The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Secrecy over shoot-to-kill fear in Gaza
Sandra Jordan, The Observer, May 18, 2003

The two men met on the road to Baghdad, shortly before the war - Tom Hurndall, 21, aspiring photojournalist, and James Miller, award-winning director and cameraman.

Disturbed by the levels of risk, both Hurndall and Miller left Iraq before the war to cover the more manageable risks of the 'low-intensity' war in Palestine's Gaza Strip.

Now Hurndall lies in a coma so deep he is more dead than alive, and Miller is dead. Hurndall was wearing an orange day-glo jacket in broad daylight when he was shot in the head by the Israeli army. James Miller was shining a torch on to a white flag and wearing a helmet with 'TV' on it in large bright letters when he too was shot by Israeli soldiers.

Both men were carrying cameras. Their families believe they were targeted by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), as part of a deliberate strategy of suppressing foreign eyewitnesses in the Occupied Territories.

IDF killings in the Gaza are not new. Since September 2000, 2,300 Palestinians have been killed in the Occupied Territories, many of them children; 773 Israelis have been killed. Palestinians don't expect justice, but the Hurndall and Miller families did from a country that constantly stresses it is the only democracy in the Middle East. [ complete article ]

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Questions linger about Hillah battle
Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press, May 17, 2003

The telltale evidence is everywhere: in the pattern of blast marks gouged in a schoolyard's concrete, in the yellow metal casings that once held small bombs, in the bomblets themselves.

"They're all over. They're even in people's bedrooms," said one bomb disposal specialist.

A month after U.S. cluster munitions fell in a deadly shower on Hillah's teeming slums as U.S. forces drove toward victory in Baghdad, 55 miles to the north, the most telling evidence may lie in the crowded, fly-infested wards of the city hospital, where the toll of dead and wounded still mounts.

At least 250 Iraqis were killed and more than 500 wounded during 17 days of fighting in the area, most of them civilians and many the victims of cluster munitions, according to hospital medical staff. Leftover bomblets still kill or maim hapless civilians daily, they said. [ complete article ]

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Bin Laden's followers strike back after Iraq war
Alistair Lyon, Reuters, May 17, 2003

Whether or not al Qaeda was behind the Morocco bombings, Osama bin Laden's followers are bent on striking back after the U.S.-led war on Iraq. [...]

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani expert on Islamist radicals, said suggestions before this month's bombings that al Qaeda was a spent force were completely off the mark.

"Signs of their reactivation in Afghanistan and Chechnya were only a prelude to their reactivation in the Middle East and other parts of the world," the Lahore-based analyst said.

He said the network, now much more widely dispersed across the world, was still able to recruit and to build new cells.

"The command and control is now in the hands of separate groups in different countries. Al Qaeda provides the leadership, while the rank and file may not be trained by al Qaeda. The foot soldiers may belong to local groups," he said. [ complete article ]

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Among Kurds, impatience and anger is growing
Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 17, 2003

Old and painful fault lines are beginning to open in the messy ethnic patchwork of Iraq's north.

Since the end of the war, Kurds in the area have been making the trek from the towns to which they were banished by Saddam Hussein during brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns of the 1970's and 1980's back to the places where they grew up.

But the homecomings can be awkward affairs. In many instances, returning Kurds confront Arabs who were brought in to replace them as part of the government's strategy of establishing a firm hold over the rich oil resources of the north.

Now Kurdish leaders want them out but the Americans want to move deliberately in order to protect legitimate property rights. In an interview this week, Sami Abdul Rahman, one of the highest-ranking members of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, criticized the American approach as too slow.

"We can compromise on everything but Arabization," Mr. Rahman said. "The Arabs are leaving the land they stole, but Americans are bringing them back. This is the biggest insult to the Kurdish people. Those who delay decisions will have to face popular anger." [ complete article ]

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In reversal, plan for Iraq self-rule has been put off
Patrick E. Tyler, New York Times, May 17, 2003

In an abrupt reversal, the United States and Britain have indefinitely put off their plan to allow Iraqi opposition forces to form a national assembly and an interim government by the end of the month.

Instead, top American and British diplomats leading reconstruction efforts here told exile leaders in a meeting tonight that allied officials would remain in charge of Iraq for an indefinite period, said Iraqis who attended the meeting. It was conducted by L. Paul Bremer, the new civilian administrator here. [ complete article ]

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The major roadblock on road map to peace
Herbert C. Kelman, Boston Globe, May 16, 2003

The Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza present major obstacles on the road to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

First, the presence of the settlements - along with the roads built to connect them and the troops deployed to protect them - restricts Palestinians' freedom of movement, interferes with their livelihood, and generally makes their life unbearable.

Second, the continued expansion of settlements even after the 1993 Oslo agreement has undermined Palestinians' trust in Israel's readiness to make peace: They ask why Israel continues settlement activities in territories slated for Israeli withdrawal and establishment of a Palestinian state.

Third, the number and distribution of settlements may soon make it physically and politically impossible to create an independent, viable, and contiguous Palestinian state and thus put in place the two-state formula that is widely accepted today as the optimal solution to the conflict. [ complete article ]

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Victory in Iraq shows signs of unraveling
James Pinkerton, Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2003

Is President Bush's victory in Iraq coming undone like a cheap cowboy boot? Let's look at some of the unraveling stitches.

First, there's the situation on the ground in Iraq. After a series of attacks on GIs, the American "peacekeepers" adopted the same modus operandi they used in Bosnia: Forces have been under orders to travel as little as possible. It's especially critical to avoid casualties now, as body bags might upstage the administration's declare-victory-and-let's-cut-taxes blitz. Of course, the problem is that not much policing -- let alone nation-building -- gets done.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. shuffles the bureaucratic players into their various boxes at the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the Shiites are mobilizing. The multiple factions of Shiite Islam don't agree on much, except that the United States should leave. In the past, colonialists kept the Shiites under control through a divide-and-conquer strategy. But for the U.S. to be so Machiavellian, it will need Americans who speak Arabic, and those are in short supply in Baghdad. [ complete article ]

National Public Radio reports (5/16/03) that up to this week the U.S. civil administration in Iraq numbering seven hundred officials included only three Arabic speakers!

