The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Bush is ignoring the political lesson of Vietnam
By William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune, January 3, 2003

This year will be the year of all the answers. We will learn whether George W. Bush remains president of the United States. His fate will tell us whether the basic shift in American foreign policy he carried out will last beyond November 2004. We will discover whether the electorate supports pre-emptive and preventive war, mounted when a U.S. administration judges this necessary.

We thus will know whether the Bush administration's National Strategy Statement of September 2002 represented a simple lapse in traditional military policy and ethics, or reflects a lasting rupture in how Americans think about the rest of the world. [complete article]

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Hunt for U.K. terror cell
By Peter Beaumont and Antony Barnett, The Observer, January 4, 2004

Intelligence officials hunting Islamist terrorists suspected of planning attacks on British Airways flights believe they may be carrying legitimate American, UK or other European passports to try to beat airport security.

According to US sources, last week's cancellation of the BA flights to Washington and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia was triggered by fear that terrorists with legitimate 'clean aliases' were planning attacks over the New Year holiday.

The alert comes amid compelling new evidence of determined efforts by jihadist groups to recruit suicide bombers in the UK and Europe both for operations against the American-led coalition in Iraq and against domestic targets.

Intercepts from a Western intelligence agency seen by The Observer reveal that jihadists regard London as a key financing and recruiting centre for their efforts. [complete article]

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U.S. has big plans for embassy in Iraq
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, January 2, 2004

In preparation for ending its occupation of Iraq, the United States is making plans to create the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world in Baghdad, complete with a staff of over 3,000 personnel, according to U.S. officials. [complete article]

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Confusion over armed 'journalists' after U.S. helicopter is shot down
The Scotsman, January 3, 2003

A US military helicopter was shot down west of Baghdad yesterday, killing one soldier and wounding another, an army spokesman said.

Shortly afterwards, US sources claimed that attackers posing as journalists had fired assault weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at paratroopers guarding the burning aircraft.

In Baghdad, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt of the US army said enemy fire was thought to have brought down the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior observation helicopter that crashed near Fallujah.

Troops of the 82nd Airborne Division "are fairly convinced that it was enemy fire", Brig-Gen Kimmitt said.

Soon afterwards, US paratroopers securing the crash site were fired on with assault weapons and grenades by five men "wearing black jackets with 'Press' clearly written in English", he added. [complete article]

Comment -- This article goes on to say that "it was reported later that three bona fide Iraqi journalists working for the Reuters news agency had been fired on by US troops as they filmed a checkpoint close to the site where the helicopter was shot down by guerrillas." Were US military authorities describing genuine evidence that insurgents are disguising themselves as press or this a calculated attempt to intimidate reporters who are hereby being warned that they might be "mistaken" as insurgents? A Reuters camerman has already been killed by troops who claimed they mistook his camera for a grenade launcher.

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U.S. soldiers ransack Sunni mosque
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, January 3, 2004

Surrounded by upturned chairs and an abandoned turban, Sabah Al-Kaisey surveyed his ransacked office yesterday.

The American troops who burst into his mosque on Thursday morning had smashed down the front gate, broken the air conditioners and ripped up the carpets. They had also thrown several Korans on the floor and allegedly punched the man giving the call to prayer in the face.

"They even took our nuts," said Mr Kaisey yesterday, opening the door of the mosque's empty fridge.

The troops who raided the Ibn Taymiyah mosque, used by Baghdad's Sunnis, appear to have been looking for weapons used by Iraq's resistance. They recovered a couple of AK-47s, hand grenades and an anti-aircraft missile, US military officials said. [complete article]

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Assassinations send chill through Iraqi city
By Seb Walker, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 2, 2004

Gunshots ring out in a quiet district of the Iraqi city of Mosul, and with a screech of tyres masked gunmen make their getaway leaving another prominent figure lying dead on the street outside his home.

Witnesses' description of the December 28 killing of Adil al-Hadidi, a lawyer working with coalition forces, mirrored that of Sheikh Talal al-Khaledi, a local tribal head, and Youssef Khoshi, a chief investigative judge, shot dead by unknown assailants. All were killed in the same week.

With no arrests so far, police in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city set in the far north of the country, are tense and frustrated by the phenomenon. [complete article]

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Bush aides face request to free media to give names
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, January 3, 2004

Federal investigators plan to ask White House officials to release journalists from any pledge of confidentiality given during discussions about CIA operative Valerie Plame, a senior administration official said Friday.

The official said that several aides to President Bush whose names have come up in interviews with FBI agents will be asked to sign a one-page form giving permission for journalists to describe any such conversations to investigators, even if the journalists promised not to reveal the source.

Bush has said he wants his aides to cooperate fully, and the official said that will result in tremendous pressure on them to sign a form. But the official said that even some of the investigators on the case do not expect the document to prompt journalists to break their pledges of confidentiality. News organizations routinely resist subpoenas asking for information about confidential sources, and reporters have gone to jail rather than testify. [complete article]

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Israel in no hurry to clear the nuclear fog
By Craig Nelson, Sydney Morning Herald, January 3, 2004

When the "brother leader and guide of the revolution" emerged from his burrow of international isolation last month and declared in essence, "My name is Muammar Gaddafi. I'm the president of Libya. I want to negotiate," Washington struck another name from the list of wannabe members of the doomsday weapons club.

But Gaddafi's announcement that Libya was ready to dismantle its nuclear weapons caused few, if any ripples in Israel, possessor of arguably the most secretive weapons of mass destruction program in the world.

