The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
U.S. is now in battle for peace after winning the war in Iraq
Dexter Filkins and Ian Fisher, New York Times, May 3, 2003

The war in Iraq has officially ended, but the momentous task of recreating a new Iraqi nation seems hardly to have begun. Three weeks after Saddam Hussein fell from power, American troops are straining to manage the forces this war has unleashed: the anger, frustration and competing ambitions of a nation suppressed for three decades.

In a virtual power vacuum, with the relationship between American military and civilian authority seeming ill defined, new political parties, Kurds and Shiite religious groups are asserting virtual governmental authority in cities and villages across the country, sometimes right under the noses of American soldiers.

There is a growing sense among educated Iraqis eager for the American-led transformation of Iraq to work that the Americans may be losing the initiative, that the single-mindedness that won the war is slackening under the delicate task of transforming a military victory into political success.

"Real freedom is organized and productive," said S. S. Nadir, a prominent art critic in Baghdad. "It is productive with real institutions of civil society that can do work. It needs groups of smart, educated, free, liberal people who can build projects."

"The Iraqi people have always been prepared for freedom," he said. "But we need help, and we are not sure the Americans can provide that." [ complete article ]

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Shias in Iraq told to reject all Western customs
Donald Macintyre and Phil Reeves, The Independent, May 3, 2003

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers in the Shia heart of Baghdad were exhorted by their spiritual leaders yesterday not to use their newfound liberation by US forces to absorb Western habits which were designed to "harm Islam".

Several leading Shia clerics used the Friday prayers to outline a vision of a country in which alcohol would be eschewed, women would be covered from head to foot and the country's leading Islamic scholastic group would run schools at every level.

Part of the prayers at the Al-Mussehn mosque, the most important in the Sadr City (formerly Saddam City) suburb of the Iraqi capital, were led by Sheikh Mohammed Fartowzi, who was earlier detained for three days by US forces.

He said that they "should leave Iraq as soon as possible". He added: "They came as liberators and not as occupiers. If this is not an occupation they should leave soon."

But, overall, the addresses were dominated by repeated calls for the enforcement of strict Islamic social codes and for looters to hand back stolen goods. The main preacher at Al-Mussehn, Sheikh Jaber al-Khafaji, confined his criticisms of the Americans to claims that they had been presenting "unacceptable gifts" to Muslim women and that they had actively encouraged looting. [ complete article ]

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No grasp
Why a far-reaching American empire will not serve anyone's interests, least of all ours

Jeff Faux, The American Prospect, May 2, 2003

Opposing the march to empire seems daunting when the nation is flush with a military victory. But it would be a mistake to believe that Americans will not accept any other path. Certainly Karl Rove thought they would when he had Bush reject nation- building in favor of a more "humble" American role in the world during the 2000 presidential debates. The difference between then and now is the memory of September 11. Thus, an alternative must generate more security for the average American.

To lay the political foundation for a different story about how Americans protect themselves, liberals should begin by challenging the central myth with which the Bush administration has stopped all rational conversation: the idea that terrorism is a matter of good versus evil and has nothing to do with America's behavior in the world. Whatever the nature of Islamic fundamentalism, there is little doubt that repeated American efforts to control the Middle East by supporting corrupt leaders -- from the Iranian shah to the Saudi Arabian princes -- is a large part of what has made "them" hate "us." [ complete article ]

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Iraqi city simmers with new attack
Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 2, 2003

Fallujah has been wracked by violent anti-American demonstrations since Monday, when shooting broke out as demonstrators converged on a school where soldiers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division had set up camp. U.S. officers said the soldiers opened fire after several armed protesters shot at the school, but participants in the rally insisted they were unarmed. Local officials said 16 people were killed and more than 50 were wounded. [...]

At the school where Monday's shooting occurred, teachers spent the day cleaning up in preparation for the start of classes on Saturday. The headmaster, Mohammed Ahmed, said that before they left, U.S. soldiers had damaged furniture and classroom supplies and left offensive graffiti on the walls.

In one classroom, "I [love] pork," with the word love represented by a heart, was written on the blackboard, along with a drawing of a camel and the words: "Iraqi Cab Company." In another room, "Eat [expletive] Iraq" was scrawled on a wall. And in Ahmed's office, sexual organs were drawn with white chalk on the back of the door.

"They came to liberate us?" Ahmed asked, pointing out the graffiti to a reporter. "What is the point of doing this?" [ complete article ]

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Rummy's North Korea connection
Richard Behar, Fortune, April 28, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rarely keeps his opinions to himself. He tends not to compromise with his enemies. And he clearly disdains the communist regime in North Korea. So it's surprising that there is no clear public record of his views on the controversial 1994 deal in which the U.S. agreed to provide North Korea with two light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for Pyongyang ending its nuclear weapons program. What's even more surprising about Rumsfeld's silence is that he sat on the board of the company that won a $200 million contract to provide the design and key components for the reactors. [ complete article ]

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The real casualty rate from America's Iraq wars
Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, May 2, 2003

Most young Americans who enlist in our all-volunteer armed forces -- roughly four out of five -- specifically choose non-combat jobs, becoming computer technicians, personnel managers, shipping clerks, truck mechanics, weather forecasters, intelligence analysts, cooks, or forklift drivers, among the many other duties that carry a low risk of contact with an enemy. They often enlist because they have failed to find similar work in the civilian economy and thus take refuge in the military's long-established system of state socialism -- steady paychecks, decent housing, medical and dental benefits, job training, and the possibility of a college education. The mother of one such recruit recently commented on her 19-year-old daughter, who will soon become an Army intelligence analyst. She was proud but also cynical: "Wealthy people don't go into the military or take risks because why should they? They already got everything handed to them."