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In Baghdad, a surge in homicides
Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2003

Five weeks after US troops entered Iraq's capital, reconstruction has taken a backseat to security. "There are a number of problems, in particular the problem of law and order in Baghdad," L. Paul Bremer, the new chief civilian administrator for Iraq, said yesterday. He appeared to be introducing a get-tough policy, pledging the US would beef up infantry and military police forces.

Mr. Bremer's comments acknowledged a reality Faik Amin Bakr understands all too well. On Wednesday night, the director of the Baghdad morgue counted through his register of violent deaths. There have been 124 over the past 10 days, he says, almost all gunshot homicides. That marks a 60 percent rise over the previous 10-day period, despite claims by US officials here that the security situation is improving. [ complete article ]

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Beirut redux
Hassan Fattah, The New Republic, May 15, 2003

Thus far violence in Baghdad has been limited to unorganized gangs of looters carrying Kalashnikovs. But Iraqi security experts and other sources in the capital say that, under the nose of the American forces, Iraq's nascent political groups are forming armed militias and storing weapons as they prepare for a potential civil war for control of the country. In fact, The New Republic has learned, several Iraqis say even Hezbollah has formed a branch in Baghdad. Ultimately, if Baghdad's power vacuum is not filled soon, the rise of organized armed factions could turn Iraq's capital into a twenty-first-century version of 1980s Beirut. [ complete article ]

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Advisor cites conflict potential
Mark Fineman, Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2003

Retired Texas oil executive Philip J. Carroll, the Pentagon's hand-picked advisor overseeing the reconstruction of Iraq's oil industry, acknowledged Thursday that he faces potential conflicts of interest because of his financial holdings in U.S. companies planning to bid on Iraqi oil contracts.

"Absolutely," he said of potential conflicts during a wide-ranging interview with The Los Angeles Times, a week into his job as senior advisor to an emerging Iraqi Oil Ministry.

Carroll, however, said he will attempt to avoid any conflicts by distancing himself from the oil contracting process. He also has declared to the Defense Department all of his financial holdings in companies that may seek a role in rebuilding Iraq, he said.

"I know at this stage of my life I don't want my reputation tarnished," said the 65-year-old Houston resident. "And I will stay so far away from any consideration of the bidding process, evaluation process or even the administration and arbitration of things associated with any of those companies in which I have a financial interest Believe me, I will have absolutely nothing to do with it."

Carroll also vowed that he will not advise Iraqis to privatize their oil industry. Rather, he will present an array of alternatives, including continuation of the 100% state-owned system in place during the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"I would not be surprised if they pick something other than the American model," said Carroll, 65, who retired a year ago from Aliso Viejo-based Fluor Corp., an engineering and construction firm. "If they did pick that [American model], it might be a wonderful thing in some people's eyes. It probably would not be a wonderful thing in everyone in Iraq's eyes."

Even after a 32-year career with Shell Oil Co. in Texas, where he retired as its chief executive, and four years as head of Fluor, Carroll sounds like an advocate for keeping Iraqi oil as a national industry.

"You have to realize that oil occupies a very important and unique place in the minds of the Iraqi people. It constitutes the overwhelming, dominant economic force in the country," he said. "It provides the wherewithal of building a better life for the Iraqis.

"There are also feelings throughout the population that oil represents, in essence, the national heritage of Iraq." [ complete article ]

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America's military 'imperial perimeter'
Marco Garrido, Asia Times, May 17, 2003

In the words of one senior official in the Bush administration: "On September 11 [2001] we woke up and found ourselves in Central Asia. We found ourselves in Eastern Europe as never before, as the gateway to Central Asia and the Middle East." And after Iraq, the US found - or rather, placed - itself in the Middle East. The widening scope of US military deployments configure what one analyst calls an "imperial perimeter" hemming in the aspirations of regional great powers-rivals with the United States for local influence - by projecting US might as preponderant and proximate.

New bases in the Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, along with its sizable military presence in Afghanistan, not only enable the US to loom over Iran and Syria but put it right in Russia's underbelly and at China's western frontier. [ complete article ]

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Afghanistan hangs on a thread
Atiq Sarwari and Robert Crews, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2003

With the United States preoccupied with Iraq, the fate of its previous object of liberation -- Afghanistan -- hangs precariously in the balance.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Kabul this month to signal a shift in American priorities from "major combat" to "stability." But within days of his announcement, multiple guerrilla attacks forced the United Nations to suspend mine-clearing operations. Increasingly bold and frequent strikes by opponents of Hamid Karzai's government have since targeted Afghan and U.S. and other foreign soldiers. On Saturday, American warplanes engaged Taliban troops after a deadly ambush near Khost.

Eighteen months after the fall of the Taliban regime, the threat of renewed mass violence haunts Afghanistan. Veteran moujahedeen like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have declared war against the U.S.-backed government. Taliban leaders have also resurfaced, backed by supporters in Pakistan. These fighters and their foreign sponsors bear responsibility for jeopardizing the gains of the post-Taliban era. But they are not alone. [ complete article ]

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Republicans 'used anti-terror agency' to find political foes
Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, May 16, 2003

Fifty-one Texan Democrats who skipped town in the dead of night to defeat a controversial piece of legislation were tracked down after Republicans reportedly used a federal anti-terrorism agency, it emerged yesterday.

The group of state representatives were found holed up at a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma, on Tuesday by Texas Rangers with orders to arrest them.

They fled Austin to prevent the Texan house of representatives from reaching a quorum in time to vote through a bill which would redraw electoral boundaries, along with other proposals for spending cuts which they argued would harm the poor.

The law allows for the arrest of quorum-busting legislators - though they face no civil or criminal penalties - but it does not apply outside Texas.

