The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Leading Shiite cleric questions U.S. rule over Iraq on return to holy city
Agence France-Presse, May 24, 2003

Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, a top Shiite leader, returned to this holy city [Karbala] for the first time after 23 years in exile and demanded to know why Iraqis were not running their country.

"Have Iraqis reached the age of reason?" Hakim asked in a speech to thousands of the faithful whose shouts had delayed the start of what his aides billed as an important address to the people.

"Why do they not have the right to form a government and to manage their affairs?" [ complete article ]

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The paradoxes of American nationalism
Minxin Pei, Foreign Policy, May-June, 2003

Nearly two years after the horrific terrorist attacks on the United States, international public opinion has shifted from heartfelt sympathy for Americans and their country to undisguised antipathy. The immediate catalyst for this shift is the United States' hard-line policy toward and subsequent war with Iraq. Yet today's strident anti-Americanism represents much more than a wimpy reaction to U.S. resolve or generic fears of a hegemon running amok. Rather, the growing unease with the United States should be seen as a powerful global backlash against the spirit of American nationalism that shapes and animates U.S. foreign policy.

Any examination of the deeper sources of anti-Americanism should start with an introspective look at American nationalism. But in the United States, this exercise, which hints at serious flaws in the nation's character, generates little enthusiasm. Moreover, coming to terms with today's growing animosity toward the United States is intellectually contentious because of the two paradoxes of American nationalism: First, although the United States is a highly nationalistic country, it genuinely does not see itself as such. Second, despite the high level of nationalism in American society, U.S. policymakers have a remarkably poor appreciation of the power of nationalism in other societies and have demonstrated neither skill nor sensitivity in dealing with its manifestations abroad. [ complete article ]

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Ill-suited for empire
Joseph S. Nye, Washington Post, May 25, 2003

Some say the United States is already an empire and it is just a matter of recognizing reality. It's a mistake, however, to confuse the politics of primacy with those of empire. The United States is more powerful compared with other countries than Britain was at its imperial peak, but it has less control over what occurs inside other countries than Britain did when it ruled a quarter of the globe. For example, Kenya's schools, taxes, laws and elections -- not to mention external relations -- were controlled by British officials. The United States has no such control today. We could not even get the votes of Mexico and Chile for a second U.N. Security Council resolution. Devotees of the new imperialism say not to be so literal. "Empire" is merely a metaphor. But the problem with the metaphor is it implies a control from Washington that is unrealistic and reinforces the prevailing strong temptations toward unilateralism. [ complete article ]

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U.S. may let Kurds keep arms, angering Shiites
Patrick E. Tyler, New York Times, May 24, 2003

The American occupation authority in Iraq, apparently preserving the prewar distinction between Kurdish-controlled northern areas and the rest of the country, will allow Kurdish fighters to keep their assault rifles and heavy weapons, but require Shiite Muslim and other militias to surrender theirs, according to a draft directive.

The plan has engendered intense criticism by Shiite leaders involved in negotiations with American and British officials who have met privately with the heavily armed political groups that have moved into the power vacuum here.

"Maybe we didn't fight with the coalition, but we didn't fight against them," said Adel Abdul Mahdi, an official of the largest Shiite group, which is headed by Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim. "We want conditions where all militias are dissolved and we will not accept that other militias will be allowed to stay there with their weapons while we will not be there with ours." [ complete article ]

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Afghans' uranium levels spark alert
Alex Kirby, BBC News, May 22, 2003

Dr Durakovic, a former US army adviser who is now a professor of medicine, said in 2000 he had found "significant" DU [depleted uranium] levels in two-thirds of the 17 Gulf veterans he had tested.

In May 2002 he sent a team to Afghanistan to interview and examine civilians there.

The UMRC [Uranium Medical Research Center] says: "Independent monitoring of the weapon types and delivery systems indicate that radioactive, toxic uranium alloys and hard-target uranium warheads were being used by the coalition forces." There is no official support for its claims, or backing from other scientists.

It says Nangarhar province was a strategic target zone during the Afghan conflict for the deployment of a new generation of deep-penetrating "cave-busting" and seismic shock warheads.

The UMRC says its team identified several hundred people suffering from illnesses and conditions similar to those of Gulf veterans, probably because they had inhaled uranium dust.

To test its hypothesis that some form of uranium weapon had been used, the UMRC sent urine specimens from 17 Afghans for analysis at an independent UK laboratory.

It says: "Without exception, every person donating urine specimens tested positive for uranium internal contamination.

"The results were astounding: the donors presented concentrations of toxic and radioactive uranium isotopes between 100 and 400 times greater than in the Gulf veterans tested in 1999. [ complete article ]

See also the Uranium Medical Research Centre homepage.

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Anguish of the pensioners of Baghdad
Anthony Browne, The Times, May 19, 2003

It was meant to bring relief, but it ended in tragedy. From six in the morning they came: the old on crutches, the sick, the frail, widows with children to support and pensioners with grandchildren.

They came for the first pension pay day of the new regime, but instead of help for a desperate people, the seething, exhausted crowds found only frustration, anger, injury and death in their search for the $40 (£24) payment.

This first big test of the Baghdad social support system under the American administration had spun terrifyingly out of control, pitching the weakest members of one of the world’s most-battered countries against the world’s supreme military superpower. [ complete article ]

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Faux Pax Americana
Phillip Carter, Washington Monthly, June, 2003

During the lead-up to the Iraq war, hawkish Pentagon appointees like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz predicted that the conflict could be won with as few as 50,000 troops. Meanwhile, senior generals like Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki and CENTCOM Commander Tommy Franks said that it would take at least 200,000 for the offensive and far more to police and rebuild the country after victory. For a brief week at the end of March, as U.S. troops met stiff resistance in Nasiriya and found their supply lines harassed in the south, it seemed the generals' doubts about fighting the war on the cheap might be confirmed in the worst way. Then, almost overnight, resistance collapsed. That rapid victory proved the contention that Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld had been pressing for more than two years: that America's new high-tech, highly mobile military could win wars with far fewer troops and armor than traditional war-fighting doctrines called for--and with far fewer casualties. (At the height of the war, the United States and the United Kingdom had just 90,000 combat troops in the country.) That was a crucial test of the broader Bush administration policy of using America's military might to crush determined foes rather than simply "managing" them, as previous administrations were wont to do. If America could "preempt" future threats without overextending its military, as Iraq seemed to show, then the argument for the Bush Doctrine would be vastly strengthened.

