly, July-August, 2006
On a cold and blustery evening in December 1989, Huthaifa Azzam, the teenage son of the legendary Jordanian-Palestinian mujahideen leader Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, went to the airport in Peshawar, Pakistan, to welcome a group of young men. All were new recruits, largely from Jordan, and they had come to fight in a fratricidal civil war in neighboring Afghanistan -- an outgrowth of the CIA-financed jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet occupation there.
The men were scruffy, Huthaifa mused as he greeted them, and seemed hardly in battle-ready form. Some had just been released from prison; others were professors and sheikhs. None of them would prove worth remembering -- except for a relatively short, squat man named Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalaylah.
He would later rename himself Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Once one of the most wanted men in the world, for whose arrest the United States offered a $25 million reward, al-Zarqawi was a notoriously enigmatic figure -- a man who was everywhere yet nowhere. I went to Jordan earlier this year, three months before he was killed by a U.S. airstrike in early June, to find out who he really was, and to try to understand the role he was playing in the anti-American insurgency in Iraq. I also hoped to get a sense of how his generation -- the foreign fighters now waging jihad in Iraq -- compare with the foreign fighters who twenty years ago waged jihad in Afghanistan. [complete article] Six-week hunt led to Zarqawi
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, June 9, 2006
A methodical six-week manhunt aided by local tipsters, spy drones, and informers from his own terrorist network finally led to the demise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi , the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, in US airstrikes Wednesday night, US officials said yesterday.
The 39-year-old Zarqawi, who had recruited hundreds of Arab militants to launch suicide attacks and became the public face of the insurgency that has rocked Iraq for three years, died when US special forces guided a pair of Air Force F-16s to the isolated safehouse near Baqubah, north of Baghdad, where he was meeting with his spiritual adviser. The adviser and four others, including an unidentified woman and child, were also killed. [complete article] Conventional Trident missiles will aid terror war
By Paul X. Rutz, American Forces Press Service, June 8, 2006
Arming submarines with nonnuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles will give America a necessary quick-strike weapon in the war on terror, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.
The proposal, part of the Defense Department's 2007 budget request, aims to remove two nuclear missiles from each of the Navy's 14 ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs, and replace them with two conventionally armed Trident missiles, said Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani at the Naval Submarine League's annual symposium.
The move would put about 22 such missiles into operational deployment, he said.
"It's meant to be a very niche capability," Giambastiani told about 400 retired officers, businessmen and fellow submariners. "We're not talking a lot of missiles here. So this really is a small, quick-strike capability.
"Why would you want it?," the vice chairman, whose career spans many submarine assignments and commands, asked. "So that you can respond within 60 minutes or so to something at very long ranges, very precisely, assuming you have very precise knowledge." [complete article]
Comment -- Yesterday's successful bombing in Baqubah will no doubt fire up the supporters of conventionally-armed Tridents. Is it just a matter of time before one or two are fired at a compound somewhere in Waziristan? But setting aside doubts about the precision about which Adm. Giambastiani seems confident, what about the issue of sovereignty? Is this not the definition of a rogue nation: one that unilaterally claims the right to fire missiles anywhere on the planet? Zarqawi's death not a severe blow to al-Qaida, experts say
By Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, June 8, 2006
The death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, while a major tactical success, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the struggle against al-Qaida and its far-flung terrorist network of spin-offs and imitators, current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials said Thursday.
President Bush termed Zarqawi's death in a strike coordinated by U.S., Iraqi and Jordanian security forces "a severe blow to al-Qaida."
But a half-dozen officials, who have decades of experience tracking and analyzing Islamic militants, offered a more cautious view. [complete article]
Taliban leader: 'more Zarqawis to come'
The Guardian, June 9, 2006
A statement believed to be from the Taliban leader Mullah Omar has mourned the "martyrdom" of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and vowed to continue the "struggle against crusaders".
In the statement, released today, Omar expressed sadness over the death of the al-Qaida leader in Iraq in a US air strike on Wednesday, but said it "would not weaken the resistance" in the country.
He said there were many young men willing to take Zarqawi's place. "It is the people's resistance, and every youth can become Zarqawi," the statement said. "Many, many more young men can become Zarqawi. The successors ... can be even stronger than him.
"No one knew Zarqawi three years ago, but his continued struggle against invasion made him a leader. He has trained thousands of people in his three years of struggle. He sacrificed his life in accordance with his wish to die while fighting against Americans." [complete article] Politics and war by other means
By Tony Karon, TomDispatch, June 8, 2006
I have a pretty good idea where Osama bin Laden will be on June 14 -- and June 19, and again on June 23. Not his exact location, but it's a safe bet he'll be in front of a TV tuned in to Saudi Arabia's World Cup soccer matches with, respectively, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Spain. Legend has it that soccer is one of bin Laden's guilty pleasures. He's unlikely to miss the spectacle of the men from the land of the Prophet taking on the infidels of al-Andalus. He probably has a soft spot for Tunisia too, that country being the only one on record thus far to see one of its professional soccer players attempt to join al Qaeda's martyrs.
Nor will bin Laden be alone among America's enemies in spending June engrossed in the quadrennial spectacle of the World Cup, staged this time in Germany. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad has even threatened to show up if Iran progresses beyond the first round. Seeking to burnish his populist credentials at home, Ahmedinajad recently allowed himself to be photographed in sweats kicking a ball around with the Iranian team during a training session. You can bet Kim Jong-il will watch, too, even though it is South Korea that represents his nation's hopes this year. [complete article] Only a provocateur
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, June 9, 2006
The success of any insurgency always depends on the degree of its popular support. In a country occupied by foreign troops and where the government is not perceived as independent, the most powerful source of that support is nationalism. The occupiers are the insurgents' best recruiting tool.
These basic truths have never been taken on board sufficiently by the Bush administration or the UK government in their dealings with Iraq. Ignoring them was the biggest blunder in the pre-invasion period, when it was falsely assumed most Iraqis would welcome the arrival of western troops. Since the invasion, US commanders and politicians have continued to underrate the extent of nationalist resentment and resistance. [complete article]
Face of the enemy
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, June 8, 2006
Conceivably, the effect will be to weaken the insurgency as a whole. But it's also possible that the homegrown Iraqi rebels, now free of Zarqawi's evil image, may actually grow in political power and military strength. Following the classic pattern established by many other guerrilla groups in history, they may work through "peaceful" front organizations that actually take part in the Parliament, while also continuing to attack in the field. "Fight and talk" is often a successful strategy for guerrillas looking to assure their people's rights. Zarqawi made talking almost impossible.
With the Jordanian terrorist now out of the way, the Bush administration may be forced to recognize that there are other faces in the opposition, potentially equally dangerous to Washington's grand designs but politically smarter and less easy to caricature. They, too, will have to be taken into account. [complete article] Zarqawi is dead, but weary Iraqis fear the violence won't subside
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, June 9, 2006
As news of Mr. Zarqawi's death settled into homes across the country, Iraqis at lunch tables and in living rooms found themselves wondering what, if anything, would be different. A relentless stream of killings and kidnappings has choked the routines of life to a trickle, and the death of Mr. Zarqawi, while welcome, did not seem likely to stop the violence. [complete article]
In the Mideast, not sure what to think
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, June 9, 2006
Sheik Fathi Yakan is not one to be faint of heart. A 50-year veteran of Islamic politics in a city growing ever more religious, he has adorned his office with the iconography of jihad. "Victory or martyrdom," reads one slogan, emblazoned on a calendar. He celebrates what he calls America's defeat in Iraq and embraces a never-ending struggle against the United States.
But when it came to the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq on Wednesday, Yakan's language of absolutes melted into ambiguity. Martyr or villain? Like many in the Arab world, he shook his head, unsure what to say.
"I don't know him well enough to say whether in the end he was good or bad," said Yakan, 73, a long gray beard falling over his tie, his thick gray hair combed back. "I myself couldn't determine his intentions." [complete article] Iraq orders driving ban to prevent attacks
By Kim Gamel, AP (via Boston Globe), June 9, 2006
Iraq's prime minister imposed a daytime driving ban in Baghdad and in the province where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by American bombs, fearing insurgents will seek to avenge the death of the al-Qaida in Iraq leader.
As Iraqi and U.S. leaders cautioned that al-Zarqawi's death was not likely to end the bloodshed in Iraq, an American general said another foreign-born militant was already poised to take over the terror network's operations.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Egyptian-born Abu al-Masri would likely take the reins of al-Qaida in Iraq. He said al-Masri trained in Afghanistan and arrived in Iraq in 2002 to establish an al-Qaida cell. [complete article]
See also, At least 26 killed in Baghdad bomb attacks (The Guardian) and Gunmen kidnap senior Iraq oil official in Baghdad (Reuters). Our strategy for a democratic Iraq
By Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Washington Post, June 9, 2006
The completion of the national unity government Thursday in Iraq marks the starting point for repaying Iraqis' commitment to and thirst for democracy. We are at this juncture thanks to the bravery of the soldiers, police and citizens who have paid the highest price to give Iraq its freedom. Our national unity government will honor these sacrifices by pursuing an uncompromising agenda to deliver security and services to the Iraqi people and to combat rampant corruption.
This government will build on the additional momentum gained from the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in order to defeat terrorism and sectarianism and to deliver on the Iraqi people's hope of a united, stable and prosperous democracy by following a three-pronged strategy: [complete article] Condolence payments to Iraqis spike
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, June 8, 2006
The amount of cash the US military has paid to families of Iraqi civilians killed or maimed in operations involving American troops skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data.
The dramatic spike in what's known as condolence payments - distributed to Iraqi families whose loved ones were caught in US crossfire or victimized during US ground and air assaults - suggests that American commanders made on-the-spot restitution far more frequently, according to congressional aides and officials familiar with a special fund at the disposal of military officers in Iraq.
Defense Department officials maintain that the payments - which officials said range from a few hundred dollars for injuries such as a severed limb to $2,500 for the death of a relative - mirror a local custom commonly known as "solatia," in which families receive financial compensation for damages or human losses. They stressed that the payments shouldn't be seen as an admission of guilt or responsibility.
But amid reports that US Marines paid $2,500 per victim after dozens of civilians were killed on Nov. 19 in the town of Haditha - an incident now engulfed by allegations of a massacre - the fourfold increase in condolence payments raises new questions about the extent to which Iraqi civilians have been the victims of US firepower. [complete article] Troop cuts in Iraq won't meet goal this year, officials say
By Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, New York Times, June 9, 2006
Senior administration and military officials now acknowledge that there is little chance the United States can reach the milestone of reducing American troop levels in Iraq to 100,000 by December, a goal that earlier in the year had seemed within reach.
The subject of future troop levels is certain to be an important part of President Bush's two-day war cabinet meeting, which will start Monday at Camp David. Senior American commanders in Iraq will take part by a video link. In preparation, military planners in Iraq and at the Pentagon have been refining troop-rotation proposals that, in the best case, would reduce levels to 110,000 to 120,000 troops by the end of December, from current levels of about 130,000, administration and military officials said. [complete article] Tehran boosts hopes of end to nuclear standoff
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, June 9, 2006
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, boosted hopes of a breakthrough in the international standoff over his country's suspected nuclear weapons programme yesterday by backing talks over "mutual concerns and misunderstandings".
The Iranian president responded after it emerged that Washington would allow the Islamic regime to keep some capacity to enrich uranium if a deal was reached over its nuclear programme. Europe and the US had previously insisted that Iran permanently cease uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to produce an atomic bomb. That has now been diluted to a demand that it be suspended during renewed negotiations over an improved incentives package.
In a televised speech, Mr Ahmadinejad seized on the U-turn to claim a victory that put Iran in a powerful negotiating position: "International monopolists have been defeated in the face of your resistance and solidarity and have been forced to acknowledge your dignity and greatness," he told an audience in the north-western city of Qazvin. [complete article]
Iran restarted nuclear activities, atomic agency says
By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, June 8, 2006
Iran restarted important nuclear activities on the same day this week that six world powers offered it incentives aimed at encouraging the complete suspension of the nuclear work, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Iran restarted the pouring of a raw form of uranium into a set of 164 centrifuge machines to produce enriched uranium, the I.A.E.A., the nuclear monitoring agency based in Vienna, said.