Washington was silent, too, despite increasingly compelling reasons for raising the issue publicly. For the Bush Administration to pressure Israel to declare its weapons of mass destruction and explain the circumstances under which they might be used would, at least, remove a glaring double standard in its often sanctimonious proclamations. And it would reassure moderate Arab neighbours. But such pressure is unlikely. [complete article]

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Extreme peace: enemies go to the ends of the earth to forge future for a land divided by hatred
By Justin Huggler, The Independent, January 3, 2004

Antarctica is a long way to go to prove a point. But yesterday four Israelis and four Palestinians were crossing the treacherous waters of the Drake Passage on small boats to get there.

They are on an expedition that sounds as if it comes from the pages of a Tintin adventure. They are sailing some of the roughest seas in the world to reach their objective. When they arrive in Antarctica, they will walk for two to three days across the ice, roped together for safety, dragging their supplies on snow-sleds. Then they plan to climb a mountain that has never been conquered; it does not even have a name.

Their venture is meant to prove something to their fellow Israelis and Palestinians. As the violence continues in the Middle East and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, talks of unilaterally separating the two peoples, the eight explorers at the other end of the earth want to prove that Israelis and Palestinians can live and work together, and overcome great dangers by depending on each other. They are calling it an "extreme peace mission". [complete article]

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Israel denies Golan plan reports
BBC News, January 2, 2004

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has dismissed as "untrue" reports that Israel planned to expand its Golan Heights settlements.

Mr Olmert said the government had "no such programme" for the Syrian plateau Israel occupied in the 1967 war.

He was referring to earlier comments by Israeli Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz who said Israel would build 900 new homes on the Golan Heights.

Mr Katz's comments immediately drew international condemnation.

In an interview with the BBC's HARDTalk programme, Mr Olmert dismissed Mr Katz's remarks - published by the Yediot Ahronot daily earlier this week - as a personal view of a politician. [complete article]

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Broaden the effort to rid the world of WMD
By Daryl G. Kimball, Baltimore Sun, January 2, 2004

The Libyan and Iranian cases ... make it clear that U.S. policy-makers cannot afford to selectively enforce international laws and standards against WMD and ignore the WMD programs of friends and allies. This is especially true for the three states that are not members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty - Israel, India and Pakistan.

Unfortunately, past and current U.S. and European governments have chosen not to deal with all proliferators with the same vigor. As U.S. Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton boldly said in a Nov. 14 interview with Arms Control Today, "There are unquestionably states that are not within existing treaty regimes that possess weapons of mass destruction legitimately. We're not trying to have a policy that attempts to cover each and every one of those circumstances."

Such an approach is self-defeating. As long as one state continues to possess nuclear weapons, other states will seek to acquire them, and they may get help from other states with nuclear weapons. If Israel maintains its nuclear weapons arsenal, hard-liners in Iran will insist that the government in Tehran maintain the option to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty and transform its nuclear facilities to make nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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Terror alert shut Alaska oil port
BBC News, January 2, 2004

A major oil terminal in Alaska was temporarily shut because of a possible terrorist threat, it has emerged.

The transfer of oil onto tankers at Valdez port, in Prince William Sound, was halted from Tuesday to Thursday.

A US Homeland Security spokesman said it was part of "a continuing effort to ensure the security of our homeland".

The terminal was already subject to restrictions imposed last September, including a prohibition zone of 200 metres around all tankers.

It comes as two flights to the United States were cancelled and others given fighter escorts amid new fears of attacks. [complete article]

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Ethnic division in Iraq
By Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, Washington Post, January 4, 2004

The U.S. government's ethnic policy for Iraq has essentially been to have no policy. The Bush administration's overriding goal is the transfer of power by the end of next June from the U.S.-led coalition to a new Iraqi government selected, in theory, through some kind of democratic process. The administration seems strangely confident that Iraq's ethnic, religious and tribal divisions will dissipate in the face of rapid democratization and market-generated wealth. In President Bush's words, "freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred."

Unfortunately , recent history suggests just the opposite. Rapid democratization has been attempted in many poor, ethnically divided societies in the last two decades, and the results are sobering. Democratic elections in the former Yugoslavia produced landslide victories for the hate-mongering Franjo Tudjman in Croatia and the genocidal Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. In Rwanda in the early 1990s, democratization fomented ethnic extremism, yielding the majority-supported Hutu Power movement and the ensuing ethnic slaughter of Tutsis. In Indonesia in 1998, sudden democratization after the fall of Suharto's 30-year dictatorship produced a wave of anti-Chinese demagoguery and confiscations, leading to the devastating flight of more than $40 billion in Chinese-controlled capital. [complete article]

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Ethnic violence breaks out in Kurdish region
By Peter Spiegel, Financial times, January 2, 2004

A new push by Kurdish leaders for increased autonomy within Iraq has sparked violent protests by Arab and Turkmen residents of Kirkuk, the ethnically divided northern city.

At least two Arab gunmen were killed on Thursday night and two others wounded as protesters clashed with local police. That clash followed the earlier killing of a Kurdish man in an Arab neighbourhood, police said.

Officials suspected several other demonstrators had been killed or wounded in heavy gunfire, but their bodies were dragged away.

Coalition officials who have visited Kurdish-dominated areas in recent days have expressed surprise and concern over the growing number of local Kurdish leaders voicing outspoken support for independence. One suggestion is that the main Kurdish parties may be inflaming passions in an attempt to gain constitutional concessions. [complete article]

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Who's Nader now?
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 2, 2004

In the 2000 election, in a campaign that seemed driven more by vanity than by any realistic political vision, Ralph Nader did all he could to undermine Al Gore -- even though Mr. Gore, however unsatisfying to the Naderites, was clearly a better choice than the current occupant of the White House.

