The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Bin Laden's Iraq plans
By Sami Yousafzai, Ron Moreau and Michael Hirsh, Newsweek (via MSNBC), December 15, 2003

During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, three senior Qaeda representatives allegedly held a secret meeting in Afghanistan with two top Taliban commanders.

The confab took place in mid-November in the remote, Taliban-controlled mountains of Khowst province near the Pakistan border, a region where Al Qaeda has found it easy to operate -- frequently even using satellite phones despite U.S. surveillance.

At that meeting, according to Taliban sources, Osama bin Laden's men officially broke some bad news to emissaries from Mullah Mohammed Omar, the elusive leader of Afghanistan's ousted fundamentalist regime. Their message: Al Qaeda would be diverting a large number of fighters from the anti-U.S. insurgency in Afghanistan to Iraq. Al Qaeda also planned to reduce by half its $3 million monthly contribution to Afghan jihadi outfits.

All this was on the orders of bin Laden himself, the sources said. Why? Because the terror chieftain and his top lieutenants see a great opportunity for killing Americans and their allies in Iraq and neighboring countries such as Turkey, according to Taliban sources who complain that their own movement will suffer. [complete article]

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Cluster bombs kill in Iraq, even after shooting ends
By Paul Wiseman, USA Today, December 10, 2003

A four-month examination by USA Today of how cluster bombs were used in the Iraq war found dozens of deaths that were unintended but predictable. Although U.S. forces sought to limit what they call "collateral damage" in the Iraq campaign, they defied international criticism and used nearly 10,800 cluster weapons; their British allies used almost 2,200.

The bomblets packed inside these weapons wiped out Iraqi troop formations and silenced Iraqi artillery. They also killed civilians. These unintentional deaths added to the hostility that has complicated the U.S. occupation. One anti-war group calculates that cluster weapons killed as many as 372 Iraqi civilians. The numbers are impossible to verify: Iraqi hospital records are incomplete, and many Iraqi families buried their dead without reporting their deaths.

In the most comprehensive report on the use of cluster weapons in Iraq, USA Today visited Iraqi neighborhoods and interviewed dozens of Iraqi families, U.S. troops, teams clearing unexploded ordnance in Iraq, military analysts and humanitarian groups. [complete article]

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Iraqi agent denies he met 9/11 hijacker in Prague before attacks on the U.S.
By James Risen, New York Times, December 13, 2003

A former Iraqi intelligence officer who was said to have met with the suspected leader of the Sept. 11 attacks has told American interrogators the meeting never happened, according to United States officials familiar with classified intelligence reports on the matter.

Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the former intelligence officer, was taken into custody by the United States in July. Under questioning he has said that he did not meet with Mohamed Atta in Prague, according to the officials, who have reviewed classified debriefing reports based on the interrogations.

American officials caution that Mr. Ani may have been lying to American interrogators, but the only other person reported to have attended the meeting was Mr. Atta, who died in the crash of his hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.

Reports that an Iraqi spy had met with Mr. Atta in Prague first circulated soon after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, but they have been in dispute ever since. [complete article]

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Recruits abandon Iraqi army
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, December 13, 2003

More than half the men in the first unit to be trained for the new Iraqi army have abandoned their jobs because of low pay, inadequate training, faulty equipment, ethnic tensions and other concerns, leaving the nascent 1st Battalion dramatically understaffed just days before it is scheduled to leave training camp for its first assignment, Iraqi, U.S. and other coalition officials say.

About 480 of the 900 recruits who began training in August have left the U.S.-backed force, according to Australian Maj. Doug Cumming, chief instructor at the training academy in Kirkush, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. They will not be punished for leaving, nor are they even being pursued, officials say. Among those who remain, some still have not mastered such basics as how to march in formation and how to properly respond to radio calls. [complete article]

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Mosul smoldered before igniting
By Samir Zedan, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2003

The past month's spate of insurgent attacks, from the downing of U.S. military helicopters to drive-by assassinations, has rattled Iraqis as much as it has the occupying forces in this northern city.

But Mosul residents, who in recent weeks have seen their city become a battleground for Saddam Hussein loyalists and the U.S.-led coalition, say the relative calm before the current storm was largely illusory.

From the troops' bloody arrival here in April to the killing of Hussein's sons in the city in July to the autumn raids on suspected hide-outs of former Baath Party leaders, Mosul has been a brooding incubator of insurgence from the outset, and suffered for it. [complete article]

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In the new Iraq, a neighborhood tells the story
By John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2003

Most in Muhallah 665 — Neighborhood 665 — had expected things to be better under the Americans. But eight months after U.S. forces entered Baghdad, services providing electricity, telephones, gasoline and cooking fuel have yet to be restored to prewar levels.

People thought they would at the very least be safe on their streets, and not beset by fears of robbery, kidnapping and civil disorder.

They thought they would have an Iraqi government instead of a hodgepodge of U.S. civil and military rule, locally appointed councils, interim ministers and a Governing Council that exercises little independent authority.

Like the rest of Iraq, the people of Muhallah 665 live in limbo. Some hold grudges or nurse wounds that fester. Others, despite the hardships and uncertainty, rouse themselves to face the future. [complete article]

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Golan Heights an obstacle to peace between Syria, Israel
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, December 12, 2003

There are few nations that despise and distrust one another as much as Israel and Syria, yet at the Chateau Golan winery on the border between them, tranquillity reigns.

Here, the Ribak and Bar-On Shai families prepare their award-winning cabernet sauvignon while Israeli tourists amble past the estate en route to a popular waterfall. Unlike other Israeli frontiers, the only gunfire heard along this 50-mile-long border comes from hunters in search of wild boar.

"The experience of coming here is better than any kind of advertising we could do," said Gilat Ribak, an Israeli whose husband, Itzhak, co-owns Chateau Golan and who moved to this disputed region in 1976 when she was 18. "It's so quiet here, we have absolutely no security concerns."

Which is why at a time when Syria is making its first friendly overtures to Israel in four years, the price of peace appears too much for average Israelis to bear. Syria wants the Golan Heights, a strip of borderland it lost in 1967, but Israelis are comfortably encamped in its verdant mountains, enjoying its mild summers and the country's only ski resort. [complete article]

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Golan Heights have long history
By James P. Pinkerton, Newsday, December 13, 2003

I am reasonably well-informed about Middle East issues, but one phrase was new and unfamiliar to me until I arrived here: "Golan Heights Refugees."

The Golan Heights, of course, were part of Syria until the 1967 War, when the Israelis seized the land and have held it ever since. In a long-ago trip to Israel, I had been taken on a tour of the area. I remember that it was spectacularly beautiful. Standing atop the Heights, one sees the Sea of Galilee -- a place of so much Biblical lore. And there's obvious military advantage, too, in holding these points -- look west and see Jordan, look east and see Lebanon, look north and see Syria. I remember thinking that the Heights were sort of like a vast park, mostly meadows and a few trees. The natural vistas were broken up only by a few Israeli forts.

So I was taken aback when virtually every Syrian I have met here told me that the Golan wasn't empty until the Israelis captured it. [complete article]

Note -- Students of geography may want to note (if they don't already know) that Israel lies to the west of the Golan Heights, Lebanon to the north, Syria to the east, and Jordan to the south.

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Deadly U.S. raid leaves some Afghans bewildered
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, December 12, 2003

... most people interviewed insisted that Jalani [, the target of a U.S. attack that resulted in the deaths of six children,] was neither a terrorist nor a threat to the government, and some professed outrage and shock at the U.S. attack. They noted that, until recently, Jalani had served as district commissioner and was also a leader of the local tribal council.

Several residents said Jalani had supported the U.S. military campaign and met often with U.S. and Afghan troops based in Gardez, the provincial capital 20 miles west of here.

"This was always the safest place for Americans, and there has never been a single incident in our district," said Hairan, 29, a truck driver. "Everyone knew Jalani, and the day before this happened the new district chief came to have tea with him. We are amazed that they would bomb his house."

Naser Gul, 25, a brother of the man who was killed with his family in the attack, said the victims were sleeping when the sound of planes overhead woke them about 3 a.m. Gul said he ran outside, but the rest of the family was buried and died. He said the family, originally from Logar province, was visiting as guests of the Tutakhel tribe, which controls the district.

Gul identified the dead as Ikhtar Gul, 35, a farmer; Khela, his wife; four daughters, Ahmad Khela, Daulat Zai, Anara and Kadran; and two sons, Asif and Nematullah. He said the children's ages ranged from 1 to 12. [complete article]

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Iranian rebels urge Pentagon not to let Iraq expel them
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 13, 2003

Representatives of an Iranian opposition group are appealing to the Pentagon to overrule an order this week by the Iraqi Governing Council that would expel its members from Iraq by the end of the year, possibly to Iran.

The group, the People's Mujahedeen, or Mujahedeen Khalq, maintained armed camps in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. It is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, but it has strong supporters in the Pentagon, who see it as an important pressure point on the Iranian government.

The request was sent on Thursday to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and shown to The New York Times on Friday by someone sympathetic to the group. It is being cast by some in the organization as a last-ditch effort to avoid an expulsion that could put its members into the hands of the Tehran government. [complete article]

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Baker's return = Cheney's heartburn
By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service (via Antiwar.com), December 13, 2003

Of course, it is not yet known how much Baker, the master diplomatic puppeteer of the first Gulf War who also served as White House chief of staff and Treasury Secretary under Ronald Reagan, intends to weigh in on policy decisions that go beyond his specific brief [as U.S. envoy overseeing the restructuring of Iraq's debt].

But the fact that he is now in the White House and dealing directly with all of Washington's major allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East on the future of Iraq, if not the entire region, places him in the thick of the administration's foreign policy, to put it mildly. From now on, very little is likely to be decided on anything that affects Iraq or US alliances without his "input."

And one can only imagine what kind of input he has given Bush on Wolfowitz's incredibly timed decision to make Baker's task far more difficult and expensive by announcing that the allies holding most of Iraq's debt will not be permitted to bid on some 18.6 billion dollars in reconstruction contracts. [complete article]

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Retaliation over Iraq fits Bush's pattern
By Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder, December 12, 2003

President Bush's decision to take revenge on countries that opposed the war in Iraq shocked the diplomatic world, but it fits his longstanding pattern of rewarding friends and punishing enemies.

In a family that prizes loyalty, Bush is known for playing hardball with anyone who crosses him. By his description, he was the chief loyalty enforcer in his father's White House. Later, as governor of Texas, he cracked the whip on Republicans who failed to back his policies - a practice he has taken with him to Washington.

"He's a velvet hammer. He can charm with the best of them, but he can also cut you off at the knees if he thinks you've got it coming," said Thomas DeFrank, a veteran Washington journalist who has firsthand experience with Bush's wrath. "He never forgets." [complete article]

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White House publicity stunt exposes major security flaw but puts lives at risk

That could have been the Washington Post's headline. Instead, they buried the story behind a tale of forlorn troops shut out of the president's turkey feast and forced to eat MRE's.

A Baghdad Thanksgiving's lingering aftertaste
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 12, 2003

... air traffic controllers in Britain are seething over the flight [to Baghdad], in which the president's 747, falsely identified as a Gulfstream, traveled through British airspace. Prospect, the controllers union in the United Kingdom, says the flight broke international regulations, posed a potential safety threat and exposed a weakness in the air defense system that could be exploited by terrorists.

"The overriding concern is if the president's men who did this can dupe air traffic control, what's to stop a highly organized terrorist group from duping air traffic control?" asked David Luxton, Prospect's national secretary. Luxton said the flight was in "breach" of regulations against filing false flight plans set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which he said should apply to a military aircraft using civilian airspace.

