The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
What is al-Qaeda?
Jason Burke, The Observer, July 13, 2003

It was clear to me that profound misconceptions were widespread. Foremost among them was the idea that bin Laden led a cohesive and structured terrorist organisation called "al-Qaeda". Every piece of evidence I came across in my own work contradicted this notion of al-Qaeda as an "Evil Empire" with an omnipotent mastermind at its head. Such an idea was undoubtedly comforting - destroy the man and his henchmen and the problem goes away - but it was clearly deeply flawed. As a result the debate over the prosecution of the ongoing "war on terror" had been skewed.

Instead of there being a reasoned and honest look at the root causes of resurgent Islamic radicalism the discussion of strategies in the war against terror had been almost entirely dominated by the language of high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication.

One question remained, and remains, largely unanswered: what is al-Qaeda? The word itself is critical. Al-Qaeda comes from the Arabic root qaf-ayn-dal. It can mean a base, such as a camp or a home, or a foundation. It can also mean a precept, rule, principle, maxim, formula or method.

For the most extreme elements among the Islamic radicals who joined the Afghans in the long battle through the 1980s against the Soviets, the word was understood in a very specific sense. Abdullah Azzam, the chief ideologue of the non-Afghan militants and a spiritual mentor of bin Laden, used it to describe the role he envisaged the most committed of the Muslim volunteers who had fought the Soviets playing once the war in Afghanistan was over. In 1987 he wrote: "Every principle needs a vanguard to carry it forward and [to] put up with heavy tasks and enormous sacrifices. This vanguard constitutes the strong foundation (al qaeda al-sulbah) for the expected society."

Azzam was talking about a mode of activism and a tactic, not talking about a particular organisation. Indeed it would be a year or more before bin Laden formed his group. Azzam was using the word to denote a purpose, an ideal and a function. He, and subsequently bin Laden too, saw the role of al-Qaeda, the vanguard, as being to radicalise and mobilise those Muslims who had hitherto rejected their extremist message. They would act like any revolutionary vanguard, as Lenin or indeed the French revolutionaries had imagined. Modern radical Islamic thought is heavily influenced by Western radical political thought, on the right and the left, and the concept of the vanguard is only one of a number of concepts, and tactics, borrowed from thinkers ranging from Trotsky and Mao to Hitler and Heidegger. [ complete article ]

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Lack of planning contributed to chaos in Iraq
Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, July 12, 2003

The small circle of senior civilians in the Defense Department who dominated planning for postwar Iraq failed to prepare for the setbacks that have erupted over the past two months.

The officials didn't develop any real postwar plans because they believed that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms and Washington could install a favored Iraqi exile leader as the country's leader. The Pentagon civilians ignored CIA and State Department experts who disputed them, resisted White House pressure to back off from their favored exile leader and when their scenario collapsed amid increasing violence and disorder, they had no backup plan.

Today, American forces face instability in Iraq, where they are losing soldiers almost daily to escalating guerrilla attacks, the cost of occupation is exploding to almost $4 billion a month and withdrawal appears untold years away.

"There was no real planning for postwar Iraq," said a former senior U.S. official who left government recently.

Officials at the State Department and CIA thought the Pentagon's vision for Iraq was badly flawed and impractical, so the Pentagon planners simply excluded their rivals from involvement.

The story of the flawed postwar planning process was gathered in interviews with more than a dozen current and former senior government officials. [ complete article ]

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Bush expresses faith in CIA director
Darlene Superville, Associated Press, July 12, 2003

President Bush said Saturday he still has faith in his intelligence chief after CIA Director George Tenet accepted blame for Bush's erroneous claim about Iraqi weapons.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair's office insisted he still believes the disputed charge that Iraq sought uranium in Africa was true, saying Britain has reliable information it cannot share with Washington because it comes from foreign intelligence sources.

In a letter made public Saturday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the CIA had expressed doubts to Britain about the uranium charge but did not specify what they were. Britain did not know until recently that the agency sent an envoy to Niger who investigated the claims and discounted them, he added. [ complete article ]

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A perfect war?
Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, July 11, 2003

The Defense Department has come up with a novel explanation for the looting, robberies and shootings that have afflicted Iraq since Saddam Hussein was overthrown: They are the unavoidable consequence of a triumphant war plan. [...]

"We are facing some of the problems brought on by our very success in the war, in particular, our ability to use speed to pre-empt many of the actions that we were afraid Saddam might take," Mr. Feith said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "War, like life in general, always involves trade-offs. It is not right to assume that any current problems in Iraq can be attributed to poor planning."

In short, the Pentagon seems to be asserting that there was nothing it should have done differently. The disorder that afflicted Iraq in recent months was a necessary and acceptable consequence of a broader strategy for quickly winning the war. It was not preventable, and the strategy accepted this risk.

The assertion that Pentagon planning for the occupation of Iraq was flawless is quite a claim, given the mounting allied casualty toll, the difficulty the United States has had in restoring basic services and the continued threat of economic sabotage. Democrats have been quick to question the administration's handling of the postwar situation, and some experts on Iraq also challenge the Pentagon's claim.

