The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
From Baghdad to Tehran?
Jim Lobe, Foreign Policy in Focus, May 7, 2003

With Iraq under U.S. occupation and Syria's leaders shaken by a series of high-level threats from top Bush administration officials, Iran has come under increased U.S. pressure. As officials in Washington talk about "Iranian agents" crossing the border into Iraq to foment trouble for the U.S. occupation, a leading neoconservative strategist Monday said the United States is already in a "death struggle" with Tehran, and he urged the administration of President George W. Bush to "take the fight to Iran," through "covert operations," among other measures.

The appeal by the chief editor of The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, followed last week's surprise announcement that U.S. military forces had signed a surrender agreement with rebel Iranian forces based in Iraq that permits them to retain their weapons and equipment, including tanks, despite their formal designation by the State Department as a terrorist group. The agreement between the military and the Mujahedeen Khalq sparked speculation that Washington may deploy the group, which had been supported by Baghdad for more than 20 years, against Tehran or its allies in Iraq, despite its terrorist tactics.

"The liberation of Iraq was the first great battle for the future of the Middle East," wrote Kristol in the Standard's latest issue. "The next great battle--not, we hope, a military battle--will be for Iran. We are already in a death struggle with Iran over the future of Iraq," added the editor, who is closely associated with Richard Perle and other neoconservatives in the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (DPB). [ complete article ]

See also Kristol's editorial The end of the beginning.

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The unseen war
Michael Massing, New York Review of Books, May 29, 2003

Before arriving in Doha, I had spent hours watching CNN back home, and I was sadly reminded of the network's steady decline in recent years. Paula Zahn looked and talked like a cheerleader for the US forces; Aaron Brown kept reaching for the profound remark without ever finding it; Wolf Blitzer politely interviewed Washington's high and mighty, seldom asking a pointed question. None of them, however, appeared on the broadcasts I saw in Doha. CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition -- a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, US news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see. [ complete article ]

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Top Iraqi opposition leader returns to homeland after years in exile
Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press, May 10, 2003

The leader of the largest Iraqi Shiite Muslim group opposed to Saddam Hussein returned to his homeland on Saturday after two decades in exile and called for Iraq to become an Islamic state.

Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim condemned religious extremism in the same speech. He rejected any foreign-installed government for Iraq, but did not mention the United States directly.

Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, rolled across the Iranian frontier into Iraq at the Shalamjah border crossing. He had been in exile in Iran and under protection of its Shiite religious leaders since 1980.

"I am a soldier of Islam, serving all the Iraqi people," al-Hakim told a crowd of about 10,000 supporters hours later in the southern city of Basra, a Shiite stronghold. But, he added, "We don't want extremist Islam, but an Islam of independence, justice and freedom."

He said Iraq must be governed by Iraqis, not foreigners. [ complete article ]

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In the wreckage of Saddam's nuclear research centre, villagers take their pick of lethal spoils
Donald Macintyre, The Independent, May 10, 2003

The labels were clearly visible when the caretaker of the al-Wrdiya village school pulled from a storeroom at the back of the building two looted plastic drums and a translucent off-white crate.

No, he said rather sheepishly, he hadn't shown them to the Iraqi and US experts who visited earlier in the day. One of the blue drums, both of which were stamped "Made in West Germany", carried on its side the words "Radio Aktiv". On the crate, resembling a large toolbox, underneath the designation "Hardigg Ind, USA", was the word again, this time in English, "Radioactive". Another, much smaller, white label warned in English "Observe Prescribed Separation Distances for Film and Personnel." None of the labels was in Arabic.

It was the clearest evidence yet that potentially deadly materials had been among the loot taken from the Tuwaitha nuclear research plant, where inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had supervised the storage in a locked and guarded facility of tons of partly enriched uranium and natural and depleted uranium, metals that could be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The Tuwaitha complex is also the site of the Osirak reactor bombed by the Israelis in 1981.

Told about the drums, a senior IAEA official said yesterday: "Our concerns about this site grow every day." The IAEA has been desperate to visit the site and has warned the US since 11 April to take action to stop looting. It is concerned about radiation and also fears the material could fall into the hands of those seeking to create makeshift nuclear weapons. But Washington has consistently refused to allow the IAEA inspectors in. [ complete article ]

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Iraq Inc: A joint venture built on broken promises
David Usborne, Rupert Cornwell and Phil Reeves, The Independent, May 10, 2003

America and Britain declared themselves yesterday to be the "occupying powers" in Iraq and produced a blueprint for the administration of the country that confined the United Nations to a co-ordinating role.

Although George Bush declared in Belfast last month that the UN would have "a vital role" in Iraq, there was great disappointment yesterday after the organisation was denied an operational role. [ complete article ]

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Where is the outrage over activist's death?
Antonia Zerbisias, Toronto Star, May 8, 2003

On April 9, nearly a month after American peace activist Rachel Corrie, 23, met a gruesome end beneath an armoured Israeli bulldozer, the Jerusalem Post noted that the international media were "surprisingly'' mute about her fate which, depending on your view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was either murder, a "regrettable accident,'' or "suicide by bulldozer.''

While the death meant "bad press for Israel,'' Erik Schechter wrote, it had "not yet generated the political firestorm that ensued, in October, 2000, after the death of Muhammad al-Dura, the 12-year-old killed in a Gaza clash between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.

"This might be due to the world's preoccupation with the war in Iraq, which began four days after Corrie's death,'' he continued. "Two or three more American deaths might just peek out from behind the Baghdad headlines."

Well, no.

Since Corrie's death, two of her fellow members of the International Solidarity Movement also met grisly fates. American Brian Avery, 24, had his face shot off by Israel Defence Forces and Briton Thomas Hurndall, 21, is clinically dead after he took a bullet to the head. This week, a British cameraman was shot dead as well, adding to the string of journalists who have been killed in Israel in recent years.

So where is the outrage?

After a flurry of headlines in the days after her death, virtual silence, at least in the mainstream news organs. Her memorial service, broken up by Israeli forces, got scant notice in the U.S. There's been no word on Israel's investigation into her death. Meanwhile, a resolution, introduced by her congressman, calling on Washington to conduct a "full, fair and expeditious investigation'' goes ignored. [ complete article ]

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Israeli army raids main office of International Solidarity Movement
Agence France-Presse, May 9, 2003

Israeli soldiers arrested three volunteers of the International Solidarity Movement in a raid on the office near here of the group, engaged in non-violent resistance to the occupation of the Palestinian territories, the ISM spokesman said.