Luxton said that by identifying itself as a Gulfstream V instead of the much larger 747, Air Force One could have put itself and other airplanes in danger. The Gulfstream can climb faster and maneuver more nimbly than a 747, which means controllers could have assumed the president's plane was capable of a collision-avoiding maneuver that it couldn't actually do. And the "wake vortex" of a 747, much larger than a Gulfstream's, could jeopardize smaller planes that were told by unsuspecting controllers to follow in the mislabeled plane's wake. [complete article]

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Guerrilla chiefs to undercut Karzai
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 2003

Afghanistan's constitutional convention, scheduled to start Saturday, was supposed to be a break from the feuds of the past, a made-for-TV demonstration that the war-torn country had united around a blueprint for democracy.

Now a coalition of powerful guerrilla commanders is poised to wrest control of the proceedings and redraft the new Afghan constitution according to their own wishes.

Led by a broad array of religious parties from Afghanistan's many Islamic sects and ethnic groups, these mujahideen or "holy warriors" have set their sights on diluting the sweeping powers of President Hamid Karzai by pursuing a parliamentary system. It would be a setback for American officials who consider Mr. Karzai to be the best leader for the next Afghan government. [complete article]

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Families struggle with return to Iraq
By Chelsea J. Carter, Associated Press (via Philadelphia Inquirer), December 12, 2003

After returning from months of duty in Iraq, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Elia Fontecchio spent several days trying to figure out how to break the news to his wife that he would be going back to the combat zone.

In the end, he told her in a private moment, simply and in straightforward fashion. At first, she was angry and disappointed. Now, she is just trying to make every minute count.

"Every day is one day closer until he goes away," Kinney Fontecchio said. Her husband has not gotten his orders but expects to be sent back after New Year's.

Thousands of military members and their families have begun grappling with the news that many of those who have completed a tour of duty in Iraq will be sent in again as part of what the Pentagon calls the biggest series of troop rotations since World War II. [complete article]

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The Pentagon plot
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, December 12, 2003

Things are not what they seem in the Bush administration's latest internecine imbroglio over Iraq. The mess appears to involve two contradictory developments: 1) the Pentagon's directive banning countries that didn't support the war from sharing in its spoils (i.e., from bidding for reconstruction contracts); and 2) James Baker's impending trip to Europe, on behalf of President Bush, to convince the largest of those antiwar countries to forgive Iraqi debt. [...]

The key thing to note is this: The Pentagon's directive about contracts is not really about money and, most likely, Baker's trip is not really about debt. [complete article]

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U.N. ruling on polls urged
Gulf Daily News, December 13, 2003

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, Iraq's highest-ranking Shi'ite cleric, wants the United Nations to rule if early elections can take place in the country, in a new embarrassment to the US occupation authorities.

Washington, which has decreed a lengthy delay before proper elections are held in 2005, can ill-afford to snub the religious leader of Iraq's majority community.

"Ayatollah Sistani maintains his call for elections in Iraq unless a neutral UN committee, appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan, visits Iraq and reaches the conclusion that in the current circumstances it is technically and politically impossible to hold general elections," said interim Governing Council member Muwaffak Al Rubaie. [complete article]

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K Street on the Tigris
By Michael Scherer, Mother Jones, November/December, 2003

The man who ran President Bush's last campaign has a new job, but he won't be checking poll numbers or arranging fundraisers. Instead, Joe Allbaugh, who left the Bush administration just weeks before the White House launched the war on Iraq, has opened up a lobbying firm with offices in Baghdad.

"It's beneficial to clients that I know who the players are and I know who the decision makers are," says Allbaugh, who was national campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2000 and then became director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This summer, Allbaugh joined with Ed Rogers, a former White House aide to Bush's father, to found New Bridge Strategies, a lobbying firm that connects Western businesses with the American and Iraqi power brokers overseeing the reconstruction. The firm has already attracted companies looking to sell Iraq everything from new phone lines to catering services. [complete article]

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Power to the prophet
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, December 13, 2003

Only eight months since Bush landed his invasion force in Iraq, Najaf has reasserted itself as the spiritual heart of the country and the back-alley office of the white-bearded Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is fast becoming a serious rival to all of Baghdad as a seat of political power. Sistani, who commands inordinate respect among Shiites, has bided his time, seemingly giving the US coalition the opportunity to make good its liberation promises by urging Shiites not to attack the Americans.

But the man is an enigma. He has no political party and no army. He rarely speaks his mind and hardly ever ventures from the ascetic home where he receives few guests - and certainly not Bush's man in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

In June he quietly issued a fatwa, insisting on the right of all Iraqis to have a direct say in electing a new government and the team of experts to draft the constitution under which they would live.

The Americans made the mistake of concluding that the frail old man of Najaf could be ignored. [complete article]

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Bonfire of faith as mosques go to war
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, December 13, 2003

The gaping hole in a brick wall marks the spot where three of the faithful were killed at the Sunni mosque. Two blocks away, Shiite worshippers are in tears after the invasion of their mosque by a wild funeral procession for the Sunni dead, during which shots were fired and the Koran, along with pictures of sainted Shiite scholars, was desecrated.

This week's eruption of Sunni-Shiite tension in Al Hiriya Al Dabash, a middle-class suburb of Baghdad, is the feared descent to sectarian urban warfare that observers always feared would complicate US attempts to impose a democracy in Iraq.

During the US occupation, some mosques have been attacked. But this is the first incident in which revenge has been so clear-cut. And so swift.

At the cement-rendered Ahbab Al-Mustafa mosque, the imam, Ahmed Al-Dabash, with the trademark straggly beard associated with pro-Sunni extremism, blamed Tuesday's bombing on Shiite militias and denied that a day later his congregation had attacked the Shiites' Al Tuheed mosque. [complete article]

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Bush's Iraq a magnet for terrorists - Saudi envoy
By Alistair Lyon, Reuters (via WP), December 11, 2003

Far from quelling a terrorist threat, President Bush's war on Iraq created a new one, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain said on Thursday.

"When the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, the promise of bringing peace and security was important in the expositions of both the American and British leaderships," Prince Turki al-Faisal said.

"Unfortunately, that promise still has to be realized. The daily firefights, explosions and violence are making even those who believed the initial promise skeptical," he told a conference at London's Royal United Services Institute. "Instead of removing the terrorist threat which President Bush saw in Saddam's Iraq, we find today that Mr Bush's Iraq has become a magnet for terrorists," Prince Turki said. [complete article]

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Tribal politics
Paul Woodward, The War in Context, December 12, 2003

As good evangelists, the Americans in Iraq never tire of affirming their commitment to win hearts and minds. But like many an evangelist has found, its hard to rouse faith and win converts if you're perceived as a hypocrite.

When American tanks rolled into Baghdad, the champions of free-market democracy claimed that they had liberated an oppressed people. Before then, the war's proponents often liked to couch the debate, for or against the war, in terms of an expression or lack of faith in the capacity of Iraqis to embrace democracy.

Nine months later and the students of free-market democracy are eager to put the program into practice while their tutors are dragging their feet.

And while Iraqis might imagine that America might be better able to practice what it preaches at home rather than abroad, the administration's handling of its policy in awarding reconstruction contracts, makes all too plain the profound cynicism underlying the practice of American democracy.

A policy that is so explicit in its intention to reward friends and punish foes looks like the handiwork of officials who have forgotten that they are merely the custodians of taxpayers money, bound by the duty to make sure that it is well-spent.

Free-market economics, at least in theory, means that free competition will promote efficiency and lower costs. The more carefully the money gets spent, the longer it should be before the administration goes back to Congress to ask for more. When it comes to competitive bidding, the corporations that would force Halliburton and Bechtel to trim their estimates will more likely be found in Germany or France, than Albania or Micronesia.

But when White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said "I think it is appropriate and reasonable to expect that prime contracts for reconstruction funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars go to the Iraqi people and those helping with the United States on the difficult task of helping to build a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq," he was neither appealing to Americans' understanding of free-market economics, nor their understanding of democracy. His appeal was to the tribal instincts over which "American democracy" so frequently applies nothing more than a paper-thin veneer.

The issue, as a tribal issue, amounts to this: The tribal chiefs (in the White House and the Pentagon) want to assure the tribe members (their financial supporters, industrial allies, and party faithful) that in spite of the bad press they've been getting, the war was won. The victors get to divide the plunder -- this is the fruit of power. Friends get rewarded, critics get cold-shouldered. Forget the fact that the "plunder" in this case actually comes out of the victors own coffers; the focus here is meant to be on a flourish of power through the dispensing of gifts.

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A deliberate debacle
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, December 12, 2003

James Baker sets off to negotiate Iraqi debt forgiveness with our estranged allies. And at that very moment the deputy secretary of defense releases a "Determination and Findings" on reconstruction contracts that not only excludes those allies from bidding, but does so with highly offensive language. What's going on?

Maybe I'm giving Paul Wolfowitz too much credit, but I don't think this was mere incompetence. I think the administration's hard-liners are deliberately sabotaging reconciliation. [complete article]

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Bush defends barring foes of war from Iraq business
By Robin Wright and Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 12, 2003

President Bush yesterday fiercely defended his decision to bar France, Germany, Russia and Canada from Iraq reconstruction contracts, defying a furious outcry from allies and even objections from GOP and conservative leaders.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan branded the U.S. policy "unfortunate," echoing protests from allies such as Germany and France and claims that the Bush administration move may be violating international law. At home, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) registered his concerns, and other Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed puzzlement that the White House decided to support a policy it rejected only months ago.

Diplomats and foreign policy analysts, meanwhile, warned that the policy, which bars countries that did not support the invasion of Iraq from getting prime contracts there, could crimp or cripple two major diplomatic missions: winning international forgiveness of Iraq's $120 billion in debt, and rallying U.N. support for the Bush administration's plan for the political transition in that country. [complete article]

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U.S. sees evidence of overcharging in Iraq contract
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 12, 2003

A Pentagon investigation has found evidence that a subsidiary of the politically connected Halliburton Company overcharged the government by as much as $61 million for fuel delivered to Iraq under huge no-bid reconstruction contracts, senior military officials said Thursday.

The subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, also submitted a proposal for cafeteria services that seemed to be inflated by $67 million, the officials said. The Pentagon rejected that proposal, they said.

The problems involving Halliburton, where Vice President Dick Cheney was chief executive, were described in a preliminary report by auditors, the officials said. The Pentagon contracts were awarded without competitive bidding and have a potential value of $15.6 billion; recent estimates by the Army have put the current value of the Halliburton contracts at about $5 billion. [complete article]

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Iraqi protesters oust appointed governor
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, December 12, 2003

The demonstrators converged on the provincial governor's office on Sunday with banners, sleeping mats, cooking pots and a simple demand: Iskander Jawad Witwit should quit.

After three days and nights of continuous protests, Witwit did just that. But the demonstrators have refused to budge.

As soon as Witwit resigned, the local representative of the U.S. occupation authority appointed a former Iraqi air force officer as acting governor. To the protesters, that was unacceptable. The new governor, they insisted, should be chosen not by an American but by Iraqis -- through an election. [complete article]

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Atom-smashing
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz, December 12, 2003

"As a student of history, I think I can feel the Jewish people's lack of a sense of security. But are the Israelis more secure with nuclear weapons today than they were 50 years ago? The assumptions made 50 years ago are not necessarily relevant today."

This is how Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei - the Egyptian diplomat who is director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - responds when asked if he can understand why Israel's founding fathers, influenced by the Holocaust and Arab hostility to Israel's existence, decided to embark on the development of nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence and a weapon of last resort. [complete article]

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A reluctant Israel's reality
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, December 12, 2003

A well-connected Israeli friend who has lived in this country all her life tells me sadly that her daughter doesn't want to live in Israel anymore because "she doesn't see any future here."