But the hawks' gloating proved premature. The generals' argument had never been just about what forces it would take to decapitate Saddam's regime. It was also about being ready for the long, grinding challenge after the shooting stopped. By that measure they have been proven dizzyingly correct. April and May brought daily news reports from Baghdad quoting U.S. military officers saying they lacked the manpower to do their jobs. As the doubters predicted, we may have had enough troops to win the war--but not nearly enough to win the peace. [ complete article ]

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Victims of the peace decide Americans are worse than Saddam
Anthony Browne, The Times, May 23, 2003

The small dank cells with cold stone floors, tiny windows and iron bars for a door used to house criminals and the victims of Saddam Hussein's regime. Now Khan Bani Saad prison, overlooked by watchtowers and surrounded by razorwire, is filled with families who are victims, not of the war, but of the peace.

Sabrir Hassan Ismael, a mother of six, held her three-year-old daughter Zahraa in the cell that is now their living room and bedroom, and cried: "Look at me; look at my family. We live in prison. We can't buy food because we don't have money. We have no gas to cook.

"We can't sleep because it's very hot. There are huge insects that bite us. All night my daughters cry and they can't sleep. I live without any hope. Just look at us."

Outside children play in the foetid puddles, swirling dust and searing heat of the prison courtyard, where prisoners once walked in dread.

Before the end of the war Mrs Sabrir lived with her husband, a local mayor, on a farm in the town of Khanaqin, close to the Iranian border. They are members of the Arab Saraefien tribe that had survived unscathed through the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq. As opponents of Saddam they even welcomed the American invasion.

But it is the peace, and the disintegration of Saddam's grip, that has destroyed their lives. On April 11, two days after the fall of Saddam, Kurdish fighters entered Khanaqin, ordering all 15,000 Arabs to leave within 48 hours. [ complete article ]

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Memorial Day 1968/2003: The casualties of war
Chris Appy, TomDispatch, May 23, 2003

A few weeks ago I picked up the morning paper and, for the first time in months, there was no front-page story on Iraq. My response? I went right to the sports section. I knew I was indulging a delusion. Real peace had not arrived. Events in Iraq were as chaotic and distressing as ever. Even the killing hadn't stopped. American troops were firing on crowds of demonstrators; armed looters were still rampaging; children accidentally detonating unexploded ordnance; shoot-outs over gas evidently commonplace. But our Top Gun president had landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln, victory was all but declared, and troops were headed home. The war was over, it seemed, so what was going on with the Celtics? [ complete article ]

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So much for the peace dividend: Pentagon is winning the battle for a $400bn budget
Julian Borger and David Teather, The Guardian, May 22, 2003

The biggest US defence budget since the cold war is being rammed through Congress by the Republican majority this week despite persistent questions over waste and the Pentagon's own admission that it cannot account for more than a trillion dollars.

The 2004 military spending request of over $400bn (£244bn) does not include the occupation of Iraq, which will be covered by a later, supplemental bill of up to $35bn. Very little of the money will go towards the war on terrorism or homeland security, which are principally paid for by other agencies like the FBI and the CIA.

The threat of more terrorist attacks has created public and congressional support for a ballooning defence budget, but the lion's share of the money is being spent on traditional weapons such as the jet fighters and submarines originally designed to fight the Soviet Union.

The last time the US spent this much on defence was in 1991. In fact the current budget is bigger in real terms than the average during the cold war, when US force levels were considerably higher. [ complete article ]

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The apartheid wall
Ran HaCohen,, May 21, 2003

A central function of the "Road Map" is to distract from the actual map of the Palestinian territories. This map is being radically altered, and unlike the Road Map, which will be forgotten like all its cynical forerunners ("Zinni Plan", "Tenet Plan", "Mitchell Report", "Regional Peace Conference" etc.), the geographical map of Palestine is here to stay, with a huge Wall now being built in its middle – the "Security Fence" in official Israeli language, in fact an Apartheid Wall. [ complete article ]

See also B'Tselem's Behind the barrier: Human rights violations as a result of Israel's separation barrier

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After the war, the terrible peace
Alice Thomson, The Telegraph, May 19, 2003

Relatively few people were killed and injured in the war; it is the aftermath - the unexploded ordnance, the lack of water and electricity, the sewage spewing out around the cities - that is terrifying people in the south. Looters have ransacked the water and sewage plants, often taking even the bricks.

This comes on top of three wars, 24 years of dictatorship and 12 years of sanctions. More than 80 per cent of the population were dependent on hand-outs from the oil for food programme, and most were employed by the government.

For two months these people have received no food or salaries. Now the only currency is the corrugated iron torn from the roofs of government buildings, the light bulbs pilfered from schools and the sinks from orphanages - all sold for knock-down prices on the looters' market.

The aid agencies say we are witnessing a humanitarian disaster, and Unicef has launched its largest appeal, asking for £167 million.

An entire country is living on the brink. [ complete article ]

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Israel discovers that democracy, its most widely touted "common value" with the West, is not actually an Israeli value
Arjan El Fassed and Nigel Parry, The Electronic Intifada, May 22, 2003

The results of [a poll conducted in 2003 by the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem] show that over the last few years there has been "a significant decline in the Jewish population's support of democratic norms on all levels" and a twenty year low in the percentage of support for the statement that "democracy is the best form of government." Israel and Poland ranked lowest in the percentage of citizens who agreed with the statement that "democracy is a desirable form of government."

