The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Annan resists calls to send U.N. staff back to Baghdad
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, December 28, 2003

It is the quick-fix remedy prescribed by many critics of the American-led effort in Iraq -- send in the United Nations.

For Europeans, the United Nations' presence would provide a global-law seal of approval and a counterweight to American influence.

For the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, it would introduce a notion of outside acceptance.

Public opinion surveys of Americans showing 60 percent approving of President Bush's conduct of the Iraq operation also show nearly 70 percent of those polled calling for greater United Nations activity there. Even the United Nations-wary Bush administration has joined in the calls for the world body to get more involved right away.

Yet, with these urgent summonses coming into its New York headquarters from all sides, the United Nations itself is resisting. [complete article]

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Human tragedy forces U.S. to rethink hard line
By Andrew Gumbel, The Independent, December 28, 2003

If there is some small consolation to be had in the horrific loss of life from the Iranian earthquake, it is that the disaster is likely to strengthen the growing ties between Iran and the outside world and further rein in the US neo-conservative hawks itching to deal with the Tehran mullahs the way they dealt with Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Four bombings kill 13 in Iraq
By Alan Sipress, Washington Post, December 28, 2003

Suicide attackers carried out four coordinated car bombings Saturday outside the bases of U.S.-led forces in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, killing six soldiers from Bulgaria and Thailand as well as seven Iraqis, according to military officials.

The afternoon attacks, which wounded more than 100 people, came in rapid succession, targeting a military logistics camp near a university, a base housing a Thai-run hospital and the city government center, where U.S. military police are posted, officials and witnesses said. Five American soldiers were injured in the last strike.

As the assailants drove explosives-laden vehicles toward the targets, other insurgents pounded the sites with mortar and machine-gun fire, according to Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, commander of the Polish-led multinational force responsible for the area around Karbala, about 60 miles southwest of Baghdad.

"It was a coordinated, massive attack planned for a big scale and intended to do much harm," he said. [complete article]

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A year of thwarted ambition
By Martin Jacques, The Guardian, December 27, 2003

Saddam Hussein's arrest provided a long overdue, and desperately needed, morale-booster for the American and British governments. The fact that they had succeeded in finding neither Saddam nor Osama bin Laden had lent an air of ridicule to American military grandiloquence. The failure to capture Saddam spoke eloquently of an occupation that had veered far off course from the confident predictions that had been made at the time of the invasion.

We will have to wait and see what the longer-term effect of Saddam's arrest proves to be. Combined with Libya's new contrition, it should, for a period at least, ease some of the domestic pressure on Bush and perhaps even Blair. But it seems unlikely that it will change much, especially where it matters most, on the ground in Iraq.

It is salutary to reflect on how the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent course of the occupation have tempered the ambitions and expectations of the Bush administration. We may now live in the era of American hyperpower and a new kind of American imperial ambition, but Iraq has served to demonstrate some of the likely limits to that power. [complete article]

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Al-Qaeda out to get Musharraf
By Sami Zubeiri, Sydney Morning Herald, December 27, 2003

Al-Qaeda militants and religious fanatics are feared to be behind an increasingly organised effort to kill the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, analysts said, following the second assassination attempt in 11 days.

General Musharraf escaped death on Thursday when suicide bombers rammed his motorcade with two bomb-laden cars at a petrol station two kilometres from his residence in Rawalpindi, killing 14 people and injuring 46.

Mushahid Hussain, a ruling party senator, called the attacks a "matter of deep concern", especially since the latest bid was made near General Musharraf's residence, in the heart of an area controlled by the military which he leads. "It shows an organised group is chasing him," he said. [complete article]

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Hussein's capture not likely to harm al Qaeda
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, December 26, 2003

President Bush has described the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein as a victory for the "war on terror," saying that Iraq represented "a visible front" in that war, like Afghanistan, the Philippines and other unnamed countries where U.S. commando teams have been secretly hunting al Qaeda and its affiliates.

But the prevailing view among many U.S. intelligence agencies and terrorism experts is that Hussein's capture, and indeed the U.S. war in Iraq, will have little discernible short-term impact on the web of al Qaeda-affiliated organizations that most threaten the United States and U.S. interests abroad. [complete article]

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The law of war in the war on terror
By Kenneth Roth, Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2004

What are the boundaries of the Bush administration's "war on terrorism?" The recent battles fought against the Afghan and Iraqi governments were classic wars between organized military forces. But President George W. Bush has suggested that his campaign against terrorism goes beyond such conflicts; he said on September 29, 2001, "Our war on terror will be much broader than the battlefields and beachheads of the past. The war will be fought wherever terrorists hide, or run, or plan."

This language stretches the meaning of the word "war." If Washington means "war" metaphorically, as when it speaks about a "war" on drugs, the rhetoric would be uncontroversial, a mere hortatory device intended to rally support for an important cause. Bush, however, seems to think of the war on terrorism quite literally -- as a real war -- and this concept has worrisome implications. The rules that bind governments are much looser during wartime than in times of peace. The Bush administration has used war rhetoric precisely to give itself the extraordinary powers enjoyed by a wartime government to detain or even kill suspects without trial. In the process, the administration may have made it easier for itself to detain or eliminate suspects. But it has also threatened the most basic due process rights. [complete article]

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Whither Cheney?
By Jim Lobe,, December 27, 2003

Officially, all systems are "go" for a Bush-Cheney rerun. Indeed, you can already see "Bush-Cheney" bumper stickers on the enormous vehicles that rumble through the capital's streets.

And in a nationally broadcast television interview last week, Bush himself insisted that, while all cabinet positions are wide open if he wins a second term, Cheney will be the man whose arm he will grasp high over his head at the conclusion of this summer's Republican National Convention in New York, where the ticket is to be formally decided.

But even that has not quashed continuing speculation that Cheney has a large bull's-eye on his back, painted there by Republican "realists," who largely controlled the party through most of the Cold War.

For them, Cheney has become a major liability, not only to Bush's reelection chances, but – as the leader of the administration's imperialist faction with the greatest direct influence on Bush himself – to U.S. economic and strategic interests abroad as well. [complete article]

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U.S. towns gather in their wounded
By Gary Younge, The Guardian, December 27, 2003

Around 2,657 soldiers have been injured in Iraq, according to the Pentagon. But while the death toll influences political debate and prompts public discomfort, the swelling legions of the wounded - around 10 a day - have failed to make any impact on a national level.

With the exception of Jessica Lynch, whose capture, rescue and return has already produced two books, one film and a national myth, little has been heard until recently about those who came back to start a new life in wheelchairs and on crutches.

And little that has been heard has been good. There were the wounded who had to wait for weeks for medical treatment in Fort Stewart Georgia, where they complained of filthy conditions. There was Shoshana Johnson, a black woman who was shot in both legs and held prisoner for 22 days, who says racism is the only explanation for why she receives $700 (£500) less each month than Ms Lynch. Then came was the scandal of wounded soldiers being forced to pay $8.10 a day for their hospital meals, until the rule was repealed by Congress. [complete article]

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Israel seeks to avoid Middle East disarmament fest
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, Decemer 26, 2003

The American effort to neutralize security threats gradually in the Mideast has recently produced some marked improvements in Israel's strategic environment. Iraq has been conquered, Iran was forced to expand international supervision of its nuclear facilities, Libya promised to dismantle its nonconventional weapons, and Jerusalem believes that Syria will be next in line. The Arab world, led by Egypt, has responded with the expected demand that Israel also join the regional disarmament fest.

The equally predictable response from Israel stressed its lack of faith in its enemies' promises, and insisted that the danger has not yet passed. But if the Iranians and Libyans keep their word, Israel is likely to encounter growing skepticism about its need for wide security margins, and be asked to do its bit toward changes in the region. [complete article]

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Sunni groups form council to gain input into Iraqi rule
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 25, 2003

Leaders of Sunni groups across the country agreed to form a council today in order to speak with a unified political voice during the transition of Iraq from American rule to Iraqi governance.

The demands of the group, called the State Council for the Sunnis, could greatly complicate the handover of power for both the Americans and other Iraqi religious and ethnic groups, especially the Shiites and the Kurds.

