Archives for July 2009

The making of an Iran policy

The making of an Iran policy

In Tehran, just before the election, I sat down with Nasser Hadian, who once taught at Columbia and is now at Tehran University. He’s an influential thinker on foreign affairs who got to know [Dennis] Ross while he was in the United States. Hadian told me that Iran has taken Obama’s outreach seriously. Hadian has been part of a group of foreign-policy experts, convened by Mahmoud Vaezi at the Center for Strategic Research in Tehran, who have been meeting every two weeks to review how to respond to the U.S. offer. Vaezi prepares reports that are submitted to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the reformist former president who has been bitterly critical of the June 12 vote, and to Khamenei himself.

The discussions, I was told, have been detailed, including a review of who might lead any eventual bilateral negotiations from the Iranian side. One name that has been proposed is Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister who is a top adviser to Khamenei. In this light, the fact that Velayati praised Obama after the election for remaining quiet about it is interesting. Velayati also said, “America accepts a nuclear Iran, but Britain and France cannot stand a nuclear Iran.” This is a new language, however wide of the truth. The bizarre official lambasting of Britain — and demonizing of the BBC rather than the Voice of America — can be seen as the Iranian authorities trying to keep their U.S. options open.

“My argument in all the meetings has been: You have to go for full normalization and comprehensive engagement on all the issues,” Hadian told me. “Not a U.S. consulate in Tehran, or the nuclear issue in isolation; that won’t work. And because I know we cannot normalize unless Israeli concerns are addressed, I’ve argued that Ross would be an important assurance, someone able to convince the American Jewish lobby that any eventual agreement is workable.” That view, he suggested, had gained some traction in Tehran.

Hadian said Iran has looked at everyone in the policy mix — Burns, Ross, Talwar, Vali Nasr (an Iranian-American aide to Richard Holbrooke, the State Department envoy), Gary Samore (a nonproliferation expert at the N.S.C.), Tony Blinken (a national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden) — and the general feeling was positive. “What Obama has already done for the United States in the Muslim world is unbelievable,” he said. “It is not easy for anyone here to attack him.”

But Hadian is a reformist who backed Moussavi. The Iran he talked about has not disappeared postelection — Velayati is as influential as ever — but it’s shaken. Khamenei, who just turned 70, knows he is vulnerable right now; it’s far from clear he’d be ready to negotiate from vulnerability. His suspicion of the United States is deep; anti-Americanism has worked for him over a 20-year rule. “Khamenei still believes the United States wants to go back to the patron-client relationship and the nuclear issue is being used for that,” Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment, told me. Even if he chooses to talk, would it not be in pursuit of a familiar Iranian tactic — stringing things out, as the centrifuges spin, until cracks appear among the Western allies, or China and Russia come to Tehran’s defense?

One thing is clear: Iran is no position to talk right now. It has no functioning national-security apparatus as its leaders scramble to shore up the regime. The republican pillar of the Islamic Republic has been destroyed to salvage a hard-line rightist order, but the price of this violent gamble in terms of lost support, internal division and external criticism has been immense. Iran has morphed in the global consciousness, to the point that U2 and Madonna have adopted the cause of Iranian democracy. With oil down and opposition up, Iran’s regional ascendancy is stalled or already in reverse. [continued…]

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In Afghanistan, U.S. may shift strategy

In Afghanistan, U.S. may shift strategy

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is preparing a new strategy that calls for major changes in the way U.S. and other NATO troops there operate, a vast increase in the size of Afghan security forces and an intensified military effort to root out corruption among local government officials, according to several people familiar with the contents of an assessment report that outlines his approach to the war.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, appears inclined to request an increase in American troops to implement the new strategy, which aims to use more unconventional methods to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, according to members of an advisory group he convened to work on the assessment. Such a request could receive a chilly reception at the White House, where some members of President Obama’s national security team have expressed reluctance about authorizing any more deployments.