Israel -- together with Mexico, India and Romania -- is only one of four countries out of 31 in which the population is of the opinion that "strong leaders can be more useful to the state than all the deliberations and laws." On one indicator, measuring freedom of the press, Israel's media came in as "nearly free".

Asked about the Palestinian minority, the results reveal a shockingly racist and anti-democratic attitude among Israel's Jews towards its Palestinian minority that numbers just over one million, or 20% of Israel's total population:

"As of 2003, more than half (53%) of the Jews in Israel state out loud that they are against full equality for the Arabs; 77% say there should be a Jewish majority on crucial political decisions; less than a third (31%) support having Arab political parties in the government; and the majority (57%) think that the Arabs should be encouraged to emigrate" [ complete article ]

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Dangerous loot south of Baghdad
John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2003

Elifat Rusum Saber, 14, has been nauseated, tired and bleeding from the nose since her brother brought home metal and chemicals from the neighboring Tuwaitha nuclear research center two days after the fall of Baghdad.

"I used to take care of my family and my youngest sister," Elifat, her frail figure lost in a billowing flower-print dress, said through an interpreter this week. "Nowadays I feel weak. I can't pick up a pot."

A few blocks away, through trash-strewn streets reeking from open sewers, Hassan Aouda Saffah is recovering from a rash that left white blotches on the dark skin of his right arm. The rash appeared the same day he took a dusty generator from the nuclear site to restore some of the electricity the village lost during the war.

Dr. Jaafar Nasser Suhayb, who runs a nearby clinic, said that over a five-day period he had treated about 20 patients from the neighborhood near Tuwaitha for similar symptoms — shortness of breath, nausea, severe nosebleeds and itchy rashes.

Suhayb is worried that the residents may be suffering from radiation poisoning since several of the symptoms are consistent with those of acute radiation syndrome. [ complete article ]

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Surveys pointing to high civilian death toll in Iraq
Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 2003

Evidence is mounting to suggest that between 5,000 and 10,000 Iraqi civilians may have died during the recent war, according to researchers involved in independent surveys of the country.

None of the local and foreign researchers were willing to speak for the record, however, until their tallies are complete.

Such a range would make the Iraq war the deadliest campaign for noncombatants that US forces have fought since Vietnam.

Though it is still too early for anything like a definitive estimate, the surveyors warn, preliminary reports from hospitals, morgues, mosques, and homes point to a level of civilian casualties far exceeding the Gulf War, when 3,500 civilians are thought to have died. [ complete article ]

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It's apparent that Washington has no clear plan for Iraq
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent (via Seattle Post-Intelligencer), May 21, 2003

In one sense everybody -- supporters and opponents of the war in Iraq -- got it wrong. Opponents denounced U.S. plans to impose neo-imperial control on the country. Supporters spoke of the good things the United States planned to bring to the Iraqi people once Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

It was only as the looting of Baghdad continued week after week and the United States visibly failed to get control of the situation that the bizarre truth emerged: Washington does not have any real plans for Iraq at all. It is making up its policy as it goes along. [...]

The United States seems to have fought the war essentially because it wanted a war. It did so because the political fuel on which the present U.S. administration runs is to emphasize the external threat. Through this means it has won control of the Senate and may well win the next presidential election. [ complete article ]

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The truth will emerge
Senator Robert C. Byrd, U.S. Senate, May 21, 2003

The Administration assured the U.S. public and the world, over and over again, that an attack was necessary to protect our people and the world from terrorism. It assiduously worked to alarm the public and blur the faces of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden until they virtually became one.

What has become painfully clear in the aftermath of war is that Iraq was no immediate threat to the U.S. Ravaged by years of sanctions, Iraq did not even lift an airplane against us. Iraq's threatening death-dealing fleet of unmanned drones about which we heard so much morphed into one prototype made of plywood and string. [ complete article ]

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Wave of Baghdad killings as Iraqis take revenge on Baath party
Agence France-Presse, May 22, 2003

When Najem al-Miyahi stepped out of a taxi in Baghdad's dirt-poor Shiite Muslim suburbs, he met the same fate as dozens of members of Saddam Hussein's once all-powerful Baath party.

He was gunned down in cold blood.

"My son swore to me on his soul that he never hurt an Iraqi even though he was a Baathist," said his father Abdullah, sitting in the funeral tent outside their house on the day after the killing.

"He never harmed anybody. My son was innocent."

The pent-up rage over decades of brutality at the hands of the Baath has erupted in a wave of murders in Sadr City, a Shiite slum where Saddam repaid the hatred for his regime with his own brand of oppression.

Hospital officials said dozens of Baathists have been slaughtered or left critically wounded in recent weeks. They said the numbers are rising as Iraqis exact vengeance on their former tormentors. [ complete article ]

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On rescuing Private Lynch and forgetting Rachel Corrie
Naomi Klein, The Guardian, May 22, 2003

Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie could have passed for sisters. Two all-American blondes, two destinies for ever changed in a Middle East war zone. Private Jessica Lynch, the soldier, was born in Palestine, West Virginia. Rachel Corrie, the activist, died in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Corrie was four years older than 19-year-old Lynch. Her body was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza seven days before Lynch was taken into Iraqi custody on March 23. Before she went to Iraq, Lynch organised a pen-pal programme with a local kindergarten. Before Corrie left for Gaza, she organised a pen-pal programme between kids in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, and children in Rafah.