The Sunnis, who have held power in the country since the 1920's, when British colonizers favored them as proxy administrators, have felt increasingly disenfranchised under the current occupation. The bitterness first arose when American forces ousted Saddam Hussein, a Sunni from the north, and have increased as American administrators have tried to forge close political ties with the Shiites and Kurds in the last eight months. [complete article]

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Iraqi Kurds seek more autonomy before constitution
By Reuters (via Jordan Times), December 25, 2003

Iraq's Kurds are demanding substantial autonomy in and beyond the mainly Kurdish north before the drafting of a constitution envisioned in a plan to move power from Iraq's US occupiers to Iraqis. That prospect would almost certainly alarm neighbouring Turkey — a US ally which fears Kurdish autonomy in Iraq could re-ignite separatism among its own Kurds — and run counter to the view of a future Iraq among its Arab majority.

Barham Salih, prime minister of one half of the northern zone Kurds have run since wresting it from Baghdad after the 1991 Gulf War, said a plan presented to Iraq's US-backed Governing Council by its Kurdish members cited Kurdish self-rule as a model for the rest of a future, federal Iraq. [complete article]

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The dense web of al Qaeda
By Peter Bergen, Washington Post, December 25, 2003

What is al Qaeda?

It seems, on some levels, a simple question. After all, "al Qaeda" is a term much bandied about by the public, politicians and commentators. Indeed, it's now one of the best-known organizations in the world.

Yet there is a great deal of ambiguity about what exactly constitutes al Qaeda. Is it a terrorist organization run in a regimented top-down fashion by its CEO, Osama bin Laden? Or is it a loose-knit group of Islamist militants around the world whose only common link is that many of them trained in Afghanistan? Or has al Qaeda, the organization, morphed into something best described as al Qaeda, the movement -- a movement defined by adherence to bin Laden's virulent anti-Westernism/anti-Semitism and propensity for violence? Is "al Qaeda" all of the above? [complete article]

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Turkish sympathy for militants grows
By Charles A. Radin, Boston Globe, December 26, 2003

Citizens of this fervently Muslim central Anatolian city last week observed the 730th anniversary of the death of the great Islamic mystic Mevlana with stirring concerts of religious music, the ecstatic whirling of white-robed dervishes, and, above all, vows of commitment to the principles of love and tolerance for which Mevlana is revered.

"This is the smiling face of Islam," said Ahmet Ozham, who was a well-known pop singer and actor before, as he put it, he "saw the real light of life" and became the leading performer of songs based on Mevlana's poetry.

But beneath the smiles and genuine hospitality they extend to individual foreigners, the citizens of Konya, like those in many Turkish cities and towns, are boiling with anger at the United States, Britain, Israel, and Western civilization in general. They reject the tactics of the suicide bombers who killed 58 people in four massive explosions in Istanbul last month, but express understanding of the bombers' rage. [complete article]

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Turkey breaks up al Qaeda cell behind blasts
By Daren Butler, Reuters (via Yahoo), December 26, 2003

Turkish authorities have broken up the Istanbul cell behind last month's truck bombings and have confirmed its links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, the city's governor said on Friday.

The four blasts targeted two synagogues and British interests in Turkey's commercial capital, killing 61 people and wounding several hundred. It was the worst week of peacetime violence in modern Turkey's history.

"The suicide attacks were carried out by elements trying to organize for al Qaeda in Turkey," governor Muammer Guler told a news conference in Istanbul, held to announce progress in the investigation.

"We can comfortably say that we have broken up the organization's Istanbul activities," he said. [complete article]

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Iraq eclipses other issues in election
By John Yaukey, Gannett (via Detroit News), December 22, 2003

Not since 1972, as Vietnam was raging out of control, has foreign policy loomed as large in a presidential election as it promises to next year -- especially for the incumbent.

And barring another major terrorist attack against Americans or something equally explosive, Iraq promises to eclipse all other issues.

As he campaigns for a second term, President Bush will face tremendous pressure to demonstrate to voters that there is more to his foreign policy than going to war. [complete article]

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Bush advisers, with eye on Dean, formulate '04 plans
By Adam Nagourney and Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, December 26, 2003

President Bush's campaign has settled on a plan to run against Howard Dean that would portray him as reckless, angry and pessimistic, while framing the 2004 election as a referendum on the direction of the nation more than on the president himself, Mr. Bush's aides say.

Some advisers to Mr. Bush, increasingly convinced that Dr. Dean will become their opponent next fall, are pushing to begin a drive to undercut him even before a Democratic nominee becomes clear. But others said the more likely plan would be to hold back until after the Democratic contest had effectively ended, probably no later than March.

As a Bush strategist put it, Dr. Dean's rivals are "doing a great job for us" with their increasingly tough attacks on him.

"Voters don't normally vote for an angry, pessimistic person to be president of the country," Matthew Dowd, a senior Bush adviser, said as he pressed the anti-Dean theme this week in an interview at Mr. Bush's re-election campaign headquarters. "They want somebody, even if times are not great, to be forward looking and optimistic." [complete article]

Comment -- If Howard Dean wants to command the high ground in this election he should turn it into a debate about American values. Former Republican presidential candidate, Gary Bauer, claims that Dean "does not have the values of the American people," but Bauer's assertion rests on the assumption that there is a clear consensus about the nature of American values.

By choosing one candidate over another, Americans will be endorsing a set of values. Each candidate thus needs to clearly articulate the values they represent. In a debate that might otherwise revolve around empty expressions of a love of freedom (and apple pie), Howard Dean can inject a healthy dose of realism by talking about how America is seen by the world. If most Americans recognized that far from being regarded as the champion of freedom, America is now seen by much of the rest of the world as aggressive, hypocritical, xenophobic, and selfish, they might better understand how they have been betrayed by the man whose job it is to serve their interests.

A debate about American values need not be a contest to see who can wrap themselves most tightly inside the flag. It can and should be an opportunity to talk to Americans as adults and to address the fact that a nation that regards itself as "the greatest nation on earth" will be judged by its actions and not simply the noble ideals that it claims to represent.

Over the past three years, frequent reference to America's status as the sole superpower belies the reality of global demographics. We live in a world where Americans are outnumbered by more than twenty to one. Serving the interests of five percent of the population at the expense of the other ninety-five percent is an inequity that cannot be sustained.

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Iraq through the American looking glass
By Robert Fisk, The Independent (via Fairuse), 26 December 2003

Something very unpleasant is being let loose in Iraq. Just this week, a company commander in the US 1st Infantry Division in the north of the country admitted that, in order to elicit information about the guerrillas who are killing American troops, it was necessary to "instill fear" in the local villagers. An Iraqi interpreter working for the Americans had just taken an old lady from her home to frighten her daughters and grand-daughters into believing that she was being arrested.

A battalion commander in the same area put the point even more baldly. "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them," he said. He was speaking from a village that his men had surrounded with barbed wire, upon which was a sign, stating: "This fence is here for your protection. Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be shot."

Try to explain that this treatment - and these words - offend the very basic humanity of the people whom the Americans claimed they came to "liberate" and you are met in Baghdad with the same explanation: that a very small "remnant" of "diehards" - loyal to the now-captured Saddam Hussein, etc, etc - have to be separated from the civilians whom they are "intimidating".

To point out that the intimidation is largely coming from the American occupation force - to the horror of the British in southern Iraq who fear, understandably, that Iraqi revenge will be visited upon them as it was on the Italians and the Spanish - is useless. [complete article]

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'Our guy' for Iraq leader may end up biting us
By David Fromkin, Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2003

We haven't been here before, but our British allies have and there is much that we can learn from their experience. They captured Baghdad in 1917 in the course of World War I.

At the time, the Arabic-speaking Middle East was ruled by the Muslim but Turkish-speaking Ottoman Empire. When the war began, the Ottoman government joined in the fighting on the German side and against England. When the war ended, in 1918, the victorious British found themselves in possession, among other things, of the three Ottoman provinces that were later merged to form a single unitary state that was to be called Iraq.

In 1918 and 1919, its hour of triumph, the British Empire garrisoned the Middle East with an army of a million men. No other significant military force in the region could dispute Britain's mastery. Iraq's future seemingly was for Britain to determine. It is from Britain's experience in that respect that Americans entering the year 2004 have so much to learn. [complete article]

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Operation hearts and minds
By Evan Thomas, Rod Nordland and Christian Caryl, Newsweek, December 29, 2003

On Dec. 15, in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, about 700 people demonstrated against the strongman's capture, chanting, "Saddam is in our hearts, Saddam is in our blood." American soldiers and Iraqi policemen shouted back, "Saddam is in our jail." But the clever taunts could not erase a basic truth of counterinsurgency warfare: it is possible to win all the battles and still lose the war. [complete article]

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Arab democracy must come from Arab states
By Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 26, 2003

For "Most Important Book of the Year," I nominate the Arab Human Development Report 2003 issued by the United Nations Development Program.