Senior military officials said McChrystal is waiting for a recommendation from a team of military planners in Kabul before reaching a final decision on a troop request. Several members of the advisory group, who spoke about the issue of force levels on the condition of anonymity, said that they think more U.S. troops are needed but that it was not clear how large an increase McChrystal would seek. [continued…]

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Hamas chief outlines terms for talks on Arab-Israeli peace

Hamas chief outlines terms for talks on Arab-Israeli peace

The chief of Palestinian militant group Hamas said his organization is prepared to cooperate with the U.S. in promoting a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict if the White House can secure an Israeli settlement freeze and a lifting of the economic and military blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Khaled Meshaal, 53 years old, said in a 90-minute interview at Hamas’s Syrian headquarters that his political party and military wing would commit to an immediate reciprocal cease-fire with Israel, as well as a prisoner swap that would return Hamas fighters for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

He also said his organization would accept and respect a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders as part of a broader peace agreement with Israel—provided Israeli negotiators accept the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a capital for the Palestinian state in East Jerusalem. [continued…]

Divided, demoralized Palestinian movement hopes to hit ‘restart’

Perhaps no Fatah figure has become as emblematic of the failures of Fatah as Dahlan, the polarizing politician who’s been alternately embraced and shunned by America.

Dahlan is viewed with skepticism by some American security leaders and reviled by Hamas for his heavy-handed crackdown on the Islamic group as the former head of security in Gaza.

Dahlan has kept a low profile since his Gaza City home was looted and burned during the 2007 Hamas takeover.

Now he’s preparing to run for the Fatah Central Committee.

“If Dahlan wins, then Fatah will have lost,” said Mohanned Abdel Hamid, a political analayst and occasional columnist for al Ayyam newspaper. “He is dangerous and self-serving.”

On a recent afternoon at the Elite coffee shop in Ramallah, a small group of middle-aged Fatah members who hope to take part in the convention criticized Dahlan and the old Fatah leaders.

“He is the main reason for the dispersed state of Fatah and he has not been held accountable for his actions,” said Allam Hattab, a Fatah member from Tulkarem who accused Dahlan of trying to buy votes. “I’m telling you, there will be a split after the conference.” [continued…]

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The case for a tactical pause with Iran

Make them wait

The Obama administration should avoid repeating the key mistake of the Bush administration, for which Iran was solely viewed through the prism of its nuclear program. Delaying nuclear talks a few months won’t make a dramatic difference to Iran’s nuclear program. It could, however, determine which Iran America and the region will be dealing with for the next few decades — one in which democratic elements strengthen over time, or one where the will of the people grows increasingly irrelevant to Iran’s decision-makers.

Moreover, even nuclear talks would have a negligible impact on the election dispute, Iran currently is not in a position to negotiate. Some in Washington believe that the paralysis in Tehran has weakened Iran and made it more prone to compromise. But rather than delivering more, Iran’s government currently couldn’t deliver anything at all. The infighting has simply incapacitated Iranian decision makers. [continued…]

Showdown between Khamenei and IRGC?

Two important developments over the past few days suggest that a possible confrontation may be under way between Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, and the high command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

One development was the order issued by Ayatollah Khamenei overruling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as his First Vice President (Iran’s president has eight vice presidents). The second was the firing of ultra hardliner Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehei, the Minister of Intelligence.

A reliable source in Tehran told the author that both episodes were meant to be signals by the IRGC’s high command to Ayatollah Khamenei that they were in control, and that he should toe the line — their line. According to the source, Ayatollah’s Khamenei’s order to fire Mashaei was delivered to the Voice and Visage (VaV) of the Islamic Republic (Iran’s national radio and television network) on the day Mashaei was appointed by Ahmadinejad. The VaV was asked to announce the order on national television and radio, but Ezzatollah Zarghami, the director of VaV and a former officer in the IRGC, refused to do so. [continued…]

Iran will rise above the ashes

In his 1998 speech to the American people, Iran’s reformist president, Muhammad Khatami, said he prayed that “at the close of the 20th century, people would . . . begin a new century of humanity, understanding and durable peace, so that all humanity would enjoy the blessings of life.’’

Khatami’s address marked a stunning departure from the anti-Americanism that had fueled the Iranian revolution. A scholar of The Enlightenment, he praised Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,’’ which “reflects the virtuous and human side of this American civilization. In [Tocqueville’s] view, the significance of this civilization is in the fact that liberty found religion as a cradle for its growth, and religion found protection of liberty as its divine calling. Therefore, liberty and faith never clashed.’’

By insisting on the compatibility of religion and liberty in America, Khatami laid a philosophical foundation for bridging the political divide between Iran and the United States. He did not vilify the United States as the “Great Satan.’’ Instead he held the United States as a model for emulation – a democratic civilization whose success reflected the ingenious combination of the principles of religion and the virtues of liberty. [continued…]

Tehran combines clemency and toughness

The Iranian authorities sent a mixed message of clemency and firmness on Wednesday, saying that more detainees arrested in the post-election crackdown would soon be freed, but also that 20 protesters charged with serious crimes would be put on trial, starting this weekend.