Walter P. Lang, who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency as the chief Middle East analyst during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, dismissed the Defense Department's argument as "nonsense." The Pentagon, he asserted, based the military campaign on the optimistic expectations that stability in Iraq could easily be achieved with a modest level of forces there and it is now reluctant to concede that its assumptions were off base. [ complete article ]

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U.S. 'needs help in Iraq'
BBC News, July 11, 2003

The Bush administration is coming under growing domestic pressure over its Iraq strategy amid continuing attacks on US forces in the country.

The US Senate has voted unanimously to urge President George W Bush to consider asking Nato and the United Nations for help in rebuilding Iraq.

The non-binding resolution said that while it was in the interests of the United States to remain engaged in Iraq, conditions there posed a serious threat to American troops.

Public opinion in the US appears to reflect this disquiet, with polls showing a marked decline in support for the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. [ complete article ]

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Trading on fear
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, The Guardian, July 12, 2003

"The United States lost the public relations war in the Muslim world a long time ago," Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, said in October 2001. "They could have the prophet Mohammed doing public relations and it wouldn't help."

At home in the US, the propaganda war has been more effective. And a key component has been fear: fear of terrorism and fear of attack.

Early scholars who studied propaganda called it a "hypodermic needle approach" to communication, in which the communicator's objective was to "inject" his ideas into the minds of the target population. Since propaganda is often aimed at persuading people to do things that are not in their own best interests, it frequently seeks to bypass the rational brain altogether and manipulate us on a more primitive level, appealing to emotional symbolism.

Television uses sudden, loud noises to provoke a startled response, bright colours, violence - not because these things are inherently appealing, but because they catch our attention and keep us watching. When these practices are criticised, advertisers and TV executives respond that they do this because this is what their "audience wants". In fact, however, they are appealing selectively to certain aspects of human nature - the most primitive aspects, because those are the most predictable. Fear is one of the most primitive emotions in the human psyche, and it definitely keeps us watching. If the mere ability to keep people watching were really synonymous with "giving audiences what they want", we would have to conclude that people "want" terrorism. On September 11, Osama bin Laden kept the entire world watching. As much as people hated what they were seeing, the power of their emotions kept them from turning away. [ complete article ]

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After the war
Lisa Pollak, Baltimore Sun, July 11, 2003

The war is over. Or so people have told him, yelling out car windows - Don't you read the paper? - as they drive past his sign.

Of course, if the war were over, Larry Syverson wouldn't be out there in the first place. He could spend his lunch hours sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant instead of standing on the sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse in the midday heat. He could stop fearing the crunch of an unfamiliar car on his gravel driveway, followed by the knock of a stranger with news about his sons.

He has four of them altogether. Two are soldiers in Iraq. [ complete article ]

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World oil markets and the invasion of Iraq
Raad Alkadiri and Fareed Mohamedi, Middle East Report, Summer, 2003

George W. Bush's regime-changing war in Iraq is widely seen as an oil war -- a grab for the second-largest petroleum reserves in the world. In the minds of many, this interpretation was confirmed when the United States pressed for, and secured, a UN resolution giving the US-British occupying authority control over expenditure of Iraq's oil revenues. Without a doubt, Washington does see a major role for foreign oil companies in the expansion of the Iraqi oil sector -- a vision it shares with senior officials in the Iraqi oil ministry. But calculations about "controlling" Iraqi oil figured most prominently in the strategic, rather than the merely commercial, thinking of the Bush administration about the invasion. Washington hawks saw a US-allied Iraq as an alternative to Saudi Arabia as the strategic supplier of oil to the United States. They also thought that increased Iraqi output would create structurally lower oil prices, putting financial pressure on Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states of the Gulf, and forcing those states to reform economically and politically to avoid internal upheavals. Iraqi oil, in the hopes of the neo-conservatives and their allies who pushed the war, would eventually become a weapon for undermining Arab regimes and Iran, bringing "democracy" to the Middle East and making the region safer for the US and Israel. [ complete article ]

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Give Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz the boot
H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe, July 11, 2003

Defense Donald Rumsfeld stands at the head of the table. He has outmaneuvered all his Cabinet rivals and taken over many of the functions that used to belong to the State Department, the CIA, even the Justice Department. He dominates the Cabinet as no secretary of defense has done since Robert McNamara. He is also articulate, refreshingly if undiplomatically blunt, with a no-nonsense approach that is at times both witty and exactly to the point.

His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, is often mentioned as the most brilliant person in government. He is perhaps the most influential deputy in modern times, at the top of his game. He has seen his vision of toppling Saddam Hussein fulfilled, and he is an intellectual force behind a whole new way of looking at US foreign policy.

But for all of that, both should be fired. Here's why.