These recruits do not expect to be shot at. Thus it was a shock to the rank-and-file last month when Iraqi guns opened up on an Army supply convoy, killing eight and taking another six prisoner, including supply clerk Jessica Lynch of Palestine, West Virginia. The Army's response has been, "You don't have to be in combat arms [branches of the military] to close with and kill the enemy." But what the Pentagon is not saying to the Private Lynches and their families is that they stand a very good chance of dying or being catastrophically disabled precisely because they chose the U.S. military as a route of social mobility. [ complete article ]

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The wellspring of American empire
James M. Banner Jr., Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2003

Not since the Spanish and British empires has a nation so bestrode the world as the United States does today. The collapse of the Soviet system, the superiority of American arms and the strength of the American economy have created a new American imperium.

But empires, like trees, have many roots, some of them ancient and deep. And the taproot of American worldwide dominance sprouted two centuries ago this week when the administration of Thomas Jefferson sealed with France the agreement that set the U.S. on its way to becoming a continental nation: the Louisiana Purchase. Rarely has that extraordinary act had as much resonance as it does today. [...]

The Purchase vastly strengthened an American disposition to claim for itself what it wished and gave it the muscle to do so. [ complete article ]

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Everyone knows the answer to that question: A terrorist is not a terrorist if he/she is the enemy of my enemy. The enemy of my enemy is, as the New York Times is obliging enough to make clear, a "fighter" or "guerilla," like say the circa 1980's Osama bin Laden.

Iran opposes U.S. accord with fighters based in Iraq
Nazila Fathi, New York Times, May 2, 2003

Iran's Foreign Ministry today criticized the American cease-fire agreement with an Iranian guerrilla group based in Iraq, accusing the United States of hypocrisy in claiming to fight terrorism and in its efforts to reshape Iraq.

The ministry's spokesman, Hamidrez Assefi, said the truce with the group, Mujahedeen Khalq, or the People's Mujahedeen, in Iraq was evidence of American "weakness" and "lies in combating terrorism." He rejected the accusations by the United States that Iran was meddling in Iraq's reconstruction, saying, "Occupying Iraq is an obvious sign of interfering into affairs of a country, and an occupier cannot accuse others." [ complete article ]

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The war inside Bush's cabinet
H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe, May 2, 2003

There have been serious interdepartmental struggles in other administrations. Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was a constant burr under the saddle of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. And Henry Kissinger, in his NSC years, ate Secretary of State William Rogers alive. Caspar Weinberger at Defense and George Schultz at State often seemed at sword's point in the Reagan years. But seldom, if ever, has a Defense Department so actively challenged a secretary of state for control of foreign policy as is happening today. This is exacerbated by the office of Vice President Richard Cheney, with its own foreign policy team usually supporting the Pentagon.

At bottom, the current fights are about whether the United States should try to work out diplomatic solutions to the world's problems, in conjunction with allies, as Colin Powell has argued, or use unilateral force to get its way. Do other nations have legitimate concerns or should all bend before the hurricane of American power? The hard-right Pentagon civilians and advisers have much in common with the old radical left in their messianic belief that they have an internationalist duty to change the world, whether the world likes it or not. [ complete article ]

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Maneuvering for power
Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, May 1, 2003

The opinions of devout Iraqi Shias could have profound consequences for the shape of a new government in Baghdad, and for any long-term American plans for Iraq. Many Shias have celebrated the overthrow of Hussein, whose regime suppressed Shia opposition movements with mass arrests, executions and torture. But Shias remain suspicious of U.S. motives.

"We were oppressed by Saddam for so many years," said Ali Mahdi, 44, a Najaf butcher who works in the shadow of the grand mosque. "Now, the Americans are trying to oppress us once again by telling us how to choose our government. The Americans just want to put in their puppets so they can control our oil."

Already, several leading Shia clerics have called on the United States to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government and pull out its troops as quickly as possible. Some clerics have warned of a popular uprising if American forces remain in Iraq for two years or more, as some U.S. officials have suggested. [ complete article ]

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A trap of their own making
Anatol Lieven, London Review of Books, May 8, 2003

As is clear from their public comments, let alone their private conversations, the Neo-Conservatives in America and their allies in Israel would indeed like to see a long-term imperial war against any part of the Muslim world which defies the US and Israel, with ideological justification provided by the American mission civilisatrice - 'democratisation'. In the words of the Israeli Major-General Ya'akov Amidror, writing in April under the auspices of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, 'Iraq is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the Middle East, the Arab world and the Muslim world. Iraq will be the first step in this direction; winning the war against terrorism means structurally changing the entire area.' The Neo-Con model is the struggle against 'Communism', which they are convinced was won by the Reaganite conflation of military toughness and ideological crusading. The ultimate goal here would be world hegemony by means of absolute military superiority.

The Neo-Cons may be deluding themselves, however. It may well be that, as many US officials say in private, Bush's new national security strategy is 'a doctrine for one case only' - namely Iraq. Those who take this position can point to the unwillingness of most Americans to see themselves in imperial terms, coupled with their powerful aversion to foreign entanglements, commitments and sacrifices. The Bush Administration may have made menacing statements about Syria, but it has also assured the American people that the US military occupation of Iraq will last 18 months at the very most. Furthermore, if the economy continues to falter, it is still possible that Bush will be ejected from office in next year's elections. Should this happen, some of the US's imperial tendencies will no doubt remain in place - scholars as different as Andrew Bacevich and Walter Russell Mead have stressed the continuity in this regard from Bush through Clinton to Bush, and indeed throughout US history. However, without the specific configuration of hardline elements empowered by the Bush Administration, American ambitions would probably take on a less megalomaniac and frightening aspect. [ complete article ]

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What if real democracy rears its head?
Ian Urbina, Asia Times, May 2, 2003

When administrators sit down in Baghdad to draft a constitution for the new country and turn toward holding elections, they will likely run into the thorny issue of what role to grant religion in the state. After years of repression, religious fervor is swelling in postwar Iraq. On the local level, especially in the Shi'ite south, it is often clerics and religious groups (not US forces) who have stepped forward to fill the void and restore order while providing basic social services.

