The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
U.S. bombing kills Afghan children
BBC News, December 6, 2003

US forces have admitted mistakenly killing nine children when they bombed a target in southern Afghanistan.

Afghan sources told the BBC that the Americans had intelligence that Taleban fighters were preparing an attack from a house near the city of Ghazni.

A US military spokesman said they had information that a known terrorist was in the area but they were unaware of that children were also there. [complete article]

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No room for militias in Iraq: Bremer
Agence France Presse (via Channelnewsasia), December 6, 2003

There is no place in the new Iraq for militia forces, US chief civil administrator Paul Bremer has said, knocking down reported plans to set up a force of militia fighters.

"I have consistently said since I arrived here that there is no place in the new Iraq" for militias, he told the coalition run television channel Al-Iraqiya on Friday night. [complete article]

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Tough new tactics by U.S. tighten grip on Iraq towns
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, December 6, 2003

As the guerrilla war against Iraqi insurgents intensifies, American soldiers have begun wrapping entire villages in barbed wire.

In selective cases, American soldiers are demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers. They have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in.

The Americans embarked on their get-tough strategy in early November, goaded by what proved to be the deadliest month yet for American forces in Iraq, with 81 soldiers killed by hostile fire. The response they chose is beginning to echo the Israeli counterinsurgency campaign in the occupied territories. [complete article]

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Shiites make up for lost time
By Alan Sipress, Washington Post, December 6, 2003

The collapse of former president Saddam Hussein's capital was not even a week old when the Shiites staked their claim to the local Baath Party headquarters on Palestine Street.

The two-story building had been looted and was still smoldering, but Khalid Lammi and the local Shiite Muslim community cleared a corner and opened a rudimentary medical clinic. Within 11 days of Baghdad's fall in April, having begun to raise a dome over the structure, they declared it a mosque. [complete article]

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With Shiite clerics empowered, Iraq may be moving toward Islamic rule
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via SF Chronicle), December 4, 2003

In an Iraq torn by uncertainty, Shiite Muslim clerics are easing into the role of the nation's guardians and protectors of the faith -- a newfound power that many see as a harbinger of a future in which the clergy shapes the country's politics.

The prospect of an Iranian-style, clergy-ruled state is dismissed by some as unrealistic, given Iraq's ethnic and religious diversity and the secular traditions of its educated classes. But the influence of Shiite clergy is so huge that the possibility cannot be ruled out.

"In my view, an Islamic state can be set up in Iraq, but it will be an Islamic state of the Iraqi variety," said Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi, a senior cleric from the holy city of Karbala. "It will be an Islamic state that's open toward other civilizations."

An Islamic state or an administration with a heavy religious slant would leave the Bush administration in an awkward position: replacing a brutal dictator with a government likely to share the widespread, regional resentment toward the United States as the power behind Israel, the nemesis of Arabs and Muslims. Such a government would also sympathize with Shiite Iran. [complete article]

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Trail of anti-U.S. fighters said to cross Europe to Iraq
By Desmond Butler and Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times, December 6, 2003

A string of recent arrests of terror suspects has shown that Al Qaeda and groups linked to it have established a network across Europe that is moving recruits into Iraq to join the insurgency against American and allied forces, European intelligence and law enforcement officials said this week.

Over the past year, the officials estimate, the network of recruiters working in at least six European countries -- Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Britain and Norway -- has assisted hundreds of young men trying to get to Iraq. The network provided high quality fake documents, training, money, and infiltration routes into the country, the officials said.

They said the evidence indicated that the campaign to recruit young militant Muslims for Iraq had become better organized and coordinated in recent months. [complete article]

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Baghdad's U.S. zone a stand-in for home
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, December 6, 2003

In Elzain Elzain's Baghdad, they serve peanut butter, lobster and ice cream. The cell phones have a 914 area code. The television sets show Monday Night Football. The people speak English. And the strictly enforced speed limit is 35 mph.

"It's like I never left America," said Elzain, an artist from the District who works as an interpreter for the U.S.-led occupation government.

Elzain and several thousand other government workers, contractors and soldiers live and work in what is called the Green Zone. The four-square-mile area, encircled by 15-foot concrete walls and rings of barbed wire, includes Saddam Hussein's presidential palace compound, which is now the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority that rules Iraq. [complete article]

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Why I gave
By George Soros, Washington Post, December 5, 2003

I and a number of other wealthy Americans are contributing millions of dollars to grass-roots organizations engaged in the 2004 presidential election. We are deeply concerned with the direction in which the Bush administration is taking the United States and the world.

If Americans reject the president's policies at the polls, we can write off the Bush Doctrine as a temporary aberration and resume our rightful place in the world. If we endorse those policies, we shall have to live with the hostility of the world and endure a vicious cycle of escalating violence. [complete article]

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Congress eyes funds for Iran dissidents
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, December 6, 2003

For the first time, Congress is set to approve government funds openly earmarked to help undermine the Islamic government of Iran by providing money for dissidents inside the country, according to US officials and specialists.

The program calls for an initial $1.5 million to be spent next year to support the efforts of Iranians and Iranian organizations seeking to replace the government in Tehran with a democracy.

Though a relatively small amount of money, the funding carries great symbolic weight. Past efforts to use US government money to support Iranian dissidents have been sidetracked before reaching a final vote because of concerns that they would violate sanctions prohibiting any money from going to Iran, as well as an agreement in 1981, shortly after the release of US hostages in Tehran, to refrain from actively opposing the Iranian government. [complete article]

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Intelligence heads under fire
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, December 6, 2003

A former intelligence chief yesterday delivered a scathing attack on his successors, saying they abused their position by helping Tony Blair to make a case for war against Iraq.

He accused the heads of Britain's intelligence agencies of bowing to government pressure to use secret intelligence to justify a war when other arguments "were cutting too little ice with the public".

In a damning assault, Sir Rodric Braithwaite, a former chairman of Whitehall's joint intelligence committee, the JIC, told the Royal Institute for International Affairs that intelligence chiefs allowed their objectivity to be undermined. [complete article]

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Powell meets authors of new peace blueprint
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, December 6, 2003

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, met the authors of an unofficial Middle East peace plan yesterday, and concluded that the blueprint could complement - but not replace - the American-sponsored "road map" to peace.

Defying Israel, which had vigorously opposed such a meeting, Mr Powell and his aides spent an hour and a half discussing the symbolic "Geneva accord" with its chief architects, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo.

But afterwards, the US state department stressed that the Geneva plan was just an informal, "private" proposal, and that the road map was the only viable deal on the table. [complete article]

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Bush names Baker envoy on Iraq debt
By Dana Milbank and Peter Slevin, Washington Post, December 6, 2003

President Bush tapped veteran statesman James A. Baker III yesterday to lead a diplomatic campaign to reduce Iraq's crushing debt load, turning to a longtime troubleshooter and family friend to ease the international anger that has complicated Iraq's reconstruction.

Bush picked Baker, a former secretary of state and secretary of the Treasury who is well regarded in foreign capitals, to appeal to allies in Europe and the Middle East to forgive a large chunk of as much as $125 billion in debt amassed by Saddam Hussein's government. Payments on the debt of more than $7 billion a year promise to overwhelm any new government that is formed in that country. [complete article]

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How an American war hero is taking his battle over Iraq to Washington
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, December 5, 2003

The left leg of retired Colonel David Hackworth still carries a bullet that he picked up while fighting in the Vietnam War. Wounded a total of eight times, he claims to be America's most highly decorated soldier, his chest weighed down by honours such as eight Purple Hearts, nine Silver Stars and eight Bronze Stars.

While no-one doubts Colonel Hackworth's patriotism or service to his country, there are plenty of people who do not appreciate what he has to say about the United States' occupation of Iraq and the way it was carried out. Donald Rumsfeld is likely to be among his critics: Colonel Hackworth, 72, described the US Defence Secretary as "an arrogant asshole".

It is not just his outspoken comments and personal invective that have established the swaggering retired soldier as a persistent thorn in the side of the Pentagon. It is also because he acts as a lightening rod for the complaints and criticisms of soldiers on the ground, for the lowly grunts and GIs whose comments would otherwise go largely unheard. [complete article]

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A bloody victory or dangerous fantasy? The true story of the battle of Samarra
By Phil Reeves, The Independent, December 6, 2003

Nearly a week has elapsed since the American military issued the startling claim - puzzling even some within its own ranks - that its troops killed 54 guerrillas during running gunfights in the Sunni town of Samarra.

Official versions described how dozens of Fedayeen guerrillas wearing red or black chequered headscarves and dark shirts and trousers attacked troops in the bloodiest engagement since the US-led occupation of Iraq last April - and lost.

Repeated visits to the scene, interviews with Iraqi civilians and US soldiers, and close inspection of the battle damage by scores of correspondents have failed to eliminate several troubling and crucial questions. Where are the bodies? Did they exist? Or was this death toll - as some suspect - a fabrication which was intended to generate positive headlines for the US, after a disastrous weekend in which guerrilla attacks killed 14 foreigners, including seven Spanish intelligence officers? [complete article]

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Life in battened-down Baghdad
By Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, December 4, 2003

War or peace, right or wrong, win or lose, none of it seems to matter any more to many enlisted Americans in Iraq, for whom a political exit strategy cannot come too soon.

In the wake of the worst month yet for coalition casualties, self-preservation appears to have taken hold as the overriding ethos. Hunker down. Don't grin, just bear it.


Now, nearly eight months after the welcome toppling of Saddam Hussein, the unwelcome army that did the deed is yet another confused element in a cacophony of mixed messages in today's Baghdad. [complete article]

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An awful truth sinks in
By Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2003

For 15 years, thousands of Kurdish families waited for their loved ones to return. They believed the day would come when Saddam Hussein would fall, the prisons in the south would open and the missing would come home.

But in the eight months since the Iraqi dictator was deposed, not a single person who disappeared during the Anfal military campaign of 1988 has returned alive.

The truth was buried in the killing sands of Iraq. [complete article]

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Group contests casino owned by pro-Israel extremists' backer
By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service (via, December 6, 2003

While U.S. Treasury officials scour financial records worldwide to stop funds donated by wealthy Arabs from flowing to radical Islamist groups, a small group of U.S. citizens is trying to shut down a major source of funding for Jewish extremists in Israel and the occupied territories.