Now it has been alleged that the Democrats were only found after the Republicans asked the air and marine interdiction and coordination centre - part of the homeland security department - to trace an aircraft belonging to one representative, Pete Laney. [ complete article ]

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American ties are no help in Saudi's domestic crisis
Martin Woollacott, The Guardian, May 16, 2003

When Crown Prince Abdullah met President Bush in Texas in April last year, it is believed he promised to rein in or even abolish the religious police, and to begin the process of reforming the educational curriculum to remove its fundamentalist tendencies. But the difficulties were soon apparent. The religious police are not an arm of the Saudi state, but an unpaid voluntary body. Their existence is part of the internal truce in Saudi society between state and religious establishment. So is religious influence over education in general, and religious control of private universities that inculcate a particularly narrow kind of Islamism into an increasingly large segment of Saudi youth.

Similarly, when Abdullah called in the ulema to ask them to cease preaching so directly against the US at Friday prayers, his plea went largely unheard. In the competition for the loyalty of the population, religious leaders are ahead of the royals, and they know it.

Said Aburish, the journalist and writer who was one of the first to offer a detailed exposition of the weaknesses of the royal regime, believes Saudi society has been in a state which amounts almost to a permanent uprising for at least a year. This shows itself, he suggests, in a variety of forms, from the disobedience of the Wahabi religious group, the opposition of moderate and extreme Islamists, petitions by merchants and businessmen, anti-Bush demonstrations by women, and even the growing crime rate. The protest is not united except in agreement that the government's formula for ruling the country and protecting its interests is no longer acceptable. [ complete article ]

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Intelligence chiefs forced to rethink as bomb targets complacency
Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, May 14, 2003

A week ago the US intelligence community was talking with a swagger bordering on arrogance that had not existed since the attacks of 11 September. Al-Qa'ida was on the run, said officials in Washington. It may not have been entirely destroyed but the back of the organisation had been broken, its leadership and operational capabilities severely disrupted.

"It's no coincidence [that al-Qa'ida did not launch an attack during the war against Iraq]," boasted Cofer Black, a CIA veteran who heads the State Department's counter-terrorism office. "This was the big game for them: you put up or shut up and they have failed. It proves that the global war on terrorism has been effective, focused and has these guys on the run."

Yesterday, Mr Black was unavailable for further comment, while rescue workers in Riyadh were searching the rubble left by attacks Mr Black's boss, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said had "all the fingerprints" of the supposedly defeated terror network. [ complete article ]

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Settlements: A user guide
Gabriel Ash, Yellow Times, May 15, 2003

Colin Powell's list of humiliations in Israel included a lecture by Prime Minister Sharon explaining to him why Israel cannot stop expanding settlements. Sharon asked Powell, "What do you want, for a pregnant woman to have an abortion just because she is a settler?"

The imagery of settlers as benign civilians, just wanting to live their lives as they choose, serves Sharon's intentions of burying the "roadmap" and saving Israel once more from the looming threat of peace. Indeed, the continuing expansion of settlements during the Oslo process already "saved" Israel from peace once. From 1993 to 2001 settler population in the West Bank increased 91 percent, convincing Palestinians that Israel had no intentions to leave the Occupied Territories.

But that imagery is false. West Bank settlements are nothing like suburbs in New Jersey. They are a fundamental aspect of what is unique about Israel. It is therefore necessary to understand settlements for what they really are -- weapons. [ complete article ]

See also B'Tselem's extended report Land grab (136 page PDF document) and Settlement facts in SUSTAIN Campaign's Spring 2003 Newsletter (PDF document).

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Step forward, Tony Blair
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, May 15, 2003

It took just a few hours for US Secretary of State Colin Powell's mission to implement the road map to founder on the rocks of Israeli intransigence. Ariel Sharon's "gestures" to humor his American guest lasted barely longer than the visit itself. The movement restrictions that Sharon ordered lifted in Gaza were re-imposed after a mere 23-hours, while Jewish settlers announced plans to establish new colonies in the West Bank. [ complete article ]

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The China syndrome
Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 13, 2003

A funny thing happened during the Iraq war: many Americans turned to the BBC for their TV news. They were looking for an alternative point of view -- something they couldn't find on domestic networks, which, in the words of the BBC's director general, "wrapped themselves in the American flag and substituted patriotism for impartiality."

Leave aside the rights and wrongs of the war itself, and consider the paradox. The BBC is owned by the British government, and one might have expected it to support that government's policies. In fact, however, it tried hard -- too hard, its critics say -- to stay impartial. America's TV networks are privately owned, yet they behaved like state-run media. [ complete article ]

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Whose problem, whose solution?
Ian Williams, The Nation, May 14, 2003

Perhaps the most telling comment on the latest US/UK resolution on Iraq was the resignation of British overseas development minister Clare Short over its marginalization of the United Nations' role. Of course, she is quite right. In no way does this resolution give the UN the "vital" role that Bush promised Blair, and that the latter promised the world--and Clare Short.

Despite the best efforts of the State Department and the British, who together wrestled with the Pentagon over its wording, the resolution still emerged as a cynically expedient response to the White House's horrified discovery that it could not sell Iraqi oil to finance the occupation of Iraq without the UN's say-so. Until then, the prevailing Washington view was, "We stole it fair and square. It's ours." [ complete article ]

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Looting and conquest
Zainab Bahrani, The Nation, May 14, 2003

The looting of Baghdad's museums has generally been represented as an accident of ignorance or poor planning. Not enough attention has been paid to the fact that for several months before the start of the Iraq war, scholars of the ancient history of Iraq repeatedly spoke to various arms of the US government about this risk. Individual archeologists as well as representatives of the Archaeological Institute of America met with members of the State Department, the Defense Department and the Pentagon. We provided comprehensive lists of archeological sites and museums throughout Iraq, including their map coordinates. We put up a website providing this same information. All of us said the top priority was the immediate placement of security guards at all museums and archeological sites. US government officials claimed that they were gravely concerned about the protection of cultural heritage, yet they chose not to follow our advice. [ complete article ]

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Shiite Iraqis question U.S. presence
Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press, May 15, 2003

In his little souvenir shop near the shrine of Imam Ali, a revered figure whom Shiite Muslims consider the Prophet Muhammad's successor, Zahra Shokri pulls out a box of American-made Kent cigarettes and scribbles a message for President Bush on the back.