If elections are truly fair and open, there is a real possibility that Islamist parties backed by these clerics will hold considerable sway in the post-Saddam Hussein era. Washington's reaction on the matter will determine whether its true goal is democracy or not. Either the administration of George W Bush will opt to craft the constitution and slant the electoral playing field so as to guarantee a secular pro-Western government, or it will lean strictly toward transparent and clean elections, come what may.

It's anyone's guess how this issue will play out. But one voice within the administration in Baghdad clearly leans toward putting full US faith in strict democracy. Noah Feldman is a law professor from New York University and is advising the future Iraqi interim authority on how to design a new constitution. He is under the auspices of retired US General Jay Garner - Iraq's current de facto leader - in the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Last week, Feldman held a number of underreported interviews in which he expressed his clear preference for letting democracy run its course, even if this means voters going to the polls and rejecting Western-style secular liberalism. [ complete article ]

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Bush's Top Gun photo-op
David Corn, The Nation, May 1, 2003

After 9/11, after Afghanistan, after Iraq--and before who-knows-what--Bush has become a man with no past. He is a different fellow, that's for sure, and now wears the commander-in-chief uniform more comfortably than before those airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But could Bill Clinton--even in a similar situation--have gotten away with joy-riding a S-3B Viking aircraft onto a carrier for a mega-photo-op without commentators reminding viewers of his sly draft-dodging ways? [ complete article ]

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The secrets of September 11
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, May 1, 2003

Even as White House political aides plot a 2004 campaign plan designed to capitalize on the emotions and issues raised by the September 11 terror attacks, administration officials are waging a behind-the-scenes battle to restrict public disclosure of key events relating to the attacks.

At the center of the dispute is a more-than-800-page secret report prepared by a joint congressional inquiry detailing the intelligence and law-enforcement failures that preceded the attacks -- including provocative, if unheeded warnings, given President Bush and his top advisers during the summer of 2001.

The report was completed last December; only a bare-bones list of "findings" with virtually no details was made public. But nearly six months later, a "working group" of Bush administration intelligence officials assigned to review the document has taken a hard line against further public disclosure. By refusing to declassify many of its most significant conclusions, the administration has essentially thwarted congressional plans to release the report by the end of this month, congressional and administration sources tell Newsweek. In some cases, these sources say, the administration has even sought to "reclassify" some material that was already discussed in public testimony -- a move one Senate staffer described as "ludicrous." The administration's stand has infuriated the two members of Congress who oversaw the report -- Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and Republican Rep. Porter Goss. The two are now preparing a letter of complaint to Vice President Dick Cheney. [ complete article ]

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Vilified weapons inspectors may have got it right
Marian Wilkinson, Sydney Morning Herald, May 1, 2003

Almost three weeks since the fall of Baghdad, with senior Iraqi scientists and officials in US custody, no chemical or biological weapons stockpiles have been found. Neither has any evidence been uncovered that Iraq had restarted a nuclear program.

In explaining the gap between the prewar and postwar claims on Iraq's WMD, Dr Rice said the US was now seeing the programs in a different light. "The fact is that we are beginning to see a kind of pattern on how Iraq may have hidden its weapons of mass destruction from the outside world for all of these years," she said this week.

According to Dr Rice, the weapons programs are "in bits and pieces" rather than assembled weapons. "You may find assembly lines, you may find pieces hidden here and there," she said. Ingredients or precursors, many non-lethal by themselves, could be embedded in dual-use facilities.

She had a new explanation too for Iraq's ability to launch these weapons that were not assembled. "Just-in-time assembly" and "just-in-time" inventory, as she put it. [ complete article ]

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Betting on Abu Mazen - to lose
Bradley Burston, Ha'aretz, May 1, 2003

On the face of it, rightists in Israeli officialdom should be anxious. The Bush administration, with a robust push from Britain's Tony Blair, has pledged to vigorously pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace through cooperation and mutual compromise.

The plan speaks of a phased approach, leading with political and procedural reform of the Palestinian Authority and PA efforts to quell attacks on Israelis, to be matched by broad Israeli military withdrawals from areas re-occupied during the Intifada, and the institution of a freeze on new settlement activity - this last a concept particularly odious to hardline Israeli officials.

So why are these people smiling? The mood elevation stems from clear channels of communication with Washington, and the signals they are receiving from the White House and Capitol Hill, argues Haaretz commentator Akiva Eldar:

"The message that they are getting now, is that the Rumsfeld-Richard Perle school of thought is now in charge, people who were against the Oslo peace process, people who don't trust the Palestinians, people who feel that after what they did in Iraq, the Palestinians must now go after and crack down hard on the Islamists, the radicals, the terrorists - something the Palestinians may be unable to accomplish," Eldar says, adding of the neoconservative-oriented U.S. officials, "These are people who are against any appeasement."

In their interpretation of the road map, Sharon need not make a single move until the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated that it is putting up a significant battle against the militants in its midst. Moreover, "they know that Sharon has raised the required threshhold to so high a level that it is unrealistic to believe any Palestinian could reach it." [ complete article ]

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Iranian rebels get a new lease on life
David Kelly, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2003

The Moujahedeen Khalq, or People's Holy Warriors, is an Iranian exile group that is fighting the Tehran government and had allied itself with Hussein. The group has killed U.S. citizens, and it took part in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The State Department lists the group as a terrorist organization.

Ousted from Iran for its Marxist ideology after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the group was given bases in Iraq, where it launched attacks on Iran and plotted the assassination of Iranian officials. In return, Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime used the organization to oppress Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq.

But with the ouster of Hussein, many members of the group -- including leader Maryam Rajavi and her husband -- fled to the Jordanian border, desperate to get out, Jordanian officials say.

With their longtime quarry cornered, Iran pressured Jordan to refuse them sanctuary and hand them over to Tehran. Iran believed that for once, Tehran and Washington were on the same side.