Lynch went to Iraq as a soldier loyal to her government. Corrie went to Gaza to oppose the actions of her government. As a US citizen, she believed she had a special responsibility to defend Palestinians against US-built weapons, purchased with US aid to Israel. In letters home, she described how fresh water was being diverted from Gaza to Israeli settlements, how death was more normal than life. "This is what we pay for here," she wrote. [ complete article ]

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The looting of Iraq's nuclear facilities: What do we do now?
Susan Rice, The Globe and Mail, May 21, 2003

President George W. Bush's chief justification for war against Iraq was to disarm Saddam Hussein and prevent his use or transfer of weapons of mass destruction. Virtually all Americans, whether they supported or opposed the war, agreed on the importance of disarming Iraq and preventing the proliferation of its WMD. This objective was so compelling that many who doubted the necessity or the timing of the war went along with it, despite misgivings. Their expectation was that America would be more secure after war with Iraq.

So are we more secure? Are Saddam Hussein's weapons now safely out of the hands of potential "evildoers"? Frighteningly, and possibly tragically, the answer may well be no.

The primary problem is not that the weapons we were so certain existed have not yet been found, however unsettling or embarrassing that may be. The most pressing problem is that Iraqi nuclear facilities containing valuable documents, partially enriched uranium and other radiological materials ideal for "dirty bombs" have been looted and ransacked under the noses of U.S. forces. [ complete article ]

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Senate OK's repeal of 'mininuke' ban
Robert Schlesinger, Boston Globe, May 21, 2003

The Senate voted last night to repeal a decade-old ban on developing low-yield nuclear weapons, affirming a Bush administration push to study new uses for nuclear arms.

Debate is expected to continue today on the issue, as well as on continued study of nuclear weapons capable of shattering hardened, deeply buried bunkers.

The issue had been building since the Bush administration released a ''Nuclear Posture Review'' in January 2002 that called for researching new types of nuclear weapons. The Senate debate illustrated competing visions for the makeup and size of the US nuclear arsenal -- one envisioning a diminishing reliance on nuclear weapons in a world with overwhelming US conventional superiority and the other bringing nuclear deterrence capabilities out of the Cold War and into a post-Sept. 11 world. Critics said the United States cannot simultaneously try to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world and consider augmenting its own arsenal. [ complete article ]

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Why everybody now wants the bomb
Christopher Kremmer, Sydney Morning Herald, May 17, 2003

On May 1, 2001, the US President, George Bush, declared: "Nuclear weapons still have a vital role to play in our security and that of our allies."

The Administration's Nuclear Posture Review completed later that year called for new and improved nukes. New weapons require testing, and having refused to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the US faces no legal impediment to a resumption of nuclear tests. Soon test sites from Nevada to India and China could be rumbling once more to the sound of underground nuclear explosions.

The Bush strategy is to maximise America's room to manoeuvre in its war on terrorists and rogue regimes. But in doing so it threatens to inflict mortal damage on the global agreement that for 30 years has contained the spread of nuclear weapons.

The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968 enshrines a bargain between states with the bomb and those without it. Under Article Six, the 182 signatory nations that don't have nukes promised not to acquire them, while the five officially recognised nuclear powers agreed to negotiate in good faith to reduce and ultimately eliminate their arsenals. But, says a former director of alliance policy at the Australian Defence Department, Ron Huisken, a methodical analysis of American statements and actions in recent years would reveal "no trace of a commitment to Article Six". [ complete article ]

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Text of the Rockford College graduation speech by Chris Hedges
Rockford Register Star, May 20, 2003

I want to speak to you today about war and empire.

Killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq. Although blood will continue to spill -- theirs and ours -- be prepared for this. For we are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power, and security. But this will come later as our empire expands and in all this we become pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment and we are very isolated now.

We have forfeited the good will, the empathy the world felt for us after 9-11. We have folded in on ourselves, we have severely weakened the delicate international coalitions and alliances that are vital in maintaining and promoting peace and we are part now of a dubious troika in the war against terror with Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon, two leaders who do not shrink in Palestine or Chechnya from carrying out acts of gratuitous and senseless acts of violence. We have become the company we keep. [ complete article ]

Listen here to the words that some of Rockford College's graduating students attempted to censor.

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The masters of the universe
Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, May 22, 2003

It may be instructive to learn what US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the "Prince of Darkness" Richard Perle were doing last weekend. From May 15 to 18 they were guests at the Trianon Palace Hotel, close to the spectacular Versailles palace near Paris, for the annual meeting of the Bilderberg club.

Depending on the ideological prism applied, the Bilderberg club may be considered an ultra-VIP international lobby of the power elite of Europe and America, capable of steering international policy from behind closed doors; a harmless "discussion group" of politicians, academics and business tycoons; or a capitalist secret society operating entirely through self interest and plotting world domination. [ complete article ]

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Soros watchdog to monitor U.S. use of Iraqi oil
Irwin Arieff, Reuters, May 20, 2003

Billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros said on Tuesday he was setting up a watchdog group to guard against any abuses in how the United States manages Iraq's oil resources while it occupies Baghdad.

Soros, at a news conference at U.N. headquarters, also said he hoped Iraq would not repay all its foreign debt stemming from Saddam Hussein's years in power, in order -- he said -- to discourage the practice of lending money to dictators.

"I personally would favor not paying in full the debts incurred by the Saddam Hussein regime," Soros said. "I think that would send a very healthy signal to the financial markets and others that extending credit to dictatorships is not without risk."

Citing reports that a handful of U.S. corporations were winning huge reconstruction contracts from Washington without competitive bidding, Soros said many people around the world feared the United States might abuse its authority while it and close ally Britain occupied post-war Iraq.

"It is very much in the interest of the United States to allay these fears, and we want to help," he said.

A U.S.-drafted resolution pending in the U.N. Security Council would give the United States and Britain wide-ranging powers to run Iraq and control its oil industry until a permanent government was set up, a process that could take years. [ complete article ]

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Skepticism on Bush's weapons claims grows
George Gedda, Associated Press, May 21, 2003

CIA Director George Tenet warned last fall that if the United States attacked Iraq, President Saddam Hussein might hand off his forbidden weapons to Islamic terrorists for a counterattack.

Some analysts say that scenario cannot be ruled out now that that 60 days of searches by U.S. troops have produced scant evidence of the doomsday weapons Saddam supposedly had.