"The army invaded our office and arrested three people. Two are internationals and another is a Palestinian. They also took a lot of equipment, computers and hard disks," said Ghassan Andoni, an ISM member who witnessed the raid on the groups' premises in the town of Beit Sahur.

Palestinian witnesses said the building, which houses the ISM main office for the Palestinian territories, was surrounded by 15 armoured vehicles and searched by soldiers, who emerged with two foreigners and computers. [ complete article ]

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House demolitions hit 12,700 in West Bank and Gaza Strip
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, Electronic Intifada, May 7, 2003

The total number of Palestinians made homeless by Israeli's military demolition campaign climbed above 12,000 this month following a rapid acceleration of the policy in Gaza during the first quarter of this year.

Since the beginning of the current strife in September 2000 until April 30 2003, a total of 12,737 people had seen their homes demolished in Gaza and the West Bank. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which is responsible for the welfare for almost all of those affected, is trying to raise donor funds to replace the lost shelters in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Recent months have seen a sharp increase in house demolitions in the Gaza Strip. At the end of 2002, total and partial demolitions had until then averaged under 30 per month. In the first three months of 2003, 221 shelters were demolished or damaged beyond repair - making an average of 74 per month. These alone housed 401 families (2,273 persons).

Demolitions often occur late at night with little or no warning. Israeli military units - supported by tanks, APCs and helicopters - enter Palestinian areas to destroy a variety of targeted houses. A great many demolitions have occurred near Gaza's border with Egypt where Israel is building a security fence. Houses close to settlements are often also destroyed. In some cases the demolished buildings belong to the families of militants or Palestinians detained in Israeli jails. Increasingly, explosives rather than bulldozers are used to destroy property creating widespread collateral damage. [ complete article ]

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Gaza visitors must sign waiver in case army shoots them
Chris McGreal, The Guardian, May 9, 2003

The Israeli military yesterday began obliging foreigners entering the Gaza Strip to sign waivers absolving the army from responsibility if it shoots them. Visitors must also declare that they are not peace activists.

The move came hours before an autopsy on James Miller - the British cameraman killed in a Gaza refugee camp - confirmed that he was almost certainly killed by an Israeli soldier, despite the army's assertions to the contrary.

Yesterday, the British government demanded an Israeli military police criminal investigation into Miller's death and the shooting of another Briton by the army in Gaza, Tom Hurndall, a peace activist.

Mr Hurndall is in a coma with severe brain damage after being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier last month as he attempted to protect a small child from gunfire. The Foreign Office minister, Mike O'Brien, called in the Israeli ambassador to London to press the demand, which diplomatic sources portrayed as a ratcheting up of pressure on the Israeli government.

"On the basis of the evidence we've seen, we feel this case is so serious that we are asking for a military police investigation," said a Foreign Office spokesperson.

The waiver to enter Gaza requires foreigners, including United Nations relief workers, to acknowledge that they are entering a danger zone and will not hold the Israeli army responsible if they are shot or injured. The army document also warns visitors they are forbidden from approaching the security fences next to Jewish settlements or entering "military zones" in Rafah refugee camp close to the Egyptian border where Miller was shot dead on Saturday. [ complete article ]

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Who is Michael Ledeen?
William O. Beeman, Pacific News Service, May 8, 2003

Most Americans have never heard of Michael Ledeen, but if the United States ends up in an extended shooting war throughout the Middle East, it will be largely due to his inspiration.

A fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Ledeen holds a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin. He is a former employee of the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. As a consultant working with NSC head Robert McFarlane, he was involved in the transfer of arms to Iran during the Iran-Contra affair -- an adventure that he documented in the book "Perilous Statecraft: An Insider's Account of the Iran-Contra Affair." His most influential book is last year's "The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We'll Win."

Ledeen's ideas are repeated daily by such figures as Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. His views virtually define the stark departure from American foreign policy philosophy that existed before the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. He basically believes that violence in the service of the spread of democracy is America's manifest destiny. Consequently, he has become the philosophical legitimator of the American occupation of Iraq. [ complete article ]

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Danger seen in angry Iraqi youth
Patrick Healy, Boston Globe, May 8, 2003

Stunning poverty and youthful bravado are a dangerous, common combination on the streets of Fallujah, known for its proud Bedouin families whose hot-headed streaks are legendary. [...] Not only are angry young men harassing and firing on [the U.S.] base intermittently, and running a brisk illegal gun market a mile away, but they're also seen as viable new recruits for anti-American agitators in Iraq and even terrorist groups abroad.

''We are keeping a close eye on the young men,'' said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Poirier, stationed at another US camp on the outskirts of Fallujah that was just set up to reduce tensions downtown. ''We're trying to help these people, not anger them.''

But some soldiers say privately that they fear they're seeing Saudi Arabia all over again. The presence of US troops in that country has been one of Al Qaeda's chief complaints and best recruiting tools, producing 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers. [ complete article ]

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Liberation, one month on: Chaos on the streets, cholera in the city and killings in broad daylight
Phil Reeves, The Independent, May 9, 2003

Exactly a month has elapsed since the toppling of the statue of Saddam in the centre of Baghdad confirmed that the capital and the regime had at last fallen. Since then the country has seen an extraordinary redistribution of wealth, in which many thousands of impoverished Iraqis have embarked on a round-the-clock looting spree.

The lawlessness continues. Yesterday an American soldier was shot dead in broad daylight by an Iraqi who approached him with a pistol. US forces exchange fire with armed Iraqis almost daily across the country.

The continued failure to impose law and order on the streets of many towns and cities is drawing harsh criticism. "The last month has been pretty catastrophic in terms of building a new government," said Peter Galbraith, a former US ambassador who has spent the last three weeks in Iraq.

"The authority of the occupying power of the United States was very much diminished by this orgy of looting and destruction," he said.

There are some small successes. Thousands of manu-scripts and hundreds of artifacts missing from the National Museum have been recovered. Among them are a 7,000-year-old clay pot and a cornerstone from King Nebuchadnezzar's palace.