"We are living in a terrible, terrible situation," my friend says. "I feel very pained. The violence affects everything in our lives -- the politics, the security, the economy, the values with which we live. We are very tired."

This woman's sense of frustration illustrates a significant change in Israeli politics. There is a growing realization -- on the right as much as the left -- that a military solution to the Palestinian problem isn't possible. Israel must either reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians or withdraw unilaterally from the occupied West Bank and Gaza. [complete article]

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Settlers vie for East Jerusalem
By Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 2003

While attention is focused on the fate of far-flung West Bank settlement outposts, Israel has launched a major settlement thrust only a few miles from the Knesset in Jerusalem.

The bulldozers started grinding in the Palestinian area of Jabal Mukaber last week to launch the largest settlement yet inside a Palestinian neighborhood.

Nof Zahav, or Golden View, is to include 600 housing units, a hotel, and a synagogue/community center. It will split Jabal Mukaber and its more than 10,000 residents into two parts.

A pro-settlement party in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition and critics alike say that Nof Zahav is a key link in an evolving chain of settlements being built inside Arab areas to establish Israeli domination over East Jerusalem and fragment it so it will be impossible to have a viable Palestinian capital there. [complete article]

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The fog of peace
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram, December 11, 2003

In the occupied territories, Palestinians continued to protest against the Geneva Accord, with Fatah -- the backbone of the Palestinian Authority -- leading the opposition to the unofficial document. This week the movement organised several demonstrations in the Gaza Strip against the increasingly unpopular accord. The largest demonstration took place in Rafah, the devastated southern Gaza town, with protesters warning the PA leadership, particularly Chairman Yasser Arafat, against adopting the "surrender document". The protesters were mostly cadres and supporters of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah. They are Arafat's men and as such cannot be dismissed easily by the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

The growing opposition to the Geneva document across the Palestinian political spectrum, especially within Arafat's own Fatah camp, has apparently forced the Palestinian leader to gradually distance himself from it. Arafat's Advisor Jebril Rajoub said on Arab satellite TV this week that, "Chairman Arafat never really supported the Geneva initiative". Arafat had earlier described the Geneva document as a "courageous step", but stopped short of endorsing it for fear of alienating Palestinian public opinion. [complete article]

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Allied cluster bombs blamed for 1,000 deaths in Iraq
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, December 12, 2003

More than 1,000 civilians were killed or wounded by cluster bombs used by American and British forces in the invasion of Iraq, and Iraqis are still being killed and maimed by the munitions months after they were dropped.

In March and April, cluster bombs used in populated areas were responsible for more civilian casualties than any other weapon, said a report published today. On one day, 31 March, 33 civilians were killed and 109 injured by the bomblets dropped on of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad.

The report, by Human Rights Watch (HRW), says American and British forces used nearly 13,000 cluster bombs, often in populated areas. [complete article]

See the full report, Off target: The conduct of the war and civilian casualties in Iraq

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Saddam's sectarian legacy lingers
By Roula Khalaf and Charles Clover, Financial Times, December 11, 2003

Hassan al-Mussawi, a radical cleric in Baghdad's Shia stronghold of Sadr City, is confident the different elements of Iraqi society will peacefully co-exist as long as Saddam Hussein is kept away. There is no antagonism, he says, between the Shia majority and the Sunni Arab minority.

But Mr Mussawi recommends that the US-led coalition strike harder in Sunni areas, base of the insurgency against the occupation. And he warns that a Sunni Arab should never again be allowed to control the presidency, nor be part of a presidential council. "It should be clear to the US that the Shias are more peaceful."

Across town, at the Imam Abu Hanifa mosque, Muayyad Ibrahim al- A'athawi, a Sunni preacher, also insists religion is not dividing Iraq. But he is keen to dispel the notion that Shias account for a majority of Iraq's population.

"This is not realistic. The biggest provinces in Iraq are Sunni," he claims. "A census would reveal that political representation should be equally balanced. If one side overtakes the other there will be an imbalance." [complete article]

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Rival former exile groups clash over security in Iraq
By Nicolas Pelham, Financial Times, December 11, 2003

Tensions have emerged between two influential formerly exiled political parties in Baghdad over control of Iraq's rapidly proliferating security organisations.

The growing number of Iraqi-financed private military companies had already sparked concern that secular leaders may be developing militias to match the paramilitary forces under the command of religious and Kurdish political groups.

Now Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord has accused the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi, of undermining central authority by backing the creation of a private military company to secure the oil sector.

Mr Allawi is head of the security committee on the interim Governing Council and his deputy, Nouri Badran, runs the interior ministry which controls more than 50,000 police.

The sparring between Mr Chalabi and Mr Allawi dates from the 1990s, when both men led separate attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. While Mr Chalabi is close to the Pentagon and advocates redrawing the Middle East political map, Mr Allawi is regarded as closer to the CIA and fears further upsetting the status quo would inflame the region. [complete article]

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Rebel army termination tests U.S.
By Robert Collier, San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 2003

The U.S. secret weapon against Iran is kept behind high gates here, where several thousand fighters of the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Warriors, live in a sprawling military base guarded by U.S. troops.

Although Khalis is just 60 miles north of Baghdad, two large statues of Iranian lions decorate the base's interior gateway, and an Iranian flag snaps in the wind.

The rebel army has become a symbol of the Bush administration's internal divisions about policy toward Iran -- and a possible point of friction with Iraq's emerging civilian leadership. [complete article]

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Israeli talks settlement withdrawal
By Laurie Copans, Associated Press, December 11, 2003

Israel may soon be compelled to dismantle a "considerable" number of Jewish settlements and draw a border around the rest, Israel's vice premier told The Associated Press on Thursday -- a go-it-alone approach he suggested has Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's tacit backing.

Such talk by Vice Premier Ehud Olmert about the West Bank and Gaza Strip is increasingly spooking the Palestinians, who fear they will end up with much less land than in a negotiated agreement. The Palestinians -- and the world -- will not accept an Israeli dictate, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia warned in a separate interview.

Without a peace deal, "the fire will burn, the terror will grow," Qureia told the Israeli daily Maariv in interview excerpts published Thursday. [complete article]

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The voice behind the intifada
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, December 12, 2003

For many centuries, the politics of the Muslim world have revolved around the massive al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, first built in 715 AD. The mosque complex, which includes the Dome of the Rock, is regarded as the third most holy shrine in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

In the modern era, two Arab-Israeli wars have been fought with the mosque at the symbolic heart of the struggle, and Osama bin Laden uses the fact that the mosque is under Israeli control to stir Muslims.

But perhaps the most significant event involving the al-Aqsa mosque in recent times came from its pulpits in late 1987, when the call for the "intifada against Zionism" was first launched, irreversibly changing the dynamics of the Palestinian struggle.

That landmark call - in which Palestinians were first urged to throw stones at the Israelis - was made by Dr Mohammed al-Shiekh Mahmood Sayam, now 67, who spoke exclusively to Asia Times Online during a visit to Pakistan earlier this week. [complete article]

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Why al-Qa'eda is winning
By Correlli Barnett, The Spectator, December 11, 2003

...now is surely a good time coolly to re-assess the state of play in this so-called 'war on terrorism'.

First of all, we have to clear our minds of moralising political cant and media cliches. Thus it is misleading to talk of a 'war on terrorism', let alone a 'war on global terrorism'. 'Terrorism' is a phenomenon, just as is war in the conventional sense. But you cannot in logic wage war against a phenomenon, only against a specific enemy. It is therefore as meaningless to speak of 'a war on terrorism' as it would be to speak of a 'war on war'. Today, then, America is combating not 'terrorism' but a specific terrorist network, al-Qa'eda.

What's more, terrorist campaigns, whether conducted by al-Qa'eda, the IRA or ETA, are not at all irrational expressions of hatred, let alone manifestations of 'evil' to be denounced from political pulpits, but instead are entirely rational in purpose and conduct. To adapt a well-known dictum of Clausewitz about conventional war, terrorism of any brand is a continuation of politics by other means. Al-Qa'eda's own political aim has been proclaimed by Osama bin Laden: to expel American military forces, bases and business corporations from Arab or Islamic soil, along with 'corrupt' Western cultural influences. Furthermore, to adapt a second of Clausewitz's dicta about conventional war, terrorism is an act of violence intended to impose the terrorists' political will on their enemy.

The question for us today is this: which side is at present imposing its will on the enemy -- the United States or al-Qa'eda? Which side enjoys the initiative? Objective strategic analysis can return only one answer: it is al-Qa'eda. [complete article]

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CIA assessment says al-Qaeda is increasing efforts...
By Jonathan S. Landay, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 11, 2003

The al-Qaeda terrorist network has decided to intensify its efforts to foment instability in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, and overthrow the royal family, warns a new top-secret CIA assessment.

The CIA Intelligence Memorandum, portions of which have been provided to President Bush, was described to the Inquirer Washington Bureau by intelligence and other officials on the condition that they not be identified because the document is classified.

Moreover, there is some concern that disclosing the assessment could anger Saudi officials, they said. A CIA spokesman declined to comment.

Serious instability in Saudi Arabia could disrupt the kingdom's petroleum exports, drive up world oil prices, and hurt the U.S. economy, which is showing signs of strength, as well as the economies of other countries.

A senior U.S. official familiar with the CIA assessment, which was completed last week, insisted that "only in their dreams" could al-Qaeda leaders succeed in toppling the Saudi royal family. [complete article]

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Wolfowitz out of line with the neocons?
Or, neocons out of line with Wolfowitz?


Contracts for Iraq: Reverse the Pentagon's decision
By William Kristol and Robert Kagan, Weekly Standard, December 11, 2003

President Bush, we suspect, is going to overrule the Pentagon's attempt to exclude from the bidding for Iraq reconstruction contracts certain countries that have opposed U.S. policy in Iraq. He might as well do it sooner rather than later, so as to minimize the diplomatic damage done by the Pentagon's heavy-handed and counterproductive action.

We hold no brief for the Chirac, Schroeder, or Putin governments. We are also very much in favor of finding ways to work more closely with other governments -- such as those of Britain, Spain and Poland -- who have courageously stood with us, and who hold the promise of continuing to be more helpful to us. We have even been critical of the Bush Administration for a certain lack of imagination in finding ways to work constructively with these friendly governments. But this particular effort by the Pentagon to reward friends and punish enemies is stupid, and should be abandoned.

A deviously smart American administration would have quietly distributed contracts for rebuilding Iraq as it saw fit, without any announced policy of discrimination. At the end of the day, it would be clear that opponents of American policy didn't fare too well in the bidding process. Message delivered, but with a certain subtlety. [complete article]

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Israel quietly helps U.S. in Iraq, aides say
By Adam Entous, Reuters, December 11, 2003

A key U.S. ally behind-the-scenes in the war in Iraq, Israel has been contributing intelligence, tactics and technology mostly in secret to avert an Arab backlash, congressional aides and analysts said on Thursday.

The commander of the Israel Defense Forces' Golani Brigade briefed U.S. Marines in mid-June on the lessons the IDF has learned from its conflict with the Palestinians.

The Israelis have supplied the American military with aerial surveillance equipment, decoy drones and D-9 armored bulldozers, sources close to the Israeli government said. [complete article]

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Fault lines betrayed
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram, December 4, 2003

On 1 December -- ten years after the Oslo peace process was launched -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Geneva finally sealed a peace agreement that "constitutes an end to all claims on both sides". Before world leaders old and new, the Palestinians agreed to share sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem, including within the Old City, and renounce the right of return. The Israelis agreed to withdraw from most of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and evacuate 115,000 settlers out of the 400,000 who currently reside there.

"This day will mark a new beginning in progress towards a historic compromise," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the Palestinian authors of the agreement, known for posterity as the Geneva Accord.