Now the Democratic Party has its own internal spoilers: candidates lagging far behind in the race for the nomination who seem more interested in tearing down Howard Dean than in defeating George Bush.

The truth -- which one hopes voters will remember, whoever gets the nomination -- is that the leading Democratic contenders share a lot of common ground. Their domestic policy proposals are similar, and very different from those of Mr. Bush. [complete article]

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Justice could decide leak was not a crime
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, January 2, 2004

The Justice Department investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity could conclude that administration officials disclosed the woman's name and occupation to the media but still committed no crime because they did not know she was an undercover operative, legal experts said this week. [complete article]

Head of leak probe is called relentless
By David Von Drehle and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, January 1, 2004

If Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the man chosen to investigate the leak of a CIA operative's identity to a prominent Washington journalist, is everything people say he is, there should be a nervous leaker out there today. [complete article]

Comment -- As Michael Kinsley points out in today's Washington Post, "The purpose of protecting the identity of leakers is to encourage future leaks. Leaks to journalists, and fear of leaks, can be an important restraint on misbehavior by powerful institutions and people. This serves the public interest. But there is no public interest in leaks that harm national security, or leaks that violate the law, or leaks intended to harm blameless individuals. There is no reason to want more of these kinds of leaks. So there is no reason to protect the identity of such bad-faith leakers."

This charade of an investigation could be closed today if Robert Novak stopped hiding behind fake principles and decided that he has both the responsibility and the means to save our tax dollars by naming names.

Meanwhile, lost behind this Washingtonian melodrama is a question whose answer might be of far greater significance than who leaked to Novak, namely, who created the forged documents that led to Ambassador Wilson being sent to Niger in the first place?

Seymour Hersh has his stovepipe theory, but at this point that can be treated as little more than a wild piece of conjecture. The Senate committee whose task it is to answer this and many other questions relating to the administration's use or misuse of intelligence, has become bogged down in partisan bickering. Aren't there any journalists out there with the interest, tenacity and guts to get their own answers to these questions or is everyone content to wait for the Justice Department and Congress to release their findings some time in 2005?

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Thinking about Iran
By Thomas R. Pickering and John Newhouse, Washington Post, December 31, 2003

Iran is creating an option to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. But whether it actually does so will depend on how the United States and other governments deal with the issue. Possessing these weapons is not Iran's highest priority even if, since the time of the shah, it has been moving on and off in that direction. But the program does reflect Iran's enduring sense of insecurity.

Iran's larger interest lies in becoming a strategic pivot, a stabilizing force in a region that badly needs one. Most of its western border lies against Iraq, where the problems are painfully obvious. Iran's neighbors to the east -- Pakistan and Afghanistan -- are the most troubled and unstable parts of this most unstable of regions. To the north, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Armenia have their own instability. And Turkey to the west is constantly surrounded by problems. The Gulf Arab states fear the bulk and power of Iran. [complete article]

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Officials worry that rebels in Iraq are shifting their sights
Associated Press (via LA Times), January 2, 2004

The New Year's Eve car bombing of an upscale Baghdad restaurant, which killed eight people, was a sign that opponents of the U.S.-led coalition forces might be shifting to civilian targets, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday.

The so-called hard targets in Baghdad -- coalition complexes and Iraqi police stations -- are increasingly well guarded, pushing insurgents toward soft targets such as the Nabil restaurant, a U.S. military officer with the Army's 1st Armored Division said. He spoke on condition of anonymity. [complete article]

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Inside a group caught between three powers
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, December 31, 2003

Officially, both the US and Iran label the MKO a terrorist group. The US-appointed Iraq Governing Council concurs: Citing the "black history of this terrorist organization" and its years of working closely with Mr. Hussein, it has ordered the expulsion of the MKO from Iraq by the end of this year.

But the MKO's fate is unclear. While the Iraqis want it disbanded, the politically savvy group still has support among some congressmen and Pentagon officials, who see it as a potential tool against Iran, a country which President Bush calls part of an "axis of evil." [complete article]

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The Geneva bubble
By Ilan Pappe, London Review of Books, January 8, 2004

Even though we live in an age of intensive and intrusive media coverage, TV viewers in Israel were lucky to catch a glimpse of the meetings that produced the Geneva Accord. The clip we watched in November showed a group of well- known Israeli writers and peaceniks shouting at a group of not so well-known and rather cowed Palestinians, most of them officials of the Palestinian Authority. Abba Eban once said that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and that, more or less, was what the Israelis were saying now. This was their last chance, the Palestinians were told: the current offer was the best and most generous Israelis have ever made them.

It's a familiar scene. The various memoirs produced by the major players in the Oslo Accord suggest that much the same sort of thing was said there, while leaks from the Camp David summit in 2000 describe similar exchanges between Clinton, Barak and Arafat. In fact, the Israeli tone and attitude have barely changed since British despair led to the Palestine question being transferred to the UN at the end of the Second World War. The UN was a very young and inexperienced organisation in those days, and the people it appointed to find a solution to the conflict were at a loss where to begin or how to proceed. The Jewish Agency gladly filled the vacuum, exploiting Palestinian disarray and passivity to the full. [complete article]

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Half of Israelis back Golan expansion
By Matthew Tostevin, Reuters, January 1, 2004

About half of Israelis back plans to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied Golan Heights that have outraged Syria and fly in the face of U.S. policy, according to a poll.