But it is the rapidly deteriorating public health system – as summer temperatures take hold – that is most worrying. After a month of occupation it remains in a state of collapse. Drinking water, from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, contaminated with sewage, has caused outbreaks of cholera and thyphoid among children in Basra. And the World Health Organisation warned yesterday that unless the security situation improves and medical staff can work in safety, the cholera outbreak could become an epidemic. [ complete article ]

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Death in the temple
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, May 9, 2003

Soon after the call for noon prayers rang out over the holy city of Najaf on 10 April, Sayed Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a Shia Muslim cleric, was shot and hacked to death within sight of the great Imam Ali shrine, whose golden dome rises above the closely packed streets.

Al-Khoei was the most liberal and sophisticated of Shia clerical leaders. Born in 1962 into a revered religious family, he had just returned to Iraq after 12 years in exile in London, where he fled for his life after Saddam Hussein crushed the great Shia uprising that erupted after the 1991 Gulf War.

The news of the murder was overshadowed by the collapse of Saddam's regime. But the death of al-Khoei robbed the Shia community, to which 60 per cent of Iraqis belong, of a leader who believed that he knew how to end the centuries-old political marginalisation of the Shia in Iraq. [ complete article ]

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Pentagon challenged over cluster bomb deaths
Mark Oliver, The Guardian, May 9, 2003

Iraq Body Count, a group that monitors the numbers of civilian deaths in the recent war and its aftermath, is challenging the Pentagon's claim that only one civilian was killed by a cluster bomb.

The group, which keeps track of reports of fatalities on its website, said this week that at least 200 civilians had been killed by this type of weapon and castigated last month's Pentagon statement as prompting "widespread incredulity". [ complete article ]

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The two faces of Rumsfeld
Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, May 9, 2003

Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, sat on the board of a company which three years ago sold two light water nuclear reactors to North Korea - a country he now regards as part of the "axis of evil" and which has been targeted for regime change by Washington because of its efforts to build nuclear weapons.

Mr Rumsfeld was a non-executive director of ABB, a European engineering giant based in Zurich, when it won a $200m (£125m) contract to provide the design and key components for the reactors. The current defence secretary sat on the board from 1990 to 2001, earning $190,000 a year. He left to join the Bush administration. [ complete article ]

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Iranian exile army sets camps in Iraqi bases
Carol Rosenberg, San Jose Mercury News, May 8, 2003

An Iranian exile army on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations has settled into abandoned Iraqi army bases and set up checkpoints throughout the sensitive Iran-Iraq border region just weeks after U.S. bombers systematically struck the bases it had occupied as special guests of Saddam Hussein.

U.S. military sources say the turf grab comes as Special Forces are struggling to negotiate a full-blown surrender of the Mujahadin el Khalq, following a secret cease-fire agreement April 15.

Although lobbyists for the MEK have won some sympathy for its cause in the U.S. Congress, the group has been labeled a terror organization by the State Department and has emerged as the sole, organized force still under arms as U.S. forces try to assert themselves as the sole armed authority in Iraq.

Moreover, U.S. officers trying to negotiate the MEK surrender have found "they're kind of a weird organization," said Army Capt. Josh Felker, spokesman for the 2nd Battalion 4th Infantry Division.

Their cult-like zeal to overturning the regime in Iran, evident in a day spent at their base here, makes it difficult to see how they will willingly cast aside their weapons. [ complete article ]

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America stumbling along in Iraq
Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, May 8, 2003

America was good at conquering Iraq, but is not good at governing it and may prove worse at shaping its future, so clueless it seems about Iraqi political aspirations. Four weeks after the capture of Baghdad, there are few signs of the restoration of law and order or essential services.

Hospitals are, in fact, in worse shape than during the war, says the Red Cross.

About the only security and social benefits available are being provided not by the 135,000 Anglo-American troops but by tribal leaders in the rural areas and clerics in the urban centres.

About the only humanitarian aid extended, beyond the first choreographed arrival of the British ship Sir Galahad, has come from Iran, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The oft-cited reason for the American failure on the civilian front is that Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed quicker than expected. While true, it does not cover up the real reasons:

-- There was no coherent post-war plan.

-- The Bush administration, having worked mainly with Iraqi exile groups, totally misread post-Saddam Iraq, just as the Kennedy administration got misled by Cuban exiles over the Bay of Pigs.

-- Washington has been distracted by two political battles: the Pentagon fighting the State Department on who controls Iraq, and both, together, resisting any useful role by the United Nations. [ complete article ]

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Halliburton: Plywood at $86 a sheet
Editorial, Baltimore Sun, May 8, 2003

The army fessed up yesterday and admitted that Halliburton Co. stands to make a lot more money out of the mess in Iraq than it had been letting on.

Halliburton had gotten a no-bid contract that supposedly was limited to extinguishing oil fires, but then Saddam Hussein's men inconveniently neglected to set many wells ablaze. No worry - there were a few other paragraphs buried in that no-bid contract, paragraphs that talk about Halliburton's "operation of facilities" and - our favorite - "distribution of products."

You want to get Iraq's oil out of the ground? Turn to Halliburton. You want to buy some oil there? Turn to Halliburton. In fact, at the moment, Halliburton is importing oil into Iraq.

The Army says Halliburton has been paid $76.7 million for its work in Iraq so far. Rep. Henry A. Waxman wonders if the total is going to be measured in the billions of dollars, because it's a completely open-ended contract. The Army answers with a weak promise that a new replacement contract will be sent out for bids in August.

This whole business is stupefyingly wrong - and if Washington can't see that, the U.S. effort in Iraq is in for serious trouble. [ complete article ]

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Taliban appears to be regrouped and well-funded
Scott Baldauf and Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 2003

As the fiery chief justice of the Taliban's Supreme Court, Abdul Salam shook the world once, proclaiming the right to execute foreign aid workers accused of converting Afghans to Christianity.