It was virtual of course, and not just because the blood of the Al-Aqsa Intifada long washed away the Oslo peace process. None of the delegates who attended Geneva were there in any kind of official capacity. Yasser Arafat blessed the "brave initiative" but hedged on the outcome. Ariel Sharon said it was seditious. Even those Palestinians party to the agreement were at pains to stress the tactical nature of the exercise. [complete article]

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New Mideast peace bids - A pocket guide
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, December 11, 2003

Without warning, a drought in Middle East peacemaking has yielded to a flash flood of unofficial initiatives, trial balloons and truce bids, all of them intended as alternatives or supplements to the road map, and prompting wide speculation over the shape of an eventual solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here, in summary and comparison, are a number of the most recent plans. [complete article]

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Where Taliban go to find warm beds and recruits
By Scott Baldauf and Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, December 11, 2003

With a bitter winter chill and the largest US ground offensive in nearly two years afoot in Afghanistan, Taliban commander Maulvi Pardes Akhund and his fighters are cheered by the warm reception and accommodations in a refugee camp for Afghans here.

Mr. Akhund's band, and others like them, have come to Pakistan's sprawling Balochistan Province for a bit of R&R and to recruit new blood for the Islamic militia's fight in Afghanistan. Recruitment is going well, Akhund says, with 10 new fighters joining the ranks this week, and donations from local people pouring in.

"We fought bravely against the Americans during the summer," says Akhund. "We lived in caves, planned our attacks against infidel forces [Americans], and hardly slept. So all of us need some rest in the winter."

While Islamabad says it is doing everything it can to rein in the Taliban movement, a coalition of extremist religious parties controls the provincial government and around 300,000 Afghan refugees still live here. That makes it simple for the resurgent militia to blend in and difficult for the Army to crack down. [complete article]

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Civilian toll not U.S. fault, Afghans say
By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2003

U.S. troops were not responsible for the deaths of six children killed in an attack on a suspected Taliban hide-out, an Afghan official said Wednesday.

The children and two adults were crushed to death Friday during a mission against a large arms cache in Paktia province controlled by local Taliban commander Mullah Jalani, U.S. military spokesman Col. Bryan Hilferty told reporters Wednesday.

It was the second time in as many days that children were reported killed in U.S. assaults. Fifteen Afghan children have died, embarrassing interim President Hamid Karzai as he tries to build support on the eve of a crucial meeting to decide the country's new constitution.

In Friday's incident, the wall of a house collapsed when U.S. ground forces and warplanes attacked a compound, crushing six children and two adults, Hilferty said. The bodies were discovered the next day during a search, he added.

"We don't know what caused the wall to collapse because, although we fired on the compound, there were secondary and tertiary explosions," Hilferty said.

Afghan officials said U.S. troops were blameless. [complete article]

Comment -- Is it not altogether predictable that "a mission against a large arms cache" will very likely result in secondary and tertiary explosions?

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Enemies of the good
By Michael Vlahos, Tech Central Station, December 11, 2003

Talking about "terrorism" and "democracy" actually alienates most Muslims. For example, even though most Muslims do not support radical Islamist groups, most Muslims do support the defense of Islam -- as they see it -- under attack. Thus many Iraqis and the majority of world Muslims do support the Jihadi fighters in Iraq because -- fairly or unfairly -- they see them as defending Islam against the unbeliever. The invasion of Iraq has galvanized Muslim opinion against the US and in favor of the Jihadis (as recent polling shows). Likewise most Muslims see Palestinian fighters as defending Islam against Israel. Thus when we talk about "terrorism" most Muslims hear an Israeli-ingrained code word for an armed struggle that most Muslims believe is right and true.

Likewise, when we talk about "democracy" most Muslims -- again, fair or not -- hear a code word for the destruction of Islam. To them, democracy is nothing more or less than the imposition of an anti-Islamic way of life on the Muslim World.

By anchoring our story in these two words - "terrorism" and "democracy" - we drive most Muslims from us and potentially into the arms of the radical Islamists. In addition, talking about the need for democratic reform among tyrannical regimes that we also call "friends and allies" makes us look like hypocrites. Most Muslims believe that we will do nothing risky to force the tyrants to stop being tyrannical. For example the President recently asserted in London that "we will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region." But this means little when the Saudis are at the same time complimented for fig-leaf local concessions, or when the US has nothing to say about the Russian-rigged election in Muslim Chechnya. [complete article]

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Iraq spy service planned by U.S. to stem attacks
By Dana Priest and Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 11, 2003

The Bush administration has authorized creation of an Iraqi intelligence service to spy on groups and individuals inside Iraq that are targeting U.S. troops and civilians working to form a new government, according to U.S. government officials.

The new service will be trained, financed and equipped largely by the CIA with help from Jordan. Initially the agency will be headed by Iraqi Interior Minister Nouri Badran, a secular Shiite and activist in the Jordan-based Iraqi National Accord, a former exile group that includes former Baath Party military and intelligence officials. [complete article]

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Mujahideen Khalq rejects Iraqi expulsion order
Daily Star, December 11, 2003

The Iranian opposition Mujahideen Khalq, also known as the People’s Mujahideen, disarmed and detained by US forces, rejected Wednesday a decision by Iraq’s interim leaders to expel thousands of militants from the country by the end of the year.

The Governing Council in Baghdad on Tuesday night branded the mujahideen terrorists to be kicked out forthwith and their assets seized. [complete article]

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Thousands of Iraqis call for end to violence
By Maureen Fan, Knight Ridder, December 10, 2003

Five thousand to 10,000 Iraqis tried to send terrorists a cease-and-desist message Wednesday from downtown Baghdad in the biggest demonstration against violence to date. [complete article]

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Washington anger at Israel grows as outposts stay
By Ori Nir, Forward, December 12, 2003

Distrust and anger in the Bush administration is growing over the refusal of Prime Minister Sharon to dismantle illegal outposts in the West Bank.

Administration officials recently told pro-Israel activists in Washington that Sharon's failure to dismantle these mini-settlements -- some of them uninhabited and all of them erected without Israeli government approval -- is fostering mistrust in the White House and hurting personal relations between President Bush and the Israeli leader.

One pro-Israel activist went so far as to warn that Sharon's inaction on illegal settlements could lead the Bush administration to limit its support for Israel if the International Court of Justice in the Hague takes up the issue of the West Bank security fence. The U.N. General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution Monday asking the court to consider the "legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying power." [complete article]

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Geneva Accord has shattered dangerous myths
By James Zogby, Arab News, December 10, 2003

The Geneva crowd hit Washington like a storm last week. After publicly launching their peace initiative in Switzerland, the group of 10 Israeli and Palestinian activists and leaders came to Washington and New York to promote their effort.

For four days, they occupied center stage. They appeared at a dozen public events generating a remarkable 5,000 news stories nationwide. They were featured on every major television network, met with policy makers, opinion leaders and audiences of influential Arab-Americans and American Jews.

The efforts of this Geneva group not only dramatically transformed the US’s reporting of Middle East news, they ignited a peace conversation that filled the editorial pages of major newspapers and even spawned a number of congressional resolutions in support of their peace-making venture. [complete article]

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Iraq bids delayed after backlash
CNN, December 11, 2003

The United States says it is delaying bids on reconstruction contracts in Iraq in the wake of a global backlash over its decision to bar some countries from bidding for the projects.

A Pentagon spokesman says a postponement of bidding for 26 contracts, which was to begin Wednesday, was unrelated to the controversy over restrictions on which countries may compete for the deals. [complete article]

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International lawyers pore over details of Iraq contracts
By Tobias Buck and Edward Alden, Financial Times, December 10, 2003

Can the US defense department award Iraqi reconstruction contracts worth $18.6bn to businesses from Mongolia, Britain and the Marshall Islands but leave companies from Germany and France out in the cold?

In order to find an answer to that question, European trade officials were on Wednesday reaching for their copies of the Government Procurement Agreement, an international treaty signed in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh nine years ago.

All parties to the agreement, including the US and the EU, promise not to favour their domestic companies over competitors from abroad when bidding for a government contract. The GPA also bans governments from discriminating between foreign companies based on their nationality. [complete article]

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Bush seeks help of allies barred from Iraq deals
By David E. Sanger and douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 11, 2003

President Bush found himself in the awkward position on Wednesday of calling the leaders of France, Germany and Russia to ask them to forgive Iraq's debts, just a day after the Pentagon excluded those countries and others from $18 billion in American-financed Iraqi reconstruction projects.

White House officials were fuming about the timing and the tone of the Pentagon's directive, even while conceding that they had approved the Pentagon policy of limiting contracts to 63 countries that have given the United States political or military aid in Iraq.

Many countries excluded from the list, including close allies like Canada, reacted angrily on Wednesday to the Pentagon action. They were incensed, in part, by the Pentagon's explanation in a memorandum that the restrictions were required "for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States."

The Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, when asked about the Pentagon decision, responded by ruling out any debt write-off for Iraq.

The Canadian deputy prime minister, John Manley, suggested crisply that "it would be difficult" to add to the $190 million already given for reconstruction in Iraq. [complete article]

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U.S. bid policy elicits outrage
By Sebastian Rotella and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2003

Facing outrage from Europe, Russia and Canada, the Bush administration Wednesday appeared to soften its decision to ban countries that did not support the war in Iraq from seeking $18.6 billion in prime contracts to rebuild the nation.

President Bush phoned the leaders of France, Germany and Russia and promised to "keep lines of communication open" to discuss which countries would be allowed to bid, a White House official said. Bush had placed the calls to urge them to help restructure Iraq's massive debt, but that seemed less likely given the anger over the policy. [complete article]

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Report: Iraq to stop counting civilian dead
By Niko Price, Associated Press (via The State), December 10, 2003

Iraqi Health Ministry officials ordered a halt to a count of civilian casualties from the war and told workers not to release figures already compiled, the head of the ministry's statistics department told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The health minister, Dr. Khodeir Abbas, denied that he or the U.S.-led occupation authority had anything to do with the order, and said he didn't even know about the survey of deaths, which number in the thousands.

Dr. Nagham Mohsen, the head of the ministry's statistics department, said the order came from the ministry's director of planning, Dr. Nazar Shabandar, who told her it was on behalf of Abbas. She said the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which oversees the ministry, didn't like the idea of the count either.

"We have stopped the collection of this information because our minister didn't agree with it," she said, adding: "The CPA doesn't want this to be done." [complete article]

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Pentagon: Many of new Iraq soldiers quit
By Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press, December 10, 2003

Plans to deploy the first battalion of Iraq's new army are in doubt because a third of the soldiers trained by the U.S.-led occupation authority have quit, defense officials said Wednesday.

Touted as a key to Iraq's future, the 700-man battalion lost some 250 men over recent weeks as they were preparing to begin operations this month, Pentagon officials said.

"We are aware that a third ... has apparently resigned and we are looking into that in order to ensure that we can recruit and retain high-quality people for a new Iraqi army," said Lt. Col. James Cassella, a Pentagon spokesman.

The battalion was highly celebrated when the newly retrained soldiers, marching to the beat of a U.S. Army band, completed a nine-week basic training course in early October. The graduates, including 65 officers, were to be the core "of an army that will defend its country and not oppress it," Iraq's American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said at the ceremony. [complete article]

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Religious strife flares in Baghdad
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, December 11, 2003

The Sunni and Shiite residents of western Baghdad's Hurriyeh neighborhood have lived in harmony for years. Their families intermarry. They attend each other's weddings and funerals and pray in each other's mosques. It is a calm area too, with not a single attack reported against the coalition forces since April.

That coexistence, however, came to an abrupt end early Tuesday morning. An explosion beside a Sunni mosque killed three people and ripped the fabric of communal unity that bound Shiites and Sunnis, exposing the deep-rooted sectarian divisions within Iraqi society.