A three-year government scheme was disclosed on Wednesday that would mean increasing by some 900 families -- or about one third -- the number of settlers on the fertile, grassy highlands seized from Syria during the 1967 Middle East war.

A poll commissioned by state broadcaster Israel Radio showed on Thursday that 53 percent of Israelis supported an expansion of Golan settlements, far more than recent surveys have indicated would keep all the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. [complete article]

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Ethnic morass bogs down Afghan talks on charter
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, January 1, 2004

Afghanistan's constitutional convention was deadlocked for a third day Wednesday as some delegates refused to vote on amendments and their faction leaders argued over a few remaining issues.

Members of the assembly, called the loya jirga, showed rising frustration and anger at the stumbling proceedings, and warned that ethnic divisions were being aggravated to a dangerous level.

The assembly of 502 delegates has divided along ethnic lines in the last few days, with the largest group, the Pashtuns, arrayed against the minorities from the north of the country. [complete article]

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North Korea said to allow U.S. access to nuclear site next week
Associated Press, January 2, 2004

North Korea has agreed to allow a U.S. delegation to visit its main nuclear complex next week, the first such inspection since the isolated communist country expelled United Nations monitors more than a year ago.

The visit appeared to be an effort by North Korea to prove that it has built a nuclear bomb -- or capable of doing so -- and strengthen its negotiating position ahead of planned talks with the United States and four other nations on ending the nuclear standoff.

Pyonyang could also be signaling its willingness to allow more extensive inspections in the future -- if Washington meets its demands for humanitarian aid and a promise not to attack the North. [complete article]

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'The soldiers took him away. We haven't seen him since'
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, January 1, 2004

The Americans are believed to be holding several hundred prominent figures at their military base at Baghdad international airport. Lesser detainees are being kept in Abu Gharib, Saddam's infamous prison west of Baghdad. But few people know for sure.

So far Paul Bremer, the coalition provisional authority administrator, has refused to let anybody visit them, not even lawyers, prompting complaints from families that American justice bears an uncanny resemblance to the kind of justice practised by Saddam.

With some of the detainees in prison for eight months without charge, the airport base is rapidly turning into an Iraqi version of Guantanamo Bay, they say. [complete article]

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Terrorism case thrown into turmoil
By Robert E. Pierre, Washington Post, December 31, 2003

The verdict in the nation's first terrorist trial after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks left both sides claiming victory: two men guilty of terrorism charges and two others cleared of them.

But several recent developments -- including revelations that prosecutors may have withheld key exonerating evidence -- have thrown the case into turmoil. U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen is considering throwing out the convictions and starting over.

Federal prosecutors acknowledged this month that they did not turn over at least two key pieces of evidence that defense lawyers said would have helped their cause. Rosen issued a rare public rebuke of Attorney General John D. Ashcroft for violating his gag order and exhibiting "a distressing lack of care" in his public statements about the case. The two chief prosecutors, unceremoniously removed from the "sleeper cell" case, have entered into a public spat with their bosses. [complete article]

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Israel is concerned about whistleblower
Associated Press, December 30, 2003

Israel is concerned that a whistleblower who spilled Israeli nuclear secrets to a newspaper two decades ago might have more to say after his imminent release from prison, and is looking for ways to silence him, officials said Tuesday.

Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for espionage after giving dozens of pictures and a description of alleged weapons from Israel's top-secret Dimona nuclear reactor to London's Sunday Times in 1986. He is due to be released in April.

Israel's official policy about nuclear weapons is purposely ambiguous: Officials say only that Israel will not be the first to introduce them into the Middle East.

But based on Vanunu's pictures, experts concluded Israel had the world's sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. The CIA estimated more recently that Israel has between 200 and 400 nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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Golan settlements hinder peace
By Claude Salhani, UPI, December 31, 2003

If peace in the Middle East is to be given half a chance, it is imperative that President George W. Bush oppose Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new initiative meant to double the number of Israeli settlements on the Golan Heights within the next three years. That is, if the administration intends to have any friends left in the Middle East, or still cares about trying to win their hearts and minds.

Sharon's year-end surprise pronouncement on the new settlements comes on the heels of his Herzliya speech where he threatened unilateral moves if agreement with the Palestinians on the all-but-dead peace talks failed to inch ahead in the months to come. The move also follows the prime minister's intention to proceed with the building of the highly controversial barrier separating Israel from the West Bank and which cuts across a great swathe of Palestinian lands. The Palestinians call the barrier a wall while Israel says it's a fence.

What is particularly disturbing is that Sharon's decision comes shortly after Syrian President Bashar Assad indicated interest in resuming peace talks with Israel. And although Israeli government officials insist the plan was initiated long before Assad showed his readiness to resume negotiations, there is little room for doubt that the timing is indeed terrible. [complete article]

See also, Amid new peace bids, Israel stays tough.

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Pentagon freezes Iraq funds amid corruption probes
By Stephen J. Glain, Boston Globe, December 30, 2003

The Pentagon has frozen new funds approved for Iraqi reconstruction amid growing allegations of corruption and cronyism associated with the rebuilding process.

Companies eager for a stake in the $18.6 billion in fresh postwar funds that Congress approved in November have been told not to expect requests for proposals from the Defense Department, the first step in the kind of ambitious redevelopment slated for the war-torn country. The freeze will almost certainly mean the United States will not issue new contracts until well after the initial Feb. 1 target date. [complete article]

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Israeli soldier held on shooting of Briton
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 1, 2004

An Israeli soldier has been arrested after admitting that he shot in the head a British peace activist, leaving him in a persistent vegetative state.