Today, not only is Justice Salam back, talking to a foreign reporter for the first time since the Taliban fell a year and a half ago, but he says the Taliban are back as well. Regrouped, rearmed, and well-funded, they are ready to carry on guerrilla war as long as it takes to expel US forces from Afghanistan. [ complete article ]

See also In Pakistan border towns, Taliban has a resurgence

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Henry Norr loses his job for going against the war in Iraq
LA Weekly, May 9, 2003

Henry Norr, a columnist covering high-tech issues from spam to Palm Pilots for the San Francisco Chronicle, and a former editor of MacWeek, was fired on April 21. The 57-year-old’s transgression? He was one of the 1,400 demonstrators arrested in San Francisco’s financial district on the first day of the war in Iraq. [ complete article ]

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Neocons dance a Strauss waltz
Jim Lobe, Asia Times, May 9, 2003

Is United States foreign policy being run by followers of an obscure German Jewish political philosopher whose views were elitist, amoral and hostile to democratic government? Suddenly, political Washington is abuzz about Leo Strauss, who arrived in the US in 1938 and taught at several major universities before his death in 1973.

Following recent articles in the US press, and as reported in Asia Times Online This war is brought to you by ... in March, the cognoscenti are becoming aware that key neoconservative strategists behind the Bush administration's aggressive foreign and military policy consider themselves to be followers of Strauss, although the philosopher - an expert on Plato and Aristotle - rarely addressed current events in his writings. [...]

"Strauss was neither a liberal nor a democrat," [Shadia Drury, author of 1999's Leo Strauss and the American Right] said in a telephone interview from her office at the University of Calgary in Canada. "Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical [in Strauss's view] because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them.

"The Weimar Republic [in Germany] was his model of liberal democracy for which he had huge contempt," added Drury. Liberalism in Weimar, in Strauss's view, led ultimately to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

Like Plato, Strauss taught that within societies, "some are fit to lead, and others to be led", according to Drury. But, unlike Plato, who believed that leaders had to be people with such high moral standards that they could resist the temptations of power, Strauss thought that "those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior".

For Strauss, "religion is the glue that holds society together", said Drury, who added that Irving Kristol, among other neoconservatives, has argued that separating church and state was the biggest mistake made by the founders of the US republic.

"Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing," because it leads to individualism, liberalism and relativism, precisely those traits that might encourage dissent, which in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats. "You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty," according to Drury.
[ complete article ]

For an insider's exposition of Staussian philosophy see Robert Locke's Leo Strauss, conservative mastermind.

See also A classicist's legacy: New empire builders

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U.S. terror tactics in Iran
Hooman Peimani, Asia Times, May 8, 2003

At the end of its military operation in April, the US military reached a ceasefire agreement with an Iraqi-based Iranian group, the Mujahideen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), a group declared by the US and British members of the "coalition of the willing" as terrorist. While the Americans described the agreement as a step toward the MKO's surrender, the group's backing by many members of the US Congress and its own claim of a rapprochement suggested a deal between the two sides.

Until the April agreement, designating a terrorist status to the MKO was the only common view of Tehran and the United States. In its efforts to normalize estranged US-Iranian ties, the Bill Clinton administration added the MKO to its list of terrorist organizations in the late 1990s. It also conducted an inquiry into the group's fundraising activities in the US. Notwithstanding these developments, the MKO, also operating under the name of the National Council of Resistance, has enjoyed the backing of many members of Congress. Viewing the MKO as an acceptable alternative to the current Iranian regime, on many occasions they have demanded the US government's support of the group to overthrow the Iranian regime. [ complete article ]

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Saudi Shiites take hope from changes next door
Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2003

Qatif, Saudi Arabia: All but a few of the people who live in this old city on the Persian Gulf are Shiite Muslims, but in public schools the children often are told that Shiites are infidels bound for hell. Over the years, members of the faith have been imprisoned, flogged and held in solitary confinement for long stretches. Protests from international human rights groups go unheeded.

But in another sign that the war in Iraq could have consequences elsewhere in the region, the Shiite minority community of Saudi Arabia is hopeful that the liberation of their Iraqi brethren from the regime of Saddam Hussein could put significant pressure on the Saudi government to ease up as well. [ complete article ]

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Patriot raid
Jason Halperin, AlterNet, April 28, 2003

A month ago I experienced a very small taste of what hundreds of South Asian immigrants and U.S. citizens of South Asian descent have gone through since 9/11, and what thousands of others have come to fear. I was held, against my will and without warrant or cause, under the USA PATRIOT Act. While I understand the need for some measure of security and precaution in times such as these, the manner in which this detention and interrogation took place raises serious questions about police tactics and the safeguarding of civil liberties in times of war. [ complete article ]

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Faith and freedom
Karen Armstrong, The Guardian, May 8, 2003

The sight of millions of Iraqi pilgrims flocking to the holy Shia city of Kerbala has caused disquiet in Washington. Since Shias comprise about 60% of the population of Iraq, it is not inconceivable that the ousting of Saddam Hussein could result in a democratically elected Shia government - a nightmare scenario to many in the west, where Shi'ism has been regarded as the epitome of fanaticism since the Iranian revolution of 1978-79. Among many the mention of Shi'ism immediately evokes thoughts of sinister ayatollahs, processions of flagellants, and an implacable hostility to progress and democracy. But how accurate is our perception of the Shia, and would a Shia Iraq necessarily be a disaster?

Unlike the governments of Europe and America, Iraqi Shias have consistently and heroically opposed Saddam. During the 70s and 80s, while we in the west seemed to find the Ba'ath regime quite acceptable, the Shias of Iraq regularly risked their lives in the arba'in pilgrimage, a three-day march from Najaf to Kerbala, braving police bullets, waving the bloodstained shirts of those who had fallen, and shouting: "Oh Saddam, take your hands off the army! The people do not want you!" It was not Saddam's secularist policies, his initial courting of the west, nor his neglect of Islamic law that principally offended them. Their resistance to Baghdad was fuelled by a visceral and religiously inspired rejection of tyranny. [ complete article ]

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Consulting and policy overlap
Ken Silverstein and Chuck Neubauer, Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2003

Last February, the Defense Policy Board, a group of outside advisors to the Pentagon, received a classified presentation from the super-secret Defense Intelligence Agency on the crises in North Korea and Iraq.

Three weeks later, the then-chairman of the board, Richard N. Perle, offered a briefing of his own at an investment seminar on ways to profit from possible conflicts with both countries.

Perle and his fellow advisors also heard a classified address about high-tech military communications systems at the same closed-door session in February. He runs a venture capital firm that has been exploring investments in that very area.