Did they wind up in the hands of terrorists?

Charles Pena of the CATO Institute said if Tenet's speculation was correct, it would be the ultimate irony because, he said, the whole point of invading Iraq was to prevent Saddam from passing his weapons on to the al-Qaidas of the world.

There are more benign theories for the lack of progress in finding weapons.

Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation said Saddam may simply have decided to hide the armaments. Or, he said, perhaps Saddam destroyed them to leave U.N. weapons inspectors with no smoking guns and thus diminish the possibility that President Bush would make war against him. (The inspectors came up empty-handed, but Bush attacked anyway.)

To Brookes, it matters little whether weapons are found.

"The important thing is that we've eliminated the regime's capacity to use these things," he said. [ complete article ]

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Selection of Iraqi government likely delayed
Jim Krane, Associated Press, May 21, 2003

A national conference that will pick Iraq's new interim government will probably be delayed until mid-July, the top U.S. official in Iraq said Wednesday.

Six weeks after the U.S. military took Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed, Iraq remains without a formal government. Ministries are operating under American auspices, staffed by Iraqis who know their employment may be limited.

"We're talking now like sometime in July to get a national conference put together," said L. Paul Bremer, Iraq's U.S. civilian administrator. "I don't think it will be in June."

He estimated the conference would be held in mid-July, claiming that an earlier June deadline was created by the press. Other Western officials have said the plan was to assemble about 300 representatives from Iraq's many factions who would elect a new authority. [ complete article ]

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Hardline cleric issues fatwa amid Baghdad chaos
Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, May 21, 2003

Baghdad's most powerful Shia cleric warned yesterday he would use a "hand of iron" to impose an extreme vision of Islam that could seriously challenge America's secular ambitions for Iraq.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Fartousi, a youthful hardliner, said he would vigorously enforce a new fatwa that bans alcohol, commands women to wear veils and orders cinemas to close.

The sheikh appears to have considerable popular support in the vast, impoverished Shia district in eastern Baghdad, formerly known as Saddam City, where his supporters stepped in swiftly to fill the power vacuum after the war. [ complete article ]

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Crushed: The farmers caught between the Israeli army and Hamas
Sa'id Ghazali, The Independent, May 21, 2003

"We have lost our livelihood. We have lost our orange gold," said Maher al-Shawwa, walking through his ruined citrus groves. "Each tree is like my baby."

Israeli tanks pulled out of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip yesterday, after what was deemed a "successful" five-day operation to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel. The withdrawal was seen by some as a positive sign towards possible implementation of the "road-map" to Middle East peace. But first, the Israelis bulldozed Mr Shawwa's 6,000 orange and lemon trees "to prevent Hamas militants using them as cover". Touching one of his toppled trees, Mr Shawwa said: "I took care of it for 15 years. It produces at 15. When it is 40, I can make a profit." He estimated his loss at hundreds of thousands of dollars, adding: "I have been set back 40 years." [ complete article ]

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How do you spell democracy in Arabic? D-i-g-n-i-t-y
Laurie King-Irani, Electronic Iraq, May 19, 2003

It is jarring to hear the words "democracy" and "democratization" twanging on the Texan tongue of President George W. Bush, a leader who came to power through an election of dubious democratic processes. It is even more jarring to realize that American leaders, and perhaps a large percentage of the American public, assume that "democratization" means "Americanization," or doing democracy as it is done in the United States of America.

Is it possible that democracy has different meanings and incarnations in different societies? Must the political culture of democracy be uniform? This, of course, is another way of asking a question that has been posed countless times, in different ways, since the fall of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago: Does "civil society" mean imitating US society? Does democratization automatically entail Westernization?

What such questions touch upon are not simply matters of formal political structures and electoral procedures, but rather, deeper philosophical, moral and cultural issues. Implicit in such "democratization talk" is a theory of human nature, as well as far-reaching -- and unexamined -- value judgments about American versus non-American ways of embodying democratic principles and values. [ complete article ]

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Pentagon defends surveillance program
Michael J. Sniffen, Associated Press, May 20, 2003

The Pentagon assured Congress that its planned anti-terror surveillance system will only analyze legally acquired information and changed the name of the project to help allay privacy concerns that prompted congressional restrictions.

The Total Information Awareness program now under development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, will henceforth be named the Terrorism Information Awareness program. [ complete article ]

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A spy machine of DARPA's dreams
Noah Shachtman, Wired News, May 20, 2003

The Pentagon is about to embark on a stunningly ambitious research project designed to gather every conceivable bit of information about a person's life, index it and make it searchable.

What national security experts and civil libertarians want to know is, why would the Defense Department want to do such a thing?

The embryonic LifeLog program would dump everything an individual does into a giant database: every e-mail sent or received, every picture taken, every Web page surfed, every phone call made, every TV show watched, every magazine read.

All of this -- and more -- would combine with information gleaned from a variety of sources: a GPS transmitter to keep tabs on where that person went; audio-visual sensors to capture what he or she sees or says; and biomedical monitors to keep track of the individual's health.

This gigantic amalgamation of personal information could then be used to "trace the 'threads' of an individual's life," to see exactly how a relationship or events developed, according to a briefing from the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, LifeLog's sponsor.

Someone with access to the database could "retrieve a specific thread of past transactions, or recall an experience from a few seconds ago or from many years earlier … by using a search-engine interface."

On the surface, the project seems like the latest in a long line of Darpa's "blue sky" research efforts, most of which never make it out of the lab. But Steven Aftergood, a defense analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, says he is worried. [ complete article ]

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Israel: Another day, another outrage
Phil Reeves and Leonard Doyle, The Independent, May 19, 2003

The attacks themselves are no surprise; international observers had been expecting an Islamist backlash after the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. But the ferocity and frequency has been shocking. And yesterday there were still more.