"It was a unique opportunity, a rare chance to work together," said Mohammad Safaee, the Iranian consul in the Jordanian capital, Amman. "We promised there would be no death penalty, that only the leaders would face trial."

But about 11 p.m. Sunday, witnesses said, dozens of Moujahedeen Khalq members here climbed into a fleet of cars and drove a few hundred yards to the American checkpoint beneath a towering, defaced portrait of Hussein.

Passing the U.S. soldiers who check passports these days, some of the members headed toward Baghdad. A Jordanian official who asked not to be identified said some went to Khanaqin, a city northeast of Baghdad close to the Iranian border.

Eight to 10 others were allowed into Jordan, where they boarded planes for France, Germany and the Netherlands, Jordanian officials said.

Their passage apparently was allowed because American officials had recently reached a cease-fire agreement with the Moujahedeen Khalq. U.S. military officials said the group had promised not to attack allied troops in Iraq; in exchange, it has been allowed to keep its weapons and artillery to fight the Iranians if provoked. [ complete article ]

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'The classical definition of a police state'
Robyn Blumner, St. Petersburg Times, April 28, 2003

Sometimes, before an abusive government practice gains widespread attention, bad things have to happen to someone with this bio: American citizen, blond wife, adorable children, good job and high-status friends.

That victim would be Maher "Mike" Hawash, a naturalized American of Palestinian descent who has been held in federal custody as a material witness to a terrorism investigation since March 20. [ complete article ]

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Civilian deaths, executions found in Afghan fighting
Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2003

The United Nations has revealed that factional fighting in northwestern Afghanistan in March led to a string of killings that may have been the bloodiest series of human rights abuses since the end of the war on the Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda terrorists it harbored.

A U.N. team found that a string of clashes, slayings and lootings that began March 24 in Badghis province claimed 38 civilian lives. In addition, 26 combatants were executed, the investigators said, and found with their hands tied behind their backs. The deaths were concentrated in the village of Akazi.

In an unusually critical statement Sunday, the U.N. urged local police and the Badghis governor appointed by President Hamid Karzai to "arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice, as well as take all other necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of similar events." [ complete article ]

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Both sides out of step on long road to peace
Chris McGreal, The Guardian, May 1, 2003

Whatever the final interpretation of the road map, there is little doubt that, as the Israelis want, the immediate focus is on [Patestinian prime minister] Mr Abbas, known more familiarly as Abu Mazen.

Tuesday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed four, is the latest demonstration of the huge task he faces in trying to curb the violence without provoking a civil war or being seen as little more than a useful idiot for Mr Sharon's stated desire: to allow the Palestinian people a mere shadow of an independent state and less than half of the territory occupied by Israel since 1967. [ complete article ]

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The war is over (except for Iraq)
Phil Reeves, The Independent, May 1, 2003

President George Bush will declare tonight the war in Iraq is all but over. But his speech, far out at sea aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, which is heading back from the Gulf will not convince many Iraqis.

For the people of Fallujah where two men in their twenties, Sa'aleh al-Jumaili, and Ghanam al-Jumaili, were killed yesterday the war with the American and British occupiers seems to be just beginning. Hatred is taking hold here, and throughout Iraq. It was sown this week by US troops who fired into a demonstration, shooting dead 13 people, and sealed by soldiers who blasted into a crowd again yesterday, killing two more. This on the day that General Tommy Franks declared the main combat phase of the operation was over.

Hatred was present in the taunts of the youths goading the American troops face-to-face, calling them "babies" and waving a banner that said "Sooner or later, US killers, we'll kick you out". And it was there in the burning eyes of the man outside Fallujah General Hospital, who began bellowing about the "lies of the Western press" and the wickedness of the American occupation after we arrived to see the bloodied victims of the latest US shooting.

In a country that has lost some 2,500 civilians in the conflict, with at least 10,000 of its soldiers, resentment runs high. Still today, 40,000 of Baghdad's five million citizens rely on the Red Cross for water. [ complete article ]

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Experts mourn the Lion of Nimrud, looted as troops stood by
Fiachra Gibbons, The Guardian, April 30, 2003

The first authoritative list of the treasures that were stolen or destroyed in the chaos that followed the fall of Baghdad emerged yesterday, as experts from the world's great museums poured scorn on the Americans for the catastrophe.

Among the thousands of artefacts looted from the Iraqi national museum in Baghdad - which holds the world's greatest collection of Mesopotamian art - was the 5,000-year-old Warka Vase, a "staggering masterpiece" from Uruk carved from limestone just about the time the city's Sumerian inhabitants were inventing writing.

It was too fragile to be moved into the museum's underground vaults in the weeks leading up to the war, and like 18 other major artefacts so far confirmed missing by Iraqi experts, may already have been smuggled over the country's unguarded borders.

The Lion of Nimrud, an ivory relief of a lion attacking a Nubian, one of the museum's most prized objects and "an icon of Phoenician art", has also disappeared.

An international summit of experts at the British Museum yesterday placed much of the blame for the disaster that has befallen Iraq's heritage at the feet of coalition forces. [ complete article ]

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The loyal opposition goes AWOL
Joyce Appleby, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2003

The Bush Doctrine of preventive war is the most radical foreign policy initiative since the Spanish-American War. And how has Congress, charged by the Constitution with overseeing foreign policy, responded?

It hasn't. Last October, a majority in both houses of Congress voted for the resolution to give the president the go-ahead to use force in Iraq. Then and since, lawmakers have failed to do their constitutional duty of oversight of such military action.

President Bush's single-minded pursuit of regime change in Iraq during the last 15 months would not have surprised the unsentimental 18th century creators of our government. They expected the executive to pursue his foreign policy goals. What they would not have foreseen was Congress' supine acceptance of the president's usurpation of their constitutional authority to declare war and approve peace treaties.