Its target is a gambling casino located half a world away in a tiny low-income, mostly Latino town called Hawaiian Gardens, tucked into the urban sprawl of greater Los Angeles.

The Hawaiian Gardens Casino has made tens of millions of dollars for its owner, Irving Moskowitz, a 75-year-old doctor and businessman who moved to Florida more than 20 years ago.

His Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation, which operates a bingo parlour next door, has also produced tens of millions of dollars over the years, most of which it passed to other charities or foundations that support the most extreme elements in the Jewish settlement movement in Israel and the occupied territories, according to records the foundation is required to file with U.S. tax authorities. [complete article]

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U.S. lobbyists tune in for regime change in Iran
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, December 5, 2003

With a touch of under-statement - "we are trying something a little out of the ordinary today" - one of America's most influential neo-conservative lobby groups this week started broadcasting a live radio chat-show out of its Washington headquarters and into Iran, featuring interviews with opposition activists in both countries.

The teaming-up of the well-funded and well-connected American Enterprise Institute (AEI) with Los Angeles-based Radio Sedaye Iran (Voice of Iran) marks a new step in the efforts of the US right to influence regime change in the Islamic republic. [complete article]

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Pentagon and bogus news: All is denied
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 5, 2003

Early last year Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld disbanded the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence after it became known that the office was considering plans to provide false news items to unwitting foreign journalists to influence policymakers and public sentiment abroad.

But a couple of months ago, the Pentagon quietly awarded a $300,000 contract to SAIC, a major defense consultant, to study how the Defense Department could design an "effective strategic influence" campaign to combat global terror, according to an internal Pentagon document.

Sound familiar? [complete article]

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A tale of war: Iraqi describes battling G.I.'s
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, December 5, 2003

The man was in the car for less than two minutes Thursday when he pulled out a hand grenade. He had been carrying it, like an apple, in a little red shopping bag. He smiled. The other passengers winced.

"If you don't pull the pin," he explained calmly, "it won't explode."

The grenade was not, apparently, a threat but the man's way of trying to establish that he was, as he claimed, a member of the "resistance." Little is known about these forces except that they keep killing anyone associated with the American-led occupation and are making the American mission in Iraq very dangerous and difficult.

It was unclear why this man, who said he was a former soldier, and appeared sturdy and fit, perhaps 35 years old, was willing to talk to a Western reporter. His account could not be verified. He readily agreed to an interview after being introduced by a man who identified himself to The New York Times as a local reporter. The local reporter offered to make contact with what he termed the local resistance in this city in the Sunni Muslim heartland, the center for violence against Americans in Iraq. [complete article]

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Divided Iraq would be a triple threat
By Andrew M. Cockburn, Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2003

Iraqis tend to disagree about a lot of things, ranging from politics to literature to the best way of cooking the fish delicacy masguf. On one matter, however, they almost invariably present a united front: Iraq is one country, and they are Iraqis first and Sunnis or Shiites second. These days even Kurds find it politic to stress an Iraqi identity, and they are working hard to ensure that they will have a meaningful role in the new Iraq.

Such nationalist unanimity inside Iraq stands in sharp contrast to the views of many outsiders, who point to the country's history as evidence that it cannot work as a state. The reasons include: the fact that it was created a mere 80 years ago, when British colonial administrators combined three provinces of the Ottoman empire to create the country; the marked discrimination suffered over the years by the Shiites inhabiting the south; and the militant separatism exhibited by the Kurds at regular intervals. [complete article]

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Islam's role in interim government of Iraq debated
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, December 5, 2003

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators are confronting problems over the role of Islam in government and the status of Kurdish regions as they try to write a "fundamental law" -- the precursor to an Iraqi constitution and a key first step in ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Though much attention has been focused on the jockeying over how Iraqis will be elected to a transitional national assembly, also important is the fundamental law that will control the interim government's actions.

As outlined last month in a signed agreement between U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and the Iraqi Governing Council, the fundamental law is supposed to be finished by Feb. 28 and provide a timetable for drafting a constitution and holding national elections in time for the United States to turn over sovereignty by June 30. That deadline is threatened by unresolved issues such as the separation of mosque and state. [complete article]

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Doomed, or still recoverable?
The Economist, December 4, 2003

Iraq is on the edge. It is unclear, for America and its Iraqi allies, whether success or failure beckons. But progress towards peace and prosperity is still feasible, just.

It depends whom you listen to. One top American soldier says that the battle this week in Samarra, a town of 180,000 at the heart of Iraq's sullen and violent "Sunni Triangle" to the north and west of Baghdad, marks a turning point -- on the road towards military success for the ruling American-led coalition. The Americans say that 54 insurgents, some wearing the uniforms of Saddam Hussein's fedayeen militia, were killed after an American convoy was caught in a series of ambushes.

The ferocity with which the Americans returned fire shows, it is said, a new determination to hit back hard, rather than wait tamely while their enemies melt away into the maze-like alleyways of Iraq's small towns. If the success of this American counter-attack is emulated elsewhere, the insurgents would start to lose ground -- and more Iraqis might start to co-operate with the coalition forces. As the trend spread, Iraq would gradually be brought to peace. That, at least, is the theory.

But locals offer a different version of what happened in Samarra. The Americans' figure of insurgent casualties, they say, is wildly exaggerated. And they insist that the resentment caused by the attack far outweighs any military gain. [complete article]

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Support this web site and receive a thank-you gift

For a donation of $60 or more, you will receive a DVD copy of the documentary USS Liberty Survivors: Our Story as a premium.

On June 8, 1967, in one of the periodic explosions of violence we've learned to expect in the Middle East, an American intelligence ship named the USS Liberty was attacked with rockets, cannon fire and torpedoes while in international waters off the town of El Arish in the Sinai desert.

Thirty-four Americans were killed and 171 injured in what would remain the largest post-World War II loss of U.S. lives in the Middle East until the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983.

But unlike that latter attack, or the 1983 truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut or the suicide bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Aden, Yemen, which killed 17 less than three years ago, the attack on the Liberty was not made by terrorist bombs but by the jet fighters and torpedo boats of the nation of Israel.

The attack on the Liberty has never been fully explained. Official reports by both the Israelis and the U.S. Navy declared it accidental: "a case of mistaken identity" during the Six-Day War.

(Washington Post, February 1, 2003)

Thirty-six years have passed since the attack on USS Liberty, but the controversy has not abated. Only last month, Associated Press reported that in a signed affidavit retired Capt. Ward Boston (senior legal counsel to the Navy's original 1967 review of the attack) said President Lyndon Johnson and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara told those heading the Navy's inquiry to "conclude that the attack was a case of 'mistaken identity' despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary."

USS Liberty Survivors: Our Story raises questions about conflicting loyalties between the United States and Israel governments that are as relevant today as they were in 1967.

To receive the DVD please provide a mailing address while making a donation of $60 or more using the PayPal donate button below. (Existing donors are welcome to "top up" a prior donation if you'd like to receive this DVD.) If you prefer to donate by check, send an email to for more information. Thank you, Paul Woodward, Editor.

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Iraqis plan to revive Mukhabarat
By Matthew Gutman, Jerusalem Post, December 5, 2003

Several of the most powerful parties in the Iraqi Governing Council plan to resurrect the Mukhabarat intelligence service, Saddam Hussein's most brutal instrument of state terrorism, in a push to rout the Ba'athist-led terrorist network, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Saddam's Mukhabarat is largely held responsible for the disappearance and execution of about 780,000 Iraqis.

The initiative exposes both the failure of the coalition forces to gather intelligence on the insurgency and an Iraqi populace increasingly desperate for security. [complete article]

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Democracy from scratch
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 2003

As a guerrilla war continues to ratchet up all around them, Major Vidal and a battalion of other US soldiers here are on the front line of a different battle for Iraq - the one that is supposed to turn the country into a democracy, beginning with representative local government.

That mission has taken on a new urgency with the US recently bowing to Iraqi demands to assume full sovereignty quicker than what the Americans originally envisaged. Now a provisional national government is to be created by July 1, through selection of national representatives that at least at this point - unless the US decides to go with full elections - is to involve local councils like Sadr City's.

But as the tenuous progress of the Sadr City District Advisory Council, or DAC, demonstrates, cultivating democracy is not quick business: roots may eventually grow deep, but there's no guarantee the seeds will sprout in the first place. [complete article]

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The war in Iraq: An intelligence failure?
By Shlomo Brom (IDF Brig. Gen. (ret.)), Strategic Assessment, November, 2003

In the questioning of the picture painted by coalition intelligence, the third party in this intelligence failure, Israel, has remained in the shadows. And yet, Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq's non-conventional capabilities. In addition to an exaggerated assessment of Iraqi capabilities, it was also assessed that the Iraqis were apt to use these capabilities against Israel. In actuality, of course, Israel was not attacked, either because Iraq did not have the capability or because it had no intention of doing so.

Israel has no reason to regret the outcome of the war in Iraq. Saddam's regime was hostile to Israel, it supported Palestinian terrorism, and there was reason to believe that it would resume developing and producing surface-to-surface missiles and weapons of mass destruction when able. However, regardless of the outcome of the war, there is still a need to examine the functioning of intelligence bodies, their dialogue with political and operational echelons, and the possibility that the intelligence picture was manipulated. The same reasoning presented by those demanding commissions of inquiry in America and Britain applies in Israel as well. [complete article]

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Powell calls for increased NATO and U.N. roles in Iraq
By Christopher Marquis, New York Times, December 5, 2003

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Thursday urged NATO to consider expanding its activities in Iraq, in the Bush administration's most pointed appeal for international help since it went to war in the spring. He also called for more involvement from the United Nations.

"The United States welcomes a greater NATO role in Iraq's stabilization," Mr. Powell said in a speech to fellow NATO ministers. "We welcome a more robust United Nations role as well."

The secretary stopped short of making any specific requests. NATO currently provides logistical support to the Polish-led multinational division operating in south-central Iraq. In recent days Mr. Powell and other administration officials have suggested that NATO consider taking that division over.[complete article]

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Turkish fury over terror response
BBC News, December 3, 2004

Turkey's foreign minister says Europe has failed "the solidarity test in the fight against terrorism" following last month's car bomb attacks in Istanbul.

Abdullah Gul said many of the prime suspects were still abroad, but intelligence was not always shared.