The wave of suicide attacks in an arc that stretches from Morocco and Algeria through Israel ­ where seven were killed yesterday ­ to Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Pakistan have been mounted by different violent groups for different reasons. Yet they stand as testimony to the inaccuracy of President George Bush's view that America is winning the "war on terror". They also fortify the position of those who say the war in Iraq was not so much part of that war as a diversion from it ­ and that it has fuelled anti-Western attacks rather than reduced them. [ complete article ]

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Shiites denounce occupation
Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, May 20, 2003

Thousands of Shiite Muslims marched peacefully through Baghdad today in the largest protest so far against the six-week-old U.S. occupation of Iraq, calling on the United States to surrender power to an elected government and denouncing the exiles and ethnic organizations that U.S. officials have courted to help form a temporary administration.

The demonstration, in its message and numbers, appeared to open a new chapter in the still-tentative relations between the U.S. occupation authority and Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim population, which was often repressed during more than three decades of Baath Party rule.

Since the war's end, Shiite gatherings have been largely religious, involving rituals that were long banned or discouraged. But today's protest by an estimated 10,000 people took on a political tone -- a warning of what lies ahead, many protesters said, if their demands are ignored. [ complete article ]

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U.S. compromises at U.N. but keeps control of Iraq oil
Evelyn Leopold, Reuters, May 20, 2003

In hopes of getting strong U.N. support, the United States made some concessions in its quest to lift 13-year-old trade sanctions against Iraq, somewhat enhancing the role of the United Nations and opening the door for the return of U.N. arms inspectors.

But the resolution, expected to be adopted by Friday, still gives the United States and Britain wide-ranging powers to run Iraq and control its oil industry until a permanent government is established, which could take years. [ complete article ]

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Let's hear it for Belgium
An attempt to try Tommy Franks for war crimes in a Belgian court has outraged the US

George Monbiot, The Guardian, May 20, 2003

We should not be surprised to learn that the US government has responded to the suit [against Tommy Franks] with outrage. The state department has warned Belgium that it will punish nations which permit their laws to be used for "political ends". The Belgian government hasn't waited to discover what this means. It has amended the law and denounced the lawyer who filed the case.

The Bush government's response would doubtless be explained by its apologists as a measure of its insistence upon and respect for national sovereignty. But while the US forbids other nations to proscribe the actions of its citizens, it also insists that its own laws should apply abroad. The foreign sovereignty immunities act, for example, permits the US courts to prosecute foreigners for harming commercial interests in the US, even if they are breaking no laws within their own countries. The Helms-Burton Act allows the courts in America to confiscate the property of foreign companies which do business with Cuba. The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act instructs the government to punish foreign firms investing in the oil or gas sectors in those countries. The message these laws send is this: you can't prosecute us, but we can prosecute you.

Of course, the sensible means of resolving legal disputes between nations is the use of impartial, multinational tribunals, such as the international criminal court in the Hague. But impartial legislation is precisely what the US government will not contemplate. When the ICC treaty was being negotiated, the US demanded that its troops should be exempt from prosecution, and the UN security council gave it what it wanted. The US also helped to ensure that the court's writ runs only in the nations which have ratified the treaty. Its soldiers in Iraq would thus have been exempt in any case, as Saddam Hussein's government was one of seven which voted against the formation of the court in 1998. The others were China, Israel, Libya, Qatar, Yemen and the US. This is the company the American government keeps when it comes to international law. [ complete article ]

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Disunited nations
Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, May 20, 2003

As ambassadors of the council's 15 member states go into new discussions on Iraq this week, an outsider might think we are back to last autumn, when six weeks of argument produced resolution 1441 and a new mandate for UN weapons inspectors to return to Baghdad. Wrong. The war George W Bush launched in mid-March not only changed Iraq; it changed the UN. The current arguments over an international role in post-Saddam Iraq may look the same in form, but the context is new. [ complete article ]

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The return of the poppy fields
Michael Scherer, Mother Jones, May 19, 2003

Early this spring, the Afghan government sent an armed patrol into the mountains east of Kabul to uproot the illegal opium fields. The local farmers of Nangarhar province fought back, taking up guns to defend the plants that feed their families. "The resistance was extremely fierce," says Aziz Arya, an economist for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, who was working nearby. "People were hurt on both sides." More importantly, the government retreated, leaving most of the poppy intact.

Unfortunately, such clashes have become typical of modern day Afghanistan, where tribal chiefs and private armies still control the countryside and the official government struggles with scant resources in Kabul. American led security and reconstruction efforts are stumbling, say observers, leaving a vacuum that has increasingly been filled with the most profitable and deadly of crops. Last year opium production in Afghanistan increased 18 fold to 3,400 tons, leaving the fragile country once again responsible for more than 75 percent of the world's heroin. The harvest this summer is expected to break new records, owing to high prices and new poppy fields in the country's most remote reaches. [ complete article ]

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Shiite group says U.S. is reneging on interim rule
Edmund L. Andrews, New York Times, May 19, 2003

One of Iraq's largest Shiite political groups accused the United States' new civilian administrator today of reneging on promises to support the rapid creation of an Iraqi-led interim government.

"We were talking about an interim government, with authority to make decisions," said Adel Abdel Mahdi, political adviser to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. But, he continued, a draft resolution sponsored by the United States at the United Nations is "clearly something else."

The Supreme Council and its newly returned leader, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, have close ties to Iran and have long been critical of the United States. But the Shiite group's unhappiness and suspicion regarding recent American statements echo sentiments in a wide range of other parties, including the two main Kurdish political groups and the strongly pro-American Iraqi National Congress under Ahmad Chalabi. [ complete article ]

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This is no way to run an occupation
Con Coughlin, The Telegraph, May 18, 2003

It is barely six weeks since US troops received a rapturous welcome from ordinary Iraqis when they made their triumphant entry into Baghdad, and in that time most of the goodwill that was initially shown towards the liberation forces has been eroded.