The Israeli military announced yesterday that the soldier had been accused over the shooting of 22-year-old Tom Hurndall following an inquiry which was urged on them by the student's family and the Foreign Office.

Mr Hurndall was shot eight months ago in a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip as he tried to help children out of the path of an Israeli tank. [complete article]

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5 killed in blast at Baghdad restaurant
Associated Press, December 31, 2003

A large explosion ripped through a restaurant in central Baghdad on New Year's Eve, killing five people. Witnesses said the blast was caused by a car bomb.

Rescuers were seen pulling people from the building, as sirens wailed and ambulances sped to the area near the former U.S. Embassy. Five people died, said Lt. General Ahmed Kadhem, deputy Iraqi interior minister and Baghdad chief of police. [complete article]

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How disappearance in '84 blighted family in Iraq
By John F. Burns, New York Times, December 31, 2003

A month after American troops occupied Baghdad, the family of Dr. Taki al-Moosawi was gathered at his Baghdad home, watching one of the Arab satellite channels that have become popular since the toppling of Saddam Hussein made it possible for any Iraqi, not just the ruling clique, to have satellite receivers.

And suddenly there it was: Old film clips of executions looted from the archives of the General Security Directorate, the most powerful of Mr. Hussein's secret police agencies. There, too, in the last terrifying moments before he was blown apart by a grenade his executioners had taped onto his chest, was the nephew who had disappeared without trace more than 18 years before, Mehdi Salih al-Moosawi. [complete article]

Comment -- For the proponents of war against Iraq, vindication of the justness of their cause -- even when it is now clear that Saddam posed no imminent threat to America -- comes from stories such as the one recounted above by John F. Burns. The rhetorical assault on those who still question the legitimacy of the war starts, predictably, with the question, "Would you prefer that Saddam was still in power?" And the feeble defense usually follows, "No, but..."

Nevertheless, moral outrage should really only come from those who are unambiguously opposed to brutality. Anyone who is shocked and outraged by videos of an execution by grenade yet regards lethal injection as a civilized method of execution, might pause to reflect on the path of moral relativism that leads from "Thou shall not kill" to legalized killing. Perhaps the outrage stems not so much from the method of execution as much as the knowledge that the victims were innocent. If so, then Saddam's unwillingness to provide his enemies with due process gives all the more reason for us to challenge the right of the US government to circumvent the law in the name of national security. But maybe in the end it comes down to sheer numbers and the brutality of mass murder. Whichever way, we all end up as moral relativists and those who are claiming the moral high ground are better armed by rhetoric than principle.

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U.S. power, not influence, took center stage in world arena this year
By William Douglas, Knight Ridder, December 30, 2003

Inside London's ornate Banqueting House, where England's rulers once presided, President Bush recently summed up his manifesto for ensuring America's security and spreading its influence in a world under siege by terrorism.

He spoke of a proactive foreign policy: one that will confront imminent threats - from other nations or terrorist cells - with or without the help or blessings of allies and one that uses military muscle and diplomacy to spread democracy through the Middle East and around the world.

"We will encourage the strength and effectiveness of international institutions," Bush said. "We will use force when necessary in the defense of freedom. And we will raise up an ideal of democracy in every part of the world. On these three pillars we will build peace and security of all free nations in a time of danger."

As the year closes, Bush's formula has achieved mixed results. He succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein, and some intelligence experts believe that the administration made inroads in the war against terrorism.

But when it comes to exerting influence, the White House struggled to persuade the world to see things its way on issues large and small. Anti-American sentiment is on the rise. [complete article]

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U.N. role in Iraq an open question for all
By Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2003

With six months to go until Iraq is to return to self-rule, Washington is caught in a conundrum with the United Nations.

It wants the U.N.'s help with the political transition, but it does not want to cede control of the process before July.

"We certainly want U.N. assistance and U.N. input," a senior State Department official said last week. "But for us it's the same old mantra: A U.N. role, not U.N. control." [complete article]

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Two dead in Iraq anti-Kurds demo
Aljazeera, December 31, 2003

"Two people were killed and 14 others wounded, two seriously, by peshmerga (Kurdish militia) who fired at the demonstrators," Colonel Salim Talib Tahar said on Wednesday.

"The demonstrators, most of them Arabs and Turkmen, were grouped in front of the government offices to protest against the proposal for federalism when the peshmergas, based in the area, opened fire on the crowd," he added.

Peshmerga guarding the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) headquarters in the city told Aljazeera correspondent the protesters had weapons and they were shooting at them (guards).

However, protesters denied the allegations, saying they did not have any arms. "The peshmerga opened fire at the protesters," they told Aljazeera correspondent.

About 2000 Turkmen and Sunni Arabs demonstrated in the ethnic tinderbox of Kirkuk, protesting at the push by the city's Kurdish majority to incorporate the oil-rich centre into a Kurdish state. [complete article]

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Catching Saddam was the easy part
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, December 31, 2003

The six bullets fired last week in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul killed a Turkmen Iraqi judge. A few days earlier in the Shi'ite city of Najaf, a mortar was discovered with its muzzle pointing at the offices of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the largest Shi'ite organizations represented on the nation's temporary ruling council. The same week, a large bomb exploded near the offices of this organization in Baghdad and killed one of its senior members. An affiliated school was shelled, with one person killed and 10 wounded. A prominent Sunni mosque in the Azmiyye quarter of Baghdad was attacked at the same time, also resulting in damage and several wounded. A few days later, a large bomb exploded next to the Kurdish Interior Ministry offices in the Kurdish city of Irbil, killing three people. In Kirkuk, fighting broke out between Kurdish and Arab students, and between Kurds and Turkmens.