He warned European leaders that if their countries were attacked "everyone will think twice before co-operating". [complete article]

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Decision to allow lawyer for 'enemy combatant' is new policy
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, December 4, 2003

In announcing that an alleged Taliban fighter will be given access to a lawyer, the Pentagon ended nearly two years of legal debate within the Bush administration and established new policy on the treatment of U.S. citizens detained as "enemy combatants" in the war on terrorism.

The announcement late Tuesday significantly modified one of the government's most controversial anti-terrorism positions: that it may hold alleged enemy combatants indefinitely without representation, even if they are U.S. citizens. The move also increases the chances that the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering whether to review the case, will find the government's treatment of detainees reasonable, according to administration officials and legal experts.

But defense lawyers and civil liberties advocates said yesterday that the decision does not go far enough in protecting Yaser Esam Hamdi's constitutional rights. He has been held in military custody since November 2001 with no access to a lawyer. [complete article]

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Sharon's phony war
By Henry Siegman, New York Review of Books, December 18, 2003

On November 14, four former heads of the Shin Bet joined in a dramatic warning to the Israeli public that their government's policies are leading the country to a "catastrophe." The four, who are anything but peaceniks or leftists, identified the heart of the problem, the government's insistence on fighting terrorism in a political vacuum. Such a war, they said, is doomed to failure and will lead to the end of Israel's democracy and of its Jewish identity.

The notion that the war against terror cannot be won by military measures alone but must also provide Palestinians with prospects for a political solution is hardly revolutionary. It is a view that Sharon's own security advisers have advocated. Sharon has been accused of many things by his critics, but stupidity is not one of them. Why, then, hasn't Sharon reached this conclusion on his own?

The inescapable answer to this question is that the war that Sharon is waging is not aimed at the defeat of Palestinian terrorism but at the defeat of the Palestinian people and their aspirations for national self-determination. In this war, Palestinian terrorism has been not an enemy but an indispensable ally, providing Sharon with the pretext that has enabled him to proceed relentlessly with the implantation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the years, Sharon has made no secret of his conviction that these settlements must be built so extensively as to create facts on the ground that no future Israeli government will be able to undo. Sharon's assurances that he is committed to the launching of a peace process once Palestinian terrorism is vanquished is a lie intended to gain time for securing the irreversibility of the settlement enterprise. [complete article]

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Figures of fun
By Julian Manyon, The Spectator, December 6, 2003

It is a sad fact that most people can see things only through the prism of their own television culture. Thus for the American soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division, Taskforce Iron Horse, the dusty towns and villages north of Baghdad seem to have become a sort of Wild West where gangs of outlaws must be ridden down and given summary justice. Sunday's clashes in Samarra -- billed by US spokesmen in stories that went round the world as their biggest victory since the end of full-scale fighting -- had all the classic ingredients. [...]

The truth of this feat of American arms appears to be something like this: relatively small numbers of Saddam loyalists and local men fired on the American convoys and were met with a blizzard of machine-gun and automatic grenade fire. The dead numbered some eight or ten, about half of whom may have been insurgents, but also included the lady from the drugs factory, a child and an elderly Iranian pilgrim who had come to pray at the historic shrine. The splendid gold-plated doors of the sanctuary where the 10th and 11th Shia Imams lie buried were pierced by half a dozen bullets. One round passed straight through the inner enclosure which contains the tombs of the two Islamic saints and punctured the words 'Prophet Mohammed' in an ornate inscription quoting the Koran. One worshipper was hit in the leg. The American commander, Col. Ryan Gonsalves, declared that his men's fire had been 'aimed'.

A malady appears to be taking hold in the American forces which those of us who covered Vietnam are all too familiar with. The main symptom is a reliance on bogus statistics, and the progress of the disease is marked by ever-increasing separation from the reality on the ground. [complete article]

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Delusions in Baghdad
By Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, December 18, 2003

If victory in war is defined as accomplishing the political goals for which military means were originally brought to bear, then eight months after it invaded Iraq, the United States remains far from victory. If the political goal of the war in Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime and establish in their place a stable, democratic government -- then that goal, during the weeks I spent in Iraq in late October and early November, seemed to be growing ever more distant.

When I arrived in Baghdad, Iraqi insurgents were staging about fifteen attacks a day on American troops; by the time I left the number of daily attacks had more than doubled, to thirty-five a day. Though military leaders like General Ricardo Sanchez, the overall commander, have repeatedly denigrated the attacks on his troops as "strategically and operationally insignificant," those attacks led the CIA to conclude, in a report leaked in mid-November, that the "US-led drive to rebuild the country as a democracy could collapse unless corrective actions are taken immediately." The United States fields by far the most powerful military in the world, spending more on defense than the rest of the world combined, and as I write a relative handful of lightly armed insurgents, numbering in the tens of thousands or perhaps less, using the classic techniques of guerrilla warfare and suicide terrorism, are well on the way toward defeating it. [complete article]

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Vigilante justice stalks Baghdad's backstreets
By Luke Baker, Reuters, December 4, 2003

Forget the Iraqi police or American soldiers, who often only look on. What counts on the lawless streets of postwar Baghdad is summary justice, preferably meted out by one's own hands. Or, as is increasingly the case, by hardened vigilantes.

"When we catch a thief, we just destroy them -- not fatally, but we teach them a real lesson," said Adib Phillip, 35, a watchseller on Sadoon street, one of Baghdad's busiest strips, where prostitutes and thugs hang out in seedy alleyways.

"It's better for us to take the situation into our own hands. There's no point in calling the police, they can't do anything, and the Americans don't care," he adds with a shrug. [complete article]

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A brewing constitutional crisis
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, December 4, 2003

The Afghan government, headed by President Hamid Karzai, presented a draft constitution to the public one month ago. Under the U.N.-mandated political process, it must be ratified by the loya jirga before presidential elections can be held next year, to be followed by parliamentary voting.

Officials said they tried to strike a balance between the demands of various political and religious groups, but the document drew criticism from conservative and progressive forces. Human rights groups said it failed to adequately protect women's rights, judicial independence and religious minorities, while student groups protested that it did not guarantee the right to free higher education.

Among the delegates and candidates from Ghazni and Parwan provinces, however, there was near-universal concern that the proposed constitution was too secular and modern, giving insufficient power to Islamic law and custom. Their comments suggested that the assembly could split deeply over the balance of political power and competing visions of modern and traditional Islam. In Kabul Stadium, where more than 500, mostly ethnic Tajik delegates from Parwan gathered inside a giant tent Monday, the mood was serious and attentive. Many delegates were veterans of guerrilla struggles against both communist and Taliban forces, and they appeared keenly appreciative of the historic chance to build a peaceful, politically modern nation.

And yet the dominant sentiment in the tent was one of belligerent opposition to the proposed system of a strong executive and weaker parliament, which delegates said failed to ensure the rights of ethnic minorities and northern Afghan "freedom fighters" like themselves. The original constitution proposed by a commission included a prime minister, but Karzai had the position removed. [complete article]

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Pashtuns fear for Afghan democracy
By Crispin Thorold, BBC News, December 3, 2003

Just one day into Afghanistan's new voter-registration drive, the eastern city of Jalalabad was having problems.

Only one UN-run registration centre was open rather than the planned six, mistakes were being made and anger was being vented at the government by the ethnic Pashtuns who dominate the area.

It was clear that giving the nation its first taste of democracy in nearly 40 years would be a massive task. [complete article]

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Just poppycock
By Isabel Hilton, The Guardian, December 4, 2003

In early November 2001, as the war in Afghanistan was getting under way, the United Nations held a press conference in Islamabad to announce the latest scores in the global drug eradication effort. Those journalists who bothered to attend were surprised to learn that the previous year the Taliban had all but eradicated the opium poppy from the areas it controlled.

At the time, it was the crimes of the Taliban regime - from its treatment of women and its love for Osama bin Laden to its promotion of heroin addiction among western youth - that were of interest. To discover that the Taliban had eradicated the opium poppy did not fit the picture of unhallowed evil that the moment demanded. The story made little impact. Even if it was true - as it undoubtedly was - there was a feeling that the Taliban did not really mean it: they probably had their fingers crossed. Praise was politically impossible.

Besides, if the story had been given more play it might have been noticed that in those parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance - who had successfully auditioned for the parts of noble heroes in the melodrama of the war against evil - opium production had risen sharply. Had too much attention been paid to that, it might have raised the question of what would happen if our new friends, the warlords, had the whole country in which to plant their favourite crop. [complete article]

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Israel-U.S. tension rising over symbolic accord
By Matt Spetalnick, Reuters, December 4, 2003

An adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged Washington on Thursday not to meddle in Israeli politics in the latest show of displeasure over planned U.S. talks with authors of a symbolic Middle East peace pact.

The rare public row between Israel and its chief ally continued to smolder as Palestinian factions opened negotiations in Cairo aimed at reaching an agreement on a truce considered crucial to reviving U.S.-backed peace moves.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was due to meet on Friday with Israeli and Palestinian architects of the Geneva Accord, a plan Sharon has rejected as capitulation. [complete article]

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His dream, to be the light at the end of the Israeli-Palestinian tunnel
By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, December 4, 2003

The faux-peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians celebrated with much fanfare here on Monday might never have happened had it not been for an obscure Swiss academic -- and close to a million dollars from his father.

During two and a half years of secret talks between the sides, Alexis Keller, 40, an associate professor at the University of Geneva and the son of a retired Swiss banker, played the roles of freelance facilitator and part-time negotiator. [complete article]

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U.S. rejects Iraqi plan to hold census by summer
By Joel Brinkley, New York Times, December 4, 2003

Iraqi census officials devised a detailed plan to count the country's entire population next summer and prepare a voter roll that would open the way to national elections in September. But American officials say they rejected the idea, and the Iraqi Governing Council members say they never saw the plan to consider it.

The practicality of national elections is now the subject of intense debate among Iraqi and American officials, who are trying to move forward on a plan to give Iraqis sovereignty next summer. As the American occupation officials rejected the plan to compile a voter roll rapidly, they also argued to the Governing Council that the lack of a voter roll meant national elections were impractical.