"Explain to us what you think is wrong with Islam, and why do you reject an Islamic government in Iraq?"

The note, handed to a journalist this week, refers to a statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said that a government dominated by hard-line Muslim religious clerics "isn't going to happen" in Iraq.

"The only good thing the Americans did was to oust the notorious Saddam Hussein," Shokri said. "Now, they are overstaying in Iraq. Worse than that is they are opposing an Islamic government here." [ complete article ]

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Nuclear weapons we don't need
J. Peter Scoblic, Washington Post, May 14, 2003

Last month the United States put on the most impressive display of precision bombing in the history of warfare and demonstrated the unmatched power of the U.S. military. But despite this overwhelming conventional superiority, the Bush administration is looking to pursue new nuclear weapons too -- nuclear weapons designed to be used on rogue-state battlefields.

Congress is now considering whether that's a good idea, as it marks up and votes on the 2004 defense authorization bill, in which the Bush administration has asked for a repeal of the ban on producing low-yield nuclear weapons, $15 million to further study earth-penetrating nuclear weapons and funds to shorten the time it takes to conduct a nuclear test.

It's a shocking piece of legislation that shows the Pentagon wants the option to use nuclear weapons not just for deterrence against nuclear states but for war-fighting against nonnuclear countries as well. Its chief goal is the capability to destroy deeply buried bunkers, where it believes rogue states may house weapons of mass destruction.

That would indeed be a good capability to have, but nuclear weapons can't provide it. If we wanted to use a nuclear weapon to destroy an underground bunker, we'd need to know precisely where the bunker was located, and we'd need to be very sure that destroying its contents was worth breaking a 58-year taboo against nuclear use, enraging our allies and friends and scaring our enemies into developing their own atomic arsenals.

Our recent experience in Iraq shows just how elusive that certainty would be. [ complete article ]

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The truth about Jessica
John Kampfner, The Guardian, May 15, 2003

Jessica Lynch became an icon of the war. An all-American heroine, the story of her capture by the Iraqis and her rescue by US special forces became one of the great patriotic moments of the conflict. It couldn't have happened at a more crucial moment, when the talk was of coalition forces bogged down, of a victory too slow in coming.

Her rescue will go down as one of the most stunning pieces of news management yet conceived. It provides a remarkable insight into the real influence of Hollywood producers on the Pentagon's media managers, and has produced a template from which America hopes to present its future wars. [...]

The doctors told us that the day before the special forces swooped on the hospital [where Jessica Lynch was treated] the Iraqi military had fled. Hassam Hamoud, a waiter at a local restaurant, said he saw the American advance party land in the town. He said the team's Arabic interpreter asked him where the hospital was. "He asked: 'Are there any Fedayeen over there?' and I said, 'No'." All the same, the next day "America's finest warriors" descended on the building.

"We heard the noise of helicopters," says Dr Anmar Uday. He says that they must have known there would be no resistance. "We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital.

"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors." All the time with the camera rolling. The Americans took no chances, restraining doctors and a patient who was handcuffed to a bed frame.

There was one more twist. Two days before the snatch squad arrived, Al-Houssona [one of the Iraqi doctors caring for Jessica] had arranged to deliver Jessica to the Americans in an ambulance. "I told her I will try and help you escape to the American Army but I will do this very secretly because I could lose my life." He put her in an ambulance and instructed the driver to go to the American checkpoint. When he was approaching it, the Americans opened fire. They fled just in time back to the hospital. The Americans had almost killed their prize catch.

A military cameraman had shot footage of the rescue. It was a race against time for the video to be edited. The video presentation was ready a few hours after the first brief announcement. When it was shown, General Vincent Brooks, the US spokesman in Doha, declared: "Some brave souls put their lives on the line to make this happen, loyal to a creed that they know that they'll never leave a fallen comrade." [ complete article ]

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This conflict will be solved by liberation
Uri Avnery, The Guardian, May 15, 2003

The clash between Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen is not a personal matter, as it is presented by journalists. Of course, egos do play a role, as in all political fights. But the controversy goes deeper. It reflects the unique situation of the Palestinian people.

An upper-class Palestinian defined it on Israeli television as "the move from the culture of revolution to the culture of a state". Meaning: the Palestinian war of liberation has ended, and the time has come to put the affairs of state in order. Therefore Arafat, who represents the first, must go and Abu Mazen, who represents the second, must take over.

No description could be further from reality. The Palestinian war of liberation is now at its height. The Palestinians are faced with existential threats: ethnic cleansing (so-called "transfer") or imprisonment in Bantustan-style enclaves. How has this illusion - that the national struggle is over and it is time to turn to administrative matters - arisen? [ complete article ]

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Iraqi holy men leap into postwar politics
Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2003

Shiites, who broke away from the dominant Sunni early in Islam's history in a dispute over the Prophet Muhammad's lineage, are distinguished by their refusal to automatically bow to temporal authority, and by their tradition of ijtihad, whereby sharia [Islamic law] is adapted to suit the age.

Shiite Muslims thus rely on religious scholars - ayatollahs and other learned men collectively known as marja - to interpret the Koran and the law in rulings known as fatwas.

The marja, most of whom live in the holy city of Najaf where the founder of Shiism, Ali, is buried, often disagree among themselves on issues of law and religion. But every devout Shiite Muslim must choose his own marja, from whom he takes moral, spiritual, and political guidance.

Such guidance takes on special meaning at such charged and volatile times as Iraq is currently living through. [ complete article ]

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Bush officials change tune on Iraqi weapons
Alan Elsner, Reuters, May 14, 2003

The Bush administration has changed its tune on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the reason it went to war there. Instead of looking for vast stocks of banned materials, it is now pinning its hopes on finding documentary evidence.