Written by a group of 26 Arab scholars, this volume takes a candid look at why Arab countries have fallen so far behind in key areas of human development. This question is crucial, at a time when the United States is trying to remake Iraq into a democratic model for the region.

The authors of this book argue that the impetus for real Mideast change must come from inside their own society. "Such reform from within, based on rigorous self-criticism, is a far more proper and sustainable alternative," they write, "in contrast to efforts to restructure the region from outside." But "rigorous self-criticism" is rare in a region where leaders and publics tend to blame their troubles on outsiders, especially "the West." [complete article]

See the report, Arab Human Development Report 2003: Building a Knowledge Society

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The Saudi paradox
By Michael Scott Doran, Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2004

When an attack on a residential compound in Riyadh killed 17 people and wounded 122 in early November 2003, U.S. officials downplayed the significance of the incident for Saudi Arabian politics. "We have the utmost faith that the direction chosen for this nation by Crown Prince Abdullah, the political and economic reforms, will not be swayed by these horrible terrorists," said Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in Riyadh for a visit.

But if any such faith existed, it was quite misplaced. Abdullah's reforms were already being curtailed, the retrenchment having begun in the wake of a similar attack six months earlier. And despite what was reported in the American press, an end to the reforms was exactly what the bombers and their ideological supporters hoped to accomplish. To understand why this is the case -- and why one of Washington's staunchest allies has been incubating a murderous anti-Americanism -- one must delve into the murky depths of Saudi Arabia's domestic politics. [complete article]

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Evangelicals a new lifeline for Israelis
By Craig Nelson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 25, 2003

As they say in the preaching business, Pat Robertson had them in the palm of his hand.

No matter that his audience wasn't predominantly Christian, let alone American. They drank up every word. And when the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network wrapped up his give-no-ground speech to the elite of Israel's political and military establishment with the ringing declaration "Be strong! Be strong!" many of his listeners jumped to their feet to give him a boisterous round of applause.

The rapturous response to Robertson last week in Herzliya is just one example of how a large and growing group of conservative American Christians has entered Israel's political scene with startling vigor, even as the Holy Land's indigenous Christian communities wither as the result of war and a dying economy.

Calling themselves Christian Zionists, the evangelicals are increasingly viewed as a political lifeline by influential Israelis who are eager for allies to fight what they see as a rising global tide of hate aimed at Jews and Israel. [complete article]

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Embattled academic Tony Judt defends call for binational state
By Nathaniel Popper, Forward, December 26, 2003

Tony Judt is a scholar who was until recently best known for his writings on European history. But then, in a 2,900-word essay in the October 23 edition of The New York Review of Books, Judt dropped the intellectual equivalent of a nuclear bomb on Zionism, calling for the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state.

Judt argued in his essay that Israel is quickly on the way to becoming a "belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno state." The ethnic basis of Israeli laws, Judt said, was counter to the modern, democratic ideals to which Israel holds itself. In place of a Jewish state, he argued, should emerge a binational state with equal rights for all Jews and Arabs currently living in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The response to the essay, "Israel: The Alternative," was fast and furious, with several vehement critics seemingly ready to dismantle Judt, the London native and director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. [complete article]

See Tony Judt's essay, Israel: The alternative

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Demographics drive Likud's shifting agenda
Forward Magazine, December 26, 2003

Driving the Likud's metamorphosis from "Greater Israel" dogmatism to separation pragmatism are not constraints of geography but of demography.

"Above all hovers the cloud of demographics," Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea of Yediot Aharonot last week, explaining his dramatic decision to come out in favor of unilateral Israeli withdrawal from most of the territories. "It will come down on us not in the end of days, but in just another few years," Olmert said, explaining that if Israel does not disengage from the West Bank and Gaza, the growth rate of Arabs in the territories and inside Israel -- which is much higher than that of Jews -- will sooner rather than later force Israel to choose between being a Jewish state and being a democratic one.

Olmert, the most outspoken of Likud's leaders on the need for separation, said: "We are approaching a point where more and more Palestinians will say: 'There is no place for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All we want is the right to vote.' The day they get it, we will lose everything." He added: "I shudder to think that liberal Jewish organizations that shouldered the burden of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa will lead the struggle against us." [complete article]

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Leaks probe is gathering momentum
By Mike Allen and Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 26, 2003

The Justice Department has added a fourth prosecutor to the team investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity, while the FBI has said a grand jury may be called to take testimony from administration officials, sources close to the case said.

Administration and CIA officials said they have seen signs in the past few weeks that the investigation continues intensively behind closed doors, even though little about the investigation has been publicly said or seen for months.

According to administration officials and people familiar with some of the interviews, FBI agents apparently started their White House questioning with top figures -- including President Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove -- and then worked down to more junior officials. The agents appear to have a great deal of information and have constructed detailed chronologies of various officials' possible tie to the leak, people familiar with the questioning said. [complete article]

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Pakistan leader survives blasts
BBC News, December 25, 2003

Two huge explosions shook the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, minutes after President Pervez Musharraf's motorcade had passed by.

At least seven people were killed and several injured but the president was unhurt, a military spokesman said.

"It was an assassination attempt on the president," the spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan, said.

It is the second time in a few days that President Musharraf has narrowly escaped an explosion. [complete article]

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4 G.I.'s and 6 Iraqi civilians are killed in bomb attacks
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 25, 2003

As Iraqis and occupation soldiers began their Christmas celebrations on Wednesday and early Thursday, guerrilla fighters unleashed a string of intense rocket and bomb attacks across the country, killing at least four American soldiers and six Iraqi civilians and wounding dozens of people, military and government officials said.

Christmas morning began in spectacular fashion, as insurgents fired more than a half dozen rockets at dawn in different parts of Baghdad, including at the American compound at the old Republican Palace. At least one rocket slammed into the Sheraton Hotel around the eighth floor, shattering glass and damaging part of the building, but apparently injuring no one, witnesses said. Another rocket hit a building east of the hotel, injuring several Iraqi civilians, said an American soldier guarding the hotel. [complete article]

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Still not home for the holidays
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, December 25, 2003

Christmas was still hours away, but already the wrapping paper was in shreds and presents were scattered all over the barracks. There were the obvious: CDs, DVDs, magazines; the practical: shampoo, toothpaste, long underwear; the strange: antelope jerky; the goofy: miniature race cars and Play-Doh; and the comforting: fresh-baked cookies from mom.

When you're stuck at a U.S. Army camp 30 miles from Baghdad and halfway around the world from home -- which is right where the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade found itself Wednesday -- the holiday comes whenever the packages arrive. No matter what time of day or night, no matter how tired you are, no matter how many other things you have to do, you open the mail. Immediately. [complete article]

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Iraq Christians alter plans for Christmas
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 24, 2003

Christmas has been moved.

For Baghdad's small Christian community, the major Mass will not be celebrated at midnight but in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve.

Word of the early start began spreading from one congregation to another in the last week. No one questioned the rationale; they all know that things like walking the streets at night and gathering in large groups are about as wise as leaping into a lion's den.

"The main problem is security, not only for Christmas, but for all the days of our lives," said the Rev. Yousif Thomas Mirkis of St. Joseph's Cathedral, one of the largest churches in the city. "Christmas this year will not be as special a day as it has been. But maybe families will still celebrate it with trees and cake, and maybe it will be closer in spirit to the first Christmas. The first one took place in poverty and under difficult circumstances for that small family. Maybe that's our one consolation this year. We're having a true Christmas." [complete article]

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Sheiks in Saddam's old power base edge toward cooperation with U.S. forces
By Aleksandar Vasovic, Associated Press, December 24, 2003

With Saddam Hussein in captivity, some tribal elders from his old power base are showing greater willingness to work with Iraq's American occupiers, realizing they must carve out a new political role for the Sunni Muslim minority that long ruled the country.

At a meeting this week between tribal leaders and U.S. commanders, a prominent elder from the village where the ousted Iraqi dictator was born made a dramatic acknowledgment that Saddam's era was over. [complete article]

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Karzai weathers power struggle, but at a price
By Dan Morrison, Christian Science Monitor, December 26, 2003

The constitutional loya jirga, or grand assembly, has turned out better than anticipated for Karzai, who withstood a challenge from warlords and royalists looking to dilute the president's power. But some observers warn that Karzai has opened the constitution to greater Islamic influence by making deals with hard-liners like Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, a warlord whose views mirror those of the Taliban.