The American plan for Iraqi sovereignty proposes instead a series of caucus-style, indirect elections.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric, is calling for national elections next June, not the indirect balloting specified in the American plan for turning over control of the country. But American officials, and some Iraqis say the nation is not ready for national elections, in part because the logistics are too daunting. [complete article]

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D.C. upside down
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, December 4, 2003

There's a natural order to things in Washington. When bad things happen in the world as a result of U.S. policy -- especially if that policy is as obviously botched as postwar Iraq -- heads are supposed to roll. So for months it was a mystery why no senior official in the administration played the scapegoat for George W. Bush, even as the Iraq problem turned out to be vastly more difficult than the Pentagon's planners said it would be. Bush is both famously loyal and famously stubborn, and he seemed to believe the line his senior officials were peddling to the world: things were going just fine in Iraq. [complete article]

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Armchair provocateur
By Peter Bergen, Washington Monthly, December, 2003

Americans supported the war in Iraq not because Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator--we had known that for many years--but because President Bush had made the case that Saddam might hand off weapons of mass destruction to his terrorist allies to wreak havoc on the United States. As of this writing, there appears to be no evidence that Saddam had either weapons of mass destruction or significant ties to terrorist groups like al Qaeda. Yet the belief that Saddam posed an imminent threat to the United States amounted to a theological conviction within the administration, a conviction successfully sold to the American public. So it's fair to ask: Where did this faith come from? [complete article]

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God and man in Baghdad
By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, December 4, 2003

We've encountered many surprises since we invaded Iraq, but now that the political process is under way the biggest surprise may be just around the corner, and it's this: The first post-Saddam democratic government that the U.S. gives birth to in Iraq may be called the Islamic Republic of Iraq — and that's not necessarily a bad thing. [complete article]

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Poster art, painted with a Palestinian perspective
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, December 3, 2003

Dan Walsh, a graphic arts collector and political consultant from Silver Spring, is at his most intense when the subject is Palestine. He has poured his life, time and money into promoting understanding of this most troubled piece of real estate on planet Earth. He has studied, and is fluent in, Arabic, he has visited the West Bank and worked with the PLO. Even though he conducts business at home in a T-shirt and shorts, when he talks about Israel and Zionism, he is unmasked as a type-A politics junkie who speaks and thinks at a supersonic clip.

"Have you read Herzl?" he asks, barely pausing for an answer before he begins quoting chapter and verse from Theodor Herzl's "The Jewish State," one of the seminal documents of the back-to-Palestine Zionist movement. The 1896 text laid out, in detail, how European Jews would acquire property in what eventually became Israel; how they would organize their communities, cultivate the land, raise their standard of living and escape the toxic anti-Semitism rampant throughout Europe. But it also passed rather blithely over the question of what would become of people who were already living in the Promised Land. And from that core problem -- two peoples, one land -- comes the subject matter of Walsh's most fascinating obsession: the political posters of Palestine. [complete article]

The posters can be seen at Dan Walsh's web site, Liberation Graphics.

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Export labels split Israel
By Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 2003

Last week, during talks with the EU, Israeli Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert agreed that Israel will begin specifying the place of origin of its exports. The decision could threaten the well-being of Israeli West Bank firms producing everything from humus to skin-care products.

The agreement will enable the EU, Israel's largest trade partner, to distinguish between exports coming from Israel - entitled to customs exemptions under a free trade agreement - and those from the occupied territories.

Supporters of the decision said there was no choice because the EU, unsure where the products originated, had started to assess tariffs from exporters inside Israel's pre-1967 borders also. The estimated $7 billion in Israeli exports to Europe were thus being endangered by the nonlabeling of the $120 million in exports from the West Bank and Gaza, they argued. [complete article]

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'We're air force pilots, not mafia. We don't take revenge'
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, December 3, 2003

For two months, a rebel group of Israeli Black Hawk helicopter and F-16 fighter pilots has been denounced as traitors for saying they will no longer bomb Palestinian cities.

Until now they have maintained a resolute silence on their motives, preferring to limit their criticism of Ariel Sharon's war to a letter signed by 27 reserve and active duty pilots refusing to carry out what they described as illegal orders, and denouncing the occupation as eating at the moral fabric of Israel.

Now, having been thrown out of the air force, they are talking publicly about what brought members of the most revered branch of the Israeli military to make an unprecedented challenge to the handling of the conflict with the Palestinians. [complete article]

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No, anti-Zionism is not anti-semitism
By Brian Klug, The Guardian, December 3, 2003

From the beginning, political Zionism was a controversial movement even among Jews. So strong was the opposition of German orthodox and reform rabbis to the Zionist idea in the name of Judaism that Theodor Herzl changed the venue of the First Zionist Congress in 1897 from Munich to Basle in Switzerland.

Twenty years later, when the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour (sponsor of the 1905 Aliens Act to restrict Jewish immigration to the UK), wanted the government to commit itself to a Jewish homeland in Palestine, his declaration was delayed - not by anti-semites but by leading figures in the British Jewish community. They included a Jewish member of the cabinet who called Balfour's pro-Zionism "anti-semitic in result".

The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 has not put an end to the debate, though the issue has changed. Today, the question is about Israel's future. Should it become a "post-Zionist" state, one that defines itself in terms of the sum of its citizens, rather than seeing itself as belonging to the entire Jewish people? This is a perfectly legitimate question and not anti-semitic in the least. When people suggest otherwise - as Emanuele Ottolenghi did on these pages last Saturday - they simply add to the growing confusion. [complete article]

See also, Anti-Zionism is anti-semitism.

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Phase three: civil war
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, December 3, 2003

When the US and Britain insist they will not "cut and run", they mean it. It is clear that reduced numbers of troops may stay in Iraq even after a fully fledged government takes power. But precisely because it is so very difficult, it is also clear that within an ever contracting timetable they are looking for a way out, or at least a signpost for the exit. They want a halt to the body-bags. They want to stop the daily, damaging, distracting, costly aggro. They want the political pain to end.

It is at this point, curiously, that the objectives of the coalition and of those opposed to the intervention may be seen to converge. The message to Iraqis from the outside world is now increasingly that a third phase in the conflict - following the war itself and the postwar period - is about to start: the post-occupation era. This new stage is one in which Iraqis, by next July as Straw predicts, if not sooner, should - and will - effectively resume principal direction of their own affairs.

The question therefore is no longer one of invasion and war, or even of occupation and withdrawal. It is a question, fundamentally, of which Iraqis will take control of their country as the coalition's grip eases, how they will do so, and with what degree of legitimacy. This next phase offers a choice: self-rule - or self-destruction. [complete article]

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Democracy cannot coexist with Bush's failed doctrine of preventive war
By Benjamin R. Barber, Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2003

In his historic speech at the National Endowment for Democracy recently, President Bush embraced a new doctrine, a "formal strategy of freedom" in the Middle East -- and he did it just in the nick of time.

For although the war in Iraq is won, the peace has been lost, and that other Bush doctrine, the "preventive war" doctrine, is in disarray. The United States can neither withdraw with honor -- anarchy, civil war and renewed tyranny probably would result -- nor stay and fight on into a Vietnam-style quagmire, which is what the new Baathist-terrorist alliance is obviously hoping for. Bush's dilemma was evident in his Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad -- a couple of hours with his fortressed troops but not a minute with the "liberated" Iraqis.

The only alternative to withdrawal or quagmire is for the U.S. to succeed in its campaign for genuine democratization, which is the option the president has chosen. Unfortunately, he has done so without relinquishing preventive war or the faulty logic behind it. [complete article]

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People the law forgot
By James Meek, The Guardian, December 3, 2003

The US executive acted quickly in the weeks following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Within 26 days, Afghanistan was being attacked from the air; Kabul fell in nine weeks. Eleven weeks after the World Trade Centre was destroyed, resistance by Taliban fighters and their non-Afghan allies in northern Afghanistan was crushed.

But, as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the military in a revealing slip in April 2002, "We have been successful in not eliminating al-Qaida." Having failed to find the suspected mastermind behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, his Taliban ally, Mullah Omar, or much in the way of terrorist infrastructure, the US set about constructing, behind razor wire on a secure Caribbean island, an incarcerated model of what its "war on terror" rhetoric implies. It has gathered terrorism suspects from all over the world, imposed discipline and order on them, encouraged them to hate the US and kept them together for years. It was as if the Bush administration so wanted the Hollywood fantasy of a central terrorist campus to be true that they built it themselves.

Because the roughly 660 detainees still on Guantanamo have no voice, and because the US has never explained case by case why it locked them up, the outside world has only the accounts of their families and the catch-all US definition of "enemy combatant" to understand who they are and why they are there.

Most were arrested in Afghanistan but many were handed over to the US by other countries. "They are an extremely heterogenous group. There are some 40 different nationalities, there's 18 different languages," says Daryl Matthews, a forensic psychiatrist based in Hawaii who spent a week at the Guantanamo prison camp in May. "There's a big division between Arabic-speaking and Urdu-Pashto-speaking ones. There are some people who are extremely well educated and westernised, and some people who are not at all. There are some very young people and some very old and wise people. There are people who speak English well, people who don't speak English at all. There are some who go in with mental disorders there are some very secular, and some deeply devout." [complete article]

See also, U.S. fires Guantanamo defence team. James Meek reports that a team of military lawyers recruited to defend alleged terrorists held by the US at Guantanamo Bay was dismissed by the Pentagon after some of its members rebelled against the unfair way the trials have been designed.

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Israel approves construction of more homes at settlements
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, December 3, 2003

The government of Israel has approved the construction of more than 1,720 new houses in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip this year, according to critics of the settlements who say they undercut a U.S.-backed peace plan that mandates a freeze on settlement expansion.

The planned building is in addition to at least 1,000 homes and other infrastructure projects under construction in the West Bank, which Israel is also encircling with a massive fence complex, according to groups and officials that monitor settlement activity. [complete article]

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Powell effort aims to pressure Sharon on peace accord
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, December 3, 2003

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell plans to meet Friday with the authors of an unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace accord as part of a Bush administration strategy to put increasing pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The administration had not previously embraced the initiative, known as the Geneva Accord, but officials said in recent weeks that the administration had become increasingly frustrated with Sharon and decided to use it to prod Sharon to take steps to deal with Palestinian grievances. Sharon has denounced the document, which tackles many of the most contentious issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians. [complete article]

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U.S. resistance to direct vote galvanizes Iraq's Shiite clerics
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2003

With a suddenness that seems to have caught American officials by surprise, Shiite Muslim clerics who for decades ministered in the quiet obscurity of the back streets of this holy city are now driving key decisions about the future governance of the nation.