That same day, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, was in Tehran, where he presented Iranian leaders with an international package of incentives to help resolve the crisis caused by the country's nuclear program.
There was no explanation for Iran's decision. But it seemed to underscore Tehran's often-stated determination not to be bullied into accepting any deal requiring the country to suspend activities related to uranium enrichment. [complete article] Don't forget those other 27,000 nukes
By Hans Blix, IHT, June 8, 2006
During the Cold War, it proved possible to reach many significant agreements on disarmament. Why does it seem so impossible now, when the great powers no longer feel threatened by one another?
Almost all the talk these days is about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to states like Iran and North Korea, or to terrorists. Foreign ministers meet again and again, concerned that Iran has enriched a few milligrams of uranium to a 4 percent level.
Some want to start waving the stick immediately. They are convinced that Iran will eventually violate its commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to forego nuclear weapons. [complete article] Palestinian unity means Hamas must deal with Israel
By Ghassan Rubeiz, Daily Star, June 9, 2006
Little is known about a community of several thousand Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli jails. These prisoners follow the news and discuss politics. A West Bank commentator, Daoud Kuttab, has explained that political prisoners are highly esteemed by Palestinian society. They do not have to prove their patriotism.
Recently, imprisoned Palestinian leaders issued a document calling for talks with Israel and (implicitly) recognizing its legitimate existence. The prisoners were united in calling for moderation and in accepting the June 1967 borders as the boundaries for a future Palestinian state. In so many words, these leaders, among whom was a Hamas official, endorsed a two-state solution. Their document reflected the sentiments of most Palestinians and was based on earlier secretive negotiations between various factions. [complete article]
Israeli airstrike kills high Hamas commander
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, June 9, 2006
In an airstrike against a militant training camp in southern Gaza on Thursday night, Israeli forces killed Jamal Abu Samhadana, a senior commander in the Hamas government, but said he was not the target of their attack.
The attack occurred just hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel promised King Abdullah of Jordan that he would make every effort for progress on a negotiated settlement before moving unilaterally to remove some Israeli settlers from the West Bank. [complete article] Hezbollah's disarmament dilemma
By Michael Young, International Herald Tribune, June 8, 2006
Last week, Lebanon's Hezbollah showed it had zero tolerance for satire. A political comedy show depicted its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, setting outlandish conditions for the party's disarmament, as demanded by the United Nations. In response, Hezbollah sympathizers took to Beirut's streets, burning tires and, most ominously, marching on Sunni and Christian neighborhoods, where fighting broke out. The situation was brought under control, but it highlighted how potentially explosive is the matter of Hezbollah's weapons.
Hezbollah is caught between conflicting loyalties - to Lebanon and the consensus between its religious communities, to Iran and to Syria. Its inability to resolve this by surrendering its arms and becoming solely a Lebanese political organization may provoke more sectarian friction in the months to come. [complete article] Somali factions begin talks
By Mohamed Olad Hassan, AP (via WP), June 9, 2006
Islamic militia leaders who seized Somalia's capital this week started discussing the future of the lawless country Thursday with its largely powerless U.N.-backed government.
A government spokesman, Abdirahman Nur Mohamed Dinari, said two ministers from the interim administration were meeting with "top leaders of the Islamic Courts Union" in Mogadishu. [complete article]
Warlords regroup in fight for Mogadishu
By Guled Mohamed, The Guardian, June 9, 2006
Warlords driven out of Mogadishu by Islamist militia were yesterday advancing back towards the Somali capital from their stronghold of Jowhar.
Residents contacted by telephone told Reuters that Islamists were pulling back towards the town of Balad, which fell on Sunday and is on the road to the capital. [complete article] Annan soothes Bolton turmoil
By Mark Turner and Quentin Peel, Financial Times, June 8, 2006
...analysts were uncertain how the high-profile row would play out. On the one hand, they feared that Mr Bolton might use the [Malloch Brown] speech to rally anti-UN sentiment in Congress, especially as the Republican party seeks to energise its base.
On the other, pro-UN lobbyists hoped the controversy might raise a greater awareness in Washington of what many see as destructive negotiating strategies by Mr Bolton. Munir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, said he hoped the dispute would "not blow out of all proportion" but did endorse some of Mr Malloch Brown's sentiments.
"Obviously some people would have said it differently but the fact that there is a need for greater US engagement and US support is well known," he said. At the same time, he claimed that in recent days there had been "positive signs of US engagement".
Dumisani Kumalo, the South African ambassador who chairs the G77 group of developing countries, said he was not surprised by the dispute. "Everybody has to be aware that we are going into three weeks that are going to be very intense, very emotional and very difficult for the UN," he said. "It will be one of those defining moments for the organisation in terms of its direction." He said the G77 was inviting the US, Japan and the European Union to hold talks next Wednesday, and urged them to drop the mid-year budget cap.
Speaking in London on Thursday night, Mr Bolton returned to the attack. "It is illegitimate for an international civil servant to criticise what he sees are the inadequacies of the people of a member state," he said. "This is a classic mistake. I do not think we have seen the end of it." [complete article] The politics of indignation
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, June 8, 2006
The foundational belief of the "war on terrorism" is that militant Islam is hollow. We are not fighting a credible movement with a set of core beliefs, but "evildoers" - people who have nothing to say, who are without values, who hate our freedoms and who want to return their societies to the 7th century. Militant Islam is much like worldwide communism, an empty shell that, if confronted with overwhelming power, will crumple like burned paper. Not coincidentally, neo-conservatives aver, the evildoers of militant Islam, a new class of post-Soviet religious Bolsheviks, have taken root in a region that suffers from the same maladies that fueled the "evil empire": state-engineered poverty, endemic corruption, political oppression, access to weapons of mass destruction, and a failed ideology.
For America's neo-conservatives, the past victory over the Stalinist state and its Warsaw Pact allies points the way to the future. All that needs be done to triumph over this evil is to replicate the late US president Ronald Reagan's strategy of confrontation with the USSR: increase defense spending, deploy Western armies to troubled regions, undermine collaborationist societies, spread democracy, and counter the evildoers' propaganda with political toughness. Those who counsel caution (Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, George H W Bush - those who called a halt to the first Gulf War after 100 hours and so saved Saddam Hussein) do not understand that "managing" Middle Eastern extremists, particularly in an era of benevolent US military hegemony, is to signal a surrender against the forces of evil. Ronald Reagan had it right: a little nudge and Islam's Nicolae Ceausescus will be hunted in the streets.
This "implosion of tyrannies" belief is now a central tenet of neo-conservative doctrine. Yet as a result of the Iraq debacle and the seeming incoherence at the center of US and European policies, even some of neo-conservatism's core believers are beginning to have doubts. [complete article]
See also, parts one, two, three, and four, of "How to lose the war on terrorism." Insurgent leader al-Zarqawi killed in Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, June 8, 2006
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings whose leadership of the insurgent group al- Qaeda in Iraq made him the most wanted man in the country, was killed Wednesday evening by an air strike near Baqubah, north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday.
The stated aim of the Jordanian-born Zarqawi, in addition to ousting U.S. and other forces from Iraq, was to foment bloody sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a prospect that has become a grim reality over the past several months.
Zarqawi, a Sunni, was killed along with seven aides, officials said.
His killing is the most significant public triumph for the U.S.-led coalition since the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein, although analysts warned that Zarqawi's killing would not stem the tide of insurgency and violence in Iraq any more than Hussein's capture did. [complete article]
See also, Analysis: Threat will outlive Al-Zarqawi (AP), Al-Zarqawi now a martyr, his brother says(AP), and U.S. officials cautiously hopeful about impact of al-Zarqawi's death (AP).
Comment -- So, the kingpin of the insurgency is dead. But even President Bush seems in a less than celebratory mood: "We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue."
Maybe the war is really reaching a turning point: the point at which Bush administration officials finally give up claiming that a big news item will have any lasting positive significance in the fate of Iraq. The war they wanted, the lies they needed
By Craig Unger, Vanity Fair, June 6, 2006
For more than two years it has been widely reported that the U.S. invaded Iraq because of intelligence failures. But in fact it is far more likely that the Iraq war started because of an extraordinary intelligence success -- specifically, an astoundingly effective campaign of disinformation, or black propaganda, which led the White House, the Pentagon, Britain's M.I.6 intelligence service, and thousands of outlets in the American media to promote the falsehood that Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program posed a grave risk to the United States.
The Bush administration made other false charges about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.) -- that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes suitable for centrifuges, that Saddam was in league with al-Qaeda, that he had mobile weapons labs, and so forth. But the Niger claim, unlike other allegations, can't be dismissed as an innocent error or blamed on ambiguous data. "This wasn't an accident," says Milt Bearden, a 30-year C.I.A. veteran who was a station chief in Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and Germany, and the head of the Soviet–East European division. "This wasn't 15 monkeys in a room with typewriters."
In recent months, it has emerged that the forged Niger documents went through the hands of the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI (Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare), or operatives close to it, and that neoconservative policymakers helped bring them to the attention of the White House. Even after information in the Niger documents was repeatedly rejected by the C.I.A. and the State Department, hawkish neocons managed to circumvent seasoned intelligence analysts and insert the Niger claims into Bush's State of the Union address.
By the time the U.S. invaded Iraq, in March 2003, this apparent black-propaganda operation had helped convince more than 90 percent of the American people that a brutal dictator was developing W.M.D. -- and had led us into war. [complete article] Key Iraq ministers get approval
BBC News, June 8, 2006
The Iraqi parliament has approved Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's nominees for the key government posts of defence and interior ministers.
The two posts had remained vacant for nearly three weeks due to wrangling between the main parties in the governing Shia alliance.
Jawad Bulani, a Shia, is the new interior minister and Abdul Qadir Obeidi, a Sunni, the defence minister. [complete article] For the women of Iraq, the war is just beginning
By Terri Judd, The Independent, June 8, 2006
The women of Basra have disappeared. Three years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, women's secular freedoms - once the envy of women across the Middle East - have been snatched away because militant Islam is rising across the country.
Across Iraq, a bloody and relentless oppression of women has taken hold. Many women had their heads shaved for refusing to wear a scarf or have been stoned in the street for wearing make-up. Others have been kidnapped and murdered for crimes that are being labelled simply as "inappropriate behaviour". The insurrection against the fragile and barely functioning state has left the country prey to extremists whose notion of freedom does not extend to women.
In the British-occupied south, where Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst. Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death. [complete article] Top Marine 'gravely concerned'
By Thomas E. Ricks and Josh White, Washington Post, June 8, 2006
The commandant of the Marine Corps said yesterday that he is "gravely concerned" about allegations that Marines killed more than two dozen civilians in two separate incidents in Iraq, but declined to offer any details about the cases while investigations are ongoing.
Gen. Michael W. Hagee appeared before reporters to discuss how seriously the Marines are taking the investigations into civilian deaths in Haditha and Hamdaniya, but shed no new light on what might have happened or where the investigations stand. During about 10 minutes of questioning, Hagee said he is waiting for investigations to conclude before making any judgments. [complete article] Middle East wars flare up at Yale
By Liel Leibovitz, The Jewish Week, June 2, 2006
Juan Cole, one of the country's top Middle East scholars, was poised for the biggest step of his career.
A tenured professor at the University of Michigan, Cole was tapped earlier this year by a Yale University search committee to teach about the modern Middle East. In two separate votes in May, Cole was approved by both the sociology and history departments, the latter the university's largest.
The only remaining hurdle was the senior appointments committee, also known as the tenure committee, a group consisting of about a half-dozen professors from various disciplines across the university.