There were also new arrests, including those of two prominent reformists, Saeed Shariati and Shayesteh Amiri, opposition Web sites reported. Separately, an “underground network providing foreign media outlets with photos and footage of the post-election unrest” has been identified and its members arrested, the state-run Press TV reported, citing security forces.

The report said that the network was made up of “pro-reform extremists” and that at least two members had confessed to providing images of the unrest to Western news media in an effort to “stage a regime change” in Iran. The Iranian leadership has blamed foreign media for riots and rallies after the disputed June 12 presidential election. [continued…]

Iran security forces retreat as huge numbers of mourners gather at cemetery

Thousands and possibly tens of thousands of mourners, many of them black-clad young women carrying roses, overwhelmed security forces today at Tehran’s largest cemetery to gather around the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose videotaped shooting at a June 20 demonstration stunned the world.

Amateur video apparently taken at Behesht Zahra cemetery and quickly uploaded to the Internet shows a sea of mourners moving through the cemetery chanting slogans. “Death to the dictator,” chanted those in one long procession, kicking up a storm of dust as they walked. “Neda is not dead. This government is dead.” [continued…]

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It’s time for the US to declare victory and go home

It’s time for the US to declare victory and go home

As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home. Due to our tendency to look after the tactical details and miss the proverbial forest for the trees, this critically important strategic realization is in danger of being missed. [continued…]

Iraqi raid poses problem for U.S.

Violent clashes continued for a second day Wednesday between Iraqi troops and members of an Iranian opposition group whose camp the Iraqis stormed Tuesday, presenting the first major dilemma for the U.S. government since Iraq proclaimed its sovereignty a month ago.

At least eight Iranians have been killed and 400 wounded since Tuesday, when hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers in riot gear plowed into Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, using Humvees donated by the U.S. military, according to group leaders and Abdul Nasir al-Mahdawi, the governor of Diyala province.

Camp residents described the day’s events as a massacre and the aftermath as a tense stalemate. [continued…]

Iraq in throes of environmental catastrophe, experts say

You wake up in the morning to find your nostrils clogged. Houses and trees have vanished beneath a choking brown smog. A hot wind blasts fine particles through doors and windows, coating everything in sight and imparting an eerie orange glow.

Dust storms are a routine experience in Iraq, but lately they’ve become a whole lot more common.

“Now it seems we have dust storms nearly every day,” said Raed Hussein, 31, an antiques dealer who had to rush his 5-year-old son to a hospital during a recent squall because the boy couldn’t breathe. “We suffer from lack of electricity, we suffer from explosions, and now we are suffering even more because of this terrible dust.

“It must be a punishment from God,” he added, offering a view widely held among Iraqis seeking to explain their apocalyptic weather of late. “I think God is angry with the deeds of the Iraqi people.”

The reality is probably scarier. Iraq is in the throes of what some officials are calling an environmental catastrophe, and the increased frequency of dust storms is only the most visible manifestation. [continued…]

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Clinton moved to halt disclosure of CIA torture evidence, court told

Clinton moved to halt disclosure of CIA torture evidence, court told

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, personally intervened to suppress evidence of CIA collusion in the torture of a British resident, the high court heard today.

The dramatic turn emerged as lawyers for Binyam Mohamed, the UK resident abused in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco and Guantánamo Bay, joined by lawyers for the Guardian and other media groups, asked the court to order the disclosure of CIA material.

It consists of a seven-paragraph summary of what the CIA knew, and what it told MI5 and MI6, about the treatment of Mohamed. Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, the judges hearing the case, have said that the summary contains nothing that could possibly be described as “highly sensitive classified US intelligence”. [continued…]

Incongruities in NC terrorism case

The feds have been hyping their domestic terrorism cases for several years now, and the arrest of seven North Carolina men this week appears to be no exception.

The headliners in the case, of course, are ordinary folks Daniel Patrick Boyd and his two sons, who prosecutors say led three lives: good family men, likeable neighbors and secret terrorists. [continued…]

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Iran hard-liners warn Ahmadinejad he could be deposed

Iran hard-liners warn Ahmadinejad he could be deposed

Political hard-liners warned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday that he could be deposed like past Iranian leaders if he continued to defy the country’s supreme religious leader.

The implied threat was the latest evidence of the rift within Iran’s conservative camp and could serve to further sap the authority of a president already considered illegitimate by reformists.