The immediate focal point is a showdown with the American-led coalition over the process for transferring sovereignty to an Iraqi government.

Shiite religious parties, with the backing of the most senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, say they favor direct elections for a transitional government rather than the American-backed proposal to use provincial caucuses for selecting delegates to a national assembly.

But beyond this debate, far broader political forces are at work. At stake is the role religious Shiite parties will play in Iraq for the foreseeable future. [complete article]

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U.S. to form Iraqi paramilitary force
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, December 3, 2003

The U.S. civilian and military leadership in Iraq has decided to form a paramilitary unit composed of militiamen from the country's five largest political parties to identify and pursue insurgents who have eluded American troops and Iraqi police officers, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Tuesday.

The five parties will contribute a total of 750 to 850 militiamen to create a new counterterrorism battalion within the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps that would initially operate in and around Baghdad, the officials said. They said U.S. Special Forces soldiers would work with the battalion, whose operations would be overseen by the American-led military command here. [complete article]

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Why don't Iraqis help the U.S. catch the 'thugs and assassins'?
By Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 3, 2003

In May, U.S. officials abolished the Iraqi army, throwing thousands of Sunni officers with guns out of work without severance or pensions. Thousands of members of Hussein's Baath Party were tossed out of jobs, even those who had to join for career reasons. These moves created a bitter constituency with motive to oppose occupation forces.

Some U.S. commanders understood the complicated challenge of wooing the Sunnis. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne in the northern city of Mosul, honed his nation-building skills in Bosnia and Kosovo. He reached out to Sunni tribal, religious and intellectual leaders, and until recently Mosul was relatively quiet.

Petraeus set up an employment agency for out-of-work soldiers and rehired university professors who had been fired because they were Baath Party members. He set strict rules for treatment of Iraqi civilians and required swift payment for damages to Iraqi homes or injuries to civilians. Instead of waiting for U.S. contractors to fix schools or factories - at inflated prices - he hired locals to do it, at a fraction of the cost.

But senior U.S. brass never drew a best-practices model from Petraeus' example. Other U.S. divisions in the Sunni triangle kick in doors and take women in for questioning, creating a furor in tribal society. They bomb urban areas, and fire carelessly in civilian neighborhoods. [complete article]

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Iraq could produce another Enron
By Nomi Prins, Newsday, December 2, 2003

Scrounging up money for anything Iraq-related has been the Bush administration's most consistent economic policy. And it's been ridiculously easy ever since Congress blessed the first "emergency package" defense budget addendum in April.

Fast forward eight months, and the latest $87-billion injection that went predominantly into the Iraq black hole puts the total sum of "liberation and reconstruction" funds at more than a quarter- trillion dollars, roughly the combined annual revenue of IBM and General Electric.

But you wouldn't know that we were dealing with such enormous quantities from the glaring absence of consolidated financial reporting on Capitol Hill. In fact, an endless gush of money keeps streaming out of Washington faster than the White House seems to be keeping track of it. [complete article]

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Iraqi graffiti
By George Ziyad, World Press Review, December 2, 2003

Baghdad during Saddam Hussein's era was littered with panoramas and statues harking back to the glories of early Mesopotamian civilizations, likening Saddam Hussein to the kings of the Akkadians, Sumerians, and Babylonians. The statues of Saddam Hussein have now been pulled down, but Baghdad is still plastered with murals where only his face has been effaced, leaving bare white stone underneath. Nothing has replaced either the man or his face, but with more than 100 political parties there are plenty of pretenders. Baghdad has become a city of graffiti as political parties take advantage of the power vacuum in a country with no elected government, parliament, or constitution. [complete article]

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A Shiite challenge divides Iraqis
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 2003

The pace - and nature - of a democratic reform plan announced just two weeks ago is being challenged by arguably the most powerful figure in Iraq today.

Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a key leader of the country's Muslim Shiite community, wants direct national elections to create a provisional government.

The US-appointed Governing Council of top Iraqi officials is divided over whether to oppose the cleric or finesse his demand with partial local elections.

The dispute highlights the emerging contours of a power struggle between the majority Shiite population and other Iraqi factions. The outcome of the latest challenge could determine how soon elected representatives will take charge of Iraq, and whether it will happen before next year's US presidential elections. [complete article]

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What Dick Cheney really believes
By Franklin Foer & Spencer Ackerman, The New Republic (via Muslim American Society), November 24, 2003

In early 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to President George W. Bush from the heart. The war in Afghanistan had been an astonishing display of U.S. strength. Instead of the bloody quagmire many predicted, CIA paramilitary agents, Special Forces, and U.S. air power had teamed with Northern Alliance guerrillas to run the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of their strongholds. As a new interim government took power in Kabul, Cheney was telling Bush that the next phase in the war on terrorism was toppling Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Iraq rebel "spokesman" dismisses U.S. claim of 54 dead in Samarra, says two died
Agence France Presse, December 2, 2003

In all just 12 people took part in Sunday's ambush in Samarra, not the 64 or more spoken of by the Americans, said the spokesman, who talked to the journalist unarmed in a private home in the city.

"When the convoy entered the town, four groups of three people each took up position to attack it," he said.

The coalition's deputy director of operations, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, told a Baghdad briefing Monday two groups of 30 insurgents each had ambushed two armoured columns escorting a large delivery of Iraqi cash into Samarra. He said a third group of four men in a black BMW attacked a separate engineering detachment as it passed through the town.

Asked why US commanders had spoken of so many more assailants, the rebel spokesman said: "They wanted to portray us as common criminals seeking to commit a hold-up. We only wanted to attack the (US) convoy.

"If we'd wanted to take the money, we could have attacked the bank whenever we wanted to, without the need to take on the Americans." [complete article]

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Losing hearts and minds
By Brian Bennett and Vivienne Walt, Time, December 8, 2003

Mohammed Ali Karam wants to kill a U.S. soldier. He doesn't love Saddam Hussein, and he was happy in April when U.S. Marines rolled through his Baghdad neighborhood on their way to liberate the capital. But he turned against the Americans the night he saw his brother Hussein, 27, take two bullets in the neck. At 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 17, Karam says, he and three of his brothers were driving to a neighborhood where the pumps were working in order to get water for their home. Hussein, in the passenger seat, talked excitedly about having his new suit tailored for his upcoming wedding. That's when 82nd Airborne paratroopers, crouched in an observation post across the street, opened fire -- after rounds struck their position, they say. Three of the brothers ran to the safety of a creek bed, but Hussein didn't make it. In the car, said Karam, the soldiers found Hussein -- gurgling blood through his throat -- but no weapons. Hussein died on the way to the hospital -- three days before his wedding. [complete article]

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Clergy urge more active White House effort for Mideast peace
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, December 2, 2003

Thirty-two religious leaders representing many of the nation's largest Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups are jointly urging the Bush administration to make more "active and determined" efforts to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

In a Nov. 25 letter to the White House, the bishops, cardinals, rabbis and imams called for "renewed high-level U.S. engagement . . . to help both sides take the bold steps necessary to rebuild hope that peace is possible."

While praising President Bush's peace plan, known as the "road map," they were critical of the administration's effort to carry it out. So far, they said, the steps taken by Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been "far too timid" and the U.S.-led monitoring process has been "practically invisible." [complete article]

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U.N. urges more action on al-Qaeda
BBC News, December 2, 2003

Only a lack of technical expertise is stopping al-Qaeda from carrying out a chemical or biological attack, a United Nations report has warned.

The report said al-Qaeda ideology had continued to spread, raising the spectre of further attacks.

Sanctions against al-Qaeda were proving difficult to implement fully, the UN panel of experts said.

And they warned that United Nations member states were not doing enough to crack down on terror groups. [complete article]

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Perils menace Afghan election
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2003

Security in large areas of Afghanistan has so deteriorated that U.S. and U.N. officials fear that plans to hold presidential elections in June may be in jeopardy.

In an apparent strategy to obstruct the political process that is key to democratizing Afghanistan, Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents have been killing and threatening not only Westerners but also Afghans who "collaborate" with them.

Some of the tactics echo the intimidation being practiced by insurgents in Iraq. Taliban forces have, for example, left leaflets threatening to cut off the nose of anyone who participates in Afghanistan's constitutional assembly, or loya jirga, this month. [complete article]

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Foreigners in Iraq say Koran requires fighting U.S.
By Vivienne Walt, San Francisco Chronicle, November 28, 2003

In a rare interview with a foreign fighter battling U.S. troops in Iraq, a middle-class university student from Jordan described this week how he has spent months launching attacks on American soldiers, after being smuggled across the Jordanian border during his summer recess, and trained at a guerrilla camp in central Iraq.

The well-dressed, slight-built mechanical engineering student from the University of Jordan said he was drawn to fight in Iraq purely by religious conviction -- not because of any link to al Qaeda or other terror organizations, and despite his intense dislike for Saddam Hussein's supporters. [complete article]

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Battle reveals new Iraqi tactics
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 2, 2003

To many involved -- both Iraqis and U.S. soldiers -- the confrontation [in Samarra] stood out as an exceptionally fierce battle after months of hit-and-run attacks. Witnesses described dozens of guerrillas in checkered head scarves brazenly roaming the streets in the heat of battle, U.S. soldiers firing randomly in crowded neighborhoods and civilian bystanders taking up arms against U.S. forces once the fight got underway.

For the military, the fight revealed a startling new reality about the fighters themselves -- unprecedented coordination and tactics and numbers yet unseen. [complete article]

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U.S. reports insurgent death toll
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2003

The enemy body count is back. Sort of.

U.S. military officials, in their regular news briefings in Iraq, have quietly begun reporting insurgent "KIA," or killed in action, after months of declining to detail the other side's losses.

The Army had long resisted inclusion of such figures, in part fearing comparison to Vietnam War days, when enemy casualties always seemed to dwarf U.S. losses even as the war was going badly. Inflated body counts eventually became emblematic of a Pentagon spin operation struggling to mask the bad news in Southeast Asia.