Last week, however, in what is shaping up as the latest in a series of heated battles over the political affiliations of Middle Eastern studies professors, the tenure committee voted down Cole's nomination. Several Yale faculty members described the decision to overrule the votes of the individual departments as "highly unusual." [complete article]
Comment -- I don't know Juan Cole and whether he'd been successful in moving up the academic ladder to a professorship at Yale didn't particularly concern me -- neither did the campaign against his appointment surprise me. Nevertheless, Yale's reversal makes it evident -- yet again -- that the Israel Lobby exerts a pernicious influence on public life in America. (See, New York Sun, Joel Mowbray American Thinker, and Campus Watch.)
The Yale search committee's recommendation to appoint Cole was clearly based on academic merit. (One of the above article's Yale sources exposed his/her own ignorance in suggesting that "most of Cole's scholarship pertains to the Baha'i faith.") Yet The Jewish Week reports that "Several faculty members said they had heard that at least four major Jewish donors, whose identity the faculty members did not know, have contacted officials at the university urging that Cole's appointment be denied." I can only assume that these donors have no academic credentials themselves and that at Yale, the bottom line is the bottom line -- money talks.
Unfortunately, Yale also seems to be sending out another message to the academy: If you value your career, don't venture into the murky world of the blogosphere! Heaven forbid that an academic's work might actually exert some influence on public opinion. Iraqi ties to Iran create new risks for Washington
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, June 8, 2006
The single most influential man in Iraq today, the Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, provides cash, free housing and medical care to tens of thousands of religious students and operates hundreds of religious Web sites across the globe.
Yet this is all going on not in Iraq, but here in the religious capital of Iran.
As the Bush administration seeks simultaneously to stabilize Iraq, in part by empowering its Shiite majority, and contain Iran, it must carefully navigate the complex relationship between the countries. It is not just Iran's influence in Iraq that the United States must confront, but Iraq's connection to Iran, as well. [complete article] Iran 'ready for nuclear talks'
BBC News, June 8, 2006
Iran is ready to discuss "common concerns" about its nuclear programme but pledged not to negotiate what technology to use, its president says.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not say if Iran accepted a Western proposal to restart negotiations and offer incentives if Tehran suspended uranium enrichment.
"The Iranian nation will never hold negotiations about its definite rights," he said in a speech in Qazvin. [complete article]
New concession to Iran as west presses for nuclear deal
By Ian Traynor, The Guardian, June 8, 2006
In a major western concession, Iran is to be allowed to retain some uranium enrichment activities if it reaches agreement with the US, Russia, Europe, and China on its nuclear programme. Diplomats said yesterday that the terms of a new package of proposed rewards delivered to Tehran on Tuesday by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, state that Iran must freeze uranium enrichment activities before and during the talks.
Once "confidence is restored in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme", it would be allowed to resume enrichment on a scale to be determined. "Those are rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty," said a diplomat. [complete article]
Germany urged to bar Iran leader
BBC News, June 8, 2006
The newly elected leader of Germany's main Jewish body has said the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, should be barred from the World Cup.
Charlotte Knobloch described him as "a second Hitler". "He denies the Holocaust - that is illegal in Germany," she told the newspaper Bild.
Mr Ahmadinejad has said he might go and support the Iranian team in Germany.
Germany has already granted a visa to an Iranian Vice President, Mohammad Aliabadi, to attend the World Cup. [complete article] Secret U.S. 'web' of prisons alleged
By Colin Nickerson, Boston Globe, June 8, 2006
The head of an investigation into alleged CIA secret prisons charged yesterday that 14 European nations collaborated with the United States to create a "spider's web" of clandestine flights and detention centers across the continent and beyond.
Dick Marty, a Swiss senator who led the Council of Europe's investigation, offered little in the way of hard evidence for what he called serious violations of the human rights of at least 17 terrorist suspects allegedly shunted around the globe by CIA interrogators. But the long-awaited report issued by the council -- which monitors human rights issues -- signaled the outrage felt by many Europeans over America's alleged use of the continent's air space and landing ports in prosecuting its war against Islamic terrorism.
"It is now clear -- although we are still far from having established the whole truth -- that authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA in these unlawful activities," Marty said at a news conference in Paris.
The 67-page report specifically accused Poland and Romania of allowing the CIA to use their territory to transfer secret prisoners from plane to plane. At least 12 other European nations allowed refuel ing stops, "pickup points," or "staging centers" for controversial CIA undertakings, the report stated. [complete article]
See also, Air traffic logs show secret night flights from Kabul and Baghdad, says report (The Telegraph) and Rendition 'massively damaging' to counter-terrorism effort (The Guardian). Doctors must be healers, not interrogators
By Robert Jay Lifton and Stephen N. Xenakis, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2006
For several years, the Bush administration argued that it was ethically acceptable for psychiatrists and psychologists to participate in interrogations of terrorism detainees. As long as they acted "humanely" -- as defined by the Pentagon -- the administration suggested, there was no reason that mental health professionals shouldn't participate, both at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.
Much of the world disagreed. On May 19, for instance, the U.N. Committee Against Torture urged the administration to fully restore the absolute ban on psychological torture required by international treaty. Shortly afterward, the American Psychiatric Assn. officially prohibited psychiatrists from participating in the interrogation of prisoners and detainees.
But the administration refuses to back down. In fact, on Tuesday, the Pentagon adopted a new policy that, although putting some minimal limits on how mental health professionals may be used, still allows them -- delicately referred to as "behavioral science consultants" -- to assist interrogators. This is a full frontal assault on the most basic values of health professionals. [complete article] The dark stain of Guantanamo
By Julia E. Sweig, Baltimore Sun, June 8, 2006
...Guantanamo is now permanently a symbol of malignant U.S. power, not only in Latin America but well beyond America's historic sphere.
In a chapter of history pregnant with irony and meaning that even the most anti-American of observers could not have hoped to invent, a strategically useless military base on a strategically insignificant island in a region of the world that only a few years ago was poised to embrace U.S. leadership and values has become - for Latin Americans, the international community and, increasingly, U.S. citizens - a Jungian archetype of what's gone wrong with America. [complete article] Washington fury over U.N. attack on Bush 'hypocrites'
By Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, June 8, 2006
The deputy secretary-general of the United Nations was last night accused of making "a very, very grave mistake" after calling the Bush administration hypocrites who were feeding a right-wing anti-UN frenzy in middle America.
Washington's ambassador to the UN responded with undisguised fury to a speech by Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary-general, in which he accused Washington of using the international body "almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool" while failing to defend it at home.
"Much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News," Mr Malloch Brown said in a speech in New York on Tuesday. Depending on the UN while tolerating "too much unchecked UN-bashing and stereotyping" was "simply not sustainable", he said. "You will lose the UN one way or another."
John Bolton, the US envoy and an outspoken critic of the UN, called the comments "a very, very grave mistake". He said he told the secretary-general, Kofi Annan, yesterday morning: "I've known you since 1989, and I'm telling you, this is the worst mistake by a senior UN official that I have seen in that entire time." He called on the secretary-general to repudiate the speech.
Tensions between the UN and George Bush's White House have been simmering since the war in Iraq, but they also encompass deep splits over the international criminal court and the new human rights council, whose formation the US was one of only four states to oppose. But the diplomatic tradition according to which UN officials do not publicly attack specific member states has a longer history still.
Washington was angered by Mr Malloch Brown's references to middle America, and the influence upon it of conservative commentators such as Mr Limbaugh. Mr Bolton said the speech demonstrated a "condescending, patronising tone about the American people. Fundamentally and very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, not the American government, by an international civil servant. It's just illegitimate." [complete article]
See also, Bolton struggles to steer U.N. toward change (USA Today).
Comment -- Let's see if I've got this straight. Brown's remarks were "condescending," "patronising," and amounted to "a criticism of the American people," because it would be an insult to the intelligence of most Americans to suggest that they could easily be influenced by Fox News or Rush Limbaugh? What a bizarre overseas encounter reveals about American foreign policy
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, June 7, 2006
George W. Bush and his team came to office believing that, because America had emerged from its Cold War victory as the world's sole superpower, they could do whatever they please, shout orders and receive obedience, respect alliances and treaties when they were useful and disregard them when they weren't.
But in fact, the dissolution of the Soviet Union also meant the disappearance of a common threat whose very presence had bolstered American power. As long as there was this second, opposing superpower, the nations in between felt compelled to choose sides and often had to pay fealty to the superpower's interests, even when they somewhat differed from their own. Now, ironically, in a unipolar world, there's no fulcrum of pressure -- no common looming enemy -- to keep the bloc in line. Many countries, once formally allied with the United States, remain allied, whether out of shared values, shared interests, or a desire for security. But they are also free to go their own way, pursue their own interests, form their own alliances, without regard to America's thoughts on the matter, to a degree that wasn't possible when the Bear was at the door.
Things might have been otherwise if the United States had been disposed to behave like a grand imperial power -- if, in the wake of Cold War victory, we had, say, tripled the military budget, expanded naval and air forces, revived the draft -- in short, set out to conquer the world. But, thankfully, we didn't. We don't have the resources for this sort of enterprise, and we're not really cut out for it, either. We can't even maintain 130,000 troops in Iraq -- or one-fifth that many in Afghanistan. Being the world's sole superpower doesn't mean we're superpowerful. [complete article] Taliban take the fight to the country
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, June 9, 2006
The Taliban movement has evolved beyond its guerrilla struggle into an organized widespread rebellion. It has fully matured in southern Afghanistan and is heading north toward Kabul and beyond, all the way drawing on growing popular support.
"Don't consider the present [insurgency] movement as Taliban only. This is a mass mutiny against the foreign presence, and all common Afghans are solely responsible for that," Gul Mohammed, a Taliban commander, explained to Asia Times Online in an interview in Qalat, the capital of Zabul province in Afghanistan.
Gul Mohammed's views are not exaggerated. They confirm exhaustive ATol on-the-ground-investigations and reports over the past few months. And this week, the Senlis Council, a London-based international security and policy advisory think-tank, reached a similar conclusion. [complete article]
NATO vows to pursue Afghan mission as violence grows
By Mark John, Reuters, June 8, 2006
NATO vowed on Thursday to go ahead with a plan to nearly double its peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan despite escalating violence there, but called on donors to do more to help rebuild the shattered country.
The 26-nation body has approved plans to increase troops to about 17,000 from 9,000 and expand into the insurgent-troubled south by late July, taking the alliance into what could be its toughest ground combat since its creation in 1949. [complete article]
Afghans raise toll of dead from May riots in Kabul to 17
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, June 8, 2006
Nine days after the worst riots here in the Afghan capital in years, officials raised the death toll to 17 from 12 on Wednesday, and said that 140 people remained in detention, accused of involvement in the rioting. [complete article] Elders losing to extremists in Pakistan
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2006
To be a tribal elder in Pakistan's Waziristan region once meant unquestioned power and respect. These days it connotes title to a way of life ruptured by the modern world. Increasingly, it also carries a death sentence.
Some 150 tribal elders have been killed in Waziristan in the past three years. No arrests have been made; no prosecutions handed down. But most of the whispers point to the Taliban, who have publicly condemned many elders for supporting the military's war against radical militants.
Without the authority of the elders, there is little to stop the growing power of radical mullahs and the Taliban they support in a troubled land where top Al Qaeda figures have been thought to hide. Government efforts to clean up the region have only backfired, pushing the tribal system to the verge of collapse, observers contend. What is happening in Waziristan, they add, is a wake-up call for the rest of the tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. [complete article] Efforts by CIA fail in Somalia, officials charge
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, June 8, 2006
A covert effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to finance Somali warlords has drawn sharp criticism from American government officials who say the campaign has thwarted counterterrorism efforts inside Somalia and empowered the same Islamic groups it was intended to marginalize.
The criticism was expressed privately by United States government officials with direct knowledge of the debate. And the comments flared even before the apparent victory this week by Islamist militias in the country dealt a sharp setback to American policy in the region and broke the warlords' hold on the capital, Mogadishu.