The Islamic Society of Engineers, a political group close to parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, warned in an open letter to Ahmadinejad that he could suffer the same fate as Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who was deposed in 1953 in a CIA-backed coup with the acquiescence of the clergy.

The letter also cites the experience of President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who was ousted in 1981 and fled the country after he fell out with the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Both leaders had been elected by huge margins.

“It seems you want to be the sole speaker and do not want to hear other voices,” the group’s letter says, noting that recent actions by Ahmadinejad have frustrated his own supporters. “Therefore it is our duty to convey to you the voice of the people.” [continued…]

Iran: the tragedy & the future

Nasser Hadian, a political scientist, told me [in early 2009]: “I say to my students, it’s hard to wait but you should be patient. The laws of the country cannot forever lag behind the reality, and Iran’s reality today is that women have been empowered and secularism has spread.” Nor, I thought, in an election year, could politics forever lag behind these facts.

The June 12 election offered a potential bridge between this youthful Iran in rapid evolution, curious about the world and increasingly connected to it online, and revolutionary institutions that had veered in a conservative direction under Ahmadinejad. Presidential votes have served as safety valves in the past. They have provided modest course corrections that have made the term “Republic” not altogether meaningless. Iran was distinguished in a despotic region by its unpredictable elections, as when the reformist Mohammad Khatami won in a landslide in 1997.

Khatami, who ended up changing more tone than substance, said he would stand again this year, before desisting in favor of Moussavi, a former prime minister of impeccable revolutionary credentials, a distant relative of Ayatollah Khamenei, a staunch nationalist, and seemingly the very embodiment of unthreatening change. Khamenei, as president, had worked with Moussavi in the war-ravaged 1980s. Their relationship was uneasy but survived eight years. Allergic to another Khatami presidency, the supreme leader appeared to have made his peace with Moussavi, even if his preference for Ahmadinejad was clear.

But Khamenei’s acquiescence was to the Moussavi of early May: drab, detached, and dutiful. By early June, he had become the energized anti- Ahmadinejad. Apathy among Iranians had yielded to the activism that would produce the 85 percent turnout. Moussavi had been propelled in part by his charismatic wife, Zahra Rahnavard, whom I saw just before the election at a big Tehran rally where, in floral hijab, she began with a resounding “Hello Freedom!” and proceeded to warn that “if there is rigging, Iran will have a revolution.” [continued…]

Reports of prison abuse and deaths anger Iranians

Some prisoners say they watched fellow detainees being beaten to death by guards in overcrowded, stinking holding pens. Others say they had their fingernails ripped off or were forced to lick filthy toilet bowls.

The accounts of prison abuse in Iran’s postelection crackdown — relayed by relatives and on opposition Web sites — have set off growing outrage among Iranians, including some prominent conservatives. More bruised corpses have been returned to families in recent days, and some hospital officials have told human rights workers that they have seen evidence that well over 100 protesters have died since the vote.

On Tuesday, the government released 140 prisoners in one of several conciliatory gestures aimed at deflecting further criticism. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a letter urging the head of the judiciary to show “Islamic mercy” to the detainees, and on Monday Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, personally intervened and closed an especially notorious detention center.

But there are signs that widespread public anger persists, and that it is not confined to those who took to the streets crying fraud after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory last month. Several conservatives have said the abuse suggests a troubling lack of accountability, and they have hinted at a link with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s recent willingness to defy even the venerated Ayatollah Khamenei. [continued…]

Iraq raids camp of exiles from Iran

Iraqi troops and police carried out a bloody raid Tuesday on the camp of an Iranian opposition group that the United States has long sheltered, marking the Iraqi government’s boldest move since it declared its sovereignty a month ago and offering the latest sign that American influence is waning as Iranian clout rises.

The operation, which caught U.S. officials off guard, coincided with a visit by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and analysts said it appeared designed to send a message of Iraqi independence.

The Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, has supplied information about Iran’s nuclear program to the United States, but the group has long been an irritant to the Islamic republic, which has repeatedly asked the government of neighboring Iraq to expel MEK members. The way Baghdad deals with the group is widely seen as a signal of whether Iraq is more heavily swayed by Iran or by the United States.

Leaders of the group said Iraqi troops fatally shot four residents Tuesday night and wounded scores. U.S. officials have long opposed a violent takeover of the camp northeast of Baghdad, and the Iraqi government’s willingness to carry out the raid while Gates was in the country startled some American officials. [continued…]

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Obama faces court test over detainee

Obama faces court test over detainee

The fate of one of the youngest detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison is emerging as a major test of whether the courts or the president has the final authority over when prisoners there are released.