The Iraq campaign, of which they were in charge, has been grossly mishandled. I use the word campaign because the overthrow of Saddam's army and regime was only the opening phase in what has to be, if this country is to maintain any credibility, an open and democratic society in Iraq. This may yet happen, but the current leadership of the Pentagon, through a fatal combination of hubris and incompetence, has so far bungled the job. If there were any accountability in the Bush administration, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz would be asked to resign. [ complete article ]

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'Heavy-handed policing by U.S. risks Iraq peace'
Jimmy Burns, Financial Times, July 11, 2003

Senior police advisers have told the UK government that the law enforcement operation in Iraq is at risk of disintegration unless US forces stop "kicking ass" and take a more conciliatory attitude towards civilians.

Some UK officials are appalled by the language and tactics used by Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner, dubbed the "Baghdad terminator" by local journalists because of his uncompromising style.

"The Americans need to learn that civil policing is not about 'kicking ass', it is about democracy. There are going to be problems if we continue with our different philosophies and different approaches to law enforcement," one UK official said. [ complete article ]

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Tongue-tied in the Arab world
David Ignatius, Washington Post, July 11, 2003

The shortage of Arabic speakers has become so acute that one of the U.S. government's most fluent Arabists recently had to interpret trivial housekeeping questions at his headquarters in Baghdad. This is a man who could help create a new Iraq; what a waste that he must spend time minding the domestic staff.

The lack of Arabists already was severe during the Afghanistan war. Indeed, I am told that an Arabic document found in Kabul before the murder of Daniel Pearl outlined a plot to kidnap an American journalist in an unnamed country. But it was ignored in a heap of documents by an overwhelmed Pentagon bureaucracy. [ complete article ]

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Baghdad's new blogger
Paul Woodward, The War in Context, July 11, 2003

Salam Pax is still the best known Baghdad blogger, but another picture of life in the city newly emerges, this time from a blogger who arrived there just a few weeks ago. The weblog is Turningtables, its author is a U.S. Army sergeant camped outside one of Saddam Hussein's palaces.

Soldiers on active duty are often reluctant to say how they feel, but at a time when U.S. casualties are mounting, the justification for the war is open to question, and "pockets of resistance" are beginning to look more like guerilla warfare, Turningtables unmasks the fears that usually lie hidden behind a soldier's expressionless face.

it's a sad state that originates when the death of soldiers becomes common everyday news...and it stops being surprising...and shocking...and horrible...when it takes a really gruesome story to remind you that you are in the middle of this shit...and you can't go home...YOU CAN'T GO want to curl up and quit...

Sergeant Sean has been keeping his journal since early June and the life he describes will ring true for many a soldier:

we volunteered for this...we sit here because we raised our hand...and sold our souls...most would think that we knew exactly what we were getting into...they would be wrong...we were naive...we were homeless...we were living with our mothers...this is just a job for 75% of us…
[ complete article ]

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The UK businessmen trapped in Guantanamo
Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, July 11, 2003

The British government is facing claims that it has abandoned two London businessmen jailed without charge by the US at Guantanamo Bay.

The men's ordeal began last November, when Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna were arrested by British police at Gatwick airport. Although freed without charge and allowed to travel to Gambia they were rearrested on arrival and detained for a month by local secret police.

They were then handed over to US agents who flew them to a CIA interrogation centre at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, before being transferred to Camp Delta in Cuba where they have been held since March.

The men have been jailed for alleged links to al-Qaida after being branded "enemy combatants". Yet neither they nor their families have been given any information about the substance of the claims against them. [ complete article ]

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War-weary troops long for home
Peter Greste, BBC News, July 10, 2003

It was a single shot - nothing spectacular - but that split-second act of Iraqi resistance might well be recorded as the point at which America turned from liberator to occupier.
The soldier who died was on a foot patrol through the Baghdad University.

There was no sign of imminent danger, according to the politics and engineering students who saw what happened.

The soldier was almost certainly feeling relaxed and at ease as he sipped his soft-drink in the stifling heat.

Like all American troops on patrol here, he was sweating beneath his Kevlar flak-jacket and helmet.

They provided no protection whatsoever from the man who walked through the lunch-time crowd, put a pistol to the back of the soldier's skull, and pulled the trigger.

The killing was an audacious strike that forced the US military planners here to once more re-think their strategy across Iraq. [ complete article ]

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Bush knew Iraq info was dubious
David Martin, CBS News, July 10, 2003

Senior administration officials tell CBS News the President's mistaken claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa was included in his State of the Union address -- despite objections from the CIA.

Before the speech was delivered, the portions dealing with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were checked with the CIA for accuracy.

CIA officials warned members of the President's National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.

The White House officials responded that a paper issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion: "Iraq has ... sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." As long as the statement was attributed to British Intelligence, the White House officials argued, it would be factually accurate. The CIA officials dropped their objections and that's how it was delivered.

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Mr. Bush said.

The statement was technically correct, since it accurately reflected the British paper. But the bottom line is the White House knowingly included in a presidential address information its own CIA had explicitly warned might not be true. [ complete article ]

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U.S. should take the shackles off 9/11 probe
Marie Cocco, Newsday, July 10, 2003

They are too much the gentlemen to leave out the niceties altogether.