The officials said the C.I.A. effort, run from the agency's station in Nairobi, Kenya, had channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year to secular warlords inside Somalia with the aim, among other things, of capturing or killing a handful of suspected members of Al Qaeda believed to be hiding there.
Some Africa experts contend that the United States has lost its focus on how to deal with the larger threat of terrorism in East Africa by putting a premium on its effort to capture or kill a small number of high-level suspects.
Indeed, some of the experts point to the American effort to finance the warlords as one of the factors that led to the resurgence of Islamic militias in the country. They argue that American support for secular warlords, who joined together under the banner of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism, may have helped to unnerve the Islamic militias and prompted them to launch pre-emptive strikes. The Islamic militias have been routing the warlords, and on Monday they claimed to have taken control of most of the Somali capital. [complete article] Muslim women don't see themselves as oppressed, survey finds
By Helena Andrews, New York Times, June 8, 2006
Muslim women do not think they are conditioned to accept second-class status or view themselves as oppressed, according to a survey released Tuesday by The Gallup Organization.
According to the poll, conducted in 2005, a strong majority of Muslim women believe they should have the right to vote without influence, work outside the home and serve in the highest levels of government. In more than 8,000 face-to-face interviews conducted in eight predominantly Muslim countries, the survey found that many women in the Muslim world did not see sex issues as a priority because other issues were more pressing.
When asked what they resented most about their own societies, a majority of Muslim women polled said that a lack of unity among Muslim nations, violent extremism, and political and economic corruption were their main concerns. The hijab, or head scarf, and burqa, the garment covering face and body, seen by some Westerners as tools of oppression, were never mentioned in the women's answers to the open-ended questions, the poll analysts said. [complete article] Proposal would let Iran enrich uranium
By Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, June 7, 2006
The confidential diplomatic package backed by Washington and formally presented to Iran on Tuesday leaves open the possibility that Tehran will be able to enrich uranium on its own soil, U.S. and European officials said.
That concession, along with a promise of U.S. assistance for an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program, is conditioned on Tehran suspending its current nuclear work until the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency determines with confidence that the program is peaceful. U.S. officials said Iran would also need to satisfy the U.N. Security Council that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon, a benchmark that White House officials believe could take years, if not decades, to achieve.
But the Bush administration and its European allies have withdrawn their demand that Iran abandon any hope of enriching uranium for nuclear power, according to several European and U.S. officials with knowledge of the offer. The new position, which has not been acknowledged publicly by the White House, differs significantly from the Bush administration's stated determination to prevent Iran from mastering technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. [complete article] Those were the days, when reform was in flower
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, June 7, 2006
Many people here are now realizing that real reform in Iran, such as it is, will be driven from the bottom up, slowly, stubbornly, no matter how repressive or punitive the rulers choose to be. It is a cliché, for sure, but the phrase on the lips of weary Iranians in Tehran is "evolution, not revolution." No one seems to have the stomach for starting over again.
The change is glacial in pace but forward moving. Political analysts here say the hard-liners of today are promoting ideas introduced by the reform camp two decades ago.
"It is not possible to make a very big jump," said Emadedin Baghi, director of a prisoners' rights group, who studied religion for many years. "Some reformers thought that they could make a big jump. But it is an evolution that will proceed millimeter by millimeter." [complete article] Gulf widens between U.S. and sheikhdoms
By Trita Parsi, Asia Times, June 7, 2006
Amid increasing tensions between Tehran and Washington over Iran's nuclear program, the administration of US President George W Bush is courting the Gulf monarchies with the same proposal it offered them 15 years ago after the first Gulf War - purchase US weapons worth billions, and Washington will protect you against your Persian nemesis.
But today, the Arab monarchies are less than enthusiastic about putting their security solely in the hands of the United States. With China's dependence on Gulf energy increasing and with the inevitable rise of Iran, the Arabs are eyeing other alternatives.
After the Gulf War, the US was in a unique position to construct an inclusive security architecture for the region. This would have been in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, which put an end to the Iran-Iraq War and explicitly called for the Security Council to address - together with regional states - the question of security in the Persian Gulf.
But the United States' continued presence in the Gulf depended on its military protection of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states against external threats, that is, Iran and Iraq. The administration of president George H W Bush feared that a common security arrangement that included Iran could lessen the Arab states' dependence on Washington, give the leadership in Tehran undue influence and undermine the justification for Washington's military presence in the Gulf. [complete article] Is political Islam on the march?
By Fawaz A. Gerges, Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2006
Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks nearly five years ago, Americans have come increasingly to believe that political Islam is a mortal threat to the West, an aggressive and totalitarian ideology dedicated to random destruction and global subjugation. Fueling Western fears is the migration of political Islam into tiny, but important, communities of Muslims living in Europe. The victory by Hamas in Palestinian parliamentary elections and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt reinforced perceptions that political Islam is inexorably on the march.
Some American commentators have called for an all-out war against all manifestations of political Islam. Disentangling myth from reality about this movement, whose goal is to establish governments based on sharia, Koranic law, is an intellectual challenge fraught with difficulties. Here are five facts to consider:
Fact 1: The political Islamist movement is highly complex and diverse. It encompasses a broad spectrum of mainstream and militant forces. Mainstream Islamists - that is, Muslim Brothers and other independent activists - represent an overwhelming majority of religiously oriented groups (in the upper 90th percentile, whereas militants or jihadists are a tiny but critical minority); they accept the rules of the political game, embrace democratic principles, and oppose violence. [complete article] Britain is the fall guy for the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan
By Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, June 7, 2006
Last week an American military convoy on a road into Kabul crashed in a traffic jam. What happened next is confused. It appears the American soldiers, whose drug consumption is reputedly prodigious, lost their heads and fired into the crowd. The result was half a dozen deaths and the worst riot Kabul has seen since the occupation four and a half years ago.
This lost city in the mountains is, compared with Baghdad, relatively peaceful and is recovering well from the Taliban trauma in the 1990s. Security is good and money is spent on infrastructure. But frustration among the three million inhabitants is growing at the inability of the large foreign community to do anything but admonish them for not doing what they are told.
Last week's riot was aimed largely at that community, which reacted by withdrawing its workers from the provinces and gating them in its compounds. In a walk round the old city on Monday I saw not a single westerner. The downtown Serena hotel, built by the Aga Khan as a symbol of normality, ceded victory to the rioters by bricking up its ground-floor windows, Baghdad-style.
Afghanistan is facing probably the last attempt by outsiders to give it a western political economy. Nato's international security and assistance force (Isaf) comes under the nine-month command of an extrovert British general, David Richards. He is running a sort of peacekeeping Olympics, with soldiers from some 36 nations - from Luxembourg to Mongolia - all out to prove their new-world-order spurs. He must somehow do what has defied the Americans for four years: curb the resurgent Taliban, impose government on the provinces and persuade local rulers to pay allegiance and taxes to Kabul - for the first time in their history. [complete article]
See also, 'Southern Afghanistan in state of war' (AFP). Britons begin to turn away from alliance with America
By Peter Riddell, The Times, June 7, 2006
The British public has become increasingly cool towards American policy and critical of its role in the world after the sustained violence in Iraq.
A Populus opinion poll in The Times indicates that fewer than half the public believe that America is a force for good in the world, and nearly two thirds believe that Britain’s future lies more with Europe than with the US.
There is also evidence of a longer-term shift in views about the US. However, while President Bush and his Administration remain unpopular in Britain, Americans as a people remain popular. [complete article] For one month every four years, a new world order leaves America on touchline
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 7, 2006
The United States always feels challenged by the World Cup. Unlike the Olympics, where Americans tend to dominate, the US has rarely shone in the tournament, although it famously defeated England in 1950. It is an 80-1 long shot this time and may struggle to overcome group stage opponents Ghana and the Czech Republic, let alone Italy. For Americans used to winning, there is something vaguely shocking about this.
But US soccer-related insecurity is political and cultural, too. For four weeks, the world shows its back to the number one nation. The usual hierarchies of power are turned upside-down; the agenda is no longer Washington's to command. It is not often that old enemies, such as Mexico, or relatively new ones, such as Iran, get the chance to "beat" the US. But either may do so in Germany if their teams progress. [complete article]
See also, World Cup relief for war-torn Iraq (AFP).
Comment -- Although the World Cup is of course a celebration of the "beautiful game", it is equally a passionate (and largely non-violent) expression of nationalism. Americans, by and large, might express a mix of bewilderment and indifference towards the rest of the world's fascination with football, but America's deprevation isn't simply the experience of being sidelined during a global event; it's the fact that the only national "team" that this country seems able to rally around is its military.
Of course this is also a time when the media can't resist emphasizing the sporting culture-gap. While America is supposedly ignoring the World Cup, millions here - the invisible America of naturalized Americans and residents, Latino, European, African and Asian - will be lapping up every minute of the action we can catch! Heeding British ghosts
By H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe (IHT), June 6, 2006
[In the 1920s,] Britain's Iraq policy ultimately changed from nation-building to doing anything to get out. Unrealistically optimistic reports of progress in Iraq became the order of the day. U.S. Army Major Joel Rayburn, writing in Foreign Affairs, quotes Britain's then-colonial secretary, Leopold Amery, as saying that "the politics of scuttle" would create far greater dangers for his countrymen than "fulfilling their obligations." Amery argued back in the '20s that "Iraq could be a model for development and democracy for the entire region." But according to Major Rayburn, Britain concluded that "the only way to leave with honor would be to redefine the standards of success and overstate Iraq's achievements." From 1925 until the British finally pulled out in 1932, progress reports "increasingly diverged from reality." [complete article]
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, June 7, 2006
The images from Iraq are of hell on earth: On Sunday 12 Iraqi students traveling to Baqubah to take their final exams were dragged from a bus and killed because they practiced the wrong religion. The next day gunmen dressed in police uniforms kidnapped 56 people near the bus station in central Baghdad and hauled them off in pickup trucks.
This is an Iraqi nightmare, and America seems powerless to stop it. What would you think if you were the parent of one of those dead Iraqi children? You would want the United States, the nation that broke the fragile bonds that once held Iraq together, to act more effectively to control this violence. And you would want Iraq's so-called government of national unity to behave like one and stop the killers who are devouring the decent people of Iraq. And if neither the Americans nor the Iraqi government could protect your children, you would turn to the militias. [complete article] Iraq's premier planning to free 2,500 detainees
By Omar Fekeiki and Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post, June 7, 2006
The Iraqi prime minister announced Tuesday that he would release 2,500 detainees from jail in an effort to calm tensions between Iraq's sectarian and ethnic groups and head off spreading violence.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the move a "positive message and a chance for those who want to rethink their strategy." He specifically excluded detainees connected to violent attacks and supporters of the former government of Saddam Hussein from his amnesty.
The people to be released "are not Saddamists or terrorists," Maliki said at a news conference. "They weren't involved in the bloodshed or imposing the sectarian mentality and cleansing. They are people who made mistakes."
The first group of 500 detainees will be released Wednesday, Maliki said. About 28,700 detainees are being held at U.S. and Iraqi detention facilities in Iraq, according to a U.N. human rights report issued last month. [complete article] The "incident" at Haditha
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, June 6, 2006
At Haditha, we know that, in the phrase of the soldier who first reported the My Lai massacre, "something rather dark and bloody" –- and, it seems, criminal -- happened. It started with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, a "feral" unit, living in a "Lord of the Flies" encampment (as described by British journalist Oliver Poole who paid it a frightening visit), on its third tour of duty in Iraq. It had already been in some of the darkest, bloodiest, most feral fighting of the counterinsurgency war -- the destruction of much of the city of Fallujah in November 2004. After watching a company member die from a roadside bomb that November day a year later, some of the unit's soldiers evidently massacred 24 Iraqi civilians who happened to be living nearby in the town of 90,000 in the heartland of the Sunni insurgency. A My Lai-style cover-up followed.