The disclosures in recently released board agendas and investment documents are the latest illustrations of how Perle's private consulting and investment interests overlap with his role on the board, which advises the secretary of Defense. [ complete article ]

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Clerics' group emerges as shadow rule in Iraq
Elizabeth Neuffer, Boston Globe, May 7, 2003

In theory, the United States and its occupying forces are in charge of Iraq until it emerges from the shadow of its repressive past. But in practice in the holy city of Najaf -- and countless other communities across Iraq -- the Shi'ite religious leadership of al Hawza al Ilmiya is running the show.

Electric lights gleam in Najaf, spiritual base of the Hawza, when much of Baghdad is still dark, largely because Hawza clerics called staff back to work weeks ago. Firefighters, paid for by the Hawza, keep their trucks ready. Traffic cops, summoned by the religious leaders, keep the steady flow of donkey carts and rickety automobiles under control.

Part Islamic religious school, part grass-roots organization, the Hawza has moved into the power vacuum left by the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, becoming a shadow government among Iraq's Shi'ites that the United States will have to deal with as it works toward an interim government.

''The Hawza's opinion will determine whether the Americans are accepted or rejected,'' said Mohammed Selman Khagani, a 64-year-old Muslim imam who heads the Al Khagani mosque in Najaf. ''No doubt about it.'' [ complete article ]

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Poland puts Iraq carve-up in doubt
Giles Tremlett and Julian Borger, The Guardian, May 7, 2003

Plans to deploy a multinational stabilisation force in Iraq were thrown in doubt yesterday when Poland, one of the expected key troop contributors, insisted that the force required a UN mandate.

The demand throws a shadow over a meeting in London tomorrow aimed at securing pledges of troop deployments for the British zone of control.

The Polish foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, presented his position after talks in Washington with the US secretary of state, Colin Powell. "We believe that we need that kind of resolution. I understand that in days ahead there will be some initiatives opening the way to have such a resolution," he said.

The US is preparing to present a comprehensive UN resolution to the UN security council covering the division of responsibilities and powers in postwar Iraq, but it is likely to meet stiff resistance from France, Russia and China. [...]

Mr Cimoszewicz said it was intended "to have all the countries ready to engage" in Iraq by the end of this month.

After meeting Mr Powell, he urged Germany and other European states to contribute to Iraq's stabilisation and reconstruction. "Success or failure will have broad international consequences," he said.

Spanish newspapers quoted defence ministry officials yesterday saying that Honduras and Nicaragua had offered troops for the "Spanish brigade" only if Spain paid for them. Chile and Argentina had said they would take part in a UN force only, the reports said.

The odd assortment of nations being consulted reflects the difficulties Washington has faced trying to gain support for its occupation of postwar Iraq. Few countries with experience in the Middle East are on board, and no Islamic countries have offered troops.

Most of the willing are relatively impoverished states eager to enhance their relationship with the US but unable to pay their way. [ complete article ]

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Baathist appointees stir suspicion in Iraq
Michael Slackman, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2003

The future of former Baathists may be one of the most painful and difficult issues this country will have to face. How will the people judge -- or forgive -- each other? And how will people rationalize their own cooperation with the regime?

But the question of the Baathists has proved a more immediate dilemma for U.S. administrators, who are increasingly turning to former party members to occupy the highest ranks of reconstructed government ministries.

The U.S. has faced a crisis of confidence in Iraq in recent days, having failed to restore order, stability and basic services in the month since it took over. And the United States' apparent partnership with former Baathists is not improving its credibility on the street. [ complete article ]

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Pro-Iranian Iraqi Muslim group lobbies for Washington's favor
Douglas Jehl and Nazila Fathi, New York Times, May 7, 2003

A Shiite Muslim cleric arrived at the Pentagon last week armed with a fatwa, or religious edict, a prop in his campaign to persuade the Bush administration of the worthiness of the Iranian-based Iraqi ayatollah he calls his leader.

Among Iraq's main opposition chiefs, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim is the one administration officials regard with most mistrust. In its name alone, his organization, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, conjures exactly the vision of a theocratic, Iranian-style Iraqi future that the Bush administration is trying to avoid.

And yet, administration officials concede that Ayatollah Hakim commands wide respect and support among the large majority of Iraq's people who are Shiites. So on the question of what future role the Supreme Council might play, the administration and the group have been warily engaged in what both sides portray as a dance of great consequence.

In describing the fatwa, in which Ayatollah Hakim is said to urge his followers to cooperate with American troops, Imam Husham al-Husainy was trying to demonstrate to American officials that the Shiite leader, still based in Tehran, could be a positive force in a future Iraq if Washington gives him a chance. [ complete article ]

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Pentagon to release child prisoners
Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, May 6, 2003

Children held at Guantanamo Bay are expected to leave the American detention camp in the near future as part of what may be the biggest single release of prisoners since it was established, US military officials said last night.

But they rejected reports that the Pentagon was succumbing to international pressure after protests greeted news that the juveniles were in detention - or to a complaint from Colin Powell, the secretary of state, that US policy at the camp was straining relationships with allies.

Between one and two dozen inmates, mostly Afghans, will be released in the near future, according to unnamed military officials.

One official said he believed juveniles would be among them, though it was not clear whether that number would include all three of the boys aged 13 to 15 whose presence at Guantanamo caused outrage when it was revealed last month. It was also unclear whether they would be freed, or transferred to detention in their home nations. [ complete article ]

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Another regime change in Iraq
Jim Lobe, Asia Times, May 7, 2003

The war between the Pentagon and the State Department appears to be raging as furiously as ever with reports that the latter may have mounted something of a coup d'etat against the neo-conservative hawks around Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld by having former diplomat L Paul Bremer as Washington's new viceroy in Baghdad.

But, as in almost everything involving Iraq - or the Mideast road map or North Korea - these days, no one can say with certainty who is really up and who is really down at the moment. [ complete article ]

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Deciding who rebuilds Iraq is fraught with infighting
Dan Morgan, Washington Post, May 4, 2003

On April 21, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced she was appointing a prominent agribusiness executive to "lead the U.S. government's agriculture reconstruction efforts in Iraq" and serve as her personal liaison with American military officials there. Her appointee, Dan Amstutz, flew to Kuwait, where he detailed his hopes for Iraq in an upbeat teleconference with reporters last Thursday.