It has not always been thus. [ complete article ]

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Bin Laden's main demand is met
Sean O'Neill, The Telegraph, April 30, 2003

America's announcement of its intention to withdraw its military bases from Saudi Arabia answers Osama bin Laden's most persistent demand.

More than any other cause it was the presence of "crusader" forces in the land of Islam's holiest sites - Mecca and Medina - that turned bin Laden from Afghan jihadi into an international terrorist. [ complete article ]

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"Let me be clear: Iraq belongs to you. We do not want to run it," said Donald Rumsfeld, addressing the Iraqi people from an ornate room in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. Unable to resist the temptation to symbolically slap his shoes on the face of his vanquished enemy, Rumsfeld had no problem using a regal backdrop to broadcast his non-imperial statement.

Rumsfeld visits Iraq as bloodshed continues
Nadim Ladki, Reuters, April 30, 2003

Even as Rumsfeld savored victory in the military campaign he planned and led, a leading Arabic newspaper published what it said was a letter from Saddam Hussein, ousted three weeks ago, in which he urged Iraqis to throw out U.S. and British forces.

Residents of Falluja, 30 miles outside the capital where 13 people were killed in a rally late on Monday night, said U.S. troops shot dead two more people during a demonstration on Wednesday.

U.S. Maj. Michael Marti told Reuters that members of a convoy returned fire after shots were fired at them from a crowd outside a U.S. command post. He said soldiers counted "potentially" two injured Iraqis.

The bloodshed in Falluja provided a grim backdrop for the visit by Rumsfeld, who recorded a radio and television message saying U.S. troops had no intention of taking over Iraq. [...]

In Baghdad Rumsfeld held a meeting with Jay Garner, the retired general in charge of American efforts to rebuild the country and launch a democratic government.

Garner told reporters after the meeting that the media should concentrate less on anti-American protests and more on the way U.S. forces had toppled Saddam with relatively little damage to Iraq's infrastructure.

"We ought to be beating our chests every day," he said. "We ought to look in a mirror and get proud and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say: 'Damn, we're Americans'." [ complete article ]

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Hypocrisy and apple pie
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, April 30, 2003

America is a furtive empire, afraid to raise its flag or linger too long or even call things by their real names. The U.S. is having a hard time figuring out how to wield its colonial power, how to balance collegiality with coercion, how to savor the fruits of imperialism without acknowledging its imperialist hubris. [ complete article ]

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To the US troops it was self-defence. To the Iraqis it was murder
Jonathan Steele The Guardian, April 30, 2003

Lieutenant Colonel Eric Nantz was not at the scene at the time [of the shooting in Falluja] but he insisted yesterday that people in the crowd fired the first shots at troops in the school. "They came under heavy fire. The troops on the roof returned fire. We later found eight AK-47s on the ground and nearby rooftops, and over 50 expended rounds. I don't know if it was planned," he said.

Cradling a machine gun, a soldier gave a more emotional account. As well as single shots fired from their M4 rifles US troops had used machine guns, he conceded.

Monday night's incident was not the first, explained the soldier, who refused to be named. "We've been sitting here taking fire for three days. It was enough to get your nerves wracked. When they marched down the road and started shooting at the compound there was nothing left for us to do but defend ourselves. They were firing from alleyways and buildings where we couldn't see.

"Guys were standing in line with hot chow. When bullets fell into the compound, people in that chow line ran for cover. From that moment on it was all business. We started putting on body armour and went up on that roof," he said.

Asked whether the troops could have mistaken shots fired into the air to celebrate Saddam's birthday with fire aimed at the US compound, the soldier insisted bullets had been coming over the roof.

No bullet holes were visible yesterday on the school, unlike the house opposite which had several holes. [ complete article ]

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We are not with you and we don't believe you
Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, April 30, 2003

Tony Blair's first public attempt to heal the diplomatic wounds of the Iraq war suffered a humiliating rebuff yesterday when Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, refused to lift UN sanctions and mocked the possibility that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq. [...]

Mr Blair had been hoping to use his influence to persuade Russia to agree to the Anglo-US demand to lift sanctions on Iraq in return for giving the UN an as yet unspecified "vital role" in the reconstruction of Iraq and its new government.

But Mr Putin said Russia and its partners "believe until clarity is achieved over whether weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq, sanctions should be kept in place". Almost mocking Mr Blair, he went on: "Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if indeed they ever existed? Perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere in a bunker underground, sitting on cases of weapons of mass destruction and is preparing to blow the whole thing up and bring down the lives of thousands of Iraqi people." [ complete article ]

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Matters of emphasis
Paul Krugman, New York Times, April 29, 2003

One wonders whether most of the public will ever learn that the original case for war has turned out to be false. In fact, my guess is that most Americans believe that we have found W.M.D.'s. Each potential find gets blaring coverage on TV; how many people catch the later announcement if it is ever announced that it was a false alarm? It's a pattern of misinformation that recapitulates the way the war was sold in the first place. Each administration charge against Iraq received prominent coverage; the subsequent debunking did not. [ complete article ]

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Iran rejects U.S. accusation it is meddling in Iraq
Karl Vick, Washington Post, April 25, 2003

Iran today rejected a U.S. warning against becoming involved in Iraq, making light of White House advice not to "destabilize" the neighboring country's Shiite Muslim majority.

"It is very interesting that Americans have occupied Iraq and are now accusing its neighbor of interfering in that country," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said at a news conference. "Iranians have no role in Iraq, and it is up to the people of Iraq to decide on their fate and future." [ complete article ]

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American forces reach cease-fire with terror group
Douglas Jehl and Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, April 29, 2003

American forces in Iraq have signed a cease-fire with an Iranian opposition group the United States has designated a terrorist organization, and expect it to surrender soon with some of its arms, American military officials said today.

Under the deal, signed on April 15 but confirmed by the United States Central Command only today, United States forces agreed not to damage any of the group's vehicles, equipment or any of its property in its camps in Iraq, and not to commit any hostile act toward the Iranian opposition forces covered by the agreement.