Other than revealing just how overstretched the American military is in Iraq, such an "incident" (as American officials liked to call such horrors back in the Vietnam era and still do today) is also a kind of confession -- of failure. If, as a soldier, you feel you are protecting anyone in an area, you do not simply slaughter random civilians, no matter how you may "snap." To commit such acts, these Marines must have concluded in the most visceral way that there simply were no Iraqis to protect in Haditha, perhaps in the Sunni provinces of Iraq altogether, perhaps in the whole country. You only slaughter the helpless face-to-face when even small children have become aliens, the enemy, so tainted by evil, by the killing of your people, that there's no hope for them. Think of it as on-the-ground military democracy, the grimmest sort of popular vote on whether you or the insurgents are winning the war. [complete article]
See also, Senators urge Bush to act on Haditha probe (Reuters) and Senate to hold hearings on Iraq massacre (AP). 'We have your husband'
By Peter Slevin, Washington Post, June 7, 2006
Jeffrey J. Ake is 48 now, if he is alive. He is also a husband and son and the father of four children who miss him terribly. He is a storyteller, a Rotarian and a small-business owner who thrived in distant capitals.
He traveled to Iraq, tools in hand, on a private contract to repair machines at a water-bottling plant. Early one morning in April 2005, the telephone rang at a lakeside rambler in LaPorte, 80 miles east of Chicago. An Iraqi man, talking fast in poor English, told Liliana Ake, "We have your husband."
Fourteen months later, nothing is known about his whereabouts, while his family waits and neighbors wonder what to expect after so much silence. No American has been held captive longer in Iraq and come out alive. [complete article] Our failure in Somalia
By John Prendergast, Washington Post, June 7, 2006
It was before "Black Hawk Down," before Somalia became the only country in the world without a government, that I took my first trip there. It changed my life. This was in the mid-1980s, when the United States was underwriting a warlord dictator in support of our Cold War interests, at the clear expense of basic human rights. As a young, wide-eyed activist-in-training, I couldn't accept the idea that my government would use defenseless Somali civilians as pawns on its strategic chessboard -- in a strategy that ultimately produced only state collapse, civil war and famine.
Twenty years later the enemy has changed, but the plot is hauntingly similar. In recent trips to the capital, Mogadishu, I have seen evidence of U.S. support to warlord militia leaders in the name of counterterrorism operations. Since the beginning of the year, pitched battles between U.S.-backed warlords and Islamist militias in Mogadishu have claimed hundreds of lives and displaced thousands of families.
Now "our" warlords -- and by extension our counterterrorism strategy -- have been dealt a crushing defeat by the Islamists, as the latter have consolidated control of Mogadishu. Our short-term interest in locating al-Qaeda suspects has thus been undermined, and the risk of a new safe haven being created for international terrorists has been greatly increased. [complete article]
See also, Somalia's Islamic leaders deny a link to terror (Time) and Protesters rally to challenge Islamists in Somalia (NYT). Abbas' referendum gamble risks a Palestinian backlash
By Tony Karon, Time, June 7, 2006
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has issued an ultimatum to the elected Hamas government: Accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on Israel returning to its 1967 borders, or face a referendum on the issue. But the fact that Abbas on Tuesday extended the deadline for compliance by another three days suggests that he may be starting to realize what other observers already know -- that if Hamas calls his bluff, Abbas could suffer yet another repudiation by Palestinian voters.
It's not that Hamas necessarily rejects the proposal -- which is contained in a a document drawn up by prisoners from its own faction as well as Abbas's Fatah movement currently doing time in Israeli jails. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has already offered Israel peace in the form of a "long-term truce" if it withdraws to its 1967 borders, and Hamas is in fact in discussions with Fatah over that very issue. But Hamas, not surprisingly, is unwilling to accept Abbas's ultimatum. "I am not prepared to act with a gun to my head," Haniyeh said Monday. [complete article]
See also, Abbas delays setting date for referendum (WP). Checkpoint witnesses
By Amelia Thomas, Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2006
The midday heat beats down fiercely as a silver car swings off the main Israeli highway toward the West Bank. Pulling over just before an army-patrolled checkpoint, the three women inside pull name tags and signs from their purses. "Machsom Watch" read the logos they attach to their shirts, the windshield, and on a flag fluttering from the back window. These Israeli women are volunteers for an organization whose members venture into the West Bank twice a day, every day, to some of the roughly 600 Israeli checkpoints (machsomim in Hebrew) there.
Machsom Watch, founded in 2001 by three seasoned activists, consists of some 400 ordinary Israeli women who take turns standing at Israeli-controlled checkpoints, watching for human rights violations and harassment of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers.
Some simply observe and report; others attempt to talk with soldiers or intervene on the part of Palestinians. Each "patrol" produces a report of their shift's events, which is then put up on their website (www.machsomwatch.org). Most checkpoints the women monitor are inside the West Bank, rather than on border points between Israel and the Palestinian territories. [complete article] From logistics to turning a blind eye: Europe's role in terror abductions
By Stephen Grey and Ian Cobain, The Guardian, June 7, 2006
The full extent of European collusion with the CIA during operations to abduct terrorism suspects and fly them to countries where they may be tortured is laid bare today by the continent's most authoritative human rights body.
Several states have allowed the agency to snatch their own residents, others have offered extensive logistical support, while many have turned a blind eye, according to the Council of Europe.
The UK stands accused of not only allowing the use of British airspace and airports, but of providing information that was used during the torture of one suspect. The report adds that there is strong evidence to suspect two European states, Poland and Romania, of permitting the CIA to operate secret prisons on their soil, despite official denials. [complete article] Pentagon limits medical role in questioning
By Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2006
The Pentagon on Tuesday placed new restrictions on how doctors can be involved in interrogations of detainees, but critics deplored any policy that gives medical professionals a role, saying it can lead questioners to use harsher tactics than they would without medical advice.
The military's use of medical professionals in interrogations has drawn fire from human rights groups and medical ethicists. They have charged that doctors have been used unethically at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to force-feed detainees on hunger strikes and provide medical advice to help interrogators.
William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs who approved the new policy, said it was written to ensure that healthcare professionals play an appropriate role. The policy attempts to draw a clear distinction between medical personnel who care for the health of detainees and mental health professionals, called "behavioral science consultants," who assist interrogators.
Winkenwerder, in a conference call with reporters, said the "consultants" did not take part in interrogations. They make psychological assessments of prisoners, he said, but are not allowed to shape interrogations with their knowledge of a subject's phobias or medical vulnerabilities.
Leonard S. Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, said the military should prohibit psychologists or doctors from aiding in the questioning of detainees. "They are using their professional knowledge to hurt people," he said. "The bottom line is health professionals should not be involved in interrogations." [complete article] Terrorism allegations detailed in Canada
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, June 7, 2006
Suspects arrested last weekend in an alleged terrorism plot planned to storm the Canadian Parliament and hold politicians hostage, and at least one wanted to behead the prime minister if demands to withdraw Canada's troops from Afghanistan were not met, according to a summary of prosecutors' allegations read in court Tuesday.
According to authorities, the group also planned to bomb power plants in Ontario and invade the downtown Toronto studios of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., according to the written statement submitted to the court by defense attorney Gary Batasar and read into the record at his request.
The statement, which the lawyer said was a summary of the government's planned charges, indicated that the men had planned to demand the removal of Canada's 2,300 troops from Afghanistan and the release of all Muslim prisoners held in Afghanistan and Iraq. Politicians including Prime Minister Stephen Harper were to be killed if the demands were refused, according to the government allegations, Batasar told reporters outside the courthouse. Prosecutors did not comment on the statements. [complete article] Indonesian scolds U.S. on terrorism fight
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, June 7, 2006
Indonesia's defense minister warned the Bush administration on Tuesday that its approach to fighting terrorism was perceived as overbearing, and that the United States needed to be sensitive to local concerns.
"It's best that you leave the main responsibility of antiterrorist measures to the local government in question, and not be too overly insistent about immediate results arising from your perception about terrorists," the minister, Juwono Sudarsono, told reporters as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld stood nearby.
"It's important to us because, as the world's largest Muslim country, we are very aware of the perception, or misperception, that the United States is overbearing and overpresent and overwhelming in every sector of life in many nations and cultures," he added. [complete article] Justice official mum on possible prosecution of journalists
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, June 7, 2006
Senior Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sharply criticized a Justice Department official yesterday for refusing to say whether the Bush administration has ever considered prosecuting journalists for publishing leaked national security information.
The senators also bristled when Deputy U.S. Attorney Matthew W. Friedrich declined to answer questions about the rationale for the FBI's attempts to review the papers of the late columnist Jack Anderson.
"You're basically taking what would be called a testifying Fifth Amendment. You should be ashamed of yourself, or your superiors should be ashamed of themselves," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) told Friedrich after he declined to answer questions from committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). [complete article] Acts of faith
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, June 5, 2006
The attacks on September 11 catapulted [Bernard] Lewis from the world of scholarly debates into the home of Vice President Dick Cheney, who convened a dinner of experts to help shape a policy toward Islam. Lewis dominated the discussion, telling Cheney that radical Islamists viewed the US as incapable of maintaining a strong foreign-policy course, as evidenced by the US retreat from Beirut in 1983 and from Somalia in 1993.
Cheney was entranced by Lewis's views, though not simply because he agreed with him: here was a man with a vision of Islam and the credentials that would give US policy legitimacy. Cheney was particularly attracted by Lewis's view that Islam's problems are largely self-inflicted, and that the legacy of Western colonialism and economic exploitation has little to do with Muslim attacks on Western societies.
This fit well with the neo-conservative view - which was already maintaining that "when we were attacked on September 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms". The attacks had nothing to do with Western policies, with the legacy of colonialism, or with the support for Middle Eastern dictators. It wasn't that we in the West have bad policies, it was that they have no values.
It is not hard to see how the young Lewis (a scholar diligently bent over his researches in the dusty Ottoman archives in the wake of World War II) was so taken with Kemal Ataturk. Here was a Muslim, Lewis believed, who understood that modernization of his culture could only take place when Islam adopted the narrative of the West.
Lewis set about his life's work with a fury, transmitting Ataturk's vision of a new Middle East for a generation of US and British policymakers. His influence is undeniable: Lewis's views on Islam embody the now prevalent Western vision of Islamists as reactionaries at war with modernism, as obscuritanists doing battle with values, as technophobes seeking a return to the 7th century. Lewis was particularly intrigued by Ataturk's description of Islam as "a putrefied corpse which poisons our lives" and as "the enemy of civilization and science". [complete article]
See also, parts one, two, and three, of "How to lose the war on terrorism." No escaping Iraq violence
By Megan K. Stack and Saif Rasheed, Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2006
Clad in camouflage uniforms, the gunmen came peeling through the thick morning heat in police trucks. They stopped at a downtown strip of travel companies where Iraqis gather each morning to board buses bound for the safer lands of Syria and Jordan.
The gunmen leaped to the ground, witnesses said, and they worked fast. They seized more than 50 bystanders, pulling men away from their families and hauling drivers from behind the wheels of the buses. They handcuffed the men, blindfolded them and stuffed them into the backs of the trucks like human loot. They covered some of their captives with sheets.
And then they were gone, slamming doors and speeding off into the brilliant morning sunlight. It was only 9 o'clock in a city where security has come unraveled, just another mundane scene that splintered suddenly into violence. [complete article]
See also, 6,002 corpses found in Iraq in 5 months (DPA), In brazen roundup, 56 vanish from Baghdad (WP), 21 Iraqi students are dragged off buses and murdered (The Telegraph), and Iraqi tied to kidnapping gets life sentence (NYT). As sectarian violence continues, so does displacement
Reuters, June 4, 2006
Nearly 180,000 Iraqis have now been displaced due to ongoing sectarian violence, an increase of about 80,000 from previous figures, said government officials.
According to Mowafaq Abdul-Raof, a spokesman for the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, more than 17,000 families are now registered as homeless by the ministry. An additional 5,000, Abdul-Raof added, had found refuge with relatives in less effected areas.