The Sunnis blame the explosion on militant Shiites belonging to the Al Dawa party and the Badr Brigades, the military wing of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The Shiites accuse Sunnis from the extremist Wahhabi sect of stirring up tensions between the two communities. [complete article]

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The new tragedy in Afghanistan
By Conor Foley and Mark Lattimer, The Guardian, December 10, 2003

The optimism of those involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan took a downward turn at about the same time aid workers started getting killed. Bettina Goislard, a 29-year-old French national working for the UN refugee agency, was murdered on November 16 as she drove through Ghazni. Two gunmen on a motorbike drove up beside her vehicle and shot her six times. Two months earlier, five Afghan staff of a Danish aid organisation had been taken from their car and gunned down on the roadside.

At least 11 aid workers have been murdered in the past three months as part of a new strategy by opponents of President Karzai's government. The killings are a demonstration that much of the country is still ungovernable and they increase the suffering of the civilian population by disrupting the delivery of assistance.

They also show how misguided US policy on Afghanistan has become. The concentration on the "war on terror" and the attempt to defeat terrorist violence by military means have been a major cause of the current crisis and, paradoxically, helped create the conditions for the Taliban to rebuild support. [complete article]

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Leader of terror cell reveals data on command structure
By P. Mitchell Prothero, UPI (via Washington Times), December 9, 2003

The cell leader agreed to a series of four interviews in mid- and late-November using the pseudonym Abu Mujahid. Unlike many who offer such interviews, he did not ask to be paid for it.

Each of the meetings was held after nightfall, in a public place, the location and timing of which was set at the last moment. He demanded there be no use of a satellite telephone -- from which a location could be traced -- or of cameras or recording devices.

Challenged to prove he was really the head of a resistance cell that mounts violent attacks on American troops, Abu Mujahid looked at his watch and said, "Wait 15 minutes."

Sixteen minutes later, four mortar rounds fired from a southwestern Baghdad neighborhood flew overhead, landing in the compound of the U.S.-led Provisional Authority. [complete article]

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Insurgents' goal: damage, but also publicity
By Faye Bowers and Howard Lafranchi, Christian Science Monitor, December 10, 2003

It has become part of the lore of the war. Using a donkey cart to camouflage rockets, insurgents in Baghdad recently fired on two international hotels and the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

The attacks inflicted only minor damage - by most accounts an utter failure. Some US officials even scoffed at the primitive tactics as proof of an increasingly desperate resistance.

But on another level, the donkey- delivered barrage got the attackers what they wanted: Before long the strikes led news updates around the world. What they lacked in impressive physical damage, they made up for in global impact. [complete article]

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Detained at the whim of the president
By Deborah Pearlstein, International Herald Tribune, December 10, 2003

The Bush administration has taken several important steps in recent days to resolve the legal status of some of the hundreds of people that the United States has detained without access to lawyers for the better part of two years.

Last weekend, the administration indicated that it would begin repatriating some of the 660 people detained without any judicial review at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A few days later, the Pentagon announced that it would begin making arrangements to allow Yasser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen, access to a lawyer after more than 20 months of incommunicado military detention.

These steps are welcome. But they should be understood as part of a broader strategy. The announcement on Guantánamo comes just weeks after the Supreme Court decided to review a lower court holding that the federal courts had no jurisdiction to evaluate the legality of the Guantánamo detentions. And the decision to allow Hamdi access to a lawyer was announced on the day final briefs were due to the Supreme Court, which is now deciding whether to take the case. It is difficult to see the timing as coincidental. For the past two years, the Bush administration - far more so than previous "wartime" executives - has been very effective at keeping the courts out of the business of checking executive power. [complete article]

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Learning the art of occupation from Israel
By Tony Karon, Time, December 9, 2003

The idea U.S. forces in Iraq may be taking lessons in occupation and counterinsurgency from the Israeli Defense Force may have only just begun to make the news in America, but it has been obvious to Iraqis for some time. For residents of the Sunni Triangle, who have spent years watching TV images of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza living under siege, surrounded by checkpoints and suffering periodic air strikes and military sweeps, the Palestinian experience offers a ready template for understanding the turn taken by their own lives over the past six months. Whole villages have been surrounded by razor wire, their residents forced to pass through checkpoints; U.S. aircraft and artillery have blasted buildings suspected of being used by insurgents; there have even been instances of family members of suspected insurgents being taken into custody when their wanted relatives can't be found. As one Iraqi waiting on line at a checkpoint last week told the New York Times, "I see no difference between us and the Palestinians." That's a worrying development for U.S. authorities, since in the eyes of much of the Arab world, the humiliation of occupation has served to justify terrorism against the Israelis. [complete article]

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One Iraqi's insights
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, December 10, 2003

Amid the confusing parade of Iraqi politicians vying for influence these days in Baghdad, a little-known figure named Ayad Allawi deserves a special hearing -- for the simple reason that he has been right about the big issues affecting postwar Iraq.

Allawi has argued for more than a decade that a stable Iraq is possible only if most Iraqis believe they have a place in the new order. The only people he would exclude from this big tent are those who were directly involved in Saddam Hussein's regime of torture and repression.

This strategy of inclusion may seem obvious, but it was rejected in the early days of the U.S. occupation, with disastrous consequences. With Iraq now in disarray, Allawi, in a recent interview here, outlined his views about how to stabilize the country. [complete article]

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HERE WE GO AGAIN...
HOW MANY CHILDREN DID WE KILL TODAY?


Having acknowledged that nine Afghan children were accidentally killed in a U.S. airstrike on Saturday, the military now says that another six children died in a raid the previous Wednesday, east of Gardez, in Paktia Province. And yet again, CNN shares the military's reluctance to assign blame. It's headline - U.S. assault: Children found dead - sounds like a murder mystery. The Americans attacked. The children died. Is there a connection?

For more of my thoughts on this, see Freedom from guilt doesn't imply freedom from blame.

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A new era of nuclear weapons
By James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2003

Congress, with only a limited debate, has given the Bush administration a green light for the biggest revitalization of the country's nuclear weapons program since the end of the Cold War, leaving many Democrats and even some hawkish Republicans seething.

"This has been a good year," said Linton Brooks, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which develops and manages the country's nuclear weapons arsenal. "I'm pretty happy we essentially got what we wanted."

Reversing a decade of restraint in nuclear weapons policy, Congress agreed to provide more than $6 billion for research, expansion and upgrades in the country's nuclear capabilities. While Congress approved large sums to maintain the existing nuclear arsenal even during the Clinton years, this year's increases will finance multiyear programs to design a new generation of warheads as well as more sophisticated missiles, bombers and re-entry vehicles to deliver them. [complete article]

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The booming defense business
By William D. Hartung, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2003

It's not every day that the chief executive of a major defense contractor steps down because of ethical wrongdoing on his watch, as Boeing CEO Phil Condit did Dec. 1. But let's be clear about one thing: This mounting scandal, which centers on whether Boeing improperly offered Pentagon procurement official Darleen Druyun a job while she was negotiating the terms of a $20-billion deal to lease 747s from the company, goes well beyond a few misguided executives at one corporation.

In fact, under the guise of reforming Pentagon business practices, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have created an ethically challenged environment at the Pentagon that is an open invitation for contractors like Boeing to engage in waste, fraud and abuse. [complete article]

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The case of the misunderstood memo
By Daniel Benjamin, Slate, December 9, 2003

When they published their "Case Closed" cover story three weeks ago on the relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al-Qaida, the editors of the Weekly Standard aimed to set off a bomb. The article was centered on a sizable leak—a gusher, really—of classified intelligence, 50 raw reports that had been strung together in the Pentagon to demonstrate the "operational relationship" between Osama Bin Laden's organization and Iraq. The target was the consensus among journalists and experts that there were no substantive ties between Baghdad and al-Qaida. If the article achieved its goal, it would help shore up the rickety argument that Baathist Iraq had posed a real national security threat to the United States. [complete article]

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Antiwar nations barred from bids
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2003

The Pentagon will bar companies from France, Germany, Russia and other countries that opposed the war in Iraq from bidding on $18.6 billion in prime contracts for reconstruction of the country, according to a memo released Tuesday.

The memo, signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, says that "for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States," only companies from the United States, Iraq and the countries that joined the coalition against Saddam Hussein will be allowed to bid on the 26 contracts to be announced soon.

The order did not come as a great surprise to the war's opponents, diplomats in Washington said, because Bush administration officials have long said that coalition members would receive special preference in any rebuilding efforts.

Nevertheless, the move is the most serious retaliation yet against the dissenters, and it comes as the Bush administration is trying to restore relations with European allies. [complete article]

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In revival of Najaf, lessons for a new Iraq
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 10, 2003

Across a thousand-year history as a seat of Shiite Islam, Najaf has weathered pillaging by puritanical tribes from the desert, the tyranny of Sunni Muslim rulers in Baghdad and the ascent of rival seminaries in Iraq and Iran. But in the wake of the fall of former president Saddam Hussein, a rebirth is underway in a city that, by virtue of its religious stature, looks to Baghdad as its equal. Long-dormant Shiite seminaries are proliferating, hotels are being built to cope with tens of thousands of pilgrims, and the bazaars of Najaf are boasting of profits that have doubled, even tripled, despite growing frustration with a lack of basic services.

More than just a city's renaissance, Najaf's revival is a story of shifting fortunes and unintended consequences in the tumult of postwar Iraq. The U.S. invasion dismantled one system, the construction of another is lagging, and a vacuum of leadership has ensued. With renewed confidence, the clergy have begun fashioning their headquarters into the spiritual capital of the country, and their leaders as the guardians of Iraq's Shiite majority. Few endorse Iran's Islamic government and perhaps even fewer support the U.S. goal of a secular state. But in between are vigorous debates -- over law and religion, Islam and state -- that could resonate throughout the Shiite world, where Iran and its revolution have long held sway as the unchallenged model. [complete article]

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Low-profile cleric is a powerful Iraqi voice
By Maureen Fan, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 9, 2003

One of the most important men in Iraq is virtually invisible and nearly silent.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Mohammed al-Sistani, 73, almost scuttled U.S. plans to turn over sovereignty to Iraqis by next July without making a single public appearance.

He keeps a low profile in this holiest of cities for Shiite Muslims, yet he has built up the largest group of religious followers in Iraq, and with that comes access to financial contributions. That has made him easily the most influential cleric in the country, and perhaps the most powerful man in Iraq, able with a few words to counter the presence of a U.S. military occupation. [complete article]

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N. Korea's nuclear success is doubted
By Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2003

The Bush administration has asserted in recent months that North Korea possesses one or two nuclear bombs and is rapidly developing the means to make more. The statements have raised anxiety about a nuclear arms race in Asia and the possibility that terrorists could obtain atomic weapons from the North Korean regime.

But the administration's assessment rests on meager fresh evidence and limited, sometimes dated, intelligence, according to current and former U.S. and foreign officials.

Outside the administration, and in some quiet corners within it, there is nothing close to a consensus that North Korean scientists have succeeded in fabricating atomic bombs from plutonium, as the CIA concluded in a document made public last month. [complete article]

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The privatisation of war
By Ian Traynor, The Guardian, December 10, 2003

Private corporations have penetrated western warfare so deeply that they are now the second biggest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the Pentagon, a Guardian investigation has established.

While the official coalition figures list the British as the second largest contingent with around 9,900 troops, they are narrowly outnumbered by the 10,000 private military contractors now on the ground.

The investigation has also discovered that the proportion of contracted security personnel in the firing line is 10 times greater than during the first Gulf war. In 1991, for every private contractor, there were about 100 servicemen and women; now there are 10.