After a federal judge said earlier this month that the government’s case for holding the detainee, Mohammed Jawad, was “riddled with holes,” the Obama administration conceded defeat and agreed that Mr. Jawad would no longer be considered a military detainee. But the administration said it would still hold him at the prison in Cuba for possible prosecution in the United States.

On Tuesday, Mr. Jawad’s lawyers attacked that position, arguing that the government had given up any authority to hold him. “Enough is enough,” the lawyers said in legal papers that urged the judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle, to send him back to Afghanistan, which has requested his return. [continued…]

Arrests in terror case bewilder associates

Daniel Boyd was a man of rare conviction for these parts.

Rare because he and his family were Muslims in this quiet rural subdivision where the denominations generally run from Baptist to Presbyterian. But also rare for his intensity.

“How many Christians you see standing in the yard praying five times a day?” asked Jeremy Kuhn, 20, who lives across the street. “They just believed more than anyone else.”

But to the disbelief of Mr. Kuhn, the federal authorities say Mr. Boyd and two of his sons took their convictions beyond religious faith and into terrorism. They were among seven men charged on Monday with supporting violent jihad movements in countries including Israel, Jordan, Kosovo and Pakistan. An eighth man was still being sought, said a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in Raleigh, about 20 miles north of here.

The men are charged with stockpiling automatic weapons and traveling abroad numerous times to participate in jihadist movements. There is no indication in the indictment that they were planning attacks in the United States, though prosecutors said they had practiced military tactics this summer in a rural county close to Virginia. [continued…]

Britain’s own Guantánamo

Piece by piece, the truth is finally coming out about Britain’s own Guantánamo Bay – Diego Garcia. Today the human rights lawyers group Reprieve began a legal case on behalf of Saad Iqbal Madni, who they say was transited through the UK-controlled Indian Ocean island as part of the CIA’s secret rendition programme.

Madni, whom Reprieve says was tortured in Egypt, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay after his stopover in Diego Garcia, has been released in Pakistan where – according to Clive Stafford Smith, the Reprieve director – he is “effectively crippled by his torture”.

For more than six years following the declaration of a war on terror in 2001, British and US officials adamantly rejected the existence of a rendition facility or secret CIA prison on the island, the site of a major British-American military base since the 1970s and long off-limits to civilians, reporters, and investigators. Dismissing reports about detainees on the atoll as “totally without foundation”, Britain’s then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, asserted: “United States authorities have repeatedly assured us that no detainees have at any time passed in transit through Diego Garcia or its territorial waters or have disembarked there.”

However, allegations kept accumulating. [continued…]

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Syria key to regional power shift

Syria key to regional power shift

It is hard not to feel like it is déjà vu all over again.

A US Middle East peace envoy travels to Damascus and then to Israel in an effort to jump start Israel-Syrian negotiations over a land for peace deal involving the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed in 1967.

At the same time progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front seems stymied and the US remains reluctant to impose a final solution on the two parties.

The push towards Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations fits a familiar pattern in the larger Middle East peace process, one that returns to the first years of the Oslo peace process in the mid-1990s. [continued…]

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Brüno’s so-called ‘terrorist’ speaks out

Brüno’s so-called ‘terrorist’ speaks out

Sacha Baron Cohen, who makes low-grade shock comedies such as the moronic Borat, is an unreconstructed zionist. Some friends also find his politics distasteful but acknowledge Cohen’s comedic ‘talents’. I can make no such acknowledgment and have never found his movies or grotesque characters remotely worthwhile, half-way satirical or even genuinely funny.

In his latest, Brüno, he interviews near Bethlehem Palestinian shop-keeper and non-violence activist Ayman Abu Aita, luring him into appearing in the movie under false pretenses.

Ayman Abu Aita tells his side of the story here [VIDEO]. [continued…]

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After Kurdish vote, Talabani pledges to rebuild party

After Kurdish vote, Talabani pledges to rebuild party

Facing what could prove a turning point in tumultuous Kurdish politics, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani vowed Tuesday that he would lead the revival of his party after a surprisingly successful challenge by opponents in last week’s election led some to speculate that it might be the beginning of the party’s end.