But his new status came as news to the Pentagon-led team in the Iraqi capital. An official at the Baghdad-based U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) said late last week that Lee Schatz, a USDA employee, was in charge of the office's agriculture portfolio, and he referred questions about Amstutz's role to Veneman's department.

Such crossed signals and confusion have been part of the growing pains of ORHA, a new, makeshift bureaucracy that has recruited retired generals and diplomats, government technocrats, oil executives and even a university president to usher in a new democratic Iraq. Conceived in secrecy, amid bitter disputes between the departments of State and Defense, the office is beginning to take public shape. But conflicts continue and forming a cabinet of Americans to run a defeated country a third of the way around the world is proving to be an untidy process. [ complete article ]

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Without laws, guns are order of day
Elizabeth Neuffer, Boston Globe, May 6, 2003

Gun merchant Odai al-Rubbai would like to thank the US-led coalition - not for Iraq's liberation from Saddam Hussein, but for the maelstrom of civil disorder that followed.

''Business is booming!'' said Rubbai, 32, who does brisk business selling stolen weapons to a panicked citizenry in the capital city. ''It is the law of the jungle out there now.''

Guns, whether AK-47s nabbed from looted armories or Berettas heisted from private collections, have flooded Iraq in recent weeks, stolen by thieves, resold to gun dealers, and then purchased by anxious families seeking a way to protect themselves. [...]

The abundance of weapons on the streets tops everybody's list of complaints, and is often the first topic at any gathering. To many Iraqis, their presence is a sign that American ''colonialism'' has plunged Iraq into a kind of dark ages, where freedom may have been gained but civilization lost.

''You can't see an Iraqi family without a gun,'' said Hasim al-Nassiny, the director general of preventive medicine at the Ministry of Health. ''Even 10-year-old children have guns.''

Yet others see in the weapons a kind of Wild West independence, an insurance policy against the US presence if things go wrong. ''If the Americans stay longer than we want, we will organize to throw them out and use our guns to do it,'' said gun merchant Jabbir al-Mohammedawi, 53. [ complete article ]

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Missing in action: Truth
Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, May 6, 2003

When I raised the Mystery of the Missing W.M.D. recently, hawks fired barrages of reproachful e-mail at me. The gist was: "You *&#*! Who cares if we never find weapons of mass destruction, because we've liberated the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant."

But it does matter, enormously, for American credibility. After all, as Ari Fleischer said on April 10 about W.M.D.: "That is what this war was about."

I rejoice in the newfound freedoms in Iraq. But there are indications that the U.S. government souped up intelligence, leaned on spooks to change their conclusions and concealed contrary information to deceive people at home and around the world. [ complete article ]

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White House refuses to release Sept. 11 info
Frank Davies, Miami Herald, May 5, 2003

The Bush administration and the nation's intelligence agencies are blocking the release of sensitive information about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, delaying publication of a 900-page congressional report on how the terrorist assault happened.

Intelligence officials insist the information must be kept secret for national security reasons. But some of the information is already broadly available on the Internet or has been revealed in interim reports on the investigation, leading to charges that the administration is simply trying to avoid enshrining embarrassing details in the report.

Disputed information includes a well publicized warning from an FBI agent that al-Qaida supporters might be training in U.S. flight schools and the names of the president and his national security adviser as people who may have received warnings that a terrorist attack was possible before Sept. 11, one official said. [ complete article ]

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"This is chaos, not freedom."
Peter Slevin, Washington Post, May 6, 2003

Nearly a month after the war ended in Iraq, the U.S.-British occupation in the south is defined mainly by absence: the absence of Saddam Hussein's ruthless government, but also the absence of authority, the absence of improvements, the absence of answers about what is coming next.

In cities across the Shiite-inhabited region stretching southward from Najaf to the Persian Gulf, business and personal affairs remain largely at a standstill. Iraqis say they are waiting, most of all, for someone to take charge. An Iraqi, an American -- many say they do not care in the short run as long as their lives gain purpose and direction. [ complete article ]

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Real American agenda now becoming clear
Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, May 4, 2003

A superpower like the United States does not invade a pipsqueak power like Iraq -- outside the framework of international law and against worldwide opposition -- only for its publicly stated reasons, in this case, fighting terrorism, liberating Iraq and triggering a domino effect for the democratization of the Middle East.

The real American agenda is only now becoming clearer.

The conquest of Iraq is enabling a new Pax Americana that goes well beyond the much-discussed control of oil, as central as that is to the enterprise.

America is redrawing the military map of the region with amazing alacrity. It has pulled its bases out of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in favour of less-demanding hosts.

Its relations with Egypt have been placed on the back burner.

It is no accident that those three nations are the region's more populous. And that America's newest partners -- Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates -- are thinly populated and tightly controlled monarchies.

People are a problem for America in the Arab and Muslim world. They are bristling with anti-Americanism, principally over the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. [ complete article ]

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Selective intelligence
Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, May 5, 2003

They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal -- a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans. In the past year, according to former and present Bush Administration officials, their operation, which was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq. They relied on data gathered by other intelligence agencies and also on information provided by the Iraqi National Congress, or I.N.C., the exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi. By last fall, the operation rivalled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon's own Defense Intelligence Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush's main source of intelligence regarding Iraq's possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with Al Qaeda. As of last week, no such weapons had been found. And although many people, within the Administration and outside it, profess confidence that something will turn up, the integrity of much of that intelligence is now in question. [ complete article ]

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Road to nowhere
Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, May 6, 2003

The Israeli right is already marshalling its forces against the road map. Yehiel Hazan, a member of the Likud party and chairman of the Knesset lobby for settlements, said last week: "The road map is a disaster for Israel ... Israel cannot agree to a settlement freeze and dismantling the outposts. That's a red line we cannot cross."

The Yesha Council of settlements also issued a statement describing the road map as "worse than Oslo" (the peace process of the 1990s that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority).

These may be extremist views, but it is instructive to look at what Mr Sharon himself has been doing since March 14, the day when President Bush publicly committed himself to publishing - and then implementing - the road map. From that point on, Mr Sharon knew what he was required to do in order to achieve peace.

Just two days after Mr Bush's announcement, Mr Sharon took his cabinet on a secret tour of "the fence" - a 230-mile wall, 20ft-high and topped with barbed wire that Israel has begun constructing to separate Palestinians from Israelis.