In return, the group, the People's Mujahedeen, which will be allowed to keep its weapons for now, agreed not to fire on or commit other hostile acts against American forces, not to destroy private or government property, and to place its artillery and antiaircraft guns in nonthreatening positions.

The accord is apparently the first between the United States military -- which in early April was bombing the group's Iraqi camps -- and a terrorist organization, and it raises questions about how consistently the Bush administration intends to apply a policy that had vowed to crack down on terrorist groups worldwide.

The Iranian group, which is led by a woman and has an estimated 10,000 members in Iraq, has no known ties to Al Qaeda, but its members killed several American military personnel and civilian contractors in the 1970's and supported the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

It has carried out dozens of bombings that were aimed at Iranian military and government workers, but that also killed civilians.

It was added to the State Department's list of terrorist organizations in 1997.

An American military official said the group could provide intelligence regarding Iranian government activities both in Iraq, and in Iran itself. [ complete article ]

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IRAN 1978, IRAQ 2003

The spark that erupted into revolution [in Iran] was a protest in Qumm on January 9, 1978. A group of students protested the visit of Jimmy Carter, the American President, and the government's attacks on Ayatollah Khomeini. In particular, they demanded that Khomeini be allowed to return to the country. The police, in an ill-conceived moment, opened fire on the students and killed seventy.

This set in motion an inescapable pattern that steadily destabilized the Shah's government and reduced its legitimacy in the eyes of both Iranians and the world. In Shi'a tradition, martyrdom requires a commemoration of the martyrs forty days after they have been killed. So forty days after the massacre at Qumm, Iranians took to the streets to commemorate the dead students and, by extension, to protest the government. Again, Iranian police opened fire on the crowd. Over one hundred people were killed in Tabriz on February 18, the fortieth day after the Qumm massacre. On March 30, forty days after the massacre at Tabriz, over one hundred demonstrators were killed in Yazd. And so on. By August, demonstrations had become constant all over Iran.
[ Source ]

Iraqis say troops kill 13; U.S. says returned fire
Edmund Blair, Reuters, April 29, 2003

U.S. troops killed 13 Iraqi demonstrators west of Baghdad overnight, witnesses said on Tuesday, in bloodshed sure to inflame anti-American anger.

U.S. officers said they fired in self defense.

Witnesses in Falluja, 30 miles outside the capital, told Reuters the troops opened fire on several hundred unarmed demonstrators who had been demanding the soldiers vacate a school they were using as a barracks.

Falluja hospital director Ahmed Ghanim al-Ali said 13 people had been killed and at least 75 wounded in the late night incident. There were widely conflicting accounts of what had happened. [ complete article ]

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Why Iraq is not Japan
John W. Dower, San Jose Mercury News, April 27, 2003

Who wants to be occupied?

Shigeru Yoshida, the conservative politician who served four terms as prime minister of Japan in the wake of World War II, put the matter succinctly in a later reminiscence about living under Gen. Douglas MacArthur's "GHQ" (General Headquarters). Whenever he heard the dreaded acronym, Yoshida said, he immediately thought "Go Home Quickly!" [ complete article ]

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Omens of trouble in Iraq
David Ignatius, Washington Post, April 29, 2003

U.S. generals and intelligence officers have done many things right in this month's lightning victory in Iraq. But they appear to have botched their relationship with Iraq's newly ascendant Shiite Muslim majority, causing problems that could undermine U.S. postwar reconstruction efforts.

The Americans had a strategy for dealing with the Iraqi Shiite community, but it seems to have gone wrong almost from the start. The following account, drawn from conversations with Iraqi sources here and coalition officials, illustrates the dangerous landscape that is postwar Iraq. [ complete article ]

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To listen to the neo-cons these days, you'd think that Thomas Jefferson argued for a separation of church and state because of his fear of Islam. People who seem to have few qualms about faith-based initiatives, prayer in schools or the idea of "one nation under God" are now deeply vexed by the possibility that Iraqi democracy will not be pristinely secular and that Shia clerics will exert undue influence in the reconstruction of Iraq. Their fears are couched in terms that will, they hope, shield them from charges of being Islamophobic, but the bugaboo of every US administration for the last 24 years -- the ayatollahs -- has once again reared its head.

Signatory to the Project for a New American Century's letter to George Bush on the war on terrorism, and member of the American Enterprise Institute, Reuel Marc Gerecht is a propagandist skilled in the art of fueling fear about the "threats to democracy." His warnings are telling, however, in that they reflect a genuine fear in the Bush administration that their Middle East project in democracy may lead to a political defeat almost as rapidly as it brought a military success.

How to mix politics and religion
Reuel Marc Gerecht, New York Times, April 29, 2003

Twenty-four years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini outmaneuvered Iran's religious establishment, his spiritual disciples in Iraq are attempting a similar clerical coup d'etat.
[ complete article ]

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Diplomatic breakdown
John Brady Kiesling, Boston Globe, April 27, 2003

When I faxed my resignation letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell on February 25, the United States government was on the verge of its most costly foreign policy blunder since the war in Vietnam. The primary goal the president had announced, protecting the American people from terrorism, could not be achieved through war with Iraq. The goal of establishing democracy in Iraq was one the United States had, alas, no effective legitimacy to achieve. The costs of our attainable goal cleansing Iraq of a genuinely monstrous Saddam Hussein and his likely arsenal had been concealed from the American people and their elected representatives for an excellent reason: As two previous presidents had recognized, the material, moral, human, and political costs would be so great as to cancel out the probable benefit.

I was the political counselor at the US Embassy in Athens then, 45 years old, running a section of some eight people. My mission was to advise the US ambassador on how best we could, as President Bush's personal representatives in Greece, promote and defend US interests. As the war became inescapable, so, too, became my catastrophic conviction that I could either represent the president or defend US interests, but I could no longer do both. [ complete article ]

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Of courage and resistance
Susan Sontag, The Nation (via Tom Engelhardt's TomDispatch), April 26, 2003

What is in the true interests of a modern community is justice.