In an interview, Talabani, the 75-year-old politician and former guerrilla who founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) more than 30 years ago, sought to cast the election results in the best light. But the success of the Change list, led by former Talabani colleagues , against an alliance of the PUK and the other leading Kurdish party clearly surprised him.

More than a contest among parochial groups in a relatively quiet region, the struggle for political power in the Kurdish north could have sweeping repercussions for Iraq’s mercurial politics. The alliance between Talabani’s party and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party has held for years, though no one has really forgotten the civil war they fought in the 1990s. Their claim to represent Kurdish consensus is crucial, too, in negotiations with Baghdad over today’s most pressing issues: a law to share Iraq’s oil revenue and a resolution to the disputed border between Iraq’s Arab and Kurdish regions. [continued…]

Iraq force soon to be a coalition of one

Commanders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, as the American-led coalition is formally called, have a looming nomenclature problem.

Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq — no “multi” in the Multi-National Force. As Iraqi forces have increasingly taken the lead, the United States is the last of the “coalition of the willing” that the Bush administration first brought together in 2003.

That is partly because the Iraqi Parliament left suddenly for summer recess without voting to extend an agreement for the British military to keep a residual training force of 100 soldiers in Iraq. As a result, those troops must withdraw to Kuwait by Friday, according to a British diplomat, who declined to be identified in keeping with his government’s practice.

As for the other two small remnants of the coalition, the Romanians and Australians, the Australians will be gone by July 31, too, and the Romanians left last Thursday, according to the Romanian chargé d’affaires, Cristian Voicu. NATO will keep a small training presence in Iraq, but its troops were never considered part of the Multi-National Force because of opposition to the war from many NATO countries. [continued…]

Gates: Some US troops may be leaving Iraq early

The United States is considering speeding up its withdrawal from Iraq because of the sustained drop in violence there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday following discussions with his top commanders in the war.

“I think there’s at least some chance of a modest acceleration,” this year, Gates said.

It was the first suggestion that the Obama administration might rethink its difficult choice to leave a heavy fighting force in Iraq long past the election of an American president who opposed the war. [continued…]

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Anti-American Israeli demonstrator: “At some point, Israel will survive and America will fall”

Yitzhak Rabin’s killers target Obama

In October 1995, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared before thousands of right-wing demonstrators in Jerusalem’s Zion Square to deliver a stinging denunciation of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo Accords he had signed two years earlier. “Death to Rabin! Nazis! Judenrat!” the demonstrators chanted. Many waved signs depicting Rabin dressed in Nazi regalia.

Concerned that Netanyahu would inflame an already dangerous climate, Israeli Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer warned the hyper-ambitious politician, “You’d better restrain your people. Otherwise it will end in murder. They tried to kill me just now… Your people are mad. If someone is murdered, the blood will be on your hands… The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month!”

Netanyahu ignored Ben-Eliezer, striding to the podium to chants of “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!” and an eerily prescient introduction as Israel’s “next prime minister.”

One month later, Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a right-wing radical and student at Bar-Ilan University, the ideological training ground of Israel’s religious-nationalist front. Rabin’s wife, Leah, refused to forgive Netanyahu, insisting he was at least as responsible for her husband’s murder as the extremist who pulled the trigger. [continued…]

Israeli anthem kits in Arab schools

A leading Arab educator in Israel has described the decision of Gideon Saar, the education minister, to require schools to study the Israeli national anthem as “a kind of attempted rape” of the country’s one-in-four Arab pupils. […]

Mr Saar’s initiative is widely seen among Israel’s 1.3 million Arab citizens as a further indication of the rising nationalistic tide sweeping policymakers. [continued…]

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Associating with anyone from the West is dangerous

Associating with anyone from the West is dangerous

Associating with anyone from the West is dangerous. In these times, those abroad play a delicate but vital role. Their assistance in disseminating information from Iran is crucial but any form of intervention, be it military (the bombing of nuclear facilities) or economic (increased sanctions), is only incredibly destructive. Each threat of military aggression or proposed negotiation deadline makes “green” efforts more difficult. And increased economic sanction deteriorates our lives and safety. Some think the two recent airplane crashes may have been affected by our country’s lack of access to parts and planes.