It is ostensibly being built for security reasons, though it also helps to pre-empt territorial negotiations by creating yet more "facts on the ground". When complete, it will extend the length of the West Bank, creeping deep inside Palestinian territory for long stretches.

During the tour, Mr Sharon informed his cabinet of plans for another stretch, running the length of the Jordan valley, which will link the two ends of the fence already under construction and totally encircle the West Bank Palestinians, in effect imprisoning them. [ complete article ]

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Amid power vacuum, Iraqis grow desperate
Michael Slackman and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2003

Hamid Kadhim does not know where to turn for help. The 54-year-old farmer is running out of food, has no running water and can barely irrigate the crops that are his livelihood.

"We don't know who is in charge," said Kadhim, 54, a father of three in this small town about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad. "Believe me, we are frightened. We don't know if things are getting better or worse. We don't understand what is happening here."

With thousands of U.S. and British troops on the ground and a commitment from the White House to restore law and order and rebuild this nation, Iraqis expected to see their situation improve after 12 years of sanctions and the stress of war.

Instead, they are uncertain about the present and worried about the future. The U.S. military commander has been invisible to ordinary Iraqis, and the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance has yet to set up a place where people can get help or information. [ complete article ]

See also U.S. struggles in quicksand of Iraq

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An Islamic state doesn't have to be Bush's nightmare
Yasir Suleiman, Sunday Herald, May 4, 2003

In the short to the medium term, Iraq faces an uncertain future. The Shia of Iraq have started the ball rolling to convert their demographic majority into tangible political gains. Those who count among them boycotted the Nasiriyah conference last month, and declared that they would not take part in any deliberations over the shape of a future Iraqi government as long as the Americans were in charge of the process.

Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shia organisation, is still in Iran where his Badr Brigade of approximately 10,000 men was stationed before the fall of the Saddam regime. The Americans gave him permission to enter Iraq recently, but he refused because of their insistence that he did so through Kuwait.

Al-Hakim knows what he is doing: he is signalling to the Americans where his political allegiances lie, which must be worrying to Washington. His decision has nothing to do with the Kuwaitis, who stood by him during the last decade, but with the calculation that those who come politically close to the Americans at this stage in Iraqi history will end up as the firewood for any political blaze in the future. Recognising this mood, even Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress opposition group, has started to distance himself from any organic alliance with the Americans, although nobody believes him. In Newsweek magazine recently, he is quoted to have said: 'Anyone who thinks that America can rule Iraq is sadly mistaken. I'm very happy to have US support, but I certainly don't want to be a candidate imposed by America.' [ complete article ]

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Shia clergy push for Islamist state
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, May 3, 2003

The acting director of the Qadissiya hospital in Sadr City, Baghdad, is Sheikh Tahsin al-Ekabi, a Shia cleric. As he chatted to three people at the same time amid the chaos of post-Saddam medical services, a woman knocked on his office door and requested two tins of powdered milk. He signed a piece of paper and told her to take it to the local mosque, where she would be given the milk.

While the US and their Iraqi allies discuss the country's future, Shias have taken control on the ground.

The Shia - the majority sect of Islam in Iraq - who were suppressed by Saddam, are running not only hospitals but every aspect of life, including community and cultural centres and police stations. [ complete article ]

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Iraq's weapons of mass distraction?
Skeptics eye war's rationale

Ken Fireman, Newsday, May 4, 2003

No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq to date, although the hunt continues and Bush said yesterday that it was just "a matter of time" until they were found.

But U.S. officials now acknowledge that Hussein may have destroyed or transferred at least part of his alleged arsenal before the war began. No new evidence has been uncovered on Hussein-al-Qaida links to buttress an administration case that many analysts have long regarded as tenuous. And an Iraqi army that Washington repeatedly portrayed as a major security threat to the region proved to be incapable of defending its own territory, let alone waging offensive operations against a neighbor.

This state of affairs has led some foreign affairs analysts to conclude that the Bush administration had something else in mind when it planned, organized and launched the war: a high-profile demonstration of American military might and the political resolve to use it that would reverberate through the Middle East and beyond, causing governments as near as Syria and Iran and as far away as North Korea to recalibrate their actions. [ complete article ]

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Who wants to be a martyr?
Scott Atran, New York Times, May 5, 2003

One given in the war against terrorism seems to be that suicide attackers are evil, deluded or homicidal misfits who thrive in poverty, ignorance and anarchy.

President Bush, at last year's United Nations conference on poor nations in Monterrey, Mexico, said that "we fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror." Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican, argued that a new security doctrine including wars of preemption was necessary because "those who would commit suicide in their assaults on the free world are not rational." A State Department report issued on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks said that development aid should be based "on the belief that poverty provides a breeding ground for terrorism."

As logical as the poverty-breeds-terrorism argument may seem, study after study shows that suicide attackers and their supporters are rarely ignorant or impoverished. Nor are they crazed, cowardly, apathetic or asocial. If terrorist groups relied on such maladjusted people, "they couldn't produce effective and reliable killers," according to Todd Stewart, a retired Air Force general who directs the Ohio State University program in international and domestic security. [ complete article ]

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What Europe has to do to avoid becoming a US vassal
Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, May 5, 2003

A curious reticence pervades the broader post-Iraq debate. Yet what happens next in terms of the relationship between American hyperpower and Europe, the UN and a seriously battered world order is of vastly greater significance than the specifics of Iraq's rehabilitation. So how to explain this quietude, this almost embarrassed silence?

One answer is that, to varying degrees, leading anti-war states like Germany and France are now engaged in pragmatic repairs to bilateral relations. They have no wish, for now at least, to pursue a damaging confrontation with the US. But another, more disturbing answer is that they are at a total loss over what to do about what is variously described as American-centred unipolarity or unilateralism or hegemony or, more candidly, the Bush administration's unapologetic, ideological and steadily advancing belief in the rightness and inevitability of US global dominance. [ complete article ]

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Lost in translation: The narrowing of the American mind
K.A. Dilday, Open Democracy, May 1, 2003

The indifference of American public culture to the imaginative experience of other peoples is reflected in the dearth of work translated from foreign languages. As the world becomes more complex and its literary voices more varied and challenging, the damage of this complacency is not only to unheard, unread writers, but to the American mind itself. [ complete article ]

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He who dares wins: Why Washington should court Hizbullah
Marc Sirois, Yellow Times, May 2, 2003

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah rarely goes out of his way to be of service to the United States. As secretary-general of Hizbullah, he led a long and costly but ultimately successful struggle to end the occupation of south Lebanon by Washington's primary proxy in the Middle East, Israel. That feat has earned him and his group considerable esteem across the Arab world, where recent memories of military confrontation with the Jewish state are otherwise wholly unpleasant. When he speaks, Arabs listen because he does so from what they see as a position of moral, political and spiritual authority, one buttressed not least by the fact that his own son was killed fighting the Israelis. The entire region pays attention to what he has to say, and that is almost invariably hostile, in both tone and substance, to the U.S. government.