The change in rhetoric, apparently designed in part to dampen public expectations, has unfolded gradually in the past month as special U.S. military teams have found little to justify the administration's claim that Iraq was concealing vast stocks of chemical and biological agents and was actively working on a covert nuclear weapons program.

"The administration seems to be hoping that inconvenient facts will disappear from the public discourse. It's happening to a large degree," said Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think-tank which opposed the war. [ complete article ]

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Press not ready to cover our own Gaza
Barbara Bedway, Editor and Publisher, May 14, 2003

"We don't have a sense of what we have waded into here," said [Chris] Hedges, author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a winner of the Amnesty International 2002 Global Award for Human Rights Journalism, and a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. "The deep divisions among the varying factions could be extremely hard to bridge, and the historical and cultural roots are probably beyond the American understanding."

The hard work of both reporting and analysis will inevitably be the province of newspapers, he asserted, though only a handful of publications will grapple with it: "Now that the feel-good, flag-waving part of war is over, the real culprits, the commercial-broadcast media, are going to pack up and leave. What they've done is a huge disservice to the nation. They have no sense of responsibility to continue reporting as the story gets more complicated and difficult to report."

The message put out by the Bush administration and the commercial media portraying Americans only as "liberators" ill equips the country to understand why that is not the perception of many Iraqis or much of the rest of the world. Hedges compared the situation to Israel's taking over Gaza in 1967, and operating among a hostile population: "For occupation troops, everyone becomes the enemy." [ complete article ]

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In reporting the new policy to shoot looters on sight, The New York Times gladly uses the administration's euphemism for sanctioned violence -- a "far more muscular approach" -- suggestive, perhaps, of a more athletic policing technique. U.S. officials in Baghdad who explained how the new policy will be implemented said that "They are going to start shooting a few looters so that the word gets around." Word will no doubt "get around" but the word might not be that the looting must stop but that America justice always comes down the barrel of a gun.

New policy in Iraq to authorize G.I.'s to shoot looters
Patrick E. Tyler, New York Times, May 14, 2003

United States military forces in Iraq will have the authority to shoot looters on sight under a tough new security setup that will include hiring more police officers and banning ranking members of the Baath Party from public service, American officials said today.

The far more muscular approach to bringing order to postwar Iraq was described by the new American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, at a meeting of senior staff members today, the officials said. On Wednesday, Mr. Bremer is expected to meet with the leaders of Iraqi political groups that are seeking to form an interim government by the end of the month. "He made it very clear that he is now in charge," said an official who attended the meeting today. "I think you are going to see a change in the rules of engagement within a few days to get the situation under control." [ complete article ]

US forces to use more "muscle" to restore order in Baghdad: Rumsfeld
Agence France-Presse, May 14, 2003

US forces will use more "muscle" to restore order in Baghdad, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, amid mounting criticism of the troops' failure to curb rampant lawlessness in the Iraqi capital.

Rumsfeld's pledge in congressional testimony echoed a report in The New York Times that the troops will be given the authority to shoot looters on sight.

"The forces there will be using muscle to see that the people who are trying to disrupt what is taking place in that city are stopped and either captured or killed," he said. [ complete article ]

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Al-Qaeda hated corporation
Marian Wilkinson, The Age, May 15, 2003

The bloody attacks in Riyadh are telling because of their targets, in particular the Vinnell Corporation. The residential compound and the offices used by Vinnell were hit, killing nine of the company's employees and injuring several others, two critically.

Al-Qaeda has a particular hatred for the US Vinnell Corporation because it trains the Saudi Arabian National Guard, the country's internal security force and an integral part of the Saudi military forces.

Vinnell, under contract to the US Army, employs about 800 people in Saudi Arabia including 300 Americans. Vinnell recently came under the financial control of giant US defence contractor Northrop.

Vinnell's relationship with Saudi Arabia over nearly three decades has been intriguing and controversial. For five years until 1997 it was owned by the Carlyle group, a defence and investment house close to the Bush family. Several former Republican cabinet ministers sat on Carlyle's board. [ complete article ]

See also Mercenaries Inc.: How a U.S. company props up the House of Saud and Vinnell Corporation: 'We train people to pull triggers'

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How not to run a country
Paul Knox, Globe and Mail, May 14, 2003

Hamid Karzai seemed like the perfect leader to head the transitional government of Afghanistan. He was well-educated and media-friendly, with family and extensive experience in the United States. He was a member of a key tribe of the country's Pashtun-speaking majority. He was duly installed as president in December of 2001, and began the job of constructing a post-Taliban nation.

Mr. Karzai is now in deep trouble. The post-Taliban era is on hold because the Taliban, apparently including their one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, are still around. Taliban guerrillas killed more than 30 Afghan soldiers and a Red Cross worker last month, and Mr. Karzai appealed to neighbouring Pakistan to crack down on cross-border marauding. [ complete article ]

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China hawk settles in neocons' nest
Jim Lobe, Foreign Policy in Focus, May 12, 2003

Neoconservative hawks have scored a new victory in the administration of President George W. Bush with the hiring by Vice President Richard Cheney of a prominent hawk on China policy. China specialist and Princeton University professor Aaron Friedberg has been named deputy national security adviser and director of policy planning on Cheney's high-powered foreign policy staff headed by I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, one of the most influential foreign policy strategists in the administration. Libby also served as the general counsel to the Cox Commission, a House Select Committee that issued a report in 1999 accusing China of large-scale espionage to advance its nuclear weapons program and was soundly criticized by many China scholars for its factual errors, unsupported allegations, and shoddy analysis. [ complete article ]

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Sharon rejects US pressure on settlements
Chris McGreal, The Guardian, May 14, 2003

Ariel Sharon has rebuffed American warnings that the continued expansion of settlements is a major obstacle to a Middle East peace deal by saying that Israel will not surrender sovereignty of Jewish towns in the occupied territories.