This is our movement. We appreciate and continue to ask for global solidarity but this struggle is for Iranians. I believe that Nobel Peace Price laureate Shireen Ebadi’s statements echo the wider sentiments of the Iranian people. While speaking in Germany, she stated: “I am against economic sanctions and military interventions… Diplomatic ties must not be severed, instead the embassies could be downgraded to consulates. This would not harm the Iranian people, but it would illustrate the government’s isolation.” Keeping the table open with no conditions and encouraging dialogue with all factions in Iran is vital. However, it must be done extremely carefully so as not to provide any means of leverage for Ahmadinejad. [continued…]

Strong words from Iran’s opposition

The Iranian opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi spoke out more strongly than ever before on Monday against the arrests and killings of protesters, hours before Iran’s supreme leader ordered the closing of a “nonstandard” prison apparently in an effort to deflect rising criticism over the issue.

“How can it be that the leaders of our country do not cry out and shed tears about these tragedies?” Mr. Moussavi said, in comments to a teachers’ association that were posted on his Web site. “Can they not see it, feel it? These things are blackening our country, blackening all our hearts. If we remain silent, it will destroy us all and take us to hell.”

Mr. Moussavi’s angry tone appeared to reflect the steadily rising toll of those killed — some after being beaten in prison — in the crackdown that followed the disputed June 12 presidential election. A funeral was held in Tehran on Monday for Amir Javadi-Far, a student activist who died in prison after being arrested, and reports emerged of still more deaths. [continued…]

Iran’s protesters: phase 2 of their feisty campaign

Phase 2 has begun. Six weeks after millions took to the streets to protest Iran’s presidential election, their uprising has morphed into a feistier, more imaginative and potentially enduring campaign.

The second phase plays out in a boycott of goods advertised on state-controlled television. Just try buying a certain brand of dairy product, an Iranian human-rights activist told me, and the person behind you in line is likely to whisper, “Don’t buy that. It’s from an advertiser.” It includes calls to switch on every electric appliance in the house just before the evening TV news to trip up Tehran’s grid. It features quickie “blitz” street demonstrations, lasting just long enough to chant “Death to the dictator!” several times but short enough to evade security forces. It involves identifying paramilitary Basij vigilantes linked to the crackdown and putting marks in green — the opposition color — or pictures of protest victims in front of their homes. It is scribbled antiregime slogans on money. And it is defiant drivers honking horns, flashing headlights and waving V signs at security forces. (See pictures of Iran’s presidential election and its turbulent aftermath.)

The tactics are unorganized, largely leaderless and only just beginning. They spread by e-mail, websites and word of mouth. But their variety and scope indicate that Iran’s uprising is not a passing phenomenon like the student protests of 1999, which were quickly quashed. This time, Iranians are rising above their fears. Although embryonic, today’s public resolve is reminiscent of civil disobedience in colonial India before independence or in the American Deep South in the 1960s. Mohandas Gandhi once mused that “even the most powerful cannot rule without the cooperation of the ruled.” That quotation is now popular on Iranian websites. [continued…]

Gates says U.S. overture to Iran is ‘not open-ended’

Strains between the United States and Israel surfaced publicly in Jerusalem on Monday, as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates tried to reassure Israelis that American overtures to Iran were not open-ended, and as Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Israel expressed impatience with the Americans for wanting to engage Iran at all.

“I don’t think that it makes any sense at this stage to talk a lot about it,” Mr. Barak said at a joint news conference with Mr. Gates at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, referring to the American offer to talk to Iran about giving up its nuclear program. Nonetheless, he said Israel was in no position to tell the United States what to do.

But, alluding to a potential Israeli military strike against Iran if it gains nuclear weapons capability, he added: “We clearly believe that no options should be removed from the table. This is our policy, we mean it, we recommend to others to take the same position, but we cannot dictate to anyone.”

Later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Mr. Gates, and his office released a statement saying that he had pressed Mr. Gates on the need to use “all means” to keep Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. [continued…]

Russia and Iran join hands

The United States may think of Russia as a strategic partner when it comes to Iran. In reality, the geostrategic tensions between Washington and Moscow are still powerful enough to warrant a common approach by Russia and its eastern neighbor Iran with respect to a deterrent strategy towards the intrusive Western superpower.

This week, a small but significant clue is on full display with joint Russia-Iran military exercises in the Caspian Sea involving some 30 vessels. This is partially disguised by a benign environmental cause.