"Stonewalling is the wrong expression," said Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who chairs the national commission investigating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

How about sickening?

That is quite a good word to describe what's going on.

The 9/11 commission, led by Kean and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, did not come right out and say the Bush administration is doing its best to obstruct its inquiry, the only investigation we are going to get into the fullness of the catastrophe in which 3,021 people were murdered. [ complete article ]

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U.S. report on 9/11 to be 'explosive'
Frank Davies, Miami Herald, July 10, 2003

A long-awaited final report on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will be released in the next two weeks, containing new information about U.S. government mistakes and Saudi financing of terrorists.

Former Rep. Tim Roemer, who served on the House Intelligence Committee and who has read the report, said it will be ''highly explosive'' when it becomes public. [ complete article ]

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Afghan poppies proliferate
April Witt, Washington Post, July 10, 2003

The drug trade in Afghanistan is growing more pervasive, powerful and organized, its corrupting reach extending to all aspects of society, according to dozens of interviews with international and Afghan anti-narcotics workers, police, poppy farmers, government officials and their critics.

Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer last year, appears poised to produce another bumper crop. In rural areas where wheat has historically been the dominant crop, fields of brilliant red, pink and white poppies are proliferating. Many poor farmers, who complain that the Afghan government and other countries have failed to ease their economic woes through legal means, say that they are growing illegal opium poppies for the first time. [ complete article ]

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Rumsfeld reprise? The missile report that foretold the Iraq intelligence controversy
Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Today, July/August, 2003

In recent weeks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire for his part in the Bush administration's misuse of U.S. intelligence to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Rumsfeld's tendency to hype selective portions of intelligence that support his policy goals was already familiar to intelligence professionals. They remember his chairmanship of a 1998 congressionally chartered commission charged with evaluating the nature and magnitude of the ballistic missile threat to the United States. As with Iraq, Rumsfeld's work on ballistic missiles often ignored the carefully considered views of such professionals in favor of highly unlikely worst-case scenarios that posited an imminent threat to the United States and prompted a military, rather than diplomatic, response. Just as is likely to be the case with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD), time has proven Rumsfeld's predictions dead wrong.

The "Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States," chaired by Rumsfeld and released in July 1998, was one of the most influential congressionally mandated reports in recent memory. The presentation of the Rumsfeld Commission report and the unexpected attempt by North Korea to launch a satellite one month later combined to create a political tidal wave that ultimately engulfed one of the most successful arms control treaties in history, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The report also led to massive increases in spending on defenses against ICBMs rather than on domestic spending, other defense priorities, or more urgent defenses against short- and medium-range missiles. Because the Rumsfeld report had such a significant impact on U.S. foreign and defense policy, it is worth checking the report's predictions against current realities. [ complete article ]

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On Iran, U.S. opts for peer pressure
Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, July 10, 2003

Despite fresh evidence that Iran is accelerating and diversifying its suspected development of nuclear weapons, the Bush administration appears willing to wait and see - at least for now - if international pressure short of force can persuade the Tehran regime to give up its nuclear program.

The explanation can be found in the increasingly unified voice with which the international community is telling the Iranian government, in effect: "Forget the nukes, or face isolation." [ complete article ]

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U.S. might ask NATO to take over control of Iraq occupation
Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman, Baltimore Sun, July 9, 2003

With American costs and casualties mounting in Iraq, the Bush administration is showing new interest in putting NATO in charge of the military occupation as a way of scaling back the U.S. troop commitment, U.S. and NATO officials say.

Such a change would discomfit some administration hard-liners, as it would force the United States to share decision-making on Iraq with European leaders who opposed the U.S.-led invasion, analysts said. It might also require seeking a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, which the United States failed to get before launching the war to topple Saddam Hussein. [ complete article ]

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Big Brother gets a brain
Noah Shachtman, Village Voice, July 9, 2003

Traditionally, the authorities have collected information only on people who might be connected to a crime. If there was a murder in the East Village, the cops didn't bring in all of St. Mark's Place; they interrogated only the people who might have information about the killer. Even the most extreme abuses of law enforcement power -- like J. Edgar Hoover's domestic spying on political activists -- homed in on very specific individuals, or groups, that he imagined as threats to the state. He didn't put the whole state under watch.

September 11 changed that. Now, the idea is to find out as much as possible about as many people as possible. After all, the logic goes, the country can't afford to sit back and wait to be attacked. Almost anyone could play a part in a terrorist plot. So the government has to keep tabs on almost everyone.

CTS [Combat Zones That See], a $12 million, three-year program, is emerging as a potential centerpiece of that initiative. [ complete article ]

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A diplomat's undiplomatic truth: They lied
Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2003

They may have finally found the smoking gun that nails the culprit responsible for the Iraq war. Unfortunately, the incriminating evidence wasn't left in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces but rather in Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

Former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson publicly revealed over the weekend that he was the mysterious envoy whom the CIA, under pressure from Cheney, sent to Niger to investigate a document -- now known to be a crude forgery -- that allegedly showed Iraq was trying to acquire enriched uranium that might be used to build a nuclear bomb. Wilson found no basis for the story, and nobody else has either.