The prime minister further aggravated the issue by saying that the controversial "security fence" being constructed around the main Palestinian cities and towns on the West Bank will follow a route that in effect annexes some of the largest settlements into Israel.

Mr Sharon's comments to the Jerusalem Post reflect off-the-record remarks from his allies dismissing the US secretary of state Colin Powell's failed attempts this week to secure more than a lip service commitment to the "road map" which envisages a Palestinian state by 2005.

The Israeli leader's statements come a week before he visits the White House for talks that are expected to provide the crucial test of how serious the Bush administration is about pushing the road map. [ complete article ]

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Terror crackdown has not reduced al-Qaida threat, warns thinktank
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, May 14, 2003

Al-Qaida remains a "potent" international terrorist network with more than 18,000 trained members at large in up to 90 countries, and could take a generation to dismantle, a leading international affairs thinktank warned yesterday.

The warning came in the annual strategic survey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies whose author, Jonathan Stevenson, said the Riyadh bombings "bore the hallmarks" of an al-Qaida operation.

The bombings "may be the first indication that the regime change in Iraq in the short term is going to cause a terrorist backlash and be an inspiration for terrorists", he added.

Although the audacity and sheer power of the American-led invasion could have a "suppressive effect" on terrorists, it was equally likely that the conflict "increased al-Qaida's recruiting power", he said.

The report warns that al-Qaida has reconstituted itself since the war in Afghanistan and was now "doing business in a somewhat different manner, but more insidious and just as dangerous as in its pre-September 11 incarnation". [ complete article ]

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Garner surrenders control of Baghdad in bloodless coup
Richard Beeston, The Times, May 13, 2003

After less than a month in charge of the vast post-war reconstruction operation, General Garner and five top aides were eased out in a bloodless coup after failing to get government running in Iraq and to restore a semblance of normality to Baghdad.

"We intend to have a very effective, efficient and well-organised handover," Mr Bremer, the US State Department's former terrorism expert, declared at Baghdad's international airport.

Although US officials insisted that the arrival of Mr Bremer, who will work alongside John Sawers, Tony Blair's special envoy, was not a reflection on General Garner, the facts suggested otherwise.

Baghdad today is a city without essential utilities, law and order or a functioning government. Nor does there appear to be any detailed plan to curtail the anarchy and to restore basic public services. Arguably the situation, far from improving, is deteriorating, with potentially dangerous political consequences for the coalition.

Barbara Bodine, a former US Ambassador to Yemen who was supposed to run the Baghdad region, was among those returning home. At one recent meeting with the press, she was asked about the shooting of a dozen Iraqis by US troops in Fallujah, a town outside Baghdad and within her jurisdiction. It was clear from her answer that she was unaware of the incident, which was making headline news around the world. [ complete article ]

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Baghdad anarchy spurs call for help
Peter Slevin, Washington Post, May 13, 2003

Baghdad residents and U.S. officials said today that U.S. occupation forces are insufficient to maintain order in the Iraqi capital and called for reinforcements to calm a wave of violence that has unfurled over the city, undermining relief and reconstruction efforts and inspiring anxiety about the future.

Reports of carjackings, assaults and forced evictions grew today, adding to an impression that recent improvements in security were evaporating. Fires burned anew in several Iraqi government buildings and looting resumed at one of former president Saddam Hussein's palaces. The sound of gunfire rattled during the night; many residents said they were keeping their children home from school during the day. Even traffic was affected, as drivers ignored rules in the absence of Iraqi police, only to crash and cause tie-ups.

The calls for more U.S. troops to police the city coincided with the arrival of L. Paul Bremer III, the Bush administration's new civilian administrator assigned to run the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. The U.S. occupation authority, which had previously been headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, has struggled to restore Iraqi institutions since Hussein's government collapsed April 9 in the face of a U.S. military invasion. [ complete article ]

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Death shadows U.S. troops in Iraq
Eric Slater, Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2003

The war in Iraq is not over, but from boot level it hardly appears the same one launched by allied forces on March 20. Soldiers now find themselves in a conflict with few battles but no peace, trying to carry out missions they never trained for, and dying all the while.

On Thursday, a man on a Baghdad bridge came up behind a soldier directing traffic, put a pistol to the back of his skull and shot him dead. A sniper beside a bridge just downriver killed another U.S. Army soldier by shooting him in the head. Some fellow soldiers say this kind of dying -- and the tedious vulnerability that has come to mark their days -- is harder to accept than the heavy battles early in the war and their requisite casualties. [ complete article ]

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The U.S. and post-war Iraq: An analysis
Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus, May, 2003

Even putting aside the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have engaged in anti-American demonstrations in recent weeks -- some of which have been met by gunfire from U.S. occupation forces -- there is a pervasive sense of ambiguity among ordinary Iraqis regarding the U.S. invasion and occupation. What few Americans are willing to recognize at this stage is the fact that most Iraqis -- including strong opponents of Saddam Hussein's regime -- simply do not trust the United States. [ complete article ]

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Sharon: No settlement retreat despite peace plan
Mark Heinrich, Reuters, May 13, 2003

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday rejected any talk of dismantling Jewish settlements in the foreseeable future despite U.S. calls for conciliatory gestures to advance a new Middle East peace plan.

His remarks, underlining his rightist coalition's objections to the peace "road map," were in an interview published as he prepared for talks with the new reformist Palestinian premier later this week and President Bush on May 20.

It was Sharon's second rebuff to Secretary of State Colin Powell's requests for confidence-building measures in weekend talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and was quickly condemned by Palestinian officials.