On Tuesday, April 23, however, Nasrallah made a speech from which Washington can profit immensely -- if the right people were listening. Western media outlets emphasized the defiance in his comments, which included a call for all Arabs to defend Syria against recent American saber-rattling and a prediction that Iraqis would rise up against the coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein because its promises of democracy and freedom would not be honored. Those remarks were predictable, but it was another line of thought which made the speech memorable -- and that one was totally ignored in Western coverage.

"The greatest lesson to be learned" from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the cleric argued, "is that a country that is fragmented or ruled by repression has no future when faced by a superior enemy. We [Arabs] and our regimes must learn the lesson … An army and intelligence organizations can protect a regime against an unarmed people, but when they face a greater power, they can't protect the regime. It is the people that protect it."

Coming from the head a fundamentalist Shiite organization known abroad principally for violence of one form or another, these words could form the basis for a major breakthrough in both Arab statecraft and relations between the Arab and Western worlds. [ complete article ]

See also Marc Sirois' earlier article The history of Hizbullah.

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A drifter's oddysey from the Outback to Guantanamo
Raymond Bonner, New York Times, May 4, 2003

David Hicks took the wanderer's road from the Adelaide suburbs to his capture with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now his home is a prison cell at the American naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba. He is going nowhere, yet he remains a man adrift.

Mr. Hicks, a 27-year-old high-school dropout, former ranch hand and convert to Islam, was seized by Northern Alliance forces in Kandahar as the fighting wound down in December 2001. Here in Australia, he has been depicted as the local version of John Walker Lindh, popularly known as the American Talib.

But the United States no longer wants Mr. Hicks: seeking to winnow detainees from its campaign against terrorism, the Bush administration has asked the Australian government to take custody of him and prosecute him, Australian officials say. Australia, though, does not especially want him either: senior police and intelligence officials say there is no evidence that he violated Australian law. Even so, the government has not pressed the United States for his release, Australian and American officials say.

All of which leaves Mr. Hicks in the limbo of Guantanamo, with no rights of due process, charged with nothing, yet with no particular prospect of release. The American and Australian governments have said publicly that he will remain at Guantanamo until the war on terrorism is ended, whenever that may be. [ complete article ]

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Shiite and Sunni Muslims struggle to fill leadership void In Iraq
Ahmed Rashid, Foreign Policy in Focus, May 2, 2003

Anti-American protests in Iraq, such as the April 28 incident in Fallujah that left an estimated 15 Iraqis dead, should not come as a surprise to Washington. Most Iraqis don't share the U.S. vision of a reconstructed Iraq resting on a foundation of Western-style democracy. For many, the end of Saddam Hussein's regime has prompted a yearning for a religious and cultural revival, raising the prospect of an Islamic state based on conservative Shiite beliefs.

Although it appears certain that Iraq is set for a revival of Islamic values, at present there remains ample room for religious developments to move in many directions. The revival could move toward the recognition of Iraq's Islamic legacy while making it compatible with greater freedom, economic development, and openness to the outside world. Such is the approach taken by President Hamid Karzai's administration in Afghanistan. It is also possible, however, that the revival may travel down the road toward Islamic extremism, anti-Westernism and sectarian violence that could easily culminate in a new dictatorship.

The lack of a cohesive American post-war political and economic strategy for Iraq--coupled with the arrogance of the Bush administration and Washington's disregard for a historical perspective--is diminishing the chances for the development of a secular democratic government in Iraq. The country is now developing into a battleground between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, who both seek to fill the leadership void created by the quick collapse of Saddam's regime. [ complete article ]

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It's the oil, stupid
Michael T. Klare, Foreign Policy in Focus, May 2, 2003

On the second day of the invasion of Iraq, U.S. commandos seized two Iraqi offshore oil terminals in the Persian Gulf, capturing their defenders without a fight. "Swooping silently out of the Persian Gulf night," exulted James Dao of the New York Times, Navy SEALs claimed "a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's vast oil empire."

Dao's dramatic turn of phrase revealed more about the administration's plans for Iraq than almost every other report from the battlefield. While American forces turned a blind eye to the looting of Iraq's archeological treasures, they moved quickly to gain control over oilfields, refineries, and pipelines. Even before Iraqi resistance had been squelched, top U.S. officials were boasting that Iraq's oil infrastructure was safely in American hands. [ complete article ]

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Afghanistan: Launchpad for terror
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, May 3, 2003

Even as US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared this week in Kabul that an end to military operations in Afghanistan is in sight, indications on the ground paint a somewhat different picture.

On a brief visit to the capital, Rumsfeld said that the "bulk of the country is now secure ... we have concluded that we're at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities".

However, as reported in Asia Times Online (Afghanistan, once more the melting pot - May 1) the country can expect escalated guerrilla activity over the coming months. And further, the International Islamic Front, a grouping of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and several other terrorist networks dedicated to jihad against America, is increasingly using Afghanistan as a base.

Asia Times Online has learned that new cells are in place in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates and they will be responsible for carrying out attacks - including suicide attacks - against United States interests in a number of regions. This will be the new face of al-Qaeda, which will emerge soon with a new name and under new command. [ complete article ]

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Afghanistan, once more the melting pot
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, May 1, 2003

As spring approaches in Afghanistan, a number of factors are likely to contribute to a significant escalation of the country's ongoing guerrilla war.

These include Iran, which fears the US presence in its region, Pakistan's mafia groups, a local cartel of Afghan governors-cum-warlords who foresee no political future for themselves in elections scheduled for next year, as well as Islamic radicals looking to regroup for an assault on the United States and it allies. [ complete article ]

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