The victory bunting has now been replaced by ominous graffiti, some of it posted adjacent to US military positions. The more polite slogans state: "You have done your job US, now please go home". Others declare: "US army, you will die." The US troops are no longer being seen as liberators, but as occupiers, and incompetent ones at that.

At the end of the war not much was left of Saddam's palaces and those buildings directly associated with the Ba'ath Party's security apparatus, but, because of precision bombing, the rest of the capital's administrative infrastructure remained intact. No longer. Thanks to the activities of the gangs of looters that have been allowed to rampage through the city unimpeded, the entire infrastructure of Baghdad now lies in ruins.

While the looting of the capital's banks and the national museum captured the headlines, the more serious damage has been done by the wanton vandalism committed against more mundane institutions, such as schools and universities. It is no exaggeration to say that more damage has been inflicted on Baghdad by the looters than the bombs of the coalition. [ complete article ]

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Plan to secure postwar Iraq faulted
Peter Slevin and Vernon Loeb, Washington Post, May 19, 2003

A month before the war began in Iraq, senior Bush administration officials said their plan for winning the peace was built upon the swift provision of basic services that would "immediately" make the Iraqi people feel they were better off than they had been under the government of Saddam Hussein.

Five weeks after the war ended, the administration is still struggling to accomplish that goal. It has failed to establish law and order on the streets and has achieved only mixed results in restoring electricity, water, sanitation and other essential needs.

In interviews here and in Washington, and in testimony on Capitol Hill, military officers, other administration officials and defense experts said the Pentagon ignored lessons from a decade of peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans and Afghanistan. [ complete article ]

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US post-war effort seen as on the brink of "fiasco"
Agence France-Presse, May 19, 2003

Nearly 40 days after the fall of Baghdad, US efforts to restore order and establish a functioning administration in Iraq are faltering as US forces struggle to cope with lawlessness, a fragile infrastructure and fractious Iraqi political forces, analysts said.

"It's close to a fiasco," said Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute, a Washington research organization.

"The contrasts between the efforts to rebuild Iraq and the stunning military victory could hardly be more pronounced."

Rejecting criticism that the United States failed to prepare for the post-war occupation, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested that no plan could have anticipated the conditions confronting US forces.

"You couldn't know how it would end," Rumsfeld said in an interview with The New York Times published Sunday.

"When it did end, you take it as you found it and get at it, knowing the single most important thing is security."

But the Pentagon did have a detailed plan for the post-war rehabilitation of Iraq. It just proved overly optimistic. [ complete article ]

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Terror's myriad faces
Jason Burke, The Observer, May 18, 2003

It has not been a good week for counter-terrorism. After a brief pause following the war in Iraq, it is now business as usual for the bad guys. This weekend sees terror alerts covering a great part of the world. The past few days have brought a casualty list running into the hundreds. 'It's dangerous in the world,' President George Bush said on Friday with his customary perspicacity, 'and it's dangerous so long as al-Qaeda continues to operate.'

In part, the President is right. It is dangerous in the world. In fact, it is becoming more dangerous with every passing day. This is because the President and the men who answer to him and his allies are not winning the war on terror, they are losing it.

The reason for this is to be found in the second part of Bush's statement. He believes eliminating al-Qaeda will end the threat of Islamic militant terrorism. Though this is rubbish, as a close analysis of recent terrorist attacks shows, it is the conventional wisdom among most of those charged with ending the violence that we are now being subjected to. [ complete article ]

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Shiites march in Baghdad against U.S.
Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press, May 19, 2003

Thousands of Shiite Muslims marched peacefully through the capital Monday to protest the American occupation of Iraq and reject what they feared would be a U.S.-installed puppet government.

Small groups of U.S. infantrymen, including snipers on nearby rooftops, watched the rally but did not intervene. Several dozen Shiite organizers armed with AK-47 assault rifles patrolled the area. They, too, were left alone by the Americans.

Up to 10,000 people gathered in front of a Sunni Muslim mosque in Baghdad's northern district of Azimiyah, then marched across a bridge on the Tigris River to the nearby Kadhamiya quarter, home to one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq.

It appeared to be the largest protest against the U.S. occupation since the war ended. [ complete article ]

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The exit that isn't on Bush's 'road map'
James Bennet, New York Times, May 18, 2003

The Bush administration argues that the defeat of Saddam Hussein has provided a chance to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and that only the eventual creation of a Palestinian state can accomplish that.

Benyamin Elon, a minister in the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon, agrees. But, reviving a vision long cherished by Israel's religious and secular hawks, he argues that the new Palestinian state must be Jordan.

This is the "window of opportunity," he says, for Israel to annex at last the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If the Bush administration has the courage to abandon "clichés" about land for peace, he argues, it can now achieve a "long-term, spiritual earthquake" in the Middle East.

Mr. Elon's vision has new punch because of the strengthening alliance between those Jews who favor a Greater Israel and conservative Christians in the United States who are moved by the same ancient dream, based on what evangelicals call the "Abrahamic covenant."

And Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Sharon, are well aware of that alliance as they consider their response to President Bush's new drive for peace. In fact, the religious nationalism that Mr. Elon embraces so tightly appears to be gaining adherents faster in the United States than in Israel. [ complete article ]

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Instant-mix imperial democracy
(buy one, get one free)

Arundhati Roy, Center for Economic and Social Rights, May 13, 2003

Public support in the U.S. for the war against Iraq was founded on a multi-tiered edifice of falsehood and deceit, coordinated by the U.S. government and faithfully amplified by the corporate media.