Israel eased a travel ban on Palestinians on Sunday in a move it touted as a humanitarian gesture in response to Powell's appeals, only to seal off the Gaza Strip again on Monday. [ complete article ]

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Which Sharon will we see next? Both, of course
Aluf Benn, Washington Post, May 11, 2003

Reactive by nature, Sharon has avoided putting forward any Israeli peace plan, opting instead for coordination with Washington. Nevertheless, when handed others' blueprints for easing the conflict, he has managed to neutralize them without formally rejecting them. Here's how: Sharon asks for time "to study the details"; then he accepts them "as basis for discussion" and suggests "comments and corrections." If the plan survives this stage, Sharon delays implementation until the Palestinians meet ever-tougher tests. This dismantling mechanism has been applied to the Jordan-Egypt initiative, the Mitchell Report, the Saudi initiative and now to the road map. [ complete article ]

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Saddam's fall leads Iran into talks with arch-enemy
Dan De Luce, The Guardian, May 13, 2003

Jolted by the swift collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, the hardline clerics who rule Iran have been cracking down on dissent at home and talking discreetly to US diplomats abroad in an effort to stave off American pressure.

With US troops and military bases now virtually surrounding their country, the conservative leaders have broken an old taboo by talking to their arch-enemy in an attempt to pre-empt any US military action. [ complete article ]

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An interesting day:
President Bush's movements and actions on 9/11

Allan Wood and Paul Thompson, Center for Cooperative Research, May 9, 2003

At approximately 8:48 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001, the first pictures of the burning World Trade Center were broadcast on live television. The news anchors, reporters, and viewers had little idea what had happened in lower Manhattan, but there were some people who did know. By that time, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the Secret Service, and Canada's Strategic Command all knew that three commercial airplanes had been hijacked. They knew that one plane had been flown deliberately into the World Trade Center's North Tower; a second plane was wildly off course and also heading toward Manhattan; and a third plane had abruptly turned around over Ohio and was flying back toward Washington, DC.

So why, at 9:03 a.m. - fifteen minutes after it was clear the United States was under terrorist attack - did President Bush sit down with a classroom of second-graders and begin a 20-minute pre-planned photo op? No one knows the answer to that question. In fact, no one has even asked Bush about it.

Bush's actions on September 11 have been the subject of lively debate, mostly on the internet. Details reported that day and in the week after the attacks - both the media reports and accounts given by Bush himself - have changed radically over the past 18 months. Culling hundreds of reports from newspapers, magazines, and the internet has only made finding the "truth" of what happened and when it happened more confusing. In the changed political climate after 9/11, few have dared raise challenging questions about Bush's actions. A journalist who said Bush was "flying around the country like a scared child, seeking refuge in his mother's bed after having a nightmare" and another who said Bush "skedaddled" were fired. [Washington Post, 9/29/01 (B)] We should have a concise record of where President Bush was throughout the day the US was attacked, but we do not.

What follows is an attempt to give the most complete account of Bush's actions - from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska to Washington, DC. [ complete article ]

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Graham alleges a 9/11 'coverup'
Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2003

Sen. Bob Graham on Sunday accused the Bush administration of engaging in a "coverup" of intelligence failures before and after the Sept. 11 attacks to shield it from embarrassment, and said the war with Iraq has allowed Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to become a greater threat to Americans than ever before. [ complete article ]

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American will advise Iraqis on writing new constitution
Jennifer Lee, New York Times, May 11, 2003

On its face, it is surprising that the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance set up for Iraq would put a 32-year-old assistant law professor in the critical role of advising the Iraqis in writing their Constitution.

For one, Professor Feldman is finishing up his second year of teaching -- at New York University Law School, where he is immensely popular with the students. His politics seem somewhat liberal in an administration known to vet scientists to sit on advisory committees.

But as people blink and begin to focus their eyes, a consensus is emerging that liberal or conservative, fresh-faced or gray-haired, Professor Feldman was the obvious choice. [ complete article ]

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Yanks go home
Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, May 12, 2003

The speed with which the US is forfeiting the goodwill it had in Iraq is breathtaking. With the exception of the Kurds, most Iraqis opposed the invasion of their country, and once US troops had succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein without massive casualties or tides of refugees the dominant emotion was relief. Public displays of gratitude were few, but there was widespread satisfaction that the dictator and his regime were gone.

A month later, the mood has changed. Iraqis are staggered that the efficiency of the US fighting machine was not matched by post-conflict competence worthy of a superpower. Overriding everything is the issue of governance. Who is going to run Iraq, and will it be done for the benefit of Iraqis or of outside powers? Some reports suggest that Iraqis do not care who governs them, as long as someone competent ends the chaos soon. That is a false perception. American mismanagement in the first month of occupation has led an increasing number of Iraqis to distrust the whole US enterprise. [ complete article ]

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Disorder deepens in liberated Baghdad
Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 2003

Fearful of going out after dark, waiting up to 10 hours to fill their cars with gas, spreading rumors in the absence of reliable media, watching landmark buildings set on fire and wondering who is in charge, the residents of this capital are growing increasingly impatient with the deepening disorder that is plaguing their lives more than a month after US troops took over the city.

"My worst fear is chaos, of all hell breaking loose, and it seems like that is happening," says the Jenan Khadimi, an American-Iraqi who teaches architecture at Baghdad University. "You don't know who is running things." [ complete article ]

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Frustrated, U.S. arms team to leave Iraq
Barton Gellman, Washington Post, May 11, 2003

The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war. [ complete article ]

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Moqtadah al-Sadr
Peter Maass, New York Times, May 11, 2003

Najaf is one of the great spiritual centers of the world's 120 million Shiites because it is home to the tomb of Imam Ali, founder of the Shiite faith and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad. But the true heart of Najaf today, and the place where the political future of Iraq may be decided, is not Ali's tomb; it is a ramshackle building on an alley across the street from the ornate shrine.

Every day, a crowd gathers at the building, trying to talk its way past the locked doors, making faint pleas and waving pieces of paper -- petitions, requests, questions -- in front of the guards. The people want to see Moqtadah al-Sadr, who, although he is only 30, has emerged, since the destruction of Saddam Hussein's government, as the most powerful Shiite leader in Iraq, a man who is adored by his followers and feared by his adversaries. [...]