The largest number of displaced families is from Baghdad, at about 3,718. Of these, an estimated 1,500 have relocated to Samawa; 1,091 to al-Amara; 966 to al-Qut; 713 to Basra; 765 to Nassiriya; and 300 to Ramadi. According to ministry figures, a further 2,113 families have relocated from Falluja and Samarra to Kerbala. Baqouba, a mixed city some 60km northeast of Baghdad, has received the largest influx of displaced families from various locations, at 12,528. Tikrit has also received 117 displaced families, Kirkuk 190 and Mosul 44. [complete article] Iraqis accuse Marines in April killing of civilian
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, June 5, 2006
All parties to the case of Hashim Ibrahim Awad al-Zobaie agree that he was shot dead by Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment on April 26 in the small central Iraqi village of Hamdaniyah. But there are differing accounts of his death, and they are at the heart of another investigation into the conduct of American forces in Iraq.
Members of the Marine foot patrol under investigation in the case said they came upon Hashim digging a hole for a bomb near his home in the Sunni Arab village of about 30 homes near Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. The Marines said they killed Hashim in a brief gun battle and that they found an AK-47 assault rifle and a shovel by his side.
According to accounts given by Hashim's neighbors and members of his family, and apparently supported by photographs, the Marines went to Hashim's home, took the 52-year-old disabled Iraqi outside and shot him four times in the face. The assault rifle and shovel next to his body had been planted by the Marines, who had borrowed them from a villager, family members and other residents said. [complete article]
See also, Victim's brother speaks: New evidence undermines U.S. Iraq claims (ABC), Marines got name wrong of Iraqi town, Hamdania, where civilian died (KR), and For U.S. troops, it's hard to know who is friend and who is foe (KR). Army manual to skip Geneva detainee rule
By Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2006
The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.
The decision could culminate a lengthy debate within the Defense Department but will not become final until the Pentagon makes new guidelines public, a step that has been delayed. However, the State Department fiercely opposes the military's decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials acknowledged.
For more than a year, the Pentagon has been redrawing its policies on detainees, and intends to issue a new Army Field Manual on interrogation, which, along with accompanying directives, represents core instructions to U.S. soldiers worldwide.
The process has been beset by debate and controversy, and the decision to omit Geneva protections from a principal directive comes at a time of growing worldwide criticism of U.S. detention practices and the conduct of American forces in Iraq. [complete article] Parents of casualties in Marine unit torn on U.S. role in Iraq
By Peter Slevin, Washington Post, June 5, 2006
Bob Derga searches for purpose on a flat terrace behind his house, overlooking the woods. On one side is a weeping cherry tree. On the other, above the Marine Corps seal, is a chiseled stone: "If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever."
Amid the sadness that has looped through his life since the death in Iraq of his only son, Derga has found a spark that drives him to defend President Bush, the war and the troops who are fighting it. He has begun to speak out, urging Americans "to have the guts as a nation to stay the course."
Forty miles north, Paul Schroeder and Rosemary Palmer, whose only son lived and died in the same Marine Reserve unit as Derga's son, have also been driven by anguish to speak out. But they do not believe in this war or this president or in staying the course.
They are convinced that their son's life was wasted. They want negotiations to begin, the war to end and the troops to come home.
One war, one Marine unit, two pained families divided about the way forward. [complete article] Security comes at a cost in Iraq's south
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2006
Hashemia Mohsen Hossein's first death threat came in October.
A member of the 3,000-strong electrical workers union she heads warned her that Shiite Islamists had infiltrated the organization and wanted her dead for stirring up trouble. Four more death threats followed. She says she dares not mention the names of her tormentors.
Yet Hossein says she is grateful to the Shiite militias and political parties that dominate this region of southern Iraq. Her reason: security.
"If you give me a choice and say, 'Go live in Baghdad, with all its explosions,' I would pick here," she said.
Talk of security may seem odd in a city where the mounting number of killings and kidnappings prompted Iraq's new prime minister, Nouri Maliki, to declare a state of emergency Wednesday.
On Saturday, 32 people were killed and 77 wounded in Basra when a busy market was attacked by a suicide bomber, Iraqi officials said.
But the bloodshed and intimidation in the region, which have been widely attributed to rivalries between Shiite groups, have remained distant from the lives of most members of the Shiite majority. Instead, they have been directed primarily against minority Sunni Arabs and those who are politically active, particularly members of secular political groups.
In its combination of security and repression, Iraq's south -- the Shiite heartland -- provides a glimpse of what could be the country's future. [complete article] How Iran might answer the West
By Tony Karon, Time, June 5, 2006
After weeks of tough talk, the diplmatic standoff over Iran's nuclear program may finally be loosening. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is in Tehran to present Iran's leaders with a detailed package of incentives for cooperation over its nuclear program. And the U.S. has offered to join talks with Iran if it halts uranium enrichment. So how is Iran likely respond? Here's what you need to know about the coming negotiations.
1) Never mind President Ahmadinejad; listen to Larijani
Despite his title, Iran's saber-rattling president does not hold executive power and has no direct authority to decide foreign policy or security matters, including the nuclear issue. Those issues are decided by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in consultation with the National Security Council, chaired by Ali Larijani. The EU proposal will be relayed to Larijani, who will be the point man in negotiations with the West. Ahmadinejad's warning on Sunday that "we will record the talks and we will publish them at the appropriate time, so our people will be informed about the details" seemed a populist warning against compromise to those negotiating on Iran's behalf -- a sign of Iran's ongoing internal power struggle. But that doesn't mean Iran's position will necessarily be any more flexible; Larjani is a tough negotiator who, even without Ahmadinejad's pressure, will likely press for a deal that gives Iran more than the U.S. is inclined to concede. [complete article]
See also, Iran's China syndrome (Jackson Diehl), U.S. is offering deals on trade to entice Iran (NYT), and Rice dismisses Iranian cleric's warning on oil (NYT). Irresistible rise of the dictators' club
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 6, 2006
Tony Blair's promotion of shared global values and inclusive institutions in his Georgetown speech last month took little account of the rise and rise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Few may yet have heard of it. But out of the east comes a radically different paradigm for 21st-century international organisation, short on idealism and long on hard-headed self-interest. The "universal" principles of "liberty, democracy and justice" lauded by Mr Blair are hardly its driving force.
Founded by China, the five-year-old SCO groups together like-minded authoritarian leaderships in Russia and four central Asian republics - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Pakistan, Mongolia and India are observer members. So too is Iran.
In terms of total population, area and resources, the SCO is far bigger than Nato or the EU. It dwarfs older regional organisations. It is not yet a mutual defence pact but it is heading that way as Sino-Russian military ties deepen. Its charter pledges "non-interference and non-alignment" while seeking to create "a new international political and economic order". David Wall of Chatham House's Asia programme calls it "a club for autocrats and dictators". [complete article] Somali Islamists declare victory; warlords on run
By Marc Lacey, New York Times, June 6, 2006
After months of fierce fighting, Islamic militias declared Monday that they had taken control of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, defeating the warlords widely believed to be backed by the United States and raising questions about whether the country would head down an extremist path.
The battle for Mogadishu has been a proxy war, of sorts, in the Bush administration's campaign against terrorism, with the warlords echoing Washington's goal of rooting out radical Islam and the presence of Al Qaeda in the region.
But as the warlords who have ruled over Mogadishu for the last 15 years went on the run on Monday, it appeared that Washington had backed the losing side, presenting the administration with a major setback at a time of continued sectarian violence in Iraq and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. [complete article]
See also, U.S. 'worried by' Somali Islamists and Role of warlords in anti-terror war reconsidered (Washington Times). Hamas defies Abbas call to moderate anti-Israeli strategy
By Tim Butcher, The Telegraph, June 6, 2006
The Hamas-led Palestinian government looked certain last night to defy the moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas and reject his demand to soften its stance towards Israel.
With no sign of Hamas meeting a midnight deadline to back the so-called Prisoners' Accord, a proposal recognising the right of Israel to exist within pre-1967 borders, the stage was set for a referendum, which Mr Abbas had promised to hold in 30 days if his plan was rebuffed.
As Hamas indicated it may boycott the referendum, a major political crisis and a serious deterioration of violence between armed supporters of both groups loomed. [complete article]
See also, Abbas extends deadline to Hamas over referendum (Reuters), Abbas will put two-state issue to a vote of Palestinians (WP), and Israel says it wants to hold talks with Abbas (NYT). Raids in northern Sinai will create hub of terrorism, residents say
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, June 4, 2006
Among the close-knit Bedouin tribes of the northern Sinai, anger toward the Egyptian government runs as bitter as the salt water that flows from the faucets in their homes and the wells on their farms.
They aren't allowed into the top ranks of the military or security forces, they're routinely denied admission to prestigious universities and most don't own the land their families have worked for generations.
Even before at least eight of their own were identified as suicide bombers - men who killed more than 100 people in a two-year series of attacks on Egyptian resorts - elders worried that a growing number of youths were turning to radical Islam as a salve for their humiliation.
Now, this long-neglected peninsula that borders Israel is the focus of a massive police sweep to stem the flow of militants before another bombing threatens Egypt's $6 billion tourism industry and mocks Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's counter-terrorism efforts. [complete article] Canada faces 'jihad generation'
By Rebecca Cook Dube, Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2006
Canadians are struggling to understand the threat of "home-grown" terrorism after the arrest of 17 Toronto-area young men in connection with what investigators said were plans to commit massive terrorist attacks in Canada.
The suspects all lived in Canada at the time of arrest; many are longtime residents and citizens. Like the perpetrators of last summer's London bombings, these young Muslims apparently became radicalized not in Al Qaeda training camps abroad but in suburban neighborhoods where they led relatively unremarkable lives.
Such home-grown terrorism is a growing concern, says security analyst John Thompson.
"The cops have a nickname for it - the jihad generation," says Mr. Thompson, president of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto think tank. [complete article] An exchange of narratives
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, June 3, 2006
There was a time in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, when Western intellectuals debated the meaning of the attacks that occurred on that day and the most appropriate way to counter them. There was a welter of voices, a cacophony of opinions.
Struggling to understand the event's magnitude, German philosopher Jurgen Habermas reflected that September 11 carried with it a "foreboding atmosphere" that exposed "a long-known vulnerability of our complex civilization". French intellectual Jacques Derrida went further, suggesting that the event's complexity forced us to question our most "deep-seated conceptual presuppositions". Opinion makers, intellectuals, politicians, foreign-policy analysts, and the great mass of the public wrestled with September 11's meaning, as if suddenly caught off balance by the sheer audacity of the event. And so it was that for the merest moment - a shimmering and hopeful period so brief that it now seems that it might never have occurred at all - Americans, and others in the West, rejected "the received concepts" of "war" and "terrorism" and shook themselves from certainty's slumber.
The hopeful moment passed. Driven by the shattering visions of the assault - the specter of living beings falling through the clear air of lower Manhattan - the United States and its allies attacked Afghanistan and drove the Taliban from power, jailed al-Qaeda members and their sympathizers, strangled Middle Eastern banks and purged financial accounts, identified an "axis of evil", passed new and more stringent security measures, legislated new powers to domestic spying agencies, and increased funding to their intelligence services. They unseated Saddam Hussein. Yet after five years and the expenditure of thousands of lives and billions of dollars, there remains what Habermas calls a "vague feeling of angst": an indefinable yet precise sense that somehow and in some way we in the West have gotten this thing, this "war on terrorism", terribly wrong. [complete article]
See also, parts one and two, of "How to lose the war on terrorism."
Comment -- If you're not already familiar with Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, pay attention to these guys -- they're not run-of-the-mill armchair commentators!
Alistair Crooke is a former senior MI6 officer. Over a thirty-year period he worked on behalf of the British government specialising in foreign postings in conflict zones including periods in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Colombia. In 2003, acting as special adviser to the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, he attempted to broker a Hamas ceasefire in Palestine. Mark Perry is a military, intelligence and foreign affairs analyst and writer living in Arlington, Virginia. He is the author of six books on U.S. history, and a former personal adviser to Yasser Arafat.