It cannot be right to systematically oppress and confine a neighboring people. It is surely false to think that murder, expulsion, annexations, the building of walls --- all that has contributed to the reducing of a whole people to dependence, penury, and despair --- will bring security and peace to the oppressors.

It cannot be right that a president of the United States seems to believe that he has a mandate to be president of the planet --- and announces that those who are not with America are with "the terrorists."

Those brave Israeli Jews who, in fervent and active opposition to the policies of the present government of their country, have spoken up on behalf of the plight and the rights of Palestinians, are defending the true interests of Israel. Those of us who are opposed to the plans of the present government of the United States for global hegemony are patriots speaking for the best interests of the United States.

Beyond these struggles, which are worthy of our passionate adherence, it is important to remember that in programs of political resistance the relation of cause and effect is convoluted, and often indirect. All struggle, all resistance is --- must be --- concrete. And all struggle has a global resonance. [ complete article ]

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After the airstrikes, just silence
April Witt, Washington Post, April 28, 2003

There are more graves than houses in Madoo.

The mosque and many of the roughly 35 homes that once made up this hamlet in the White Mountains of eastern Afghanistan lie in rubble. At least 55 men, women and children -- or pieces of them -- are buried here, their graves marked by flags that are whipped by the wind.

Seventeen months after U.S. warplanes bombed this village and others in the vicinity of Osama bin Laden's cave complex at Tora Bora, Madoo's survivors say they can tell civilian victims of U.S. bombing in Iraq what to expect in the way of help from Washington: nothing. [ complete article ]

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Fury at agriculture post for US businessman
Heather Stewart, The Guardian, April 28, 2003

Oxfam last night launched a scathing attack on the man the US has put in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq.

Dan Amstutz is a former senior executive of Cargill, the biggest grain exporter in the world, and served in the Reagan administration as a trade negotiator in the Uruguay round of world trade talks.

Oxfam is concerned that his involvement is an example of the potentially damaging commercialisation of the reconstruction effort in Iraq, which it would prefer to see conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.

Kevin Watkins, Oxfam's policy director, said Mr Amstutz would "arrive with a suitcase full of open-market rhetoric", and was more likely to try to dump cheap US grain on the potentially lucrative Iraqi market than encourage the country to rebuild its once-successful agricultural sector.

"Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission," Mr Watkins said. [ complete article ]

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Reason for war?
John Cochran, ABC News, April 25, 2003

To build its case for war with Iraq, the Bush administration argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but some officials now privately acknowledge the White House had another reason for war a global show of American power and democracy.

Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABCNEWS the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans.

"We were not lying," said one official. "But it was just a matter of emphasis." [ complete article ]

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Daniel Pipes, recently nominated by George Bush to serve on the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, argues that Iraq now needs a "strongman" (a.k.a. a dictator) to prevent post-Saddam Iraq aligning itself with Iran. Pipes calls for a "democratically-minded Iraqi strongman" and cites as similar examples Ataturk in Turkey and Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan. Perhaps closer parallels would have been Musharraf in Pakistan and the Shah of Iran. Pipes says that Iraq's strongman should steer Iraq toward "good neighborly relations." Good relations with Iran? Or good relations with Israel?

A strongman for Iraq?
Daniel Pipes, New York Post, April 28, 2003

Who should fill the all-important role of strongman? The ideal candidate would be politically moderate but operationally tough; someone with an ambition to steer Iraq toward democracy and good neighborly relations.

As for the coalition forces, after installing a strongman they should phase out their visible role and pull back to a few military bases away from population centers. From these, they can quietly serve as the military partner of the new government, guaranteeing its ultimate security and serving as a constructive influence for the entire region. [ complete article ]

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For Muslims, a mixture of White House signals
Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, April 28, 2003

When President Bush travels to Dearborn, Mich., on Monday to speak to Iraqi exiles and other Arab-Americans, he will trail behind him considerable uncertainty about his administration's intentions toward Islam.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush has consistently said that Islam is a religion of peace and warned against anti-Muslim prejudice. Yet he also recently nominated to a government institute a scholar, Daniel Pipes, who has enraged many American Muslims by suggesting that mosques are breeding grounds for militants and that Muslims in government and military positions should be given special attention as security risks.

Mr. Bush reached out to Muslims in the 2000 presidential campaign, viewing them as a potentially significant voting bloc that tends to be conservative on social issues. But he has also embraced evangelical Christian leaders who have cast Islam as evil and has adopted much of the foreign policy agenda of neoconservative thinkers who view Islamic fundamentalism as perhaps the gravest threat to national security. [ complete article ]

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The real looting of Iraq may just be beginning
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 28, 2003

At an American military checkpoint on the road north of Kirkuk, two US soldiers are holding up placards, each of which has a message written in Kurdish. One says: "Drivers must get into one lane", the other: "Carrying weapons is forbidden".

The problem is that the soldiers, being unable to read Kurdish, have mixed up the placards so one is angrily waving his sign forbidding weapons in front of a car which has tried to jump the queue, while a hundred yards down the road a harassed-looking officer is asking drivers in English, which they do not speak, if they are armed and he is only receiving benign smiles and thumbs-up signs in return.

It is easy enough to mock ordinary American soldiers being baffled in trying to establish their authority in one of the most complicated societies in the world. But it is still extraordinary that the US should have spent so long planning a military campaign with so little thought about the likely political consequences inside Iraq. [ complete article ]

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And now: 'Operation Iraqi looting'
Frank Rich, New York Times, April 27, 2003

There is much we don't know about what happened this month at the Baghdad museum, at its National Library and archives, at the Mosul museum and the rest of that country's gutted cultural institutions. Is it merely the greatest cultural disaster of the last 500 years, as Paul Zimansky, a Boston University archaeologist, put it? Or should we listen to Eleanor Robson, of All Souls College, Oxford, who said, "You'd have to go back centuries, to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, to find looting on this scale"? Nor do we know who did it. Was this a final act of national rape by Saddam loyalists? Was it what Philippe de Montebello, of the Metropolitan Museum, calls the "pure Hollywood" scenario -- a clever scheme commissioned in advance by shadowy international art thieves? Was it simple opportunism by an unhinged mob? Or some combination thereof?