But the continuing U.S. casualties in Iraq -- November was the deadliest month with 111 members of the U.S.-led coalition killed -- has apparently contributed to a shift in approach. [complete article]

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Jailed Muslim had made a name in Washington
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Douglas Farah, Washington Post, December 1, 2003

It was a dinner like no other in congressional history. On a frigid night in early 1996, top government figures joined Muslim Americans in the Hart Senate Office Building for solemn prayers and a roast beef supper, the first such celebration marking the Islamic holy days of Ramadan.

The guest list was impressive: Clinton administration officials, ambassadors and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), a prominent Jewish senator. To Abdurahman Alamoudi, the charismatic Muslim leader who organized the Feb. 13, 1996, dinner, it was a landmark in his community's struggle for political recognition.

"I was elated to be there," Alamoudi recalled. "That was a fulfillment of part of the dream."

Today, Alamoudi sits in a green jumpsuit in the Alexandria jail, charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Libya, a U.S.-designated sponsor of terrorism. He has pleaded not guilty. [complete article]

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Working for Saddam
By Marie Valla, Newsweek, December 1, 2003

The man who spent 15 years translating for the Iraqi dictator says his former boss was a contradictory blend of shrewdness and naivete.

Saman Abdul Majid: He thought highly of what it meant to be Iraqi. He had a very strong sense of nationality. And that’s one thing that people don’t understand about President Saddam Hussein. He is a man who made no discrimination whatsoever on the basis of religious or ethnic identities. He did not persecute the Kurds as Kurds or the Shiites as Shiites or the Sunni as Sunni. To him, they all were good Iraqis as long as they behaved well, were not against him and would not participate in any political movements of opposition or tried to topple the regime. As long as you were a good citizen by his criteria, you were welcome. [complete article]

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Council in Iraq resisting ayatollah
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, December 2, 2003

A majority of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council has decided to support an American plan to select a provisional government through regional caucuses despite objections from the country's most powerful Shiite Muslim cleric, according to several council members.

The council's stance, the result of intense lobbying over the past few days by the U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, could result in a dramatic showdown with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who has insisted that a provisional government be chosen through a national election. If the council persists in supporting the American plan, many in Iraq's Shiite majority, who regard the grand ayatollah as their supreme spiritual authority, may reject the provisional government as illegitimate. [complete article]

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A combat leader gives the inside skinny of the biggest battle since the war ended
By a "combat leader", Soldiers for the Truth, December 2, 2003

[In Sunday's battle in Samara] most of the casualties were civilians, not insurgents or criminals as being reported. During the ambushes the tanks, brads and armored HUMVEES hosed down houses, buildings, and cars while using reflexive fire against the attackers. One of the precepts of "Iron Hammer" is to use an Iron Fist when dealing with the insurgents. As the division spokesman is telling the press, we are responding with overwhelming firepower and are taking the fight to the enemy. The response to these well coordinated ambushes was as a one would expect. The convoy continued to move, shooting at ANY target that appeared to be a threat. RPG fire from a house, the tank destroys the house with main gun fire and hoses the area down with 7.62 and 50cal MG fire. Rifle fire from an alley, the brads fire up the alley and fire up the surrounding buildings with 7.62mm and 25mm HE rounds. This was actually a rolling firefight through the entire town.

The ROE [rules of engagement] under "Iron Fist" is such that the US soldiers are to consider buildings, homes, cars to be hostile if enemy fire is received from them (regardless of who else is inside. It seems too many of us this is more an act of desperation, rather than a well thought out tactic. We really don't know if we kill anyone, because we don't stick around to find out. Since we armored troops and we are not trained to use counter-insurgency tactics; the logic is to respond to attacks using our superior firepower to kill the rebel insurgents. This is done in many cases knowing that there are people inside these buildings or cars who may not be connected to the insurgents. [complete article]

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Iraqis deny U.S. accounts of fierce fight with 'guerrillas'
By Phil Reeves, The Independent, December 2, 2003

Major Gordon Tate, a spokesman at the headquarters of the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit, insisted the US military was "confident" about its assessment of the "battle damage".

"Soldiers and commanders on the site counted," he told The Independent. "Every commander on the site is responsible for doing battle damage assessment. Part of that includes counting the dead and wounded on both sides."

Ali [Abdullah Amin] and his father appear to have slipped through the net. Even though the boy's hospital bed is only 10 minutes away from the US Army's base in Samarra, and although he was easily found by journalists, he does not appear to be part of the "battle damage assessment". Asked about wounded Iraqi civilians, Major Tate said he had no information on the subject.

As occupiers of Iraq, the US is responsible under international law for the safety of the civilians living under its rule. The senior US military commander, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, said this weekend that his troops conduct follow-up visits to places where they have been involved in fighting. But Ali's cousin, Jamal Karim, speaking yesterday afternoon, said no US official had been to see him or the injured boy.

Nor, said Samarra's hospital information officer, Sa'id Hassan Ali al-Janabi, had any "coalition" officials come to see any of the others wounded on Sunday. Had they done so, they could have seen his list of the injured - 55 names, including five women. These were, he insisted, all civilians, some with light injuries but a few with wounds so critical that they had been moved to hospitals in Baghdad or Tikrit. [complete article]

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Patriot Act author has concerns
By Richard B. Schmitt, Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2003

The Justice Department's war on terrorism has drawn intense scrutiny from the left and the right. Now, a chief architect of the USA Patriot Act and a former top assistant to Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft are joining the fray, voicing concern about aspects of the administration's anti-terrorism policy.

At issue is the government's power to designate and detain "enemy combatants," in particular in the case of "dirty bomb" plot suspect Jose Padilla, the Brooklyn-born former gang member who was picked up at a Chicago airport 18 months ago by the FBI and locked in a military brig without access to a lawyer.

Civil liberties groups and others contend that Padilla -- as an American citizen arrested in the U.S. -- is being denied due process of law under the Constitution.

Viet Dinh, who until May headed the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, said in a series of recent speeches and in an interview with The Times that he thought the government's detention of Padilla was flawed and unlikely to survive court review. [complete article]

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The killing fields of Rafah
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, November 30, 2003

Quietly, far from the public eye, Israeli soldiers continue killing Palestinians. Hardly a day goes by without casualties, some innocent civilians, and the stories of their violent deaths never reach the Israeli consciousness or awareness. If there is one consistent piece of data in the current intifada, it is the number of Palestinian casualties: dozens a month, unceasingly. [complete article]

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Toll on U.S. troops in Iraq grows as wounded rolls approach 10,000
By Roger Roy, Orlando Sentinel, November 28, 2003

Nearly 10,000 U.S. troops have been killed, wounded, injured or become ill enough to require evacuation from Iraq since the war began, the equivalent of almost one Army division, according to the Pentagon.

Unlike the more than 2,800 American fighting men and women logged by the Defense Department as killed and wounded by weapons in Iraq, the numbers of injured and sick have been more difficult to track, leading critics to accuse the military of under-reporting casualty numbers.

Military officials deny they are fudging the numbers. But the latest figures show that 9,675 U.S. troops have been killed, wounded, injured such as in accidents, or become sick enough to require airlifting out of Iraq. [complete article]

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No way to make friends
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, December 8, 2003

President Bush's Thanksgiving trip to Iraq was a generous and bold-hearted gesture of support to American troops. What made it such a success, however, was that it managed to severely limit an otherwise unavoidable aspect of travel -- contact with foreigners. When President Bush has had to go beyond U.S. Army bases in recent weeks, the tours have not gone so well.

Travelling through East Asia last week, I noted how poorly most observers rated President Bush’s recent trip there. Even more striking, however, was the comparison repeatedly made between Bush's visit and that of Chinese leader Hu Jintao -- with a thumping majority believing Hu had done better. [complete article]

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Mystery shrouds whereabouts of bodies of 54 insurgents said killed by U.S.
Agence France Presse, December 1, 2003

The US military said it believed 54 insurgents were killed in intense exchanges in the northern Iraqi town of Samarra the previous day but commanders admitted they had no bodies.

The only corpses at the city's hospital were those of ordinary civilians, including two elderly Iranian pilgrims and a child.

US Brigadier General Mark Kimmit told a Baghdad press conference that 54 militants had been gunned down, 22 wounded and one arrested.

But challenged about what had happened to the bodies, Kimmit said: "I would suspect that the enemy would have carried them away and brought them back to where their initial base was." [complete article]

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Eight civilians killed, dozens wounded by U.S. fire in Iraq town
Agence France Presse, December 1, 2003

Scenes of devastation dotted the Iraqi town of Samarra after fierce clashes between US forces and insurgents in which senior police and hospital officials said at least eight civilians were killed and dozens wounded by US fire.

US commanders previously said they killed 46 Iraqis, all of them insurgents, in the clashes on Sunday afternoon and evening, which they described as the heaviest faced in Iraq by the 4th Infantry Division which patrols the region.

On Monday, they upped the death toll to 54, without specifying whether the additional dead were insurgents or civilians.

Samarra hospital accident and emergency department anaesthetist Bassem Ibrahim said "we received the bodies of eight civilians, including a woman and a child". [complete article]

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Iraqi council agrees on national elections
By Joel Brinkley, New York Times, December 1, 2003

The Iraqi Governing Council, responding to demands from senior Shiite clergymen, agreed by a unanimous vote on Sunday that full national elections would be the best way to choose an interim government in June.

But several members said they were not sure it would be possible to organize national elections in the coming months, so the council established a committee that is to examine the question and report in two weeks.

Even a religious Shiite member of the council, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who is a strong advocate of elections, acknowledged in an interview that there were "political and technical difficulties."

The Governing Council also reached consensus, several members said, that it would not dissolve after the new interim government was formed this summer. Previously, leaders of the council had said they did not want to disband, but the council as a group had not agreed to that until the question was put to the body on Saturday. [complete article]

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Occasional guerilla attacks part of larger strategy among Iraqi insurgents
By John Walcott, Knight Ridder, November 30, 2003

Although the Bush administration describes the guerrillas who are attacking the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq as holdovers from Saddam Hussein's regime and foreign terrorists, some top officials say the attackers have goals and tactics that make both political and military sense.

"These aren't just a bunch of crazies who want to die for Allah or Saddam," said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because his remarks aren't approved and are at odds with some of the administration's public positions. "There's a method to their madness, and we should not underestimate them." [complete article]

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Attacks turning to U.S. allies in Iraq
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 2003

In response to a two-week crackdown by the US military, Iraqi insurgents are switching tactics from hit-and-run raids against American troops to attacking the coalition's vulnerable allies.