The private sector is so firmly embedded in combat, occupation and peacekeeping duties that the phenomenon may have reached the point of no return: the US military would struggle to wage war without it. [complete article]

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Iraq's interim leaders decide to expel Iranian People's Mujahedeen
Agence France Presse, December 9, 2003

Iraq's interim Governing Council decided unanimously to expel the several thousand members of the People's Mujahedeen, branding the Iranian opposition force a "terrorist organisation".

"The Governing Council unanimously decided to expel from Iraq by the end of the year the People's Mujahedeen because of the dark history of this terrorist organisation," said an official statement.

The statement did not say where the people would be sent when they are expelled, but that its offices would be closed and its arms and financial resources confiscated. [complete article]

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Iraq car bomb injures 58 troops
BBC News, December 9, 2003

Fifty-eight American soldiers and at least three Iraqis have been hurt in northern Iraq in a suicide car bombing outside a US army base, the army says.

A spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division said the explosion happened at a base in Tal Afar, west of Mosul.

Soldiers guarding the base fired on a vehicle that had failed to stop, said spokesman Major Trey Cate.

A US helicopter, meanwhile, had to make an emergency landing after being fired on over Falluja, west of Baghdad. [complete article]

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Protests in Sadr City over sheikh death
Middle East Online, December 9, 2003

Hundreds of angry Shiite Muslims protested in the Iraqi capital on Tuesday over the death of a sheikh crushed under a US tank.

All the demonstrators, who rallied outside a central Baghdad hotel used by foreign correspondents, carried photos of Sheikh Abdul Razzak al-Lami and of his flattened car.

"Friday evening my brother stopped when he ran out of petrol. He was standing next to the vehicle waiting for someone to bring a can of petrol when an American tank arrived," said his brother Jassem al-Lami.

"The tank crushed the car and him. He died immediately. The US soldiers in the tank did not even stop to see what happened. They just left him on the ground." [complete article]

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Baghdad mosque blast kills three
By Joseph Logan, Reuters (via FT), December 9 2003

A bomb has ripped through a Sunni Muslim mosque in a largely Shi'ite area of Baghdad, killing at least three people and wounding one, police say.

The blast, which gouged a gaping hole in the mosque nestled in Baghdad's Hurriyya district, raised the spectre of sectarian tension in Iraq, where Shi'ite Muslims persecuted under Saddam Hussein hope to consolidate political power in the government that replaces him.

As they poked through the wreckage, residents called the incident part of a pattern of intimidation by Shi'ites, who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population and whose leaders have largely opted to work with the country's U.S. occupiers. [complete article]

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Trouble in the Triangle
By Zaki Chehab, Baltimore Sun, December 9, 2003

The U.S.-led coalition has ignored the Sunnis. They are underrepresented in the Iraqi Governing Council, which is dominated by Shiites and Kurds. Excluding the Sunni Arabs and leaving them with no hope of playing a future role in Iraq after decades of governing the country has complicated the post-Hussein era. They have resorted to violence and are chiefly responsible for the bloodiest of recent attacks.

Residents of the Sunni heartland believe there is no choice but to harbor, support and offer logistical help to the guerrillas who carry out these operations - a reflection of the loyalty that is inherent in the tribal system operating in Iraq. Sunnis are subjected to frequent searches of their homes by U.S. soldiers, who the Sunnis claim take their jewelry and cash - their life savings in a place where there are no functioning banks. [complete article]

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Meet the 'terror tourists'
By Tim Tate, BBC, December 7, 2003

Lisa Reed is one of a unique new group of "Terror Tourists". She and four other American men have signed up for Operation Shiloh - an intensive five-day course in counter-terrorism run by Israeli entrepreneurs Yehoshua Mizrachi and Jay Greenwald in association with commandos from the country's Special Forces.

The aim is to equip ordinary American men and women with military survival skills in the event of a terrorist attack on their homes or neighbourhoods.

"We set up Operation Shiloh in the wake of 11 September," says Mr Greenwald.

"We were in New York when the Twin Towers were hit and we saw that there was a real gap in people's knowledge about what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. And we figured that since Israel has been attacked since its birth, this is this best place for people to learn those skills." [complete article]

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Israel becoming 'leper' state, press warns
Agence France Presse (via Independent Online), December 9, 2003

Israeli newspapers voiced alarm Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly vote taking the issue of the controversial West Bank separation barrier to the world court, warning that the Jewish state was growing more isolated in the international community.

"The fence, instead of imposing a siege on the Palestinians and on terror, imposes a siege on us. Israel is becoming, slowly but surely, a leper state," said an editorial in the Maariv daily. [complete article]

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Settlers vow to fight evacuation as Israel slams UN over barrier vote
Agence France Presse, December 9, 2003

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned Jewish settlers that eight settlements outposts deemed "illegal" by Israel will be dismantled soon, including two which are home to dozens of families.

But a prominent settlers' leader said Tuesday the government would have a war on its hands if it tried implement the decision.

Pinhas Wallerstein, one of the leaders of the Yesha (Settlers' Council), said that "the decision to dismantle the inhabited settlements is unacceptable."

"We will end up with direct confrontation and if needs be there will be a war," he told military radio. [complete article]

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Fed dragnet snares few terrorists
By Brad Heath, Detroit News, December 8, 2003

The terrorism dragnet cast after September 11 has ensnared 6,400 suspects nationwide, but has led to only a handful of convictions for plotting terrorist acts, according to a review of federal investigations released Sunday.

The review found nearly 2,700 of the cases have already been concluded, yielding 879 convictions, mostly for immigration violations and other minor offenses.

Only an unspecified few have been charged with crimes directly related to terrorism. Just 23 cases have led to prison sentences of five years or more, about the same number as in the two years before the attacks. [complete article]

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Robertson rejects bigger role for Nato in Iraq
By Gavin Cordon, PA News (via The Scotsman), December 9, 2003

Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson today played down the prospects of the alliance playing a wider role in Iraq.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has suggested that Nato could assume a direct role in the country as the American presence winds down.

However Lord Robertson, whose term of office ends this month, said that the alliance already had its hands full with its obligations in Afghanistan. [complete article]

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NATO far from relieving US forces in Afghanistan
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 2003

NATO-led peacekeeping troops patrolling Kabul's crowded streets can look forward to some long-awaited infusions of aircraft and personnel from the alliance in coming months.

An idea put forth last week by US Secretary of State Colin Powell that NATO should consider eventually "taking over" all foreign military operations in Afghanistan is unrealistic, they suggest.

They note that while NATO headquarters has pushed for an expansion of the peacekeeping efforts here, European capitals have been sluggish to commit the necessary forces to make that happen. As a result, it is the availability of NATO forces that will drive the mission in Afghanistan, instead of the other way around. [complete article]

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U.S. secretly urging Afghan rebels to quit
By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2003

In a series of secret gatherings, senior U.S. and other Western diplomats have met commanders of an Afghan faction that is attacking U.S.-led troops, urging the militants to dump their leader, disarm and form democratic parties.

The most recent talks, with four top commanders who fight for fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, were held in Western embassies and the presidential palace here in the last week in November, a source familiar with the talks said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. forces have tried to kill Hekmatyar with at least two airstrikes, but he escaped and is waging a self-declared holy war against U.S. troops. He openly supports Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, is on the State Department's list of terrorist groups. [complete article]

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THE ELECTION

While differences of opinion remain about who would make the ideal opponent to George Bush, Democrats are clearly united in agreeing that the overriding priority in 2004 is to make sure that Bush does not win a second term.

As Robert Kuttner points out below, new rules in the Democrats nomination process, coupled with a large field of candidates, could make the contest drag out all the way to the convention. If that happens, it will result in a waste of resources, a waste of energy, and a waste of precious time.

Howard Dean is already the front-runner and his growing momentum and strong campaign organization makes it clear that he is capable of becoming the next president. The sooner the other candidates see the writing on the wall, the sooner we can all join forces and ensure that Bush is on the way out.

Gore to endorse Dean, remaking Democratic race
By Adam Nagourney and Jodi Wilgoren, New York Times, December 9, 2003

Al Gore has decided to endorse Howard Dean for president, aides to the men said Monday, a move that rocked the Democratic presidential field and hastened Dr. Dean's evolution from a long-shot maverick to a leading candidate of the Democratic establishment. [complete article]

Time trial
By Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, December 4, 2003

For both parties, next year's presidential election is, in many ways, a race against the clock. [complete article]

The neocons are getting nervous...
How Dean could win...

By William Kristol, Washington Post, December 9, 2003

Could Dean really win? Unfortunately, yes. The Democratic presidential candidate has, alas, won the popular presidential vote three times in a row -- twice, admittedly, under the guidance of the skilled Bill Clinton, but most recently with the hapless Al Gore at the helm. And demographic trends (particularly the growth in Hispanic voters) tend to favor the Democrats going into 2004. [complete article]

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American apocalypse
By Robert Jay Lifton, The Nation (via Tom Engelhardt's TomDispatch), December 22, 2003

The apocalyptic imagination has spawned a new kind of violence at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We can, in fact, speak of a worldwide epidemic of violence aimed at massive destruction in the service of various visions of purification and renewal. In particular, we are experiencing what could be called an apocalyptic face-off between Islamist forces, overtly visionary in their willingness to kill and die for their religion, and American forces claiming to be restrained and reasonable but no less visionary in their projection of a cleansing warmaking and military power. Both sides are energized by versions of intense idealism; both see themselves as embarked on a mission of combating evil in order to redeem and renew the world; and both are ready to release untold levels of violence to achieve that purpose.

The war on Iraq--a country with longstanding aspirations toward weapons of mass destruction but with no evident stockpiles of them and no apparent connection to the assaults of September 11--was a manifestation of that American visionary projection. [complete article]

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Israel trains U.S. assassination squads in Iraq
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, December 9, 2003

Israeli advisers are helping train US special forces in aggressive counter-insurgency operations in Iraq, including the use of assassination squads against guerrilla leaders, US intelligence and military sources said yesterday.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has sent urban warfare specialists to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the home of US special forces, and according to two sources, Israeli military "consultants" have also visited Iraq.

US forces in Iraq's Sunni triangle have already begun to use tactics that echo Israeli operations in the occupied territories, sealing off centres of resistance with razor wire and razing buildings from where attacks have been launched against US troops.

But the secret war in Iraq is about to get much tougher, in the hope of suppressing the Ba'athist-led insurgency ahead of next November's presidential elections.

US special forces teams are already behind the lines inside Syria attempting to kill foreign jihadists before they cross the border, and a group focused on the "neutralisation" of guerrilla leaders is being set up, according to sources familiar with the operations.

"This is basically an assassination programme. That is what is being conceptualised here. This is a hunter-killer team," said a former senior US intelligence official, who added that he feared the new tactics and enhanced cooperation with Israel would only inflame a volatile situation in the Middle East. [complete article]

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Fueling anger in Iraq
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, December 9, 2003

The line of cars waiting to fill up at the Hurreya gas station on Monday snaked down the right lane of a busy thoroughfare, around a traffic circle, across a double-decker bridge spanning the Tigris River and along a potholed side street leading to one of Iraq's three oil refineries.

At the end, almost two miles from the station, was Mohammed Adnan, a taxi driver who could not comprehend why he would have to wait seven hours to fuel his mud-spattered Chevrolet Beretta. "This is Iraq," he noted wryly. "Don't we live on a lake of oil?"

Despite its vast underground oil reserves -- estimated to be the world's second-largest -- Iraq is a country starved of petroleum products. Not only is gasoline in short supply, but so too are diesel, kerosene and propane. [complete article]

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Iraqi force elicits hope - and fear
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 2003

In two weeks, coalition authorities and senior Iraqi party leaders will begin recruiting Iraqi militiamen to create a new counterinsurgency battalion. The fighters' purpose will be to tackle a wave of Sunni-driven violence that American officials predict will increase as the country moves toward autonomy.