Whatever the answers to those questions, none of them can mitigate the pieces of the damning jigsaw puzzle that have emerged with absolute certainty. The Pentagon was repeatedly warned of the possibility of this catastrophe in advance of the war, and some of its officials were on the case. But at the highest levels at the White House, the Pentagon and central command -- where the real clout is -- no one cared. Just how little they cared was given away by our leaders' own self-incriminating statements after disaster struck. Rather than immediately admit to error or concede the gravity of what had happened on their watch, they all tried to trivialize the significance of the looting. Once that gambit failed, they tried to shirk any responsibility for it. [ complete article ]

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From frontiersman to neo-con
Godfrey Hodgson, Open Democracy, April 24, 2003

One way of looking at the history of American foreign policy is to see it as a conflict between the instincts of the immigrant and those of the frontiersman. The immigrants came to America to find a better life. The last thing most of them wanted was to be dragged back into the stale and rancorous quarrels of the old world (among the exceptions have been Irish-Americans) The frontiersman, on the contrary, wanted to push ever further west to find new land, new resources, new frontiers. Once the frontier of free land was officially declared closed in 1890, the frontier spirit looked overseas, and Americans sought economic opportunities in Latin America, the Far East and later in Europe and the Middle East.

In the foreign policy of the Bush administration, those two themes withdrawal and advance are strangely reunited. The neo-conservatives who have captured American foreign policy make plain their contempt for foreigners, and at the same time their ambition to make the world over in the image of their rather narrow vision of America. Their interpretation of American exceptionalism that is, of the belief that America is not just different from all other societies but also more righteous, is a resolution of a kind, of two instincts that are almost as old as the United States. [ complete article ]

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In a land without law or leaders, militant Islam threatens to rule
Jason Burke, The Observer, April 27, 2003

On the day Mosul fell Sheikh al-Namaa sent young men with guns to guard hospitals and homes. A few days later he successfully ordered looters to return stolen property to mosques. Elsewhere, particularly in the Shia-dominated south-west, local clerics took the lead in establishing order, organising law enforcement, the protection of property, even healthcare. And, swiftly, their moral authority assumed political dimensions.

Last week al-Namaa and several other prayer leaders formed a political party in Mosul. '[Saddam Hussein's] end was a good thing,' al-Namaa said, 'but the British and American invasion of Iraq was in the interest of Israel.' The right programme for the reconstruction of Iraq was, to al-Namaa, obvious. 'In Islam, there is the answer to every social problem.'

Some observers, notably Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, dismissed the clerics as a noisy minority who had no broad support. Others watched warily, scared that a tidal wave of Islamic sentiment was sweeping Iraq. In one sense Rumsfeld is right: the Iraqis, Shia or Sunni or Kurd, are among the most secular people in the Middle East. But he is wrong to underestimate the depth of feeling on the part of many millions of people. [ complete article ]

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Concern grows over weapons hunt setbacks
Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times,April 27, 2003

Disorganization, delays and faulty intelligence have hampered the Pentagon-led search for Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction, causing growing concern about one of the most sensitive and secretive operations in postwar Iraq, according to U.S. officials and outside experts familiar with the effort. [...]

"Everybody recognizes that it's gotten off to a rocky start," said one official who helped draft the Pentagon's weapons search plans and has seen reports coming back from Iraq. "Frankly, the whole situation is very confusing at the moment."

David Kay, a former U.N. weapons inspector, was critical of the initial U.S. effort. "Unity of command is not present," said Kay, who is now a senior fellow at the nonprofit Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. "There's not even unity of effort.... My impression is this has been a very low priority so far, and they've put very little effort into it."
[ complete article ]

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Chalabi finds ties to U.S. a boon and a barrier
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, April 27, 2003

When Rafidain Bank managers wanted American troops to protect their branches from gun-toting looters, they went not to U.S. military headquarters but to a private club in a posh Baghdad suburb where they sought an audience with Ahmed Chalabi.

Chalabi, a suave, Iraqi-born banker who has spent the past 45 years in exile, promised he would get right on it. One of his aides raised the issue with a liaison officer from the U.S. Central Command who is stationed in the club. Another aide, based in Washington, called the Pentagon. A day later, U.S. troops were guarding several Rafidain branches.

In the hurly-burly of postwar Iraq, Chalabi has staked his claim to power with a distinct advantage -- an inside track to the U.S. military now in charge of the country. Other deep-pocketed exiles, tribal sheiks, Muslim clerics and Kurdish leaders have sought to establish themselves on the uncharted political landscape here, particularly leaders of the country's 60 percent Shiite majority. But none other than Chalabi can reach into the Pentagon and get things done. [ complete article ]

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He's out with the in crowd
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, April 27, 2003

Washington has a history of nasty rivalries, with competing camps. There were Aaron Burr people and Alexander Hamilton people; Lincoln people and McClellan people; Bobby people and Lyndon people.

Now, since Newt Gingrich aimed the MOAB of screeds at an already circumscribed Mr. Powell, the capital has been convulsed by the face-off between Defense and State.

There are Rummy people: Mr. Cheney, Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Feith, Bill Kristol, William Safire, Ariel Sharon, Fox News, National Review, The Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the fedayeen of the Defense Policy Board -- Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Mr. Gingrich, Ken Adelman -- and the fifth column at State, John Bolton and Liz Cheney.

And there are Powell people: Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Bush 41, Ken Duberstein, Richard Armitage, Richard Haass, the Foreign Service, Joe Biden, Bob Woodward, the wet media elite, the planet. [ complete article ]

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