US military officials say that the number of attacks against coalition forces has dropped since Operations Iron Hammer and Ivy Cyclone II began in Baghdad and the volatile Sunni triangle two weeks ago. Yet at least 104 coalition troops died in Iraq in November, 79 of them Americans, making it the bloodiest month since the war began.

The paradox of reduced attacks but increased casualties underlines the difficulties a high-tech conventional army faces when confronting lightly armed but determined guerrilla fighters who hold the initiative, choosing when, where, and how to strike before vanishing into a population increasingly hostile to the US-led occupation. And, analysts warn, the US military's displays of force and intrusive counter- insurgency measures are more likely to further alienate Iraqis rather than deter militants. [complete article]

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Difficulty of selling a long-term presence in Iraq
By Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 2003

There is no doubt that George W. Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day was a public-relations triumph. Even the Democrats jockeying for his job concluded that it would be prudent to hold off on criticism for a day or two, and let the president's dramatic morale-boosting foray into the belly of the beast speak for itself.

But four days later, an air of uncertainty hangs once again over the United States' future in Iraq, and over how long the president can keep enough of the American public with him to proceed unflinchingly in his effort to transform that nation. [complete article]

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Military officers file brief against Bush's policy in Guantanamo
By Frank Davies, Knight Ridder, November 30, 2003

Navy Rear Admiral Don Guter felt the Pentagon shudder when an airliner hijacked by terrorists crashed into it on Sept. 11, 2001. He helped evacuate shaken personnel and later gave the eulogy for a colleague killed that day.

"I would have done anything that day, and I fully support the war on terrorism," said Guter, who served as judge advocate general, the Navy's chief legal officer, until he retired last year.

Nonetheless, he's joining his predecessor and a retired Marine general with expertise on prisoner issues to challenge the Bush administration's indefinite detention of suspected terrorists at the Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba. [complete article]

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Arafat's support for Geneva peace blueprint sparks refugee protests
By Eric Silver, The Independent, December 1, 2003

Despite a crescendo of protests from Palestinian refugees, Yasser Arafat yesterday threw his weight behind an unofficial blueprint for a two-state solution, which is to be launched in Geneva today amid fanfare.

Two ministers representing Mr Arafat's Fatah movement had cancelled their trip to the signing ceremony after the Palestinian leader declined to give the accords his seal of approval. But one of them, Kadoura Fares, told The Independent they would go with three other Fatah signatories. "There is a blessing and permission to travel," he said. [complete article]

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An accord to remember
By Yossi Beilin and Yasir Abed Rabbo, New York Times, December 1, 2003

Today, civic leaders from across the Israeli and Palestinian political spectrum are gathering here to publicize what has become known as the Geneva Accord -- a negotiated but unofficial framework for reaching a permanent peace between our two peoples after years of bloodshed and lost and shattered lives.

The accord lays out, for the first time, what a credible and negotiable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement could look like. In the process, it addresses all the major differences between the parties, including security arrangements, the shape of permanent borders, the status of Jerusalem, the future of West Bank settlements, the rights of refugees and access to holy places.

The initiative dates to January 2001, when the last official talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended at Taba. As participants in the negotiations, we both were left with the feeling that we could have reached an agreement had we been given a few more weeks. [complete article]

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A flawed plan, but it could pave the way for peace
By Sharon Sadeh, The Guardian, December 1, 2003

A few hundred dignitaries will assemble today in Geneva for a peace ceremony between Israelis and Palestinians. A rare and delightful sight, no doubt, after three years of relentless and futile bloodshed. But is this also the turning point in the Middle East peace process?

This latest peace initiative, devised and pursued by a group of Israelis and Palestinians under the auspices of the Swiss government, could not present itself at a more opportune moment. It is the end of Ariel Sharon's third year in office and Israel's standing has taken a turn for the worse. Domestically, his election promises for "peace and security" were exposed as empty slogans, the economy is weak and unemployment has reached new heights. Abroad, Israel's pariah status is spreading. The question of whether its establishment was a mistake has become a popular theme in symposiums. Surveys in Europe show that Israel is perceived as a threat to world peace - the root of the problem. [complete article]

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Israel's hard men fight for peace
By Conal Urquhart, The Observer, November 30, 2003

They are Ariel Sharon's trickiest opponents - four former heads of the Israeli security service who have united to accuse the Prime Minister of pushing the Jewish state to the 'edge of an abyss'. Israel, they say, must find peace or perish.

Between them, they served for 20 years at the head of Shin Bet, the nerve centre of the war on Palestinian militants, but now they have dramatically changed tack to spearhead a new movement for peace more powerful than Israel has ever seen before.

Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon and Major General Ami Ayalon have fought the Palestinians with as much vigour as Sharon, who commanded an armoured division in the 1967 Six Day War. Shalom reportedly ordered the murder of two Palestinians who hijacked a bus. Under Ayalon's command, Shin Bet perfected the use of booby-trapped mobile phones for assassinations.

The stocky, shaven-headed Ayalon has fought Arabs all his life, but this pugnacious character is the new face of the Israeli peace movement which, after three years of the intifada, is finally beginning to have an impact. [complete article]

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Syrian pressing for Israel talks
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, December 1, 2003

President Bashar al-Assad called Sunday for the United States to use its influence to revive negotiations between his country and Israel, portraying their absence as a gaping hole in the Bush administration's strategy for the Middle East.

Mr. Assad, in an interview at the small stone villa that serves as his private office in the hills above Damascus, said the details of returning the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for security guarantees to Israel were 80 percent complete a few months before he succeeded his late father as Syria's president. But the Bush administration, preoccupied by Iraq and the Palestinians, has shown little interest in this strand of diplomacy, he said.

The president said neglecting the Syrian-Israel dispute was a prime example of the Bush administration's preaching of visionary change to the Middle East without adopting practical measures to attain it. [complete article]

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Shiite clerics emerge as key power brokers
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 1, 2003

Before any election for a government, before any debate over a constitution, [Grand Ayatollah Bashir] Najafi and the other senior Shiite clerics have emerged in the vacuum left by former president Saddam Hussein's destruction of civil society. They have become the most influential figures in the country today. In a process both abetted and opposed by the U.S. administration, the elderly clerics in Najaf have begun sketching out for the first time in decades the sharply contested role of Islam in the country's political life.

By far, the most influential among them is Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a once-reticent cleric who has taken on a far more activist role. This weekend, he made public his opposition to key elements of a U.S. plan for a political transition in Iraq. That followed his edict in June that any convention charged with writing a constitution must be elected. Together, they have secured a role for him and other clergy in helping determine the issues central to Iraq's future -- the selection of a government, the shape of a constitution and the nature of law.

"They are gaining momentum now," said Wamid Nadhme, a political science professor at Baghdad University.

"It seems that Mr. Sistani is showing his teeth to the Americans, that he is showing his willpower to the Iraqis" in the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, he added. "It's as if he's saying to all those concerned that I'm the man who is the last word." [complete article]

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Clashes between insurgents, U.S. forces spark bloodbath
Agence France Presse (via SMH), December 1, 2003

Witnesses claimed return of fire by US troops had killed innocent bystanders in clashes between insurgents and US troops in the Iraqi town of Samarra today.

Residents of the town questioned claims by a US spokesman that all 46 killed in the firefights had been attackers. [complete article]

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Losing battle for city's heart
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, November 30, 2003

Unlike most Sunni Muslim cities in central and western Iraq, Samarra was a place that U.S. forces had a shot at winning over. The city of 200,000 was one of the few Sunni-dominated areas that suffered under Saddam Hussein's rule, mainly because Samarra and its leading tribes were regional rivals to Hussein's hometown, Tikrit.

But the Americans have been unable to capitalize on Samarra's hatred for Hussein and his ruling Baath Party. Since arriving in mid-April, U.S. forces have carried out dozens of nighttime raids, detained hundreds of people and imposed a nighttime curfew. They have also painted schools, put up blackboards, distributed food and repaired water stations in an effort to soothe the anger in this city 60 miles north of Baghdad.

"The Americans made serious mistakes from the very beginning," said Shaker Mohammed, the city's U.S.-appointed mayor and a former Iraqi army general. "When U.S. soldiers search houses at night, they tie up the men and they frighten the women and children. This breeds resentment."

Akram Shouk is just the kind of person that the Americans could have won over in Samarra. One of his older brothers was executed by Hussein's regime in the early 1990s. Two of his other siblings were imprisoned for six years for working against the Baath Party, and Shouk lost his grocery store under the regime's policy of collective punishment.

"I hated Saddam because of all the pain he caused my family," said Shouk, 43, who now tries to earn a living as a laborer. "I was very happy when the Americans got rid of him. I thought they would help us improve our lives."

But Shouk turned against the U.S. occupation after troops raided his home one night last month. [complete article]

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New suspect in Turkish bomb attacks
By Jason Burke, The Observer, November 30, 2003

Investigators probing the suicide bombings of the British consulate, a bank and two synagogues in Istanbul earlier this month believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Islamic militant linked to recent suicide attacks on Iraq, was responsible.

The attacks killed more than 50 people, including the British consul-general, and injured several hundred. Several groups have claimed responsibility including at least one that has been linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. Turkish politicians insist that al-Qaeda are responsible and the British government has said that the attack bears the 'hallmarks of al-Qaeda'.

However The Observer has learned that it is Zarqawi, who leads a disparate network of terrorists and sympathisers in the Middle East and in Europe, who is the prime suspect for the attacks. Zarqawi follows a similar agenda to bin Laden's al-Qaeda group but acts independently of the Saudi-born fugitive. [complete article]

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Wrong again
By Bruce Cummings, London Review of Books, December 4, 2003

In June 1994, Bill Clinton came close to launching a 'pre-emptive strike' against North Korea's nuclear reactors at Yongbyon, about sixty miles north of Pyongyang. Then, at the last minute, Jimmy Carter got North Korea to agree to a complete freeze on activity at the Yongbyon complex, and a Framework Agreement was signed in October 1994. The Republican Right railed against this for the next six years, until George W. Bush brought a host of the Agreement's critics into his Administration, and they set about dismantling it, thus fulfilling their own prophecy and initiating another dangerous confrontation with Pyongyang. The same folks who brought us the invasion of Iraq and a menu of hyped-up warnings about Saddam Hussein's weapons have similarly exaggerated the North Korean threat: indeed, the second North Korean nuclear crisis began in October 2002, when 'sexed-up' intelligence was used to push Pyongyang against the wall and make bilateral negotiations impossible. [complete article]

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U.S. plan may be in flux as Iraqis jockey for postwar leverage
By Robin Wright and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, November 30, 2003

The latest plan to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq is barely two weeks old, but it already faces an array of problems that has led Iraqis and Iraq experts to question its prospects for creating a stable democratic government by July 1.