The new force is intended to add muscle to the poorly equipped and ill-trained Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which increasingly have been shouldering the burden of maintaining security.

But Sunni Muslims warn that the new militia force - consisting mainly of battle-hardened Shiite and Kurdish fighters - will aggravate Iraq's strained sectarian and ethnic relationships. "This ... is a bomb that could explode at any time," says Sheikh Abdel-Karim Qubaysy, a prominent Sunni in Baghdad. Other Sunni clerics are warning that this could lead to Lebanon-like civil war. [complete article]

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Iraqi town's balance of power stays in doubt
By Charles Clover, Financial Times, December 9, 2003

A week after a vicious firefight in the streets of Samarra, in which US forces claim to have killed 54 guerrilla fighters, it was unclear on Sunday who really controlled the town.

At the one remaining US military compound in the city, US soldiers on Sunday refused to leave their sand-bagged bunkers to meet a western visitor at the gate. "It's dangerous here! Go away!" yelled one. Two other such US compounds within Samarra have been vacated in the past three weeks.

US-paid Iraqi troops of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) have not entered the town since one of their number was killed on Saturday, shot by enraged mourners after his squad crossed paths with a funeral procession for a man slain in last week's shoot-out. [complete article]

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New caretaker at embattled mosque
By Samson Mulugeta, Newsday, December 9, 2003

The custodian of Iraq's holiest shrine packs a .357 Magnum tucked behind his belt. "My cannon," he calls it.

In this capital of Shia Islam, where prominent figures have been systematically eliminated in recent months by car bombings, shootings and stabbings, Radwan Killidar holds one of the most dangerous jobs in town. His mentor, a young cleric named Abdel Majid al-Khoei, was assassinated inside the Imam Ali Mosque in the springtime. Killidar's cousin, Haidar al-Killidar, custodian of the shrine at the time, was stabbed to death during the same attack.

In spite of these incidents, Killidar, 40, returned from England in late June to take over as the shrine's caretaker, stepping into the heart of a struggle not only for control of the Imam Ali Mosque, but also the debate over the governance of Iraq. [complete article]

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Uzbek leader becoming embarrassment to West
By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service (via Antiwar.com), December 9, 2003

President Bush's recent vows to pursue a "forward strategy of freedom" in the Islamic world are in the spotlight as a close ally, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, comes under attack by human rights groups.

Despite Western pressure, Karimov has outlawed opposition parties, harassed and imprisoned dissidents, and, despite his own promises, failed to take meaningful steps to stop the routine use of torture against perceived opponents. Scores of dissidents have been executed after sham trials. [complete article]

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Freedom from guilt doesn't imply freedom from blame
Paul Woodward, The War in Context, December 8, 2003

"We can do no wrong" is an idea that seems to be deeply embedded in the American psyche. This vanity of purity cleans many a conscience that would otherwise be heavily burdened with guilt.

More than a jealous regard for American freedom having poisoned any foreigner's mind, those who witness this professed American innocence used as a cloak to conceal barbarity are being driven into a righteous anger that no expression of regret can extinguish.

As was widely reported (New York Times, BBC) around the world this weekend, an American airstrike ripped apart an Afghan village and slaughtered nine children. Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, who traveled to the village after the attack was later reported as saying that the surviving villagers had been "understanding" and that "they've been through years of war. They're not happy, but I think it meant a great deal to them that my commander, Gen. [Lloyd] Austin, came out and personally expressed his condolences."

CNN reported this under the headline "Afghans understand deaths - U.S." and referred to "the apparent deaths of nine children in an American airstrike". While the US military is never quick to accept its mistakes, and while it may express regrets but rarely assumes responsibility, CNN is not duty bound to march in lockstep with the Pentagon line. By inserting the qualification "apparent", CNN hesitated from simply reporting that the children were killed by the bombing. This, when two hours earlier the BBC had already reported that "US forces have admitted mistakenly killing nine children."

CNN neglected to report that the declared target of the attack, Mullah Wazir, a former low-ranking member of the Taliban, was neither present in the village, nor was his house hit. The claim that Wazir had left ten days earlier came from the villagers and had been reported by the BBC. CNN might regard the Pentagon as a more reliable source of information, but in this case neither CNN, the Pentagon or anyone else, can claim that the airstrike was based on reliable and accurate intelligence. (That the military spokesman described their intelligence as "clear and actionable" appears to simply be an attempt to create the latitude for concluding that this was an honest mistake for which no one can be held culpable.)

CNN showed a picture of Afghan men viewing the children's graves, though the photo carried a caption saying "Afghan men walk past the children's graves at a cemetery" (emphasis added). Since we had been told that the villagers were "understanding", was the photo meant to suggest that, philosophical about their loss, the war-weary Afghans were already moving on?

CNN's follow-up report 3 hours 40 minutes later, reiterated the Pentagon's doubts by reporting that "nine children have been found dead near the site of an airstrike on a suspected terrorist's position in Afghanistan." Does CNN share the Pentagon's doubt about the cause of death?

CNN has subsequently failed to report that the UN has called for an inquiry into the attack.

As a footnote to today's report on Operation Avalanche (described as "the largest ground operation yet in Afghanistan"), CNN now quotes Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty as saying "we accept blame" for the deaths of the children. The report continues:

"We offer our condolences to the village, but I will tell you the surveillance video shows no children there. But we're not trying to avoid blame in this."

He said an investigation will clarify what happened to the children.

"The biggest thing is we want to express our condolences no matter what happened," Hilferty said.

Additionally, he said witness accounts from villagers indicated that the man who was killed was not the intended target, but DNA tests on the body have not been concluded.

"It could be a different person but still be a very bad person, so we can't come to any conclusion yet until the investigation," Hilferty said.


That's what I call a mixed message.

We're to blame - but we didn't see the children...

"...no matter what happened" - perhaps we weren't to blame after all...

We might have killed the wrong guy, but what's it matter if he happened to be a bad guy...

The bottom line: If an American bomb falls on your house, be assured, it was dropped with the best of intentions.

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West Bank East: Americans in Iraq make war the Israeli way
By Ed Blanche, Daily Star, December 6, 2003

If the US military's escalating war against insurgent forces in Iraq is starting to look more and more like Israel's campaign to crush the intifada and the Palestinians' hope of an independent state it's probably because the Americans have been increasingly turning to their Israeli allies for advice on how to conduct just such a conflict.

Now that the United States has become an occupying power, like Israel, (although the Israelis still like to kid themselves they're not really) it has found itself having to grapple with a growing insurgency that is showing every sign of escalating and expanding. The contacts between the two allies is largely classified, mainly because the Americans would find it massively embarrassing if they were seen to be taking lessons in crushing Arab resistance from Israelis. The Americans' insistence that they "liberated" Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein's grotesque regime would suffer greatly from comparison to the internationally condemned Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. [complete article]

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Dirty bomb warheads disappear
By Joby Warrick, Washington Post, December 7, 2003

In the ethnic conflicts that surrounded the collapse of the Soviet Union, fighters in several countries seized upon an unlikely new weapon: a small, thin rocket known as the Alazan. Originally built for weather experiments, the Alazan rockets were packed with explosives and lobbed into cities. Military records show that at least 38 Alazan warheads were modified to carry radioactive material, effectively creating the world's first surface-to-surface dirty bomb.

The radioactive warheads are not known to have been used. But now, according to experts and officials, they have disappeared. [complete article]

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The great divide: The U.S. and Europe stretch to close it
By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, December 8, 2003

After months of acrimony, Europe and the United States are modulating their tone and struggling to work more cooperatively on the divisive issues of Iraq, Afghanistan and European defense cooperation.

The conciliatory stance on the American side is motivated at least in part by the urgent need to have NATO countries contribute more troops and money to Iraq and to deliver promised and much needed troops and equipment to Afghanistan. But there is a universal recognition among NATO members that the rift both within the Atlantic alliance and between Europe and the United States has to be repaired if the alliance is to remain viable. [complete article]

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The peace threat from Damascus
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, December 8, 2003

The most astounding thing about the Syrian president's proposal to resume talks with Israel is the response of official Israel. It may have good reason to put question marks beside Bashar Assad, but its reply also raises big questions. Is Israel really interested in achieving peace with its neighbor to the north? [complete article]

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Life and hope stirs in City of Dead
By Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, December 8, 2003

Slowly but surely, the City of the Dead is creeping back to life.

The holy city of Najaf, 150 kilometres south of Baghdad, was but a slum of dusty destitution eight months ago, when U.S.-led coalition forces pried away Saddam Hussein's iron grip on its long-suffering Shiite Muslim residents.

Amid chronic shortages of electricity, potable water and daily sustenance, residents stumbled into the light after 35 years of religious persecution, begging arriving journalists to help them track friends and relatives abducted by Iraqi intelligence operatives in waves of sweeps through the town.

The missing are still missing. But today, unmistakably, Najaf is beginning to stir with the first signs of a cultural, political and economic renaissance not seen in generations.

The springboard to life, in part at least, is death -- a veritable industry in Najaf, where Shiites from Iraq, Iran and beyond will themselves to be buried. [complete article]

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Jihad has worked - the world is now split in two
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, December 8, 2003

Osama bin Laden, two years and three months after the New York and Washington attacks that were part of his jihad against America, appears to be winning. He has lost his base in Afghanistan, as well as many colleagues and fighters, and his communications and finances have been disrupted. He may be buried under rubble in Afghanistan or, as Washington and London assume, be hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas. But from Kandahar to Baghdad, from Istanbul to Riyadh, blood is being shed in the name of Bin Laden's jihad.

On Saturday, a Taliban bomb went off in the bazaar in Kandahar, aimed at US soldiers but wounding 20 Afghan civilians. On the same day, US planes targeted a "known terrorist" in Ghazni, also in Afghanistan, killing nine children. The deaths of the children will not help the US win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, or elsewhere; indeed, they will alienate Muslim opinion worldwide.

There is a tendency in the west to play down - or ignore - the extent of Bin Laden's success. The US and UK governments regard mentioning it as disloyal or heretical. But look back on interviews by Bin Laden in the 1990s to see what he has achieved. He can tick off one of the four objectives he set himself, and, arguably, a second.

The objectives were: the removal of US soldiers from Saudi soil; the overthrow of the Saudi government; the removal of Jews from Israel; and worldwide confrontation between the west and the Muslim world. [complete article]

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How billions in oil money spawned a global terror network
By David E. Kaplan, US News & World Report, December 15, 2003

The CIA's Illicit Transactions Group isn't listed in any phone book. There are no entries for it on any news database or Internet site. The ITG is one of those tidy little Washington secrets, a group of unsung heroes whose job is to keep track of smugglers, terrorists, and money launderers. In late 1998, officials from the White House's National Security Council called on the ITG to help them answer a couple of questions: How much money did Osama bin Laden have, and how did he move it around? The queries had a certain urgency. A cadre of bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorists had just destroyed two of America's embassies in East Africa. The NSC was determined to find a way to break the organization's back. Working with the Illicit Transactions Group, the NSC formed a task force to look at al Qaeda's finances. For months, members scoured every piece of data the U.S. intelligence community had on al Qaeda's cash. The team soon realized that its most basic assumptions about the source of bin Laden's money--his personal fortune and businesses in Sudan--were wrong. Dead wrong. Al Qaeda, says William Wechsler, the task force director, was "a constant fundraising machine." And where did it raise most of those funds? The evidence was indisputable: Saudi Arabia. [complete article]

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Moving targets
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, December 8, 2003

In Washington, there is now widespread agreement on one point: the need for a new American approach to Iraq. There is also uniform criticism of the military's current response to the growing American casualty lists. One former Pentagon official who worked extensively with the Special Forces command, and who favors the new military initiative, said, "We've got this large conventional force sitting there, and getting their ass shot off, and what we're doing is counterproductive. We're sending mixed signals." The problem with the way the U.S. has been fighting the Baathist leadership, he said, is "(a) we've got no intelligence, and (b) we're too squeamish to operate in this part of the world." Referring to the American retaliation against a suspected mortar site, the former official said, "Instead of destroying an empty soccer field, why not impress me by sneaking in a sniper team and killing them while they're setting up a mortar? We do need a more unconventional response, but it’'s going to be messy."