What is startling in Wilson's account, however, is that the CIA, the State Department, the National Security Council and the vice president's office were all informed that the Niger-Iraq connection was phony. No one in the chain of command disputed that this "evidence" of Iraq's revised nuclear weapons program was a hoax.

Yet, nearly a year after Wilson reported back the facts to Cheney and the U.S. security apparatus, Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, invoked the fraudulent Iraq-Africa uranium connection as a major justification for rushing the nation to war: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa." What the president did not say was that the British were relying on their intelligence white paper, which was based on the same false information that Wilson and the U.S. ambassador to Niger had already debunked. "That information was erroneous, and they knew about it well ahead of both the publication of the British white paper and the president's State of the Union address," Wilson said Sunday on "Meet the Press." [ complete article ]

See also What I didn't find in Africa.

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Conservatives' core duty on WMD
Doug Bandow, Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 2003

There was a time when conservatives fought passionately to preserve America as a limited constitutional republic. That was, in fact, the essence of conservatism. It's one reason Franklin Roosevelt's vast expansion of government through the New Deal aroused such bitter opposition on the right.

But many conservative activists seem to have lost that philosophical commitment. They now advocate autocratic executive rule, largely unconstrained by constitutional procedures or popular opinions. [ complete article ]

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House panel cuts Bush nuclear weapons requests
Reuters, July 8, 2003

A House of Representatives panel on Tuesday passed a bill that would curb spending on U.S. nuclear weapons programs, in what lawmakers termed "a shot across the bow" of the Bush administration.

Showing rare bipartisan unity, the House Appropriations subcommittee unanimously approved the $27.1 billion measure to fund energy and water programs in 2004, including a boost in funding for the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump.

Overall the bill would be an increase of around $942 million over the current fiscal year but would slash more than $326 million from President Bush's budget request for the federal agency which oversees nuclear weapons programs.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers expressed skepticism about whether the current U.S. nuclear stockpile was appropriate in a world without a superpower foe. [ complete article ]

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9/11 commission says U.S. agencies slow its inquiry
Philip Shenon, New York Times, July 9, 2003

The federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks said today that its work was being hampered by the failure of executive branch agencies, especially the Pentagon and the Justice Department, to respond quickly to requests for documents and testimony.

The panel also said the failure of the Bush administration to allow officials to be interviewed without the presence of government colleagues could impede its investigation, with the commission's chairman suggesting today that the situation amounted to "intimidation" of the witnesses. [ complete article ]

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What Iraq needs now
Jalal Talabani, secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, New York Times, July 9, 2003

Some day, we Iraqis hope to celebrate an Independence Day like the one Americans have just observed. But for the near future we face the challenge of translating liberation into democracy -- a goal we Kurds will push for even more diligently now that we have agreed to join the interim Iraqi administration that will be formed this month. To that end, we will work closely with the United States to establish security, revive the economy and build a democratic culture. [ complete article ]

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Blow-back in Baghdad
Fred Kaplan, Slate, July 8, 2003

Rumsfeld turned out to be right that a relatively light force (not quite the equivalent of four divisions) could smash the Iraqi military and kick Saddam's regime out of Baghdad. However, his critics within the Army have turned out to be right that this force would be too light to occupy, secure, and defend the country after the war.

True, Rumsfeld had no way of knowing (probably nobody seriously predicted) that Iraq's entire security apparatus -- army, police, firefighters, everything -- would evaporate upon Saddam's departure. Nonetheless, a cursory look at the annals of recent history should have convinced Rumsfeld that he was gravely underestimating the operation's postwar requirements, even under optimistic scenarios. [ complete article ]

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Occupation's ordeals ravage Iraqi psyche
Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2003

Nearly three months ago, the Americans arrived in this capital with promises of a new and better Iraq. Today, there is still no Iraqi government. Basic services work only falteringly. For many Iraqis, each new day of occupation ratchets up feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and humiliation.

A fiercely proud people, Iraqis feel that they are losing face in the Arab world. The Arabic word used to describe their circumstances -- ihtilal, or occupation -- has for decades been associated in the region's media with the stateless Palestinians.

Unable to communicate with English speakers, most Iraqis worry about the foreigners' intentions. And even some who have long-standing friendships with Americans speak darkly about what will happen if the occupation drags on.

"Even if I joined the resistance, I don't think I could kill an American soldier," said Wamidh Nadhmi, who for years entertained U.S. reporters in his Baghdad home with quiet, cautious criticism of Hussein's regime. "I'm an old man, a political scientist. I don't think I could pull the trigger."

But the thought has crossed his mind, he said. It is an irrational response to an irrational situation. [ complete article ]

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Urban combat frustrates Army
Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Molly Moore, Washington Post, July 8, 2003

The daily attacks that use the urban landscape for concealment and flight have frustrated and frightened U.S. forces in Baghdad, many of whom have to drive through the city in open-sided Humvees, stand in front of government buildings and walk through public places every day. On a mission to restore public order and rebuild a war-scarred nation, soldiers regard themselves as particularly vulnerable to resistance fighters who take advantage of the fact that not all U.S. troops are hunkered down in sandbagged bases or driven around in armored vehicles.