U.S. officials, meanwhile, are developing fallback options. But the Bush administration's decision to hand over the reins in seven months has limited U.S. leverage to solve problems during this delicate period, Iraq experts say. Despite his power on paper, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer is effectively a lame duck, and everyone who disagrees with the U.S. plan knows it. [complete article]

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Leading cleric calls for elections in Iraq
By Anthony Shadid and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, November 30, 2003

Iraq's most powerful Shiite Muslim cleric said in remarks made public Saturday that he opposed key elements of a U.S. plan for a political transition in Iraq and insisted that a provisional government be chosen through elections, challenging the Bush administration's proposal for relinquishing authority by June.

The statement by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was made in response to written questions sent to his liaison office in London. While Iraqi politicians had reported elements of Sistani's objections after meetings this week, Sistani had not publicly addressed the proposal, and the remarks represented his clearest statement yet on the plan. [complete article]

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Iraq's Shiites insist on democracy. Washington cringes
By Alex Berenson, New York Times, November 30, 2003

For seven months, the United States has tried to finesse two crucial questions about the future of Iraq: How much control will the country's Shiite majority have over the drafting of a constitution? And how Islamic will that constitution be?

The answers could determine whether Iraq becomes a multiparty democracy, an Islamic theocracy, or even slides into civil war.

Last week, those questions took on a new urgency. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most important Shiite religious leader in Iraq and probably the most powerful local leader of any kind, said he opposed the American plan to turn over power to an Iraqi government next year without direct elections.

Ayatollah Sistani has vast influence over Iraq's 15 million Shiites, and so far he has urged them to show patience with the occupation. But he has insisted that delegates elected by popular vote write Iraq's constitution and approve its new government. [complete article]

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British forces face push by Shias for autonomy in south
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, November 30, 2003

Killings of former Baath party officials and the toppling of hundreds of power pylons are sending danger signals to British commanders and officials seeking to control southern Iraq. They are seen as signs that Shia Muslims, the overwhelming majority in the south, are seeking to establish their autonomy from Baghdad.

Compared with the conflagration in central Iraq, the British sector is relatively peaceful. But the targeted shooting of Baathists - mainly Sunni Muslims who sought to stay behind in the region after the defeat of the regime - and systematic sabotage of power lines going to Baghdad are seen by some as the first aggressive moves of an embryonic Shia confederacy. [complete article]

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'Two great weeks' says general. For who?
By Phil Reeves, The Independent, November 30, 2003

America's top military commander in Iraq conceded yesterday that the search for Saddam Hussein is proving "difficult" and appealed for help from the Iraqi population in finding the fugitive dictator.

But Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez also insisted that the last fortnight, in which US forces have been conducting a military offensive against Iraqi guerrillas has been a "great two weeks" for the US-led coalition forces and for Iraq.

The general's upbeat views will surprise critics of the occupation, not least because he delivered them at the end of the deadliest month for the 130,000 American troops in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March. [complete article]

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Iraqi leaders say U.S. was warned of disorder after Hussein, but little was done
By Joel Brinkley and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, November 30, 2003

In the months before the Iraq invasion, Iraqi exile leaders trooped through the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department carrying a message about the future of their homeland: without a strong plan for managing Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein, widespread looting and violence would erupt.

"On many occasions, I told the Americans that from the very moment the regime fell, if an alternative government was not ready there would be a power vacuum and there would be chaos and looting," said Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and a longtime ally of the United States. "Given our history, it is very obvious this would occur."

Similar warnings came from international relief experts and from within the United States government. In 1999 the same military command that was preparing to attack Iraq conducted a detailed war game that found that toppling Mr. Hussein risked creating a major security void, said Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who headed the command.

But as Pentagon officials hurriedly prepared for war last winter, they envisioned Iraq after the fall of Mr. Hussein's government as far more manageable. [complete article]

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Hell's angels
By Justin Huggler, The Independent, November 29, 2003

There is nothing mythical about the persecution of the Yezidi. I once spent several days searching south-eastern Turkey for Yezidi. I only found one, a nervous man who at first was too afraid to admit he was Yezidi, and who claimed he was the last one left in Turkey.

The Yezidi have been persecuted for centuries, chiefly because they pray to an angel other religions consider to be the Devil. Perhaps a little melodramatically, they claim they are the victims of 72 attempted genocides.

But in recent decades the oppression has forced thousands to flee their traditional homeland, which spreads across the mountainous borders of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and the former Soviet Republics of Georgia and Armenia, to become refugees in the West. [complete article]

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Instability that threatens the West's £1.8bn oil pipeline dream
By Julius Strauss, The Telegraph, November 15, 2003

The dirt-poor, mud-coated village of Sakire may be a far cry from the swish boardrooms of the world's oil giants.

But the actions of the farmers who live in Georgia's inhospitable hills, and thousands like them in the Caucasus, may soon reverberate throughout the corridors of power.

Barely 500 yards from the village work is under way to build a £1.8 billion pipeline that western leaders hope will herald the beginning of a new era in energy policy. The plan, led by BP, is to link the oilfields of Azerbaijan to a terminal on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, allowing the West to tap into the huge deposits being drilled in the Caspian basin without relying on the goodwill of Russia.

Within seven years oil production in the Caspian region is expected to be more than half that of Saudi Arabia. But by striking through the heart of the Caucasus, the pipeline cuts through some of the most politically unstable and corrupt areas on earth. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Iraq exit plan: New obstacles
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, November 29, 2003
Two weeks ago, the Bush administration settled on an "exit strategy" for Iraq in which the United States committed itself to establishing self-rule there by next summer -- well ahead of its previous schedule and just as the American presidential election season will be getting under way. But the administration's initial plan for that transfer of authority has fallen apart, raising doubts about whether the June 30 deadline for ending the American occupation authority in Baghdad is still feasible.

A prisoner of panic after 9/11
By Michael Powell, Washington Post, November 29, 2003
Benamar Benatta sits in a whitewashed cell, lost in a post-Sept. 11 world. Jailed the night of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the Algerian air force lieutenant with an expired visa has spent the past 26 months in federal prisons, much of that time in solitary confinement -- even though the FBI formally concluded in November 2001 that he had no connection to terrorism.

U.S. officials were reluctant to call troops occupiers
By John J. Lumpkin and Dafna Linzer, Associated Press (via SF Chronicle), November 27, 2003
American military commanders did not impose curfews, halt looting or order Iraqis back to work after Saddam Hussein's regime fell because U.S. policymakers were reluctant to declare U.S. troops an occupying force, says an internal Army review examined by The Associated Press.

Hush, hush about Israel's bomb
By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram, November 27, 2003
For decades Israel has refused to confirm the now well-documented fact that it has a significant arsenal of nuclear warheads -- the only country in the Middle East known to have successfully developed such a programme.

Europe's Muslims treated as outsiders
By Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, November 27, 2003
Fatima Yaakoub, 24 years old, born in Morocco, living in the Netherlands since she was 12, says she wants nothing more than to fit in. Yaakoub's experience offers a glimpse into the conflict between Europe's historically Christian, increasingly secular societies and the large -- and often alienated -- Muslim populations.

How cleric trumped U.S. plan for Iraq
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, November 26, 2003
The unraveling of the Bush administration's script for political transition in Iraq began with a fatwa.

How do we get out of Iraq?
The Guardian, November 26, 2003
Winning the war was the easy bit. But since the fall of Baghdad the news from Iraq has gone from bad to worse: daily attacks on US troops, mounting public hostility to the occupation, no credible government in sight. So how can Britain and America escape the quagmire? And how can we prevent Iraq descending into violent chaos as soon as the troops pull out? We asked eight experts with very different viewpoints for an 'exit strategy.'

No regrets or culprits, just cash for series of random killings
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, November 26, 2003
In the months since America's war in Iraq, an uncounted number of ordinary Iraqis have been killed or maimed by the army that boasts daily of its swift "liberation" victory.

On the job with a Taliban recruiter
By Massoud Ansari, Asia Times, November 26, 2003
"In every madrassa in Balochistan there are one or two Taliban recruiters," says a local politician in Quetta, requesting not to be identified. "If you want to sign on for jihad, the easiest thing is to stay at one of these madrassas and someone will for sure contact you."

The moral myth
By George Monbiot, The Guardian, November 25, 2003
Whatever the argument for toppling Saddam on humanitarian grounds may have been, this is not why Bush and Blair went to war.

The waiting game
By Ahdaf Soueif, The Guardian, November 24, 2003
Three years ago, the acclaimed Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif travelled through the West Bank to write a special report for G2. This month, she returned for the first time.

Moving targets
By Evan Thomas and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, December 1, 2003
For all the spy satellites and high-tech listening devices that can home in on the terrorists' chatter, and despite enormous increases in the "black budget" spent on intelligence-gathering in the war on terror, the true threat to the American homeland remains murky.

Where terror begins
By Jason Burke, The Observer, November 23, 2003
By the time the suspects [in the Istanbul bombings] have come to trial we will have a detailed picture of how the bombings happened. But we will not know why. And this is the crucial question if we are to defeat contemporary Islamic terrorism.

Terrorist logic: Disrupt the 2004 election
By David J. Rothkopf, Washington Post, November 23, 2003
In case after case, assaults before major votes have benefited candidates who were seen as tougher on terrorists.

Are the sparks catching?
By Daniel Benjamin, Washington Post, November 23, 2003
If the central front in that war [the war on terrorism] is Iraq, pace the Bush administration, why are bombs exploding in Turkey and, just weeks ago, in Saudi Arabia?

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Two South Koreans dead, two hurt in Iraq shooting
By Lee Suwan, Reuters, November 30, 2003

Gunmen shot dead two South Korean electricity workers and wounded two others in Iraq on Sunday, but South Korea said it was too early to say whether the incident would affect Seoul's decision to send more troops there. [complete article]

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