The maneuver, dubbed “Regional Collaboration for a Secure and Clean Caspian”, combines security and maritime objectives in the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest lake and also a main energy hub that is now the scene of competing alternatives for energy transfer. It signals a new trend in Iran-Russia military cooperation that will most likely increase in the near and intermediate future in light of Iran’s observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The continuing standoff over Iran’s nuclear program should affect this warming of relations. [continued…]

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The rise of Ayatollah Moqtada al-Sadr

The rise of Ayatollah Moqtada al-Sadr

When Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was a young seminary student during the country’s Baathist era, he preferred playing video games to attending theological courses. Now several years and a U.S. occupation later, that same Sadr is a major Iraqi political figure, studying to become an ayatollah at Shiite Islam’s most prominent religious center of Qom, Iran. Sadr reportedly resides in Tehran and travels weekly to the Iranian shrine-city to study major works of Shiite jurisprudence under an unknown but certainly high-ranking cleric. He will exit his studies as a mujtahid, or learned scholar, with the recognized ability to issue religious decrees.

Behind this remarkable transformation — from disinterested student to occupation-opposing cleric to serious scholar — are big ambitions. And if all goes according to plan, Sadr will have a golden opportunity to return and take Iraq’s political stage by storm. [continued…]

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A century of frenzy over the North-West Frontier

A century of frenzy over the North-West Frontier

Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That’s certainly one for the record books.

And it hasn’t ended yet. Not by a long shot. Not with the headlines in the U.S. papers about the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, not with the CIA’s drone aircraft striking gatherings in Waziristan and elsewhere near the Afghan border. This spring, for instance, one counter-terrorism analyst stridently (and wholly implausibly) warned that “in one to six months” we could “see the collapse of the Pakistani state,” at the hands of the bloodthirsty Taliban, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Pakistan a “mortal danger” to global security.

What most observers don’t realize is that the doomsday rhetoric about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It’s at least 100 years old. During their campaigns in the northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British officers, journalists and editorialists sounded much like American strategists, analysts, and pundits of the present moment. They construed the Pashtun tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan as the new Normans, a dire menace to London that threatened to overturn the British Empire. [continued…]

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Cheney’s plans for a military coup

Cheney’s plans for a military coup

On Saturday, Mark Mazetti and David Johnston of the New York Times, quoting sources close to former President Bush, revealed that former Vice President Dick Cheney had advocated deploying the military for domestic policing purposes. Bush apparently declined to take Cheney’s advice. The discussions occurred against the backdrop of the so-called “Lackawanna Six” case, involving a group of six Yemeni-Americans from the Buffalo area who later pleaded guilty to charges of providing material support to Al Qaeda and received prison sentences.

The disclosures shed considerable light on two memoranda prepared in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel by John Yoo (with the help of Robert J. Delahunty on the second memo) at the request of then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The principal memo was part of a group published by the Obama Administration on May 16, provoking widespread public concern. In the memo, Yoo argued that the Fourth Amendment could be viewed as suspended in the event of domestic operations by the military in war time. The second memo, not yet released but discussed here by Prof. Kim Scheppele on the basis of references to it in other documents, apparently attempted to read the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids the domestic deployment of the military for police functions, into oblivion. In “George W. Bush’s Disposable Constitution,” I argued that Yoo’s memo was the formula for a dictatorship. Yoo responded to this objection in the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the memo had been authored with a very narrow set of facts in mind, namely an invasion like the sort of attack that was launched on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. But the latest disclosures make clear, once more, that Yoo’s claims are dishonest. [continued…]

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U.S. citizens wrongly detained, deported by ICE

U.S. citizens wrongly detained, deported by ICE

The son of a decorated Vietnam veteran, Hector Veloz is a U.S. citizen, but in 2007 immigration officials mistook him for an illegal immigrant and locked him in an Arizona prison for 13 months.

Veloz had to prove his citizenship from behind bars. An aunt helped him track down his father’s birth certificate and his own, his parents’ marriage certificate, his father’s school, military and Social Security records.

After nine months, a judge determined that he was a citizen, but immigration authorities appealed the decision. He was detained for five more months before he found legal help and a judge ordered his case dropped.

“It was a nightmare,” said Veloz, 37, a Los Angeles air conditioning installer.

Veloz is one of hundreds of U.S. citizens who have landed in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and struggled to prove they don’t belong there, according to advocacy groups and legal scholars, who have tracked such cases around the country. Some citizens have been deported. [continued…]

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“I am both Muslim and Christian”

“I am both Muslim and Christian”

Shortly after noon on Fridays, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf, preparing to pray with her Muslim group on First Hill.

On Sunday mornings, Redding puts on the white collar of an Episcopal priest.

She does both, she says, because she’s Christian and Muslim.

Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she’s ready to tell people that, for the last 15 months, she’s also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Islamic prayers left her profoundly moved. [continued…]

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