"If we have to be peacekeepers here, we're going to be exposed to all kinds of attacks," said a military police officer. "Sure, we have our flak jackets and our helmets -- and we're always on the lookout for suspicious activity. But the depressing thing is that there's not a whole lot we really can do about those guys who are determined to try to kill us." [ complete article ]

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Why Africa has become a Bush priority
Tony Karon, Time, July 7, 2003

It is too easy to cast President Bush's Africa tour this week as little more than a PR exercise. The President will be dispensing gifts on his five-day sweep through Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria, -- financial aid, money to fight AIDS and trade agreements to support good governance -- that may help soften his Administration's negative international image. He may even be poised to commit troops to Liberia to help prevent yet another catastrophic African fratricide, a substantial expansion of military humanitarian peacekeeping of the kind for which he had once sharply criticized his predecessor. But while AIDS, trade, investment, democracy, development and the moral obligation of preventing mass bloodshed may dominate many of the speeches, Mr. Bush is first and foremost a national-security president. His agenda in Africa remains grounded in his priority of defending the realm, and the increased U.S. engagement in Africa is driven by two familiar strategic concerns: Oil and terrorism. [ complete article ]

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Parliamentarians' fury at secret U.S. trials of 'terror' Britons
Nicholas Watt and Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, July 8, 2003

Tony Blair is facing the most serious crisis in his relations with George Bush after ministers criticised the president for ruling that two Britons are to stand trial before a military court which can order executions.

Amid rising anger across the political spectrum, the Foreign Office minister Chris Mullin yesterday all but accused the US of breaching the Geneva convention as he expressed "strong reservations" about the secretive trial.

To ram home his message, Mr Mullin took the rare step of announcing that he would pass on copies of furious exchanges in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon to the US ambassador, William Farish.

Mr Mullin spoke out after Washington announced last week that President Bush had "designated" Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi to face trial before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Mr Abbasi, 23, from Croydon, south London, and Mr Begg, 35, from Sparkbrook, Birmingham, have been held for 18 months without charge or access to a lawyer. [ complete article ]

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The 'Palestinian Napoleon' behind Mideast cease-fire
Nicole Gaouette, Christian Science Monitor, July 3, 2003

If Arafat is a lion in winter, [Marwan] Barghouti is a clear heir apparent and has already succeeded Arafat as a symbol of resistance for many Palestinians.

A tiny fireplug of a man who wields a sharp wit in three languages, he has a politician's instinct for image and theatre. At the onset of the intifada, he would position himself for TV interviews so that Israeli tanks confronting stone-throwing Palestinian boys appeared in the background.

He invited Nelson Mandela to attend his (still ongoing) trial and has used hearings to announce that Israel, not he, is on trial for its occupation.

"He is incredibly influential," says Diana Buttu, a legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, who points out that Barghouti grew up here, unlike Abbas or Arafat.

"He is very charismatic, principled, and clear with Israelis: 'We don't hate you; we hate your occupation,'" Ms. Buttu adds. [ complete article ]

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'The right man in the right place'
Julian Borger, The Guardian, July 8, 2003

When John Abizaid was a teenage Arab-American growing up in a small dusty town on the edge of California's Sierra Nevada mountains, he used to draw imaginary nations in his geography exercise book and name them "Abizaidland".

Abizaidland came into existence yesterday, when the 51-year-old army officer from Coleville was sworn in as General Tommy Franks' successor at central command, running military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the Middle East. Washington now has a civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, in place in Baghdad, and there are plans to set up an interim Iraqi administration at some point this month. But beneath the gloss, there are few illusions. Abizaidland is going to be a nasty and brutish place. American and British troops are under constant attack in an escalating guerrilla conflict, and the US military under General Abizaid's command is going to run the country for the foreseeable future.

Given this miserable reality, the officer known to his West Point classmates as the "Mad Arab" is widely considered the best man the Pentagon could possibly dream of to do the job. He is a combat hero whose exploits have become the stuff of Hollywood movies. He is deeply respected by his troops, and - unusually for senior army officers - manages to get on well with the irascible defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Just as importantly, he speaks fluent Arabic, spent two years studying at the University of Jordan in Amman, and holds a masters degree in Middle East politics from Harvard.

"For once, we've got exactly the right man in the right place at the right time," says Judith Kipper, a Middle East analyst and a frequent critic of the Bush administration's Middle East policy. [ complete article ]

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Our fake patriots
George Monbiot, The Guardian, July 8, 2003

The prediction was not hard to make. If Britain kept supporting the US government as it trampled the sovereignty of other nations, before long it would come to threaten our own. But few guessed that this would happen so soon.