The current draft of the constitution, which could be approved as soon as Friday, would give the president the power to rule by administrative decree and to appoint judges and governors, with little legislative oversight. Karzai plans to run for president next year - but only if the office is not weakened in the final version. [complete article]

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Guerrillas kill 3 U.S. troops; bomb kills 5 Iraqis
By Nadim Ladki, Reuters (via Yahoo), December 24, 2003

Three U.S. soldiers were killed in a bomb blast north of Baghdad Wednesday, while a suicide car bomber killed four other people in northern Iraq in a spate of Christmas Eve attacks.

The deadly bombings came hours after U.S. aircraft and artillery blasted suspected guerrilla hideouts in Baghdad in an attempt to flush guerrillas from the city of five million.

Civilian and military officials of the U.S.-led occupation forces have warned that diehard insurgents would launch spectacular attacks during the holiday season. [complete article]

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Judge shot dead in northern Iraq
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, December 24, 2003

A senior judge was gunned down near his home in the northern city of Mosul, the latest victim in a wave of attacks on officials working under Iraq's US administration.

The judge, Youssef Khoshi, was shot six times in the back on Monday night by several men in a car. Another judge, who had been investigating the activities of local Ba'ath party officials who supported Saddam, was murdered last month in similar circumstances. Police major Ali Mohammed said Mr Khosi had died immediately.

The killing served to illustrate the continuing instability in postwar Iraq, and comes after weeks of violent score-settling between Saddam supporters and opponents. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld made Iraq overture in '84 despite chemical raids
By Christopher Marquis, New York Times, December 23, 2003

As a special envoy for the Reagan administration in 1984, Donald H. Rumsfeld, now the defense secretary, traveled to Iraq to persuade officials there that the United States was eager to improve ties with President Saddam Hussein despite his use of chemical weapons, newly declassified documents show.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who ran a pharmaceutical company at the time, was tapped by Secretary of State George P. Shultz to reinforce a message that a recent move to condemn Iraq's use of chemical weapons was strictly in principle and that America's priority was to prevent an Iranian victory in the Iran-Iraq war and to improve bilateral ties.

During that war, the United States secretly provided Iraq with combat planning assistance, even after Mr. Hussein's use of chemical weapons was widely known. The highly classified program involved more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who shared intelligence on Iranian deployments, bomb-damage assessments and other crucial information with Iraq.

The disclosures round out a picture of American outreach to the Iraqi government, even as the United States professed to be neutral in the eight-year war, and suggests a private nonchalance toward Mr. Hussein's use of chemicals in warfare. Mr. Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials have cited Iraq's use of poisonous gas as a main reason for ousting Mr. Hussein. [complete article]

See also Saddam Hussein: More secret history, from the National Security Archive (George Washington University).

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Who's who in the CPA
By Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Colin Soloway, Washington Monthly, December, 2003

Simone Ledeen is serving her country. She is the daughter of Michael Ledeen, the Iran-Contra luminary, AEI scholar, and all-around capo in the neocon mafia. She's 29, a freshly-minted M.B.A., with little to no experience in war-torn countries. But as an advisor for northern Iraq at the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad, she is, in essence, helping shape one quarter of that nation's economy.

When the history of the occupation of Iraq is written, there will be many factors to point to when explaining the post-conquest descent into chaos and disorder, from the melting away of Saddam's army to the Pentagon's failure to make adequate plans for the occupation. But historians will also consider the lack of experience and abundant political connections of the hundreds of American bureaucrats sent to Baghdad to run Iraq through the Coalition Provisional Authority. [complete article]

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Under Bush, expanding secrecy
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 23, 2003

The administration has been unusually successful keeping its policy deliberations out of public view, and millions of government documents -- including many historical records previously available -- have been removed from the public domain.

Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, says it is nothing less than a "mutation in American politics" away from open government. "There is an unwholesome change in the deliberative process unfolding before our eyes," he said. "These are not technicalities. These are fundamental issues of American government that are now up for grabs." [complete article]

Comment -- In an interesting commentary on the weakness of presidential democracy, political scientists, Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington, describe the United States as the only example of a successful presidential democracy. The Bush administration's resistance to expose itself to forms of scrutiny that open government requires, represents perhaps not merely a distortion of constitutional practice, but inherent limitations in the US constitution itself.

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White House faulted on uranium claim
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, December 24, 2003

The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board has concluded that the White House made a questionable claim in January's State of the Union address about Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain nuclear materials because of its desperation to show that Hussein had an active program to develop nuclear weapons, according to a well-placed source familiar with the board's findings. [complete article]

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Pakistani unrest is Taliban boon
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, December 24, 2003

It's easy to see why Baluchistan would become a haven for the Taliban. Along the 500 mile border with Afghanistan, Pashtun tribesmen are dominant and provide easy cover for their Pashtun relatives who make up the majority of the Taliban fighters.

But along with the anonymity of tribal garb, a long tradition of antigovernment sentiment here is aiding the Islamic militia. Since Pakistan's inception, a significant - and at times violent - independence movement has festered in Baluchistan. While these nationalists have been sidelined of late, they have been replaced by a religious coalition that supports the Taliban agenda and denounces the US presence in Central Asia. [complete article]

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Inequity: Is it a sin?
By Jane Lampman, Christian Science Monitor, December 24, 2003

America is changing: The society that has prided itself on being an egalitarian model for the world has become more unequal than "aristocratic" Europe, economists confirm. The rich-poor gap has doubled in 21 years and now is at its widest since 1929. The number of those in poverty rose by 1.7 million between 2001 and 2002. New tax cuts will add to the disparity.

Does this mean something's gone wrong with the American dream? Some people of faith think so. This is more than an economic or social concern, they say. It's a moral and theological issue - one they insist demands attention.
[complete article]

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Hardships leave Bethlehem with no holiday
By Ravi Nessman, Associated Press (via Yahoo), December 23, 2003

There is no Christmas tree in Aida Ghaneim's Bethlehem home this year. No festive lights hang from the ceiling, and the 48-year-old mother of four has no plans to cook her usual feast.

It is not that Ghaneim is abandoning Christmas. On the contrary, she said, "It abandoned us."

A shriveling economy, continuing Israeli restrictions and other hardships caused by three years of Mideast violence have left Christians living in the traditional birthplace of Jesus with little desire to celebrate. [complete article]

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Israeli army kills eight Palestinians in raid on Gaza camp
By Conal Urquhart and Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, December 24, 2003

An Israeli army raid in southern Gaza yesterday left eight Palestinians dead in the worst outbreak of violence in two months.

The raid followed the killing of two Israeli soldiers in Gaza although the army said its operation in Rafah had been planned for days.

The military flare-up came less than 24 hours after a peace mission by the Egyptian foreign minister ended in turmoil when he was attacked by an angry Palestinian crowd and denounced as a traitor during a visit to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. [complete article]

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Reinforcing the demographic fortress

Chinese workers in Israel sign no-sex contract
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, December 24, 2003

Chinese workers at a company in Israel have been forced to agree not to have sex with or marry Israelis as a condition of getting a job.

According to a contact they are required to sign, male workers may not have any contact with Israeli women - including prostitutes, a police spokesman, Rafi Yaffe, said.

He said there was nothing illegal about the requirement and that no investigation had been opened. [complete article]

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Bush has thrown open Pandora's box in a paradise for international terrorists
By David Hirst, The Guardian, December 23, 2003

This was the year the Middle East became the undisputed, tumultuous centre of global politics. When, at dawn on March 20 the US and its British ally went to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, they were intervening in the region on such a scale that Arabs everywhere compared the invasion, in its potential geopolitical significance, to that seminal upheaval of the last century: the collapse of the Ottoman empire. That led to the arbitrary carve-up of its former Arab provinces by the European colonial powers and, in 1948, to the loss of one of them, Palestine, to the Israeli settler-state.

In Arab eyes, it was a final mortal blow to the so-called "Arab system" through which the component parts of the greater Arab "nation" collectively strove to protect the territorial integrity and basic security of the whole. To the disgust and shame of the Arab peoples, it was not merely incapable of preventing the conquest and occupation of what, properly governed, would have been one of the most powerful and prosperous Arab lands, it was largely complicit in it. [complete article]

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For Vietnam vet Anthony Zinni, another war on shaky territory
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, December 23, 2003

Anthony C. Zinni's opposition to U.S. policy on Iraq began on the monsoon-ridden afternoon of Nov. 3, 1970. He was lying on a Vietnamese mountainside west of Da Nang, three rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle in his side and back. He could feel his lifeblood seeping into the ground as he slipped in and out of consciousness.