Crooke and Perry are co-directors of Conflicts Forum, an organization with these audacious and laudable aims and objectives: "to end the isolation and demonization of Islamist movements by the West, and to create the space for their engagement in politics." If that doesn't represent part of a sane response to 9/11, I don't know what would! Iran gives ground on U.S. plan
By Jason Burke, The Observer, June 4, 2006
Iran seemed finally to be backing away from a confrontation with America and Europe over its nuclear programme, as senior officials and politicians in Tehran said yesterday that proposals put forward last week might form the basis for negotiation.
State-run television reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that a deal was feasible, provided Tehran kept a minimum right to atomic energy.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki added that he welcomed unconditional talks with all parties involved, including the United States. [complete article]
Tehran warns of fuel disruptions
BBC News, June 4, 2006
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that fuel shipments from the Gulf region could be disrupted if the US makes a "wrong move".
In a speech on state TV, Ayatollah Khamenei also said accusations that Iran intended to make a nuclear bomb amounted to a "sheer lie".
He insisted Iran would not give up its right to produce nuclear fuel.
Tehran has agreed to study proposals drawn up by six world powers to defuse the row over Iran's nuclear programme. [complete article]
Iran to make offer by six powers public
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, June 4, 2006
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that Iran would publish details of the package of incentives and possible penalties prepared by the United States and five other major powers aimed at halting Iran's nuclear program.
In a speech in which he warned Iran's critics against "threats and intimidation," Ahmadinejad seemed to sweep aside a request by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to keep the process confidential. Western diplomats had said they were trying to avoid the appearance of threatening Iran by keeping the terms of the package as private as possible, especially the specific penalties Iran might face if it continues to enrich uranium. [complete article]
Rice key to reversal on Iran
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 4, 2006
At the end of March, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to Europe and had unusual, one-on-one conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. She also attended a meeting in Berlin on Iran at which the Russian and Chinese representatives denounced the idea of sanctions to halt Tehran's drive toward a nuclear weapon.
Rice returned to Washington with a sobering message: The international effort to derail Iran's programs was falling apart. Her conclusion spurred a secret discussion among Rice, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley: Should the United States finally agree to join the Europeans at the negotiations with Iran?
Though Bush administration officials had publicly always dismissed that possibility, officials at the highest levels -- including Cheney, frequently but inaccurately portrayed as an adamant foe of joining the talks -- realized that soon the administration would be forced to grapple with the question, five U.S. officials said in interviews last week. Otherwise, the options seemed to either be that Iran would get the bomb or the United States would be drawn into another war. [complete article]
A talk at lunch that shifted the stance on Iran
By Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, New York Times, June 4, 2006
It is unclear how much dissent, if any, surrounded the decision, which appears to have been driven largely by the president, Ms. Rice and Mr. Hadley, with other senior national security officials playing a more remote role. Both White House and State Department officials say Vice President Dick Cheney, long an opponent of proposals to engage Iran, agreed to this experiment. But it is unclear whether he is an enthusiast, or simply expects Iran to reject suspending enrichment -- clearing the way to sanctions that could test the Iranian government's ability to survive. [complete article]
Comment -- The Iranian regmime is famously complex. We are frequently reminded by astute observers to attach less significance to President Ahmadinejad's pronouncements than those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Tehran could be forgiven for being equally perplexed by the workings of Washington. Should President Bush's green light on talks be taken more seriously than the fact that even this weekend Defense Secretary Rumsfeld described Iran as "one of the leading terrorist nations in the world"? I assume that "U.S. ready for talks with leading terrorist nation" was not on any of the White House's talking points this week.
Then there's the question of where Cheney stands. Newsweek describes "tough resistance to direct talks from the hard-line faction of Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld," but the Washington Post now cautions that Cheney has "frequently but inaccurately portrayed as an adamant foe of joining the talks." The truth might be a bit more complicated. If Cheney is convinced that the Iranians will throw up insurmountable obstacles to talks, then he may be in favor of making hollow diplomatic overtures. On the other hand, if Bush and Rice pressed ahead in spite of Cheney's opposition to talks, the White House might now want to avoid creating the appearance that Cheney has been sidelined. Thus the Post obligingly sets the record "straight."
Clearly, Condoleezza Rice's staff have been busy spinning a narrative of masterful diplomacy, yet the question remains: Was the proposal for talks pitched as an end in itself; in other words, premised on the assumption that the talks wouldn't actually happen? If so, and if Iran defies US expectations and comes to the table, is the Bush administration actually ready? Some see guerrilla group as Iran's hope
By Vik Jolly, Orange County Register, June 4, 2006
Nasser Sharif knows how to get rid of the clerical regime in his native Iran: Let a group now on the U.S. terrorist list do the job - by force if necessary.
As the United States and Iran face off over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, Sharif, co-owner of a beauty salon in Corona del Mar, has been knocking on the doors of his congressional representatives.
He is seeking partners for what he sees as a future democratic Iran while pitching the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or People's Warriors, as a vehicle to help win that freedom.
Every chance he gets, Sharif voices support for the guerrilla group whose members are currently under U.S. protection at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad. He believes that the group is a clear and leading alternative to the mullahs ruling Iran. [complete article] Canadian police behind bomb material
By Michelle Shephard and Isabel Teotonio, Toronto Star, June 4, 2006
The delivery of three tonnes of ammonium nitrate to a group suspected of plotting terrorist attacks in southern Ontario was part of an undercover police sting operation, the Toronto Star has learned.
The RCMP said yesterday that after investigating the alleged homegrown terrorist cell for months, they had to move quickly Friday night to arrest 12 men and five youths before the group could launch a bomb attack on Canadian soil.
Sources say investigators who had learned of the group's alleged plan to build a bomb were controlling the sale and transport of the massive amount of fertilizer, a key component in creating explosives. Once the deal was done, the RCMP-led anti-terrorism task force moved in for the arrests. [complete article] In Haditha killings, details came slowly
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, June 4, 2006
At 5 p.m. Nov. 19, near the end of one of the most violent days the Marine Corps had experienced in the Upper Euphrates Valley, a call went out for trucks to collect the bodies of 24 Iraqi civilians.
The unit that arrived in the farming town of Haditha found babies, women and children shot in the head and chest. An old man in a wheelchair had been shot nine times. A group of girls, ages 1 to 14, lay dead. Everyone had been killed by gunfire, according to death certificates issued later.
The next day, Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, a Marine spokesman in Iraq, released a terse statement: Fifteen Iraqis "were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately after the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another."
Despite what Marine witnesses saw when they arrived, that official version has been allowed to stand for six months. Who lied about the killings, who knew the truth and what, if anything, they did about it are at the core of one of the potentially most embarrassing and damaging events of the Iraq war, one that some say may surpass the detainee abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. [complete article]
U.S. confronts brutal culture among its finest sons
By Paul Harris, Peter Beaumont, and Mohammed al-Ubeidy, The Observer, June 4, 2006
Some American veterans have expressed little surprise at the latest revelations. 'I don't doubt for one moment that these things happened. They are widespread. This is the norm. These are not the exceptions,' said Camilo Mejia, a US infantry veteran who served briefly in the Haditha area in 2003.
American veterans have told The Observer of a military culture that places little practical emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties in the heat of battle, although they also point out the huge problems of urban fighting against a tough enemy that often hides within the civilian Iraqi community.
'In these circumstances you would be surprised at how any normal human being can see their morals degenerate so they can do these things,' said Garrett Reppenhagen, a former US sniper.
Mejia, who has served time in jail for refusing to return to Iraq for a second tour of duty, said there was widespread prejudice against Iraqis in his unit, and that Iraqis were routinely referred to as 'Hajis' in the same way that local people during the Vietnam war were called 'gooks' or 'Charlie'.
'We dehumanise the enemy under these circumstances,' said Mejia. 'They called them gooks in Vietnam and we called them Hajis in Iraq.' [complete article]
Probing a bloodbath
By Evan Thomas and Scott Johnson, Newsweek, June 12, 2006
The Marines know how to get psyched up for a big fight. In November 2004, before the Battle of Fallujah, the Third Battalion, First Marines, better known as the "3/1" or "Thundering Third," held a chariot race. Horses had been confiscated from suspected insurgents, and charioteers were urged to go all-out. The men of Kilo Company -- honored to be first into the city on the day of the battle --wore togas and cardboard helmets, and hoisted a shield emblazoned with a large K. As speakers blasted a heavy-metal song, "Cum On Feel the Noize," the warriors of Kilo Company carried a homemade mace, and a ball-and-chain studded with M-16 bullets. A company captain intoned a line from a scene in the movie "Gladiator," in which the Romans prepare to slaughter the barbarians: "What you do here echoes in eternity."
Fallujah was a vicious battle. The 3/1 lost 17 men in 10 days, fighting house to house. But the Marines were prepared. They had been taught to tie a rope to a wounded man to pull him to safety and to lay down a murderous blanket of covering fire. They expected their foe to resort to ruses, like dressing as women and using human shields. But the men of the Thundering Third had been given liberal rules of engagement to make sure people who looked like civilians didn't trigger hidden roadside bombs. "If you see someone with a cell phone," said one of the commanders, half-jokingly, "put a bullet in their f---ing head." During the battle, a TV camera crew photographed a Marine shooting a wounded, unarmed man. The Marine was later exonerated. [complete article]
Iraqis skeptical of U.S. probe
By Nelson Hernandez and Muhannad Saif Aldin, Washington Post, June 4, 2006
The Iraqi government and residents of a village where U.S. soldiers killed as many as a dozen civilians in March took a skeptical view Saturday of an American investigation that ruled in the troops' favor, saying they wanted a new probe of the incident.
An aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraq would pursue its own probe into the incident in Ishaqi, a village north of Baghdad, and would seek an apology if the U.S. soldiers were proved guilty. "We ought to do our own investigation into this and reach the fact of what happened," Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi said in a telephone interview Saturday. "Our own conclusion may not be the same as theirs." [complete article]
Investigations lead to more scrutiny of civilian deaths
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2006
The investigations of alleged slayings of Iraqi civilians by Marines are leading to greater scrutiny by officers of all reports filed by enlisted personnel after clashes in which unarmed Iraqis are killed, officials close to the cases said Saturday. [complete article] Men in black terrorise Iraq's women
By Marie Colvin and Widiane Moussa, The Sunday Times, June 4, 2006
Noor and her boyfriend used to go out a lot and listen to dance in their favourite restaurant in Baghdad. The 26-year-old university lecturer also used to enjoy going window shopping at night in the city's once-glitzy Mansour district, dressed in the latest fashions.
That was before the "men in black", the Taliban-style militias waging terror against the urban middle class, arrived in Noor's neighbourhood, threatening to shoot, kidnap and shave the heads of anyone who challenged their draconian strictures.
The militias are part of a hardline religious crackdown organised by Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. On Friday he released a four-hour sermon, effectively a message of hate, calling on Sunni Muslims to confront adherents of the rival Shi'ite branch of Islam. [complete article] British brigade of Islamists join Al-Qaeda foreign legion in Iraq
By David Leppard, The Sunday Times, June 4, 2006
Up to 150 Islamic radicals have travelled from Britain to Iraq to join up with a "British brigade" that has been established by Al-Qaeda leaders to fight coalition forces.
Senior security sources say leaders of the Iraqi insurgency have set up a "foreign legion" composed entirely of westerners to fight alongside the insurgents in the war against British and American forces. Some are preparing to carry out suicide attacks while others have received basic combat training for attacks on western troops The so-called "British brigade" is said to be operating under the direct command of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Members of the unit are thought to be in the Sunni triangle, a combat zone and Al-Qaeda hotbed west of Baghdad.
The flow of young Muslim men from western Europe to Iraq has increased dramatically in the past two years. The "pipeline" of suspected terrorists is being fuelled by growing resentment about American and British policy and scandals such as the mistreatment of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison. [complete article] Vying for power, militias roil Basra
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, June 2, 2006
The southern port city where most of Iraq's oil exports flow, Basra has been sliding toward lawlessness for more than a year, residents and local officials say, seemingly without much notice from Iraqi and US forces.