Long ago, Britain informally surrendered much of its determination of foreign policy to the United States. We have sent our soldiers to die for that country in two recent wars, and our politicians to lie for it. But now the British government is going much further. It is ceding control to the US over two of the principal instruments of national self-determination: judicial authority and military policy. The mystery is not that this is happening. The mystery is that those who have sought to persuade us that they are the guardians of national sovereignty are either failing to respond or demanding only that Britain becomes the doormat on which the US government can wipe its bloodstained boots. [ complete article ]

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Iraq policy is broken. Fix it
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, July 14, 2003

"We're utterly surprised," a senior U.N. diplomat told me. "We thought that after the war, the United States would try to dump Iraq on the world's lap and the rest of the world would object, saying, 'This is your mess, you clean it up.' The opposite is happening. The rest of the world is saying, 'We're willing to help,' but Washington is determined to run Iraq itself." And what are we getting for this privilege? The vast majority of the costs, for starters.

Most estimates suggest that Iraq is now costing U.S. taxpayers $4 billion a month. The gush of oil revenues is going to take much longer than expected. Meanwhile the country is in worse shape than almost anyone predicted. If past experience with nation-building is any guide, aid levels will need to rise significantly to achieve success.

The military situation is even more difficult. Right now, more than a third of active-duty U.S. Army forces are deployed in and around Iraq -- 180,000 out of 480,000. Without a serious change of strategy, this is not sustainable for more than a year. [ complete article ]

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Troop morale in Iraq hits 'rock bottom'
Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2003

US troops facing extended deployments amid the danger, heat, and uncertainty of an Iraq occupation are suffering from low morale that has in some cases hit "rock bottom."

Even as President Bush speaks of a "massive and long-term" undertaking in rebuilding Iraq, that effort, as well as the high tempo of US military operations around the globe, is taking its toll on individual troops.

Some frustrated troops stationed in Iraq are writing letters to representatives in Congress to request their units be repatriated. "Most soldiers would empty their bank accounts just for a plane ticket home," said one recent Congressional letter written by an Army soldier now based in Iraq. The soldier requested anonymity. [ complete article ]

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Bush pushes for next generation of nukes
Tom Squitieri, USA Today, July 7, 2003

In the 11 years since, the United States has worked to halt the spread of nuclear weapons around the world and has often touted its own self-imposed restraint as a model for other nations.

But the Bush administration has now taken a decidedly different approach, one that has touched off a passionate debate in Washington. Last year the White House released, to little publicity, the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review. That policy paper embraces the use of nuclear weapons in a first strike and on the battlefield; it also says a return to nuclear testing may soon be necessary. [ complete article ]

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Grisly death enrages anti-U.S. town in Iraq
Michael Georgy, Reuters, July 7, 2003

The gruesome death of an Iraqi man whose head was shot off inflamed anti-American rage in the volatile town of Ramadi on Monday after a night of armed attacks which wounded four U.S. troops.

Several Iraqis gathered around his bullet ridden car where a piece of skull lay among the shattered windshield glass on the floorboard.

Another crowd walked past pools of blood at Ramadi General Hospital and watched a doctor pull plastic sheeting off his corpse that was punctured by bullets they said were fired by U.S. troops occupying the town, around 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad.

"You will see what will happen to the Americans now. You will see what we will do to them," hospital administrator Taha Hussein told Reuters. [ complete article ]

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Fallujah symbolizes U.S. failure to bring peace, stability to Iraq
Tom Lasseter, Lexington Herald-Leader, July 6, 2003

Perhaps more than any other part of the country, Fallujah has come to symbolize the failure of U.S. forces to bring peace and stability to Iraq. Troops stationed in the city are dangerously out of touch with the people they are trying to control. Commanders admit they have no idea who is repeatedly attacking them or why. Their principal conduit to the people of the town is a mayor backed by coalition forces who commands little respect even across the street from his office. And hostility to the United States is growing at an alarming pace, perhaps already crossing a point of no return.

No less than three soldiers have been killed and 21 wounded in Fallujah since major combat operations ended on May 1, an average, roughly, of one soldier hit every two days.

Beyond that, there is an unknown number of daily attacks that don't net military casualties. There have been at least three rocket-propelled grenade ambushes during the past week. [ complete article ]

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Fatigued, U.S. troops yearn for home
Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2003

Facing repeatedly delayed go-home dates and attacks by elements of a population they were sent to protect, American troops in Iraq are under increasing stress. The killing of a US soldier Sunday at Baghdad University epitomizes the non-combat violence that leaves US forces on tenterhooks - and waiting for a ticket home.

"A lot of guys, because the dates have been tossed around, have lost hope," says Capt. John Jensen, an engineering battalion chaplain. "Nobody's been able to answer that question: when?" [ complete article ]

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Crackdown urged for Iranian group on U.S. terrorist list
Michael Dobbs, Washington Post, July 6, 2003

For a group officially designated by both the Bush and Clinton administrations as a "foreign terrorist organization," the People's Mujaheddin of Iran has been remarkably active in the United States.