He had plenty of time to think in the following months while recuperating in a military hospital in Hawaii. Among other things, he promised himself that, "If I'm ever in a position to say what I think is right, I will. . . . I don't care what happens to my career."

That time has arrived.

Over the past year, the retired Marine Corps general has become one of the most prominent opponents of Bush administration policy on Iraq, which he now fears is drifting toward disaster. [complete article]

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Ex-Baathists pay ultimate price
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, December 22, 2003

It's payback time in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf.

Hitmen on motorcycles have been assassinating ex-members of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath party in mafia-style killings that some policemen say they are afraid to investigate.

In the latest attack to rattle anyone who ever worked for the Baath, a teacher walking to school with her two young sons was sprayed with AK-47 rifle fire on Saturday.

"I am the victim of the new Iraq. My son was chanting verses from the Koran on the way to school. Suddenly they shot at us," said Dhamya Abbas from her hospital bed.

"I left the Baath Party five years ago. But they have been threatening me and following me. I was wearing a full veil when they shot me. I want to take my sons and leave Iraq." [complete article]

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In Iraq, snags on transfer of power
By Laura Secor, Boston Globe, December 22, 2003

Last week, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose insistence on popular elections was rejected by the Americans, indicated his willingness to consider the administration's plan to choose delegates by regional caucus, but only if the UN played a role in overseeing the process.

Sistani's challenge led to a flurry of diplomatic activity, culminating in a request on Thursday by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for more clarity on the nature and extent of the role it might be asked to play in the selection process.

State Department spokesman Greg Sullivan told the Globe the administration was open to the idea of greater UN involvement prior to the transition. Still, past negotiations between the UN and the Bush administration suggest that any resolution could be difficult.

And with a grand ayatollah calling for universal suffrage, "the United States is in a strange position, where Sistani is on the side of democracy and the United States is not," said Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which has studied democracy and the rule of law.

Any significant delay in choosing the transitional assembly could have serious consequences for the United States, which could face a choice between transferring sovereignty to the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, whose legitimacy is widely questioned among Iraqis, or delaying transferring sovereignty altogether, which many specialists fear will prolong the insurgency. [complete article]

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Bremer: A will on Iraq, not a way
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 23, 2003

With the political transition in Iraq to begin in three weeks, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer yesterday told the White House that his efforts to broker a compromise on the transfer of power with Iraq's disparate leaders were progressing, but slowly, U.S. officials said.

For weeks, Bremer has negotiated changes with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Bremer yesterday told President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that there is a will to find common ground, but no agreement.

"It hasn't come together yet," a senior U.S. official said. "Discussions are ongoing, and we're trying to come up with an arrangement that meets everyone's needs. But there's nothing to indicate that they've moved much closer." [complete article]

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In a hostile land, trying whatever works
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, December 23, 2003

When American diplomat Keith Mines wanted the bombed-out Baath Party headquarters here torn down, he began with contracting rules issued by the U.S. occupation authority. He posted an official notice soliciting bids. A week later, he accepted several sealed proposals, planning to choose the lowest bid. [complete article]

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It's greed, not ideology, that rules the White House
By Naomi Klein, The Guardian, December 23, 2003

Contrary to predictions, the doors of Old Europe weren't slammed in James Baker's face as he asked forgiveness for Iraq's foreign debt last week. Germany and France appear to have signed on, and Russia is softening.

In the days leading up to Baker's drop-the-debt tour, there was virtual consensus that the former US secretary of state had been sabotaged by deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose move to shut out "non-coalition" partners from reconstruction contracts in Iraq of $18.6bn seemed designed to make Baker look a hypocrite.

Only now it turns out that Wolfowitz may not have been undermining Baker, but rather acting as his enforcer. He showed up with a big stick to point out "the threat of economic exclusion from Iraq's potential $500bn reconstruction" just as Baker was about to speak softly. [complete article]

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What a tangled web the neocons weave
By Jim Lobe,, December 23, 2003

While most of the world is still trying to come to terms with the neo-imperial ambitions of the post-Sept. 11 Bush administration, U.S. political analysts, particularly those on the libertarian right and the left, have been trying to map out the various forces behind the administration's hawks in order to better understand and counteract them.

Most analysts have identified three main components to the coalition behind Bush's aggressive foreign policy: right-wing militarists, of whom Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is the exemplar; neo-conservatives, led by former Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, whose worldview is similar to that of Israel's Likud Party; and Christian Right forces whose leaders are influential with Bush's political guru, Karl Rove. [complete article]

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A democracy that smells like a dictatorship
By Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington, Sydney Morning Herald, December 23, 2003

Political scientists really don't know much. In fact, about the only thing we know for sure is that presidential systems don't work. There is only one example of a successful presidential democracy - the US. Unfortunately, the US happens to be in a unique position to impose or encourage the replication of its political institutions in other nations.

Where the US model has been exported, democracy has failed at its first try. Every time. In Latin America, which was strongly influenced by the American Revolution, presidential systems degenerated into military dictatorships. In our own region, dictatorial presidents took power away from legislatures in South Korea and the Philippines.

The problem is that the essence of American democracy lies not in its presidential executive, but in the separation of powers. It has proved very easy to transplant the former institution but nigh on impossible to develop the latter quickly enough to prevent the president from dominating the other branches of government. American colonies had long developed a tradition of independent courts and legislatures before independence. [complete article]

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One year later: A reporter revisits Kabul refugees
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, December 23, 2003

[Bibi Hanifa, who returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban two years ago] told me she was ashamed of herself: She had brought up her eight children on dreams of returning home, and now they were angry with her for bringing them here. Their only hope, she said, was to scrape together enough money to go back to Pakistan for the winter.

At the time, I told Hanifa that with so much international aid pouring into Kabul, assistance was available - it might just be a matter of tracking it down. I gave her suggestions of places to look for help, and left, thinking it would only be a matter of time before conditions improved.

Now, a year later, I am the one who feels ashamed. Little has changed in Karta i-Seh, a neighborhood of southwest Kabul with so many collapsed buildings that it almost looks as if an earthquake had struck. Hanifa says things are getting worse because assistance is scarce - and Afghanistan is no longer a central focus. [complete article]

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Daily dehumanization
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, December 21, 2003

Bashar Awis was dying in a hospital. Though there was no doubt that he only had a few hours left, none of his relatives were by his bed at Haemek Hospital in Afula.

Awis, a 29-year-old father of two from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, was a prisoner at Megiddo Prison. Circumstances surrounding his death on December 8 remain unclear.

This much is known: Had it not been for one minimally respectful doctor, he would have died alone. After one of the hospital's physicians discretely phoned Physicians for Human Rights, the organization brought Awis' mother and wife to Haemek Hospital. Up to that point, nobody thought to notify the family, as is done in human society.

As it turns out, even in a hospital - a place where human compassion is supposed to be the sole operating norm - a Palestinian is still not on the same footing as other human beings. This process of dehumanizing the Palestinians has spread to every sector of Israeli society. What started in the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service, and spread to other branches of power and to the media (which has, for years, deliberately emphasized the violent side of Palestinian reality) has now permeated every part of Israel's social fabric. That's apparently the only way a state can continue with a conquest and oppression without being overly concerned about what it means to the conquered. [complete article]

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Israel's nuclear programme
BBC News, December 22, 2003

While Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons, few international experts question the Jewish state's presence on the world's list of nuclear powers.
Its nuclear capability is arguably the most secretive weapons of mass destruction programme in the world.

Unlike Iran and North Korea - two countries whose alleged nuclear ambitions have recently come to the fore - Israel has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, designed to prevent the global spread of nuclear weapons.

As a result, it is not subject to inspections and the threat of sanctions by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. [complete article]

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Saudi Arabia, America's ally and enemy
By Michael Scott Doran, International Herald Tribune, December 23, 2003

Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis. Its population is growing faster than its economy, its welfare state is rapidly deteriorating, regional and sectarian resentments are rising, and the disaffected are increasingly turning to radical Islamic activism. Many understand that the Saudi political system must evolve in order to survive, but a profound cultural schizophrenia prevents the elite from agreeing on the specifics of reform.

On the one hand, some Westernizers in the ruling class look to Europe and the United States as models of political development; on the other, a Wahhabi religious establishment holds up its interpretation of Islam's golden age as a guide and considers giving any voice to non-Wahhabis as idolatry.