The recent series of events in Iraq suggests a new trend; clashes with ethnic and religious undercurrents. It's not really new. Political killings have punctuated the American occupation almost from the first few days after the war itself was concluded, but now they've been augmented by open political battles. Last week, the senior Sunni leadership gathered to set up a political council to watch out for the interests of their sector, whose leaders fear being sidelined as the opening of the temporary governing council approaches. The Shi'ite religious leadership and the Shi'ite secular leadership represented on the temporary governing council are divided over the question of how the council's members are to be named in preparation for the handing over of the reigns to a transitional legislature in July. The Kurds, for their part, have already launched a political arrangement designed to secure their aspirations with respect to autonomy, if not their nationalist aspirations. All this political maneuvering guarantees that even after the capture of Saddam Hussein, the level of violence in Iraq is not going to decrease. [complete article]

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Everyone casting suspicious eye on Iraq's Hezbollah
By Robert Collier, San Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 2003

For a militant group modeled on its counterparts in Lebanon and Iran, Iraq's version of Hezbollah is strangely mild-mannered.

The homegrown Shiite Muslim organization has emerged in public during the past few months very slowly and cautiously, leaving behind its long years as a clandestine guerrilla army in the southern marshes of Iraq.

Now, it is a fledgling political party in Baghdad and southern Iraq, preaching a mix of radicalism and pragmatic politics.

Since September, the group has had a low-key presence in Baghdad, and is publishing a slick weekly newspaper. [complete article]

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Dean labels Bush 'reckless'
By Ceci Connolly, Washington Post, December 30, 2003

From Iraq to homeland security to public health, President Bush's "reckless" habit of placing "ideology over facts" has resulted in "the most dangerous administration in my lifetime," Democrat Howard Dean charged over the past two days.

In Midwest campaign stops and an interview, the former Vermont governor said developments both abroad and at home give credence to his assertion two weeks ago that the United States is "no safer" with the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Hawks tell Bush how to win war on terror
By David Rennie, The Telegraph (via SMH), December 31, 2003

President George W Bush was sent a public manifesto yesterday by Washington's hawks, demanding regime change in Syria and Iran and a Cuba-style military blockade of North Korea backed by planning for a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear sites.

The manifesto, presented as a "manual for victory" in the war on terror, also calls for Saudi Arabia and France to be treated not as allies but as rivals and possibly enemies.

The manifesto is contained in a new book by Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and "intellectual guru" of the hardline neo-conservative movement, and David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter. They give warning of a faltering of the "will to win" in Washington.

In the battle for the president's ear, the manifesto represents an attempt by hawks to break out of the post-Iraq doldrums and strike back at what they see as a campaign of hostile leaking by their foes in such centres of caution as the State Department or in the military top brass.

Their publication, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, coincided with the latest broadside from the hawks' enemy number one, Colin Powell, the secretary of state. [complete article]

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Palestinian state remains Bush's unfulfilled goal
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 31, 2003

If all had gone as President Bush planned, the Middle East would today witness the birth of the provisional state of Palestine. But in a stark symbol of moribund U.S. diplomacy, today's deadline for the new state will pass largely unnoticed -- with little progress in the ambitious "road map" for peace heralded dramatically at two presidential summits in the Middle East this year. [complete article]

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Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism
By Michael Neumann, Counterpunch, December 30, 2003

Jewish and non-Jewish commentators alike have deplored a recent upsurge in anti-Semitism. In Europe, journalist Andrew Sullivan says, "Not since the 1930s has such blithe hatred of Jews gained this much respectability in world opinion."

Yet, Jews like myself and the Israeli journalist Ran HaCohen feel quite differently. He writes in "It is high time to say it out loud: In the entire course of Jewish history, since the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC, there has never been an era blessed with less anti-Semitism than ours. There has never been a better time for Jews to live in than our own."

Why would a Jew say such a thing? What is anti-Semitism, and how much of a danger is it in the world today? complete article]

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Web lets Palestinian children find world beyond refugee camp
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, December 31, 2003

There are 32 children in the class, all Palestinian, all new experts on the internet. Qassem Sa'ad, a small man with a neat brown moustache, is proud of them and not without reason. Noisy they may be, but enthusiastic they obviously are. And bright.

Where do they all come from, I ask? And the answer, of course, is not Lebanon - even though they were born there. "Safad," says one. "Hitin." "Tabaria." "Shafa'am." "Nimerin." "Sminya," says a little girl wearing a scarf. All are towns that are - or were - in what is present-day Israel.

These children - and dozens of others - are beneficiaries of a project by Save the Children UK, one of the three charities this newspaper is supporting in this year's Christmas Appeal for Forgotten Peoples. Though they live in Ein al-Helweh, Sidon, the biggest and arguably the poorest refugee camp in Lebanon, these children now have their own website, called Eye-to-Eye. When The Independent correspondent admits that he does not use the internet, there are roars of laughter. Palestinians 1, Fisk 0. [complete article]

Get a glimpse of life for children in Palestinian refugee camps, Eye-to-eye

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Israel announces Golan expansion
BBC News, December 31, 2003

Israel has unveiled a $60m plan to build homes for thousands of new settlers on the occupied Golan Heights.

Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz says the population will rise by 50% over three years to strengthen Israel's grip on the land seized from Syria in 1967.

Syria has reacted angrily, saying sovereignty should be resolved by international law, not military power.

Recently, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad has called for renewed talks over return of the Golan.

"The aim is to send an unequivocal message: the Golan is an integral part of Israel," Mr Katz told Israeli public radio. [complete article]

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Israel says settlement population has doubled since '93
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, December 31, 2003

The Israeli Interior Ministry released figures on Tuesday showing that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had increased by 16 percent in the last three years, to 236,381 -- about double the number that existed when Israel signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. [complete article]

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A nuclear headache: What if the radicals oust Musharraf?
By David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, New York Times, December 30, 2003

Two recent assassination attempts against Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, have renewed concern in the Bush administration over both the stability of a critical ally and the security of its nuclear weapons if General Musharraf were killed or removed from office.

Administration officials would not discuss their contingency plans for Pakistan, but several said the White House was revisiting an effort begun just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to help Pakistan improve the security of its nuclear arsenal and to prevent Al Qaeda or extremists within the Pakistani military or intelligence services from gaining access to the country's weapons and fissile material.

"It's what we don't know that worries us," said a senior administration official, "including the critical question of how much fissile material Pakistan now holds -- and where it holds it."

Three years ago, American officials estimated that Pakistan had enough highly enriched uranium to manufacture 40 nuclear weapons, and it is assumed that the figure has grown. [complete article]

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Musharraf and the mullahs
By Zaffar Abbas, BBC News, December 30, 2003

The package of amendments to Pakistan's constitution that have just been approved by parliament legitimise all the actions and deeds of General Pervez Musharraf since he seized power in a military coup four years ago.

It also appears to make him one of the most powerful presidents in the history of Pakistan, a country that, in formal terms, has a parliamentary form of government.

As a military ruler, General Musharraf had already declared himself as president in 2001.

But since then he has remained conscious of the fact that, without the necessary endorsement by parliament, all his decisions would remain questionable.

He has played his cards well.

In the end, the groups that have always pretended to be his biggest critics - the Islamic parties - have bailed him out by providing the constitutional legitimacy that he so badly needed. [complete article]

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Journalists take flak in Iraq
By Laura Rozen, The Nation, January 12, 2004

When US Central Command has good news to report in Iraq, as it did after troops from the Fourth Infantry Division captured Saddam Hussein on December 13, it adores the media. But journalists say that when there's bad news--a helicopter crash, a mortar attack--they are increasingly being blocked from covering the story by US soldiers, who frequently confiscate and destroy their film disks and videotapes.

This happened to Detroit Free Press photographer David Gilkey while covering the crash of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying thirty-six US soldiers, shot down near Fallujah on November 2. His film disk was erased by a soldier from the 82nd Airborne, who then forced Gilkey and other journalists on the scene to a site twenty miles away. "Listen, I have respect for these guys," Gilkey says of the soldiers. "I truly understand that they are upset, and angry, that they've lost friends. The point is, however, you don't have the right to take disks and clean them. When did that become standard operating procedure?" [complete article]

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U.S. warms to prospect of new talks with Iran
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 30, 2003

The United States is open to restoring a dialogue with Iran after "encouraging" moves by the Islamic republic in recent months, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.

Iranian leaders have agreed to allow surprise inspections of the country's nuclear energy program, have made overtures to moderate Arab governments and, in the past week, have accepted direct U.S. help as the country struggles with the effects of a devastating earthquake.

"There are things happening, and therefore we should keep open the possibility of dialogue at an appropriate point in the future," Powell, who is recovering from surgery for prostate cancer, said in an interview. "All of those things taken together show, it seems to me, a new attitude in Iran in dealing with these issues -- not one of total, open generosity. But they realize that the world is watching and the world is prepared to take action." [complete article]

See also, Iran says U.S. quake help will not alter relations

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Ashcroft recuses himself from leak investigation
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, December 30, 2003

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has recused himself from the investigation of the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity as the Justice Department named a special prosecutor to oversee the widening probe, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey said today.

The investigation into the disclosure of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to a columnist will be led by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago, who Comey said will report to him. [complete article]

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Republicans attack Soros plan for £7m campaign against Bush
By David Usborne, The Independent, December 29, 2003

As America steels itself for a year dominated by the presidential election, the incumbent, George Bush, is turning his sights not just on the nine Democratic candidates vying to challenge him. There is a tenth target who will not be in the race, but who means to influence it - with cash.

In a fund-raising e-mail sent to Republican supporters at the weekend, the Bush campaign singled out for attack George Soros, the Hungarian-born financier who plans to use part of his fortune to help those who would turf the President from the White House. [complete article]

Comment -- Republicans are sure to try and tap into the xenophobic sentiments that prevail in many parts of America and if George Bush's supporters regard George Soros' money as suspect, the thinly veiled implication is that anyone born overseas has the potential to undermine American democracy. Accusations that the Dean campaign is accepting foreign funds is clearly a revival of a gambit used in the campaign against Gore. Remember the ruckus following his fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles? This does however provide an opportunity for the Dean campaign to make xenophobia a subject of debate. Millions of Americans have clear enough personal memories of what it means to be a foreigner, struggling to find a place in American society, to understand that xenophobia itself poses a greater threat to the democratic process than any imagined "flood of foreign money."