When I presented myself at Sadr's headquarters, I was led to a room on the second floor and told to wait. After a few minutes, Sadr walked into the room along with several aides, many of them as young as he is or younger. They, too, were unsmiling. Perhaps what their faces portrayed is the fatal determination of youth, youth who are convinced that right and resolve are the spears behind which their goals will be reached.

Sadr did not reveal his plans in detail, perhaps because he is improvising them; it is impossible to control a situation with so many variables. What he does, and what he becomes, depend not just on his own intentions but also on those of the Americans, whose plans are unknown and perhaps undecided, and those too of his rivals -- other Shiite leaders, as well as Sunni leaders and Kurds. Will Sadr become a political leader or a religious leader or a corpse? The answer is unknown to him; he says he believes it will be decided by Allah.

''I think it will be very hard to make a completely Islamic state in the near future, but hopefully in the distant future,'' he said, through the interpreter who accompanied me. Sadr speaks in a strong voice, absent of doubt. ''Our government should be led by religious men, but they should be very good in science too. Religion is with politics and politics is with religion. They are as one.''

He had mentioned, in his sermon at the Kufa mosque, that ''enemies'' would try to stand in the way of Iraq's Shiites. He did not name the enemies, so I asked whether it was the Americans whom he had in mind.

He didn't hesitate. ''Everyone knows that America is not looking for reforms to unify the country,'' he said. ''They will be an enemy to us, or shall we say they will not be a friend to us. We are looking for a unified Islamic nation, so we think our aim is different than their aim.''

For policy makers in Washington, there are two nightmare scenarios for Iraq. The first is that Iraq becomes an Islamic state led by Shiite clerics from Najaf. The second is that Iraq becomes an Islamic state led by Shiite clerics from Najaf who are, in turn, led by fundamentalists in Iran. The latter possibility was bolstered on April 8, when Kadhem al-Husseini al-Haeri, an Iraqi cleric living in Qum, Iran, issued a fatwa, or religious order, that urged clerics in neighboring Iraq to ''seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration of Iraqi cities.'' Using phrases and ideas common among fundamentalists in Iran, the fatwa also said, ''People have to be taught not to collapse morally before the means used by the Great Satan'' -- the United States -- ''if it stays in Iraq. It will try to spread moral decay, incite lust by allowing easy access to stimulating satellite channels and spread debauchery to weaken people's faith.'' [ complete article ]

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Seven nuclear sites looted
Barton Gellman, Washington Post, May 10, 2003

Seven nuclear facilities in Iraq have been damaged or effectively destroyed by the looting that began in the first days of April, when U.S. ground forces thrust into Baghdad, according to U.S. investigators and others with detailed knowledge of their work. The Bush administration fears that technical documents, sensitive equipment and possibly radiation sources have been scattered.

If so, there are potentially significant consequences for public health and the spread of materials to build a nuclear or radiological bomb. President Bush had said the war was fought to prevent the spread of "the world's most dangerous weapons."

It is still not clear what has been lost in the sacking of Iraq's nuclear establishment. But it is well documented that looters roamed unrestrained among stores of chemical elements and scientific files that would speed development, in the wrong hands, of a nuclear or radiological bomb. Many of the files, and some of the containers that held radioactive sources, are missing. [ complete article ]

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Shia mullahs take charge of hospitals to halt chaos
Ed Vulliamy, The Observer, May 11, 2003

Thawra City is a metaphor for war's aftermath; it is a shanty of teeming humanity where each day turns the ratchet of deprivation, desperation, violence and chaos.

About half of the capital's population is packed into this place where the country's persecuted and downtrodden Shia Muslims, now fly flags of green and black from peeling balconies.

The populace of Thawra City is among Iraq's happiest at Saddam's demise: Shia mosques have opened for the first time in seven years, their outer walls decorated by the prints of hands dipped in the blood of the dead.

Here, as everywhere, there were murals of Saddam: as soldier, Arab statesman or whatever - and, in one square, as fireman, helmeted and climbing a ladder to douse an inferno. Last Wednesday, that mural was doused in petrol and set alight: Saddam the fireman engulfed in swirling flame.

But the wrathful joy of crowds does nothing to stop the counting of days without potable water, or clear the rising mountains of stinking garbage picked over by children in search of flotsam and jetsam to sell in order to buy food, like mudlarks of old. It does nothing to move the puddles of putrid water that collect from open sewers in the streets and alleyways.

The people's jubilant rage does not stop the flow of guns into the market, where weaponry is up for sale to anyone, alongside the bright colours of fish and fruit tumbling onto the pavement and covered by a swarming, buzzing layer of flies. It does nothing to stop the nightly explosions, the ever-increasing chatter of machine guns and arcs of red tracer fire that illuminate the city skyline.

Nor does it appear to hasten the advent of a government the Americans are still planning from pristine offices at the Oil Ministry or in the pleasant grounds of Saddam's old Hunting Club, now headquarters to the US's favoured Iraqi National Congress. Above all, it does nothing to bring the humanitarian aid which remains invisible, even though the international community has had months to prepare. [ complete article ]

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US rivals turn on each other as weapons search draws a blank
Paul Harris, Martin Bright and Ed Helmore, The Observer, May 11, 2003

The Iraqi military base at Taji does not look like a place of global importance. It is a desolate expanse of bunkers and hangars surrounded by barbed wire and battered look-out posts. It is deserted apart from American sentries at the gate.

Yet Taji, north of Baghdad, is the key to a furious debate. Where are Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? Was the war fought on a platform of lies? Taji was the only specific location singled out by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his address to the UN when he argued that evidence compiled by US intelligence proved the existence of an illegal weapons programme. 'This is one of 65 such facilities in Iraq,' Powell said. 'We know this one has housed chemical weapons.'

But The Observer has learnt that Taji has drawn a blank. US sources say no such weapons were found when a search party scoured the base in late April. By then it had already been looted by local villagers. If Taji ever had any secrets, they are long gone. That is bad news for Britain and the United States. The pressure is building to find Saddam's hidden arsenal and time is running out. [ complete article ]

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