With their attention focused on a raging Sunni Arab-led insurgency fighting an ideological war, murder and corruption in the largely Shiite city appeared a low priority. But in the past month, rival Shiite militias seeking power and control over oil smuggling have put the city on the verge of open warfare.
Now, Basra is the only city in Iraq under emergency rule, evidence of how far the city has careened off course. Locals say death squads openly patrol the streets and a police official reached by phone reports that at least 400 assassinations in the past two months. [complete article]
Comment -- What clearer demonstration of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's strength could there be than that he toured Basra surrounded by armed Americans? Is this the image of an Iraqi leader or an American puppet? Attacks on Iraq oil industry aid vast smuggling scheme
By James Glanz and Robert F. Worth, New York Times, June 4, 2006
The sabotage attacks that have crippled Iraq's oil pipelines and refineries for the past three years are now being used to aid a vast smuggling network that is costing the Iraqi government billions of dollars a year, senior Iraqi and American officials here say.
Once thought to be only a tool for insurgents to undermine the government, the pipeline attacks have evolved into a lucrative moneymaking scheme for insurgents and enterprising criminal gangs alike. Ali Al Alak, the inspector general for the Oil Ministry, said the attacks are now orchestrated by both groups to force the government to import and distribute as much fuel as possible using thousands of tanker trucks.
In turn, the insurgents and criminal gangs — distinguishing among them has become increasingly problematic — have transformed the trucking trade into a potent tool for smuggling.
In many cases documented by Mr. Alak and other Iraqi officials, truckers, often collaborating with smuggling gangs, pay bribes or use forged papers to inflate the value of their load, tamper with their fuel meters, or simply turn their loads over to the gangs.
As a result, as much as 30 percent of imported gasoline is promptly stolen and resold abroad by smugglers, according to American and Iraqi officials. The shortfall is part of what forces Iraqi families to spend more on fuel from the black market, where it is far more expensive than from legal outlets.
The poisonous blend of smuggling and sabotage is yet another blow to the economy of a country whose huge oil reserves were expected before the 2003 invasion to pay for its reconstruction. [complete article] Baghdad morgue reports record figures for May
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2006
New Iraqi government documents show that, excluding the nearly daily bombings, more Baghdad residents died in shootings, stabbings and other violence in May than in any other month since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The numbers, and accounts from residents, depict neighborhoods descending further into violence and fear.
Last month, 1,398 bodies were brought to the central morgue, according to Ministry of Health statistics, 307 more than in April. The count doesn't include soldiers or civilian victims of explosions, on whom autopsies are not usually conducted.
Since 2003, at least 30,240 bodies have been brought to the morgue, the vast majority of them victims of gunmen who are not caught. Bodies often lie in the streets for hours. [complete article]
See also, Gunmen kill Russian embassy worker in Iraq (NYT) and Violent attacks in Iraq leave at least 23 dead (WP). In a war zone, battling to keep the contractors honest and on track
By James Glanz, New York Times, June 4, 2006
Stuart W. Bowen Jr. was looking puffy and exhausted after three days of fighting an intestinal bug he had picked up in Baghdad. Now, wearing a flak vest in 100-degree heat, he was almost two hours into his inspection of an American-financed project to build a prison on a bleak and cloudless patch of desert in southern Iraq.
But as the inspector general for the United States' reconstruction effort in Iraq, Mr. Bowen, 48, was trying to extract a few more nuggets of information from this dusty outpost near Nasiriya. His face flushed and his hair matted to his scalp with sweat, he wanted to know why the Parsons Corporation, a construction giant that he has repeatedly excoriated, had left just two American contractors to oversee 800 Iraqi workers swarming the site.
"We've got 2 contractors and 10 security guards," said Mr. Bowen with a sidelong glance at the heavily armed contingent trailing him through the project, which he had already discovered was months behind schedule and would be less than 20 percent the size called for in the original design. His office has also criticized what it considers overblown security fears at some sites.
Mr. Bowen has surprised some with his investigative zeal. He formally leads the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, whose roughly 160 auditors, engineers, inspectors and administrative staff members have been assigned the mission of uncovering fraud, waste and abuse in a $45 billion reconstruction program that is widely perceived as a failure. [complete article] Afghans rally to the Lion to oust America
By Antonia Francis, The Sunday Times, June 4, 2006
Young men with scarves wrapped tightly across their faces were rampaging through Kabul's deserted streets last week, hunting down foreigners in hotels and aid offices in an explosion of hatred sparked by a traffic accident.
Shouting "Death to America" and clutching Kalashnikovs, they brandished the poster of an unlikely hero: Ahmed Shah Massoud, the assassinated anti-Taliban commander who in death has been transformed into the symbol of resistance to the US-backed government.
Massoud, scourge of the Soviet occupiers and spearhead of the war on the Taliban, was murdered on Osama Bin Laden's orders by a bomb hidden in a television camera two days before the September 11 attacks on America in 2001. [complete article]
A violent wake-up call
By Ron Moreau, Sami Yousafzai and Joe Cochrane, Newsweek, June 12, 2006
To most Afghans and his international supporters alike, Karzai once seemed the ideal man for the job. While respected as a Pashtun tribal leader, he also represented a break with the country's traditional past -- a president rather than a warlord, more concerned with the national well-being than lining his pockets. And he was perceived, rightly, as America's man, able to keep billions in reconstruction aid flowing.
Now, however, many Afghans, including many ethnic Pashtuns, decry his cautious governing style. They blame his timidity for allowing corruption to flourish once again in Kabul, and for doing little to stop the nationwide drug trade. Meanwhile, the Taliban have stepped up attacks in the south. "It's quite clear President Karzai wants to govern as the ruler of all Afghans and not displease anyone -- but he has," Francese Vendrell, the European Union's special representative to Afghanistan, told Newsweek. "He has not been able to act firmly. Many provincial governors are incompetent and corrupt, and many police chiefs are linked to the drug trade and criminal groups." [complete article] Hamas PM says referendum illegal
BBC News, June 4, 2006
The head of the Hamas-led Palestinian government has dismissed as illegal a threatened referendum on a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said the law did not permit the holding of such a poll on Palestinian soil.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas wants Hamas to back the idea of a Palestinian state co-existing with Israel. [complete article] Israeli secret agent threatened to kill me, says Briton
By Conal Urquhart, The Observer, June 4, 2006
A British charity worker has revealed how he was threatened with death by the Israeli secret service while he was detained for three weeks without charge.
Ayaz Ali returned from Israel to Britain last week after a military judge ruled he had done nothing wrong. On his release, the Israeli government issued a statement accusing Ali, 35, of assisting Hamas and implied that he was a neo-Nazi and a supporter of al-Qaeda.
Ali, an accountant, arrived in Israel last December to direct aid efforts by Islamic Relief in Gaza and the West Bank. The Birmingham-based charity, which works with Britain's Department for International Development, provides fortified milk for children, imports artificial limbs and runs education centres.
A Department for International Development spokesman said it had no reason to believe there was any truth in the allegations against Ali or Islamic Relief. [complete article] Is Syria's eastward drift viable?
By Marwan Al Kabalan, Gulf News, June 2, 2006
After three years of sustained Western pressure that almost shocked the regime, Syria seems to have decided to head eastward. Instead of London, Paris and Washington; Beijing, Moscow and, indeed, Tehran have become favourite destinations for top Syrian officials.
Last week, Syria's foreign minister, Walid Al Mualem, paid what the Syrian news agency described as an "extremely important visit" to follow up on the "successful talks of President Bashar Al Assad with Chinese leaders in 2004". Three senior Syrian delegations have also visited Moscow in recent weeks to help improve ties between the two countries.
Syria, one must say, has not chosen to take the old Silk Route on its own accord but was forced to do so after Western gates were closed in its face. Eager to punish Syria for its anti-war stance in the UN Security Council and for its support to the Iraqi resistance after the invasion, the US imposed a set of political and economic sanctions on the country. [complete article] Back to the bunker
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, June 4, 2006
On Monday, June 19, about 4,000 government workers representing more than 50 federal agencies from the State Department to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will say goodbye to their families and set off for dozens of classified emergency facilities stretching from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs to the foothills of the Alleghenies. They will take to the bunkers in an "evacuation" that my sources describe as the largest "continuity of government" exercise ever conducted, a drill intended to prepare the U.S. government for an event even more catastrophic than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The exercise is the latest manifestation of an obsession with government survival that has been a hallmark of the Bush administration since 9/11, a focus of enormous and often absurd time, money and effort that has come to echo the worst follies of the Cold War. The vast secret operation has updated the duck-and-cover scenarios of the 1950s with state-of-the-art technology -- alerts and updates delivered by pager and PDA, wireless priority service, video teleconferencing, remote backups -- to ensure that "essential" government functions continue undisrupted should a terrorist's nuclear bomb go off in downtown Washington.
But for all the BlackBerry culture, the outcome is still old-fashioned black and white: We've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on alternate facilities, data warehouses and communications, yet no one can really foretell what would happen to the leadership and functioning of the federal government in a catastrophe. [complete article] Invoking secrets privilege becomes a more popular legal tactic by U.S.
By Scott Shane, New York Times, June 4, 2006
Facing a wave of litigation challenging its eavesdropping at home and its handling of terror suspects abroad, the Bush administration is increasingly turning to a legal tactic that swiftly torpedoes most lawsuits: the state secrets privilege.
In recent weeks alone, officials have used the privilege to win the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a German man who was abducted and held in Afghanistan for five months and to ask the courts to throw out three legal challenges to the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program.
But civil liberties groups and some scholars say the privilege claim, in which the government says any discussion of a lawsuit's accusations would endanger national security, has short-circuited judicial scrutiny and public debate of some central controversies of the post-9/11 era. [complete article] U.S. wants companies to keep Web usage records
By Saul Hansell and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, June 2, 2006
The Justice Department is asking Internet companies to keep records on the Web-surfing activities of their customers to aid law enforcement, and may propose legislation to force them to do so.
The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales held a meeting in Washington last Friday where they offered a general proposal on record-keeping to a group of senior executives from Internet companies, said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department. The meeting included representatives from America Online, Microsoft, Google, Verizon and Comcast.
The attorney general has appointed a task force of department officials to explore the issue, and that group is holding another meeting with a broader group of Internet executives today, Mr. Roehrkasse said. The department also met yesterday with a group of privacy experts. [complete article] U.S., media settle with Wen Ho Lee
By Paul Farhi, Washington Post, June 3, 2006
Wen Ho Lee, the U.S. nuclear scientist once identified in news reports as the target of a spying investigation, will receive more than $1.6 million from the federal government and five media organizations, including The Washington Post, to settle allegations that government leaks violated his privacy.
The United States will pay Lee $895,000 to drop his lawsuit, filed in 1999, which alleged that officials in the Clinton administration had disclosed to the news media that he was under investigation for spying for China while working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
In addition, the news organizations agreed to pay Lee $750,000. None of the media outlets -- which included The Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, ABC News and the Associated Press -- had been sued by Lee, and none of their reporting was directly challenged. But all five agreed to the payment out of concern that their reporters would have to give Lee the names of their government sources, as courts had ordered. [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Iraq is the republic of fear
By Nir Rosen, Washington Post, May 28, 2006
Iraq becomes deadliest of modern wars for journalists
By Marc Santora and Bill Carter, New York Times, May 30, 2006
Iranian-backed militia groups take control of much of southern Iraq
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, May 26, 2006
Khamenei in control and ready to 'haggle'
By Gareth Porter, IPS (via Asia Times), May 31, 2006
By Rami G. Khouri, Newsweek, June 5, 2006
Proliferation wars in the intelligence community
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, May 30, 2006
The agent who might have saved Hamid Hayat
By Mark Arax, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2006
In the Palestinian village of nowhere, a fate soon sealed
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 30, 2006
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