Inside the Pentagon, it is now understood that simply bringing in or killing Saddam Hussein and his immediate circle -- those who appeared in the Bush Administration's famed "deck of cards" -- will not stop the insurgency. The new Special Forces operation is aimed instead at the broad middle of the Baathist underground. But many of the officials I spoke to were skeptical of the Administration's plans. Many of them fear that the proposed operation -- called "preemptive manhunting" by one Pentagon adviser -- has the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program. Phoenix was the code name for a counter-insurgency program that the U.S. adopted during the Vietnam War, in which Special Forces teams were sent out to capture or assassinate Vietnamese believed to be working with or sympathetic to the Vietcong. In choosing targets, the Americans relied on information supplied by South Vietnamese Army officers and village chiefs. The operation got out of control. According to official South Vietnamese statistics, Phoenix claimed nearly forty-one thousand victims between 1968 and 1972; the U.S. counted more than twenty thousand in the same time span. Some of those assassinated had nothing to do with the war against America but were targeted because of private grievances. William E. Colby, the C.I.A. officer who took charge of the Phoenix Program in 1968 (he eventually became C.I.A. director), later acknowledged to Congress that "a lot of things were done that should not have been done." [complete article]

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Dissent in the bunker
By John Barry and Evan Thomas, Newsweek, December 15, 2003

The military has been hitting hard lately in Iraq, using overwhelming firepower to kill the enemy in operations with videogame names like Iron Hammer and Ivy Cyclone II. But behind the scenes, some military experts, including high-ranking officers in U.S. Special Forces (Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and the like), are beginning to complain that America's strategy in Iraq is wrongheaded.

"This is what Westmoreland was doing in Vietnam," says a top Special Forces commander, referring to the firepower-heavy tactics favored by the military's senior commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, who lost sight of America's essential mission in that lost war: winning the hearts and minds of the people.

One center of private concerns with America's Iraq strategy is the Defense Policy Board, a collection of outside experts -- mostly heavyweight conservatives -- who regularly consult with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Disquiet in this quarter is particularly significant, since the DPB pushed from the outset for the invasion of Iraq. Last week one of the more colorful and outspoken members of the group, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, went public with his worries and ideas in an interview with Newsweek. He was careful to say that he does not speak about the board's deliberations "on or off the record," but he proceeded to hold forth in his insightful, if mildly bombastic, way about the shortcomings of administration policy in Iraq. [complete article]

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WMD claims of Iraqi 'colonel' treated sceptically
By Phil Reeves, The Independent, December 8, 2003

Officials within the Iraqi occupation authorities are puzzling over a British newspaper's interview with a man purporting to be an Iraqi colonel who said he believed he was the source of the Government's claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

The Sunday Telegraph yesterday published an interview, in which the Iraqi said he passed secret information to British intelligence warning that the dictator had deployed WMD to the frontline. However, last night, question-marks were gathering around the story, not least over the man's claims that the Iraqi-made WMD warheads were to be fired on the battlefield by hand-held rocket-propelled grenade launchers, a weapon of very limited range. [complete article]

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The losing battle for Iraqi hearts and minds
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, December 8, 2003

Al Shualla should be one of George Bush's good news stories. But the renovation of the local hospital and four schools seems like cold comfort for the people of this impoverished Shiite enclave on Baghdad's north-west fringes.

That the work has even been done must be prised out of them. Standing in a threadbare mosque, the stubble-faced Said Abdul Rashul Jabar apologises because the community cannot afford the richly coloured carpets that ordinarily adorn places of worship in Iraq. Then he sets out the change in their lives in eight months of US occupation.

"Life is the same as before," he says. But then he suggests it's worse: "We still don't have security we used to have - we have to lock ourselves in our homes at night. We have no jobs and there is no petrol. We can't get cooking gas.

"We have a small generator that might supply 50 homes, but we can't get diesel for it. We have a big generator that Saddam gave to us three months before the war, but we don't have an engineer to make it work. People are angry, very angry." [complete article]

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Iraqi exiles face uncertainty as enthusiasm for them dims at home and in Washington
By Joel Brinkley and Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 8, 2003

The way the exiles tell it, they are a gift to Iraq, shining role models for the new state.

"People look up to those of us coming from abroad," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council who lived in London for nearly 25 years. He added that the exiles "bring culture and progress and advancement from the West, as well as democracy and respect for human rights."

Half the Governing Council, and nearly all of the top political figures in Iraq today, are former opposition leaders who lived abroad during most of Saddam Hussein's years in power. With Iraq moving toward a new political configuration, Iraqis are debating whether these men are the nation's future or its past. [complete article]

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After attack, S. Korean engineers quit Iraq
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, December 8, 2003

A week after two of their colleagues were killed in an ambush, the remaining 60 South Korean contract engineers and technicians working for the U.S. government on a project north of the capital have decided to leave the country.

It is the largest known withdrawal of contractors over security issues and follows a week of confrontations between the workers and their managers that culminated with yelling and punches Sunday afternoon.

The decision by the men, who were working to fix electrical power lines, is likely to delay one of Iraq's most critical reconstruction projects. The workers are subcontractors for the Washington Group International Inc., a construction firm based in Boise, Idaho, that has a $110 million contract with the Army Corps of Engineers to repair sections of Iraq's power grid. [complete article]

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Needed: Iraqi boss with mo'
By Simon Jenkins, The Times (via The Australian), December 8, 2003

Those who try to do the undoable must also think the unthinkable. US strategists in Iraq are contemplating what they have always denied, the search for a "strong man with a moustache" to stop the present rot. If the result is not democracy, so be it.

If the result is the dismemberment of Iraq, so be it. Iraq has become a mess. There is only one priority: to "get out with dignity".

This strategy is now being rammed down the throat of the US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, by George W. Bush's new "realist", Deputy National Security Adviser Bob Blackwill. He answers to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, not US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and is the new boss of Iraq.

The Pentagon, Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, architects of the old "idealist" strategy, are in retreat. The Iraqi Governing Council, which Bremer reluctantly created, will be disbanded. Washington must find someone with whom it can do business, someone who can deliver order in return for power. That search is Blackwill's job. [complete article]

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Iraq morass will take years to fix
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, December 7, 2003

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, is getting around. Last week it was Kabul to meet with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. Yesterday he was in Kirkuk and Baghdad to meet US military and Iraqi civic leaders.

Rumsfeld's 'appraisal' visits follow a pattern. He pops in for a day, then, based on what he sees and hears from inside his protective bubble, declares everything to be just hunky-dory. [complete article]

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Secular leaders worry that, torn by turmoil, Iraqis will elect an Islamic theocracy
By Joel Brinkley, New York Times, December 7, 2003

For many Iraqi officials, an unspoken fear hovers like a wraith in the background of every debate over the popular elections that are supposed to take place here in June.

It is that the Iraqi people -- roiled by the fall of a brutal dictatorship, followed immediately by subjugation to a sometimes bumbling occupation force -- will elect a theocratic Islamic government. [complete article]

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Bridging Baghdad's opposite worlds
By Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, December 7, 2003

Like a scene from classical mythology, the 14th of July Bridge spans the Tigris River with its feet in two very different worlds.

To the west lies the Green Zone, the fortified bubble inside which the U.S.-led coalition elite traipse palatial halls built by Saddam Hussein without worry of enemy attack. To the east lies roiling downtown Baghdad and the rest of untamed Iraq.

One side of the bridge is a kind of hermetically sealed heaven, a modern-day Elysian Fields where benign good cheer carries the day. The other side is less than hell, but nasty nonetheless. [complete article]

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The Iraqi colonel who told MI6 that Saddam could launch WMD within 45 minutes
By Con Coughlin, Sunday Telegraph, December 7, 2003

In an exclusive interview with the Telegraph, Col al-Dabbagh said that he believed he was the source of the British Government's controversial claim, published in September last year in the intelligence dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam could launch WMD within 45 minutes.

"I am the one responsible for providing this information," said the colonel, who is now working as an adviser to Iraq's Governing Council.

He also insisted that the information contained in the dossier relating to Saddam's battlefield WMD capability was correct. "It is 100 per cent accurate," he said after reading the relevant passage.

The devices, which were known by Iraqi officers as "the secret weapon", were made in Iraq and designed to be launched by hand-held rocket-propelled grenades. They could also have been launched sooner than the 45-minutes claimed in the dossier.

"Forget 45 minutes," said Col al-Dabbagh "we could have fired these within half-an-hour." [complete article]

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The Shiite hit list
By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Newsweek, December 15, 2003

Abdul Karim al Inizi tried to sound a warning. Shortly after he learned that an assassination plot was being hatched, he sent letters to every senior cleric in Najaf, the holiest city of Shiite Islam.

As head of the Dawa-Iraq Organization's political bureau, Inizi was a well-known figure in the city, not just some faceless crank. Spokesmen for several of the clerics say they got the warning -- but their precautions weren't good enough. The next day a massive car bomb exploded outside the Imam Ali Mosque after Friday services, killing Ayatollah Mohamad Baqir al Hakim and 89 bystanders in what remains the deadliest act of terror since the occupation began. That was in August. A black banner near the scene still promises revenge, revenge -- no matter how long it takes!

Inizi says he knows exactly who ordered the attack: a former colonel in Saddam Hussein's secret police, the Mukhabarat. After the bombing, the officer promptly vanished from his Baghdad home, together with his wife and children. Inizi refuses to divulge the man's name, saying only that Dawa is on his trail. [complete article]

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Trying to hide the dark backyard
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, December 7, 2003

How many Israelis have actually seen the separation fence? How many have given any thought to its significance? Every foreign visitor interested in what is happening in the region makes visiting the fence a priority and world media constantly point their cameras at it - half a dozen foreign documentaries have already been shot along it. But most Israelis have never seen it. [complete article]

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How a shady Iranian deal maker kept the Pentagon's ear
By James Risen, New York Times, December 7, 2003

When clandestine meetings between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents were first revealed last summer, the Bush administration played down the importance of the contacts, particularly with one participant -- a discredited Iranian deal maker who had played a role in the Iran-contra affair in the late 1980's.

But now officials say the initial meeting with the Iranians was organized with the knowledge of a top national security adviser to President Bush, who also informed George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. [complete article]

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Cheney and the 'raw' intelligence
By Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, December 15, 2003

A memo written by a top Washington lobbyist for the controversial Iraqi National Congress raises new questions about the role Vice President Dick Cheney's office played in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

The memo, obtained by Newsweek, suggests that the INC last year was directly feeding intelligence reports about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and purported ties to terrorism to one of Cheney's top foreign-policy aides. Cheney staffers later pushed INC info -- including defectors' claims about WMD and terror ties -- to bolster the case that Saddam's government posed a direct threat to America. But the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have strongly questioned the reliability of defectors supplied by the INC. [complete article]

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Terrorism jars Jewish, Arab party loyalties
By Laura Blumenfeld, Washington Post, December 7, 2003

President Bush has her vote, said Dina Shapiro, standing in line at Bagel Power, a Jewish bakery in Scarsdale, N.Y. She applauds his war on terrorism.

Bush won't get her vote, said Alia Charara, standing in line at New Yasmin Arabic bakery in Dearborn, Mich. She fears his war on terrorism. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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