Other groups on the State Department's terrorism list -- such as al Qaeda and Hamas -- have been relentlessly hunted down, their assets confiscated, their supporters thrown into jail. By contrast, the Iranian group has established a substantial political presence in Washington -- lobbying Congress, holding news conferences and raising funds to finance an armed uprising against the Islamic government in Tehran.

Outraged by what they see as gaping inconsistencies in the government's anti-terrorism policies, State Department officials are pushing for the freezing of the group's financial assets and the closure of its Washington office. Their stance has been bolstered by a major crackdown against the Mujaheddin in Europe and a federal appeals court decision upholding the group's designation as a terrorist organization. [ complete article ]

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A costly friendship
Patrick Seale, The Nation, July 2, 2003

The basic neocon argument was that terrorist attacks should not in any way be read as the response of angry, desperate men to what America and Israel were doing to the Arab and Muslim world, and especially to the Palestinians. Quite the contrary; America was attacked because the terrorists envied the American way of life. America was virtuous, America was "good." The real problem, the neocons argued, lay not with American policies but with the "sick" and "failed" Islamic societies from which the terrorists sprang, with their hate-driven educational system, with their inherently "violent" and "fanatical" religion. So, rather than correcting or changing its misguided policies, the United States was urged to "reform" and "democratize" Arab and Muslim societies--by force if necessary--so as to insure its own security and that of its allies. Wars of choice became official American policy.

Concerned to insure Israel's continued regional supremacy, and at odds with what they saw as distasteful opponents, such as Islamic militancy, Arab nationalism and Palestinian radicalism, the neocons argued that the aim of US policy in the Middle East should be the thorough political and ideological "restructuring" of the region. Exporting "democracy" would serve the interests of defending both the United States and Israel. A "reformed" Middle East could be made pro-American and pro-Israeli. All this seems to have amounted to an ambitious--perhaps over-reaching--program for Israeli regional dominance, driven by Israel's far right and its way-out American friends. [ complete article ]

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In Iraq's disorder, the ayatollahs may save the day
Patrick E. Tyler, New York Times, July 6, 2003

Men in turbans have seldom fit the profile of rescuers of American foreign policy. But the day may come in Iraq when the majority Shiites save the victory that President Bush is seeking to preserve against a rain of reversals.

With the deaths of two dozen Americans in combat in central Iraq in the last eight weeks, the Bush administration is trying hard to blame desperate Baathists, "dead enders" from Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, criminals and terrorists for the violence. But to step back in Iraq is to see that the Sunni Muslim minority north and west of Baghdad is in the early stages of rebellion. Early sporadic violence has become more concerted every day. There may be no central command, but among the Sunni warrior class, no road map to resistance is needed.

In contrast, the Shiite cities and villages of southern Iraq are relatively quiet -- and it is the Shiites who make up 60 percent of the country's 23 million people. [ complete article ]

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Life under fire
Romesh Ratnesar and Simon Robinson, Time, July 5, 2003

Three months after the fall of Baghdad, a grim fact of life for Bremer as well as his 600-member civilian staff and the 146,000 American soldiers is that they are still struggling to police Iraq's streets, restore electricity, fix the economy, rebuild schools, monitor local elections and nudge the country toward democracy -- all while waging a counterinsurgency campaign against an increasingly brazen assortment of militants who have killed more than 30 U.S. and British soldiers in the past two months. It's not going well. In Baghdad recent attacks on infrastructure targets left the power and water systems in worse shape than they were in a month ago; it is a testament to the slowness of the U.S.'s rebuilding efforts so far that the traffic lights have just begun to come back on. The enthusiasm Iraqis initially showed the occupiers has largely expired, replaced by disappointment and a growing belief that everyday life was better under Saddam Hussein. "At least we had power and security," says Uday Abdul al-Wahab, 30, a shop owner in Baghdad. "Democracy is not feeding us." [ complete article ]

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What I didn't find in Africa
Joseph C. Wilson, New York Times, July 6, 2003

Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?

Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush's ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council.

It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me. [ complete article ]

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R.P.G. alley
Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, July 4, 2003

American convoys delivering supplies to the troops in Iraq are being attacked more frequently than during the war. The insurgents have become more proficient in their weapon of choice -- the rocket-propelled grenade -- and are taking more care in setting up ambushes. An area just south of Baghdad has become so treacherous that G.I.'s have dubbed it "R.P.G. Alley."

That is the sobering assessment of the American commanders overseeing the effort to supply the 145,000 American troops in Iraq. I met with them during a recent trip to Arifjan, at a camp there that serves as the logistical headquarters for the allied operation across the Kuwaiti border in Iraq. [ complete article ]

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130 U.S. communities saying no to repression
Jim Lobe, OneWorld, July 4, 2003

More than 130 communities with a combined population of more than 16 million people in 26 states have passed resolutions directing local police to refrain from using racial profiling, enforcing immigration laws, or participating in federal investigations that violate civil liberties, according to a new report released on the eve of this year's Fourth of July celebrations by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The 23-page report credits Ann Arbor, Michigan, with adopting the first resolution opposing key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, thus setting off a trend that shows no sign of abating. [ complete article ]

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