Apart from the invented links between Iraq and Al Qaida, we had the manufactured frenzy about Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. George Bush the Lesser went to the extent of saying it would be "suicidal" for the U.S. not to attack Iraq. We once again witnessed the paranoia that a starved, bombed, besieged country was about to annihilate almighty America. (Iraq was only the latest in a succession of countries - earlier there was Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Grenada, and Panama.) But this time it wasn't just your ordinary brand of friendly neighborhood frenzy. It was Frenzy with a Purpose. It ushered in an old doctrine in a new bottle: the Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strike, a.k.a. The United States Can Do Whatever The Hell It Wants, And That's Official. [ complete article ]

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Acts of hope: Challenging empire on the world stage
Rebecca Solnit, OrionOnline, May, 2003

A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure. After all, activism is often a reaction: Bush decides to invade Iraq, we create a global peace movement in which 10 to 30 million people march on seven continents on the same weekend. But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It's a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences. [ complete article ]

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Bombings bring U.S. 'executive mercenaries' into the light
William D. Hartung, Foreign Policy in Focus, May 16, 2003

You had probably never heard of the Vinnell Corp. before the brutal bombing that killed at least nine of its employees in Saudi Arabia this week, but you should have.

This is the second time Vinnell's Saudi operations have been targeted. The first attack, in November 1995, hit the headquarters of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, or SANG, and a nearby office complex that housed Vinnell employees. Though both attacks were decried by U.S. officials as senseless violence, they actually had a chillingly clear, brutal logic.

Vinnell's job in Saudi Arabia is to train the national guard, which Jane's Defense Weekly has described as "a kind of Praetorian Guard for the House of Saud, the royal family's defense of last resort against internal opposition." That is why company employees were targeted in 1995 and again last week. The story of how an obscure American firm ended up becoming an integral part of the Saudi monarchy's handpicked internal security force is a case study in how unaccountable private companies have become a central tool of U.S. foreign policy. [ complete article ]

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What next for Pax Americana?
John Gershman, Foreign Policy in Focus, May 12, 2003

With the occupation of Iraq firmly underway, and despite the uncertainties on the ground and within the occupying administration, some neoconservative analysts are already looking ahead--and not just to Syria or Iran or North Korea. "The real question now is how the United States can leverage its victory in Iraq to uphold, expand, and institutionalize the Pax Americana," says Thomas Donnelly in a recent issue of the American Enterprise Institute's National Security Outlook. Donnelly is a resident fellow at AEI and served as the deputy executive director at the Project for the New American Century from 1999-2002.

Donnelly's piece focuses on shaping the overall framework guiding the Bush doctrine and the practical challenges facing the institutionalization of unipolarity, and recognizes, unlike some of the less nuanced advocates of unilateralism, the importance of multilateral institutions for managing empire. Two key developments include efforts to refocus on China and soft-pedaling the unilateralist nature of the exercise of U.S. imperial power. [ complete article ]

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Karzai powerless as warlords battle
April Witt, Washington Post, May 18, 2003

Meymaneh, Afghanistan -- Assassins with their turbans wrapped to hide their faces ambushed a convoy on a main street in the middle of an April afternoon, executing Rasul Beg, a mid-level local militia commander, and igniting one of the fiercest battles between rival warlords ever waged in this northern town.

The gunfight lasted 20 hours, killed 13 people, including an 8-year-old boy, trapped international aid workers and left President Hamid Karzai's administration struggling to extend the rule of law to this provincial capital about 300 miles northwest of Kabul, the capital.

"I'm in a bad situation," said Enayatullah Enayat, a former Supreme Court justice whom Karzai recently sent here to serve as governor of surrounding Faryab province. "The warlords have men with guns and I don't. They might kill me." [ complete article ]

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Why the war on terror will never end
Michael Elliott, Time, May 18, 2003

Before Riyadh and Casablanca, it was tempting, if just for a moment, to believe that the war on terrorism was going well, that the big picture was of one success after another. The U.S. had notched a quick victory in Iraq, deposing a regime the Administration had linked to extremist Islamic terrorists. The much feared retaliatory strikes didn't take place, and no attacks had hit the U.S. after Sept. 11, 2001. Several key leaders of al-Qaeda, the network headed by Osama bin Laden that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, had been arrested. Just days before the bombings in Riyadh, President Bush stood on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln to bask in his Iraq triumph and declared, "The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide."

Then reality returned with a vengeance. After the latest blasts, no one is talking about turning any tide. Instead, the world is focused again on mourning, on soul searching, on how to deliver an effective response. Make no mistake about it: Islamic extremists are still angry enough, and organized enough, to cause considerable damage to the U.S. and its allies. [ complete article ]

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No political fallout for Bush on weapons
Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, May 17, 2003

President Bush appears to be in no political danger from the failure to find chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, with Democrats reluctant to challenge Bush on any aspect of the war and polls showing Americans unconcerned about weapons discoveries.

Disarming Saddam Hussein of his "weapons of mass destruction" was the main justification the Bush administration used both at home and abroad for attacking Iraq. But while other countries that opposed the U.S. military action claim they are vindicated by the failure so far to find those weapons, Americans -- even some of Bush's political opponents -- seem content with the low-casualty victory and believe the discoveries of mass graves and other Hussein atrocities justify the war.

Few Democrats are challenging Bush on the forbidden weapons, preferring to put the war behind them and focus attention on the economy, health care and other domestic issues. [ complete article ]

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Troops 'vandalise' ancient city of Ur
Ed Vulliamy, The Observer, May 18, 2003

One of the greatest wonders of civilisation, and probably the world's most ancient structure - the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Iraq - has been vandalised by American soldiers and airmen, according to aid workers in the area.

They claim that US forces have spray-painted the remains with graffiti and stolen kiln-baked bricks made millennia ago. As a result, the US military has put the archaeological treasure, which dates back 6,000 years, off-limits to its own troops. Any violations will be punishable in military courts.

Land immediately adjacent to Ur has been chosen by the Pentagon for a sprawling airfield and military base. Access is highly selective, screened and subject to military escorts, which - even if agreed - need to be arranged days or weeks in advance and carefully skirt the areas of reported damage.

There has been no official response to the allegations of vandalism - reported to The Observer by aid workers and one concerned US officer. [ complete article ]

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