Saudi Arabia's two most powerful figures have taken opposing sides in this debate: Crown Prince Abdullah tilts toward the liberal reformers, whereas his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister, sides with the clerics. Abdullah cuts a higher profile abroad, but Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow at home. [complete article]

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A flawed terrorist yardstick
By Richard B. Schmitt, Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2003

In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Ali Alubeidy was in the cross hairs of the Justice Department, singled out as a potential terrorist by no less than U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.

In fact, he was guilty -- of paying off a corrupt bureaucrat to get a commercial driver's license, including a permit to transport hazardous materials. His sentence: three years' probation.

But the terrorism case against him never got off the ground. Prosecutors soon realized he was not a terrorist or involved in any terrorist organization, and even said so publicly.

To the Justice Department, however, Alubeidy, and a group of 19 other Middle Eastern men caught up in the driver's license scam, still count. They are included on a list of more than 280 cases that the department cites as evidence that it is winning the war on terrorism. [complete article]

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Observers fault U.S. for pursuing mini-nukes
By Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2003

Research on a new generation of precision atomic weapons by the Bush administration threatens to undermine international efforts to stop the spread of nuclear arms and to tarnish recent successes, according to diplomats and nonproliferation experts.

The criticism focuses on the administration's decision to lay the groundwork for developing low-yield weapons -- known as mini-nukes -- while pursuing President Bush's doctrine of preemptive strikes against rogue states.

The diplomats and independent experts said Washington's strategy weakens support for more stringent controls at a time when the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty faces serious challenges from North Korea and Iran and amid widespread fears of terrorists acquiring atomic weapons. The U.S. strategy, critics say, may cause other countries to pursue nuclear arms. [complete article]

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Citizen Conrad's friends
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, December 23, 2003

Yesterday's eye-opening New York Times story about the inner circle of Conrad Black, the troubled chairman of Hollinger International, described him as a "throwback press baron." Indeed, his style recalls that of William Randolph Hearst. But it's a mistake to think of Lord Black, whatever his personal fate, as a throwback to a bygone era. He probably represents the wave of the future.

These days, everything old is new again. Income is once again concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite, and money rules politics to an extent not seen since the Gilded Age. The Iraq war bears an eerie resemblance to the Spanish-American war. (There was never any evidence linking Spain to the Maine's demise.) And Citizen Kane is back, in the form of an incestuous media-political complex. [complete article]

See also Friendship and business blur in the world of a media baron

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Fear of civil war
By Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, December 22, 2003

These last few days have been truly frightening. The air in Baghdad feels charged in a way that scares me. Everyone can feel the tension and it has been a strain on the nerves. It's not so much what's been going on in the streets- riots, shootings, bombings and raids- but it's the possibility of what may lie ahead. We've been keeping the kids home from school, and my cousin's wife learned that many parents were doing the same- especially the parents who need to drive their kids to school.

We've been avoiding discussing the possibilities of this last week's developments… the rioting and violence. We don't often talk about the possibility of civil war because conferring about it somehow makes it more of a reality. When we do talk about it, it's usually done in hushed tones with an overhanging air of consternation. Is it possible? Will it happen? [complete article]

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New strategy calls for wooing some in Taliban
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, December 21, 2003

U.S. military officials, after two years of narrowly focusing on anti-terrorist combat operations, say they are shifting to a broader strategy that includes trying to woo noncriminal members of the Islamic Taliban movement back into mainstream society and establishing long-term civilian assistance programs in conflict zones.

At the same time, the U.S. military does not appear to be having serious second thoughts about combat tactics after two controversial incidents this month in which a total of 15 children were inadvertently killed during U.S. air assaults on two villages in Paktia and Ghazni provinces. [complete article]

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Uphill pursuit for Afghan warlord
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 203

For three days, US soldiers trekked along goat trails, forded waist-deep rivers, and scrambled up steep, rocky ridges of the Hindu Kush to reach a suspected mountain hideout of the group led by renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

There, near the remote hamlet of Tazagul Kala in Nuristan Province, they came upon devastation left by multiple precision-guided bombs - at least two cottages in rubble and another partially destroyed by a US air strike targeting Mr. Hekmatyar and his radical Hizb-i Islami, or Party of Islam.

The shepherds' dwellings perched on high terraces had been stocked for the winter with bags of corn and wheat, as well as machine-gun ammunition, bombmaking components, and antigovernment propaganda, say 10th Mountain Division soldiers who searched the site Nov. 9.

But who, if anyone, died in the late October strike remains a matter of controversy - with some local Afghans charging that six civilians lost their lives and US officers saying that anyone killed was probably an enemy. What is clear, however, is that Hekmatyar and his close associates evaded the attack. [complete article]

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Inquiry suggests Pakistanis sold nuclear secrets
By William J. Broad, David Rohde and David E. Sanger, New York Times, December 22, 2003

A lengthy investigation of the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, by American and European intelligence agencies and international nuclear inspectors has forced Pakistani officials to question his aides and openly confront evidence that the country was the source of crucial technology to enrich uranium for Iran, North Korea and possibly other nations.

Until the past few weeks, Pakistani officials had denied evidence that the A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories, named for the man considered a national hero, had ever been a source of weapons technology to countries aspiring to acquire fissile material. Now they are backing away from those denials, while insisting that there has been no transfer of nuclear technology since President Pervez Musharraf took power four years ago. [complete article]

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Some doubt Iraq war led Libya to disarm
By Jennifer Loven, Associated Press (via Philadelphia Inquirer), December 22, 2003

The White House portrayed Libya's promise to abandon its plans for weapons of mass destruction as affirmation of President Bush's hard-line strategy on arms proliferation and suggested the Iraq war helped convince Moammar Gadhafi that he should act.

Some experts on arms control, however, pointed to what is known about how and when the agreement came about and said Libya's turnaround offered proof the United States should shift tactics in dealing with North Korea, Syria and other nations. A greater commitment is needed, they said, to the kind of patient but firm diplomacy that worked with Libya.

"The President is trying hard to portray this as a victory for his strategy," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's nonproliferation project. "But when you look at this, it's almost the opposite of the Bush doctrine." [complete article]

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CPA stands for "Coalition Provisional Authority" and "Can't Produce Anything"
By Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, December 22, 2003

The Coalition Provisional Authority in charge of Iraq has failed to institute a smoothly run bureaucracy, resulting in cash shortages and delays in starting reconstruction programs, Pentagon officials say in interviews.

The Baghdad-based authority's lack of cohesion has prompted some soldiers in Iraq to joke that its acronym, CPA, stands for "Can't Produce Anything."

Officials say part of the problem is that the 8-month-old CPA, under control of former ambassador L. Paul Bremer, is both a civilian and military institution. With different cultures, the two professional groups have different ways of operating. Thus, the staff of about 1,000 has yet to gel, said the officials, who asked not to be identified.

One particularly critical assessment is contained in a confidential report now circulating in the Pentagon. It was prepared by an official who recently traveled to Baghdad.

The official's written briefing says in part: "There is no mechanism for top-level decisions to be translated to ... action. Thus, there is a gap between strategy intent and tactical execution. There's no one checking anyone's work. There is no mechanism to ensure top-level decisions are followed through by staff echelons. Thus, there is a lack of internal unity of action. Resources, particularly personnel, are unavailable or poorly matched to needs." [complete article]

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Hussein's fall sends ripples through Mideast
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2003

When President Bush said "good riddance" to Saddam Hussein after the deposed Iraqi dictator's capture, he could have been speaking for Arab leaders and governments.
As many Arab experts note, nobody in the region ever liked the guy.

But at the same time, Arab leaders are responding to the definitive fall of one of the region's longest-lasting leaders in a nuanced manner. And that, experts add, means fallout in the region is likely to unfold slowly - and be carefully camouflaged to obscure any suggestion of being in response to something accomplished by the occupier of an Arab country.

"If leaders from the region have been largely silent on Saddam, it's because they really have no good options in terms of a public position to take," says Mark Palmer, a vice-chairman of Freedom House and a specialist in the mechanics of dictatorships. "If they welcome it, they seem to be encouraging these overthrows. But if they're negative about it, they look like they're siding with [Mr. Hussein]." [complete article]

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Carrot or stick: Which nudged Libya?
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2003

The extraordinary decision by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to verifiably abandon weapons of mass destruction is a triumph for both diplomatic action and tough threats of the use of force.

Friday's news was long in the making. The man who once topped the A-list of sponsors of international terrorism has sought to emerge from diplomatic and economic isolation ever since he was linked to the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. But Colonel Qaddafi's efforts accelerated behind the scenes in March, on the eve of the US-led military effort to oust Saddam Hussein - timing some see as more than coincidence. [complete article]

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The Blair strategy

As someone who is English by birth, I am often asked by Americans to share my insight into the workings of Tony Blair's mind. Unfortunately, my upbringing gives me no advantage. However, as I sift through the news, if there ever was such a thing as a Blair strategy, it is now starting to become clear. Britain will bolster its prestige through diplomatic clout, while American might looms in the background providing the ultimate force of persuasion. The question is, can George Bush hold his attack dogs on a short enough leash to prevent them from undermining diplomatic progress? Cheney's latest intervention in negotiations with North Korea would suggest not.

Iran and Syria are next to feel the heat
By Benedict Brogan and Anton La Guardia, the Telegraph, December 22, 2003

Tony Blair will seek to use the diplomatic breakthrough with Libya to secure similar concessions on weapons of mass destruction from Iran and Syria. Ministers believe that his New Year offensive will restore his fortunes.

Secret "back channel" talks, which have been going on for months with both countries, will be stepped up as London and Washington try to capitalise on the surprise U-turn by Col Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator.

The capture of Saddam Hussein and Libya's announcement on Friday that it would dismantle its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes were being seen in Downing Street as vindication of the Prime Minister's strategy for tackling the threat of WMD. [complete article]

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Administration struggles to find right approach to N. Korea talks
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, December 19, 2003

Vice President Dick Cheney intervened last week to insist on an uncompromising approach to nuclear talks with North Korea, effectively blocking a resumption of negotiations this year, according to a senior administration official.

Efforts are underway to get the diplomacy back on track. But the vice president's move illustrates the difficulty the Bush administration is having in agreeing on what incentives - if any - to offer the reclusive communist state to give up its nuclear weapons programs.

It also underscores the unusually powerful foreign policy role played by Cheney. [complete article]

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Reconciliation may be the only road to peace in 'Greater Israel'
By Tony Karon, Sunday Times (South Africa), December 21, 2003

Israel's leaders don't fear Palestinian suicide bombers nearly as much as they fear the Palestinian population explosion.

Even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now warning that holding on to the West Bank and Gaza will soon make Jews a demographic minority in this "Greater Israel". And that's anathema to Zionists - believers in the principle of a Jewish nation-state - because the Palestinians could simply demand citizenship in the state that rules them.

That would leave Zionists unpalatable choices: maintain the current apartheid scenario in the West Bank and Gaza and accept an endless intifada; drive the Palestinians out of those territories and book a date with a war crimes tribunal; or surrender the idea of an ethnically defined state and live alongside the Palestinians in a single polity - the "South Africa" option. [complete article]

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Violence in Iraq an increasing cycle of retaliation
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, December 21, 2003

Violence against Iraqi civilians worsened in the week following former dictator Saddam Hussein's capture, and many Iraqis and American occupiers are worried about where it's headed.

Although many of those attacked were political and religious leaders or former leaders, it's also unclear who's pulling the triggers or why.

"It is like a civil war between these factions," said Hassan al Ani, a political scientist at Baghdad University. "Iraq now is a case study in transition; to what, we don't know. Maybe to democracy, maybe to chaos." [complete article]

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Winning and losing
By Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker, December 12, 2003

One day late last summer, as the tally of bombings, shootings, and acts of sabotage against the American occupation in Iraq took on the unmistakable profile of a war of guerrilla insurgency, the office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, at the Pentagon, designed and distributed e-mail flyers with a cautionary headline: "How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas." The e-mail invited those involved in the "WOT" -- the war on terrorism -- to a private screening of the Italian Marxist director Gillo Pontecorvo's 1966 masterpiece, "The Battle of Algiers." The movie, which will be rereleased in theatres next month, is surely the most harrowing, and realistic, political epic ever filmed. It depicts the conflict between Algerian nationalist insurgents and French colonial forces in the late nineteen-fifties, or, as the flyer put it: "Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar?"

For all the differences between France's fight to keep Algeria -- a country it had occupied since 1830 -- and America's current dispensation in Iraq, the parallels between the drama of insurgency and counter-insurgency in "The Battle of Algiers" and our present Iraqi predicament are as clear and as depressing as the Pentagon film programmers promised. The ugly truth that Pontecorvo lays vividly bare, as his camera tacks back and forth between the Algerian guerrillas and the French paratroopers, is that terrorism works. For, although the film focusses on a chapter in the Algerian struggle when France succeeded in crushing the rebel movement, the final moments of the movie show how within a few years the French were forced to accept defeat and retreat, an outcome that in retrospect appears historically inevitable. [complete article]

Note -- If you live in New York, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Chicago, Washington DC, or San Francisco, The Battle of Algiers will soon be showing at a movie theater nearby. Details

Comment -- Conventional wisdom on the left has fallen into a rut by treating all the administration's actions as an expression of its imperial ambitions. While dreams of empire no doubt still stir the heart of many a neocon, we should not forget that George Bush is a pragmatic politician. Between now and next November he will do whatever it takes to get re-elected -- including considering what might have the appearance of a graceful withdrawal from Iraq.

The parallels between the Algerian and Iraqi insurgencies are striking, but should not be overstated. By the 1950's, Algeria had been a French colony for over 120 years and Algeria's nationalist movement had been developing for several decades. Thousands of Muslim Algerians had served in the French army and the sizable community of French colonists resident in Algeria had powerful allies in the French Assembly. The two countries histories were by then intertwined in a ways that find few parallels in the current relationship between America and Iraq. Learn more here.

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Elite Israeli troops refuse to serve in the occupied territories
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, December 22, 2003

Thirteen reservists from Israel's elite military commando unit stated Sunday in a letter to the prime minister that they would no longer serve in the occupied territories, joining other influential security officials who have recently criticized Israeli military tactics and treatment of the Palestinians.

"We have long ago crossed the line between fighters fighting a just cause and oppressing another people," three officers and 10 soldiers of the army's most secretive unit, the Sayeret Matkal, said in the letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The letter was made public by the soldiers, who signed with their ranks, first names and the first letter of their last names.

The reservists said they were taking the dramatic step of publicly criticizing their government's policies "out of deep fear for the future of the state of Israel as a democratic, Zionist and Jewish country and out of concern for its moral and ethical image." [complete article]

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If Libya can do it, why not Israel?
By Peter Preston, The Guardian, December 22, 2003

There's a logic to these things. Muammar Gadafy, growing older, and his isolated Libya, growing poorer, were getting nothing worthwhile from the atomic bomb they hadn't built yet or chemicals they had scant residual use for. Logic - and common sense - meant changing tack. Good for logic. But logic doesn't stop there.

What next? If weapons of mass destruction are a menace in unstable regions such as the Middle East, if their availability must be reduced, then logic begins to move us closer to the confrontation we never seek with the nuclear power we - let alone Messrs Bush and Blair - seldom mention: Israel. [complete article]

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Iraq's Sunnis now feeling under siege
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 21, 2003

Of the outbursts of emotion unleashed by Hussein's arrest, the darkest were those that gripped the country's Sunni minority, of which Hussein was a member. As a new Iraq unfolds, with Hussein's arrest the latest milestone, they are on the inside looking out -- a community besieged, leaderless and relentless in its refusal to accept the eight-month U.S. occupation. The Sunnis' reversal of fortune marks a spectacular shift for a group that for most of the country's modern history, and for centuries before that, guided Iraq through colonialism and coups, dictatorship and war.

In interviews across the Sunni triangle, which delivered Hussein much of his support and suffered the most with his fall, many insist they are no longer fighting for the privilege they enjoyed in previous decades, but rather for their community's survival in a country with a Shiite Muslim majority. Once divided and discredited clergy have stepped forward to try to end a crisis of identity, bringing a message of political Islam to a community that once embraced secular Arab nationalism and tribal traditions. [complete article]

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Saddam: Betrayed, drugged and traded
Aljazeera, December 21, 2003

Saddam Hussein was betrayed and handed over to Kurdish forces, who negotiated for political gain before leaving him for the Americans to find, a British newspaper has reported.

The former Iraqi president fell into the hands of fighters from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) after he was betrayed by a man belonging to the al-Jabur tribe, according to reports on Sunday.

The betrayal arose because the man's daughter was once raped by Saddam's son Uday, the Sunday Express tabloid says, quoting an unnamed British military intelligence officer. [complete article]

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'A long slog' led to Libya's decision
By Glenn Frankel, Washington Post, December 21, 2003

In a wood-paneled private room at the exclusive Travelers Club on Pall Mall, four British officials and three Libyan counterparts met Tuesday to put in writing Libya's commitment to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction and end the North African country's isolation from the international community.

It took six hours to close the deal, British officials recalled Saturday. The British team -- two senior Foreign Office diplomats and two officials from the MI6 intelligence agency -- was looking for a clear statement that, contrary to its previous claims, Libya had indeed been pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and was now prepared to go through a verifiable process in destroying those it had. The Libyans, led by intelligence chief Musa Kusa, sought to ensure that the statement would be clear and accurate but not humiliating.

"It was a long slog," one official recalled. But the result was an agreement that officials here hailed as a triumph for diplomacy and a possible precedent for future dealings with states such as Iran and North Korea. [complete article]

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Nuclear program in Iran tied to Pakistan
By Joby Warrick, Washington Post, December 21, 2003

Evidence discovered in a probe of Iran's secret nuclear program points overwhelmingly to Pakistan as the source of crucial technology that put Iran on a fast track toward becoming a nuclear weapons power, according to U.S. and European officials familiar with the investigation.

The serious nature of the discoveries prompted a decision by Pakistan two weeks ago to detain three of its top nuclear scientists for several days of questioning, with U.S. intelligence experts allowed to assist, the officials said. The scientists have not been charged with any crime, and Pakistan continues to insist that it never wittingly provided nuclear assistance to Iran or anyone else. [complete article]

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The 'Bush Doctrine' experiences shining moments
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 21, 2003

It has been a week of sweet vindication for those who promulgated what they call the Bush Doctrine.

Beginning with the capture of Saddam Hussein a week ago and ending Friday with an agreement by Libya's Moammar Gaddafi to surrender his unconventional weapons, one after another international problem has eased.

On Tuesday, the leaders of France and Germany set aside their long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq and agreed to forgive an unspecified amount of that country's debt. On Thursday, Iran signed an agreement allowing surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities after European governments applied intense pressure on the U.S. foe. On Friday, Libya agreed to disarm under the watch of international inspectors, just as administration officials were learning that Syria had seized $23.5 million believed to be for al Qaeda.

To foreign policy hard-liners inside and outside the administration, the gestures by Libya, Iran and Syria, and the softening by France and Germany, all have the same cause: a show of American might. [complete article]

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Best-laid plans of occupiers
By Amy Wilentz, Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2003

... although an occupying nation cannot be entirely faulted for the personal flaws of the local leader it supports, it will be blamed for his sins, and the future of the occupied country will suffer for them. The sad fact is that the U.S. brought Aristide back to Haiti [in 1994] already suspecting that he was not going to be a very reliable partner. The Clinton administration was forced to accept him because there was no one else: He was the Haitians' chosen, legitimate leader.

Even though Aristide turned out to be a personal and political failure, he was popular with Haitians. In Iraq, there is no such figure of general legitimacy. Ahmad Chalabi, favored by some in the administration, is a virtual unknown to most Iraqis, and many of those who know him don't trust him. In addition, it bears saying that an Aristide, a Hamid Karzai or a Chalabi may turn out to be a Duvalier in disguise. It is worth considering whether a real democrat would even accept his imposition by a foreign power. An occupation in the modern age is by nature a series of mad political leaps of faith, in which the occupier seeks to turn the occupied country into something very much unlike its current self; overarching expectation is almost a sine qua non of such international endeavors. How else would a country like the U.S. become embroiled in such risky -- even deadly -- adventures? [complete article]

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I'm an idiot, you moron
By Stephen Bayley, Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2003

Dude, who stole my brain? It's a question that needs answering.

On both sides of the Atlantic, there is a deadening conformity in matters of opinion. In politics, the ritual responses of right and left are wearily predictable. Academic discourse is numbed by dual constraints of peer-group review in truck with the stifling nostrums of correctitude.

In business, governance principles of excruciating probity along with diligence requirements of baffling exactitude gag corporate chieftains, reducing our 21st century hunter-gatherers to bland ciphers treading water in very deep pools of mediocrity. At home with friends, we mumble lazy platitudes. [complete article]

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Keeping secrets
By Christopher H. Schmitt and Edward T. Pound, US News & World Report, December 22, 2003

For the past three years, the Bush administration has quietly but efficiently dropped a shroud of secrecy across many critical operations of the federal government--cloaking its own affairs from scrutiny and removing from the public domain important information on health, safety, and environmental matters. The result has been a reversal of a decades-long trend of openness in government while making increasing amounts of information unavailable to the taxpayers who pay for its collection and analysis. [complete article]

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Sharon threat seen as major problem
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, December 20, 2003

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's threat this week to unilaterally separate Israelis and Palestinians, if negotiations falter, poses a new and significant challenge to U.S. diplomacy in the region, administration officials and analysts said yesterday.

While Sharon professed that he is committed to the U.S.-backed peace plan known as the road map -- which he has disdained for months -- the long-stalled peace initiative could well be buried by the steps he outlined in the speech, analysts said. In fact, Sharon significantly shortened the timetable for action -- "a few months" -- on a plan that is supposed to take effect over three years. [complete article]

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Who really found Saddam?
By David Pratt, Sunday Herald, December 21, 2003

Saddam, of course, was never likely to use the phone, and the best chance of locating him would always be as a result of informers or home-grown Iraqi intelligence. On this and their collaboration with anti-Saddam groups the Americans have also remained reticent.

Enter one Qusrat Rasul Ali, otherwise known as the lion of Kurdistan. A leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Rasul Ali was once tortured by Saddam’s henchmen, but today is chief of a special forces unit dedicated to hunting down former Ba’athist regime leaders.

Rasul Ali’s unit had an impressive track record. It was they who last August, working alone, arrested Iraqi vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan in Mosul, northern Iraq. Barely a month earlier in the al-Falah district of the same town, the PUK is believed to have played a crucial role in the pinpointing and storming of a villa that culminated in the deaths of Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Fight to the death
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, December 20, 2003
Like other guerilla conflicts, Iraq has become a war of attrition. Super self-protection by the Americans makes them a difficult target. So the insurgents turn more on Iraqis who are seen to be helping the US - police and security workers, the judiciary and local political leaders.

Rumsfeld visited Baghdad in 1984 to reassure Iraqis, documents show
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, December 19, 2003
Donald H. Rumsfeld went to Baghdad in March 1984 with instructions to deliver a private message about weapons of mass destruction: that the United States' public criticism of Iraq for using chemical weapons would not derail Washington's attempts to forge a better relationship, according to newly declassified documents.

Dubious link between Atta and Saddam
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, December 17, 2003
A widely publicized Iraqi document that purports to show that September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta visited Baghdad in the summer of 2001 ... is most likely a forgery -- part of a thriving new trade in dubious Iraqi documents that has cropped up in the wake of the collapse of Saddam's regime.

We must honour the dead
By John Sloboda, The Guardian, December 19, 2003
Despite the capture of Saddam Hussein, civilian deaths in Iraq may prove to be the true Achilles heel of the US and Britain's intervention.

Is the search for weapons over?
By Rupert Cornwell, Andrew Grice and Anne Penketh, The Independent, December 19, 2003
After eight months of fruitless search, George Bush has in effect washed his hands of the hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, in whose name the United States and Britain went to war last March.

Women under siege
By Lauren Sandler, The Nation, December 29, 2003
Millions of women have found themselves living under ... de facto house arrest since the coalition forces claimed Baghdad in April.

Secularism gone mad
By Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, December 18, 2003
Chirac's determination to ban Muslim headscarves from schools will cause years of confrontation.

The trial that could shape Iraq
By Peter Ford and Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, December 16, 2003
For the Americans, Saddam Hussein is a prize catch whose arrest could prove a turning point in the war. For the Iraqis, bringing him to justice could prove equally important as a turning point on their route to democracy.

Forcing the issue
By Rami G. Khouri, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2003
The United States and its leaders have rarely practiced colonialism, and those of us who live in the Middle East are beginning to see why: They're just not very good at it.

The capture of Saddam
By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch, December 14, 2003
The capture of Saddam Hussein is the end of era in Iraq but his capture may only expose further how difficult and dangerous it is to govern Iraq.

In Iraq, an ayatollah we shouldn't ignore
By Robin Wright, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2003
A quarter-century ago, the United States misread the power and legitimacy of a Shiite ayatollah -- and ended up "losing" Iran, then one of two pillars of American policy in the Middle East. The impact is felt to this day.

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