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How to live without a solution in the Occupied Territories
By Geoffrey Aronson, Daily Star, December 29, 2003

In June 1977, then Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan explained why the presumption that Israel's conflict with the Palestinians could be "solved" was fundamentally flawed. There was no territorial division of the West Bank acceptable to both parties, he argued. "The question," explained Dayan, "is not: 'What is the solution?' but 'How do we live without a solution?'"

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is a loyal heir to this heritage. He too believes that the antagonistic passions and interests driving Israel and the Palestinians can be permanently solved only through the surrender of one of the parties ­ namely the Palestinians. Dayan, the architect of Israeli occupation and settlement policy during the critical years from 1967-1977, championed a system of open bridges, open borders and unhindered movement of people. "Living together forever" was adopted as the best instrument, not to solve but to manage the problem, in order to preserve Israeli hegemony in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. [complete article]

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Bush-hatred: Fearful loathing . . .
By Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post, December 30, 2003

The political story of 2003 was, in some ways, the fashionableness of "hate." It became respectable not simply to disagree with George W. Bush or to dislike him and criticize him -- but to go further and declare your everlasting hate for the man. People bragged about how much they hated Bush. This loathing of Bush from the left does not, as yet, seem any more vicious (and perhaps less so) than the loathing of Bill Clinton from the right. But what is different is the willingness to call it "hatred" and to have the label blessed by much of the press, which has concluded that Bush is different from other modern presidents. [complete article]

Comment -- Howard Dean has very effectively rallied support from the Bush-hating camp. But assuming he wins the Democratic nomination, both he and his supporters will need to start toning down the rhetoric. Passionate opposition to George Bush can be politically empowering, but it is likely to alienate voters who simply feel ambivalent about the Bush administration. A disciplined opposition that is campaigning for a change of government will focus it's critique on Bush's policies rather than the failings of the man.

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Effort to promote U.S. falls short, critics say
By Christopher Marquis, New York Times, December 30, 2003

A senior State Department official, who is active in public diplomacy, says he starts his day pondering the antipathy to the United States.

"Why, in Jordan, do people think Osama bin Laden is a better leader than George Bush?" he asked. "It's not just Arabs who are angry with the United States. It's worldwide."

Nearly two years ago, the Bush administration, hoping to tap the expertise of the private sector, hired Charlotte Beers, a Madison Avenue advertising whiz, as officials built their case for war with Iraq. After producing a feel-good video about Muslims in the United States, which was rejected by some Arab nations -- and even scoffed at by some State Department colleagues -- Ms. Beers retired in March, citing health reasons.

Now, the administration is turning to an old government hand, Margaret D. Tutwiler. She is a former State Department spokeswoman and former ambassador to Morocco, and it falls to her to convey the administration's intentions in the Middle East and elsewhere, and to counter the virulent anti-Americanism that fosters terrorism. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda links seen in attacks on top Saudi security officials
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 30, 2003

Islamic militants in Saudi Arabia with links to Al Qaeda appear to be making a concerted new effort to destabilize the Saudi government by assassinating top security officials, according to senior American officials.

A series of assassination attempts in the last month, including a failed car bombing in the Saudi capital on Monday, have also included a previously undisclosed shooting in early December of Maj. Gen. Abdelaziz al-Huweirini. As the No. 3 official in Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry, he is the kingdom's top counterterrorism official. [complete article]

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A soldier's return, to a dark and moody world
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, December 30, 2003

Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch, a fit, driven, highly capable Army Ranger, left home in February knowing the risks of combat. Two months later, he came home blind.

A growing number of young men and women are returning from Iraq and trying to resume lives that were interrupted by war and then minced by injury. Sergeant Feldbusch, a moody 24-year-old, is one of them, back in a little town in western Pennsylvania, in a little house overlooking trees and snow-blanketed hills he cannot see.

"What happened to my plans to become an officer? Gone," Sergeant Feldbusch said. "Can I ever jump in my truck again and just take off? No. Do I always have to be with my mom or dad now? Yep."

Since the war started, more than 2,300 American soldiers in Iraq have been hurt in combat, many by artillery shells and homemade bombs that spray shrapnel. Bulletproof vests and helmets protect vital organs. But as the insurgency continues, doctors say that severe facial injuries, along with wounds to the arms and legs, are becoming a hallmark of this war. [complete article]

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Army stops many soldiers from quitting
By Lee Hockstader, Washington Post, December 29, 2003

According to their contracts, expectations and desires, all three soldiers should have been civilians by now. But [Staff Sgt. Justin] Fontaine and [Staff Sgt. Peter G.] Costas are currently serving in Iraq, and [Chief Warrant Officer Ronald] Eagle has just been deployed. On their Army paychecks, the expiration date of their military service is now listed sometime after 2030 -- the payroll computer's way of saying, "Who knows?"

The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army's "stop-loss" orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

"It reflects the fact that the military is too small, which nobody wants to admit," said Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, a leading military sociologist.

To the Pentagon, stop-loss orders are a finger in the dike -- a tool to halt the hemorrhage of personnel, and maximize cohesion and experience, for units in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Through a series of stop-loss orders, the Army alone has blocked the possible retirements and departures of more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and reserve members who were eligible to leave the service this year. Hundreds more in the Air Force, Navy and Marines were briefly blocked from retiring or departing the military at some point this year. [complete article]

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Kurds throw up new hurdle to Iraq sovereignty
By Peter Spiegel and David Pilling, Financial Times, December 28, 2003

Kurdish members of Iraq's governing council are insisting the country's transitional law include wide-ranging sovereignty rights for the northern Kurdish areas - including control of their natural resources and veto powers over Iraqi military movements in the region.

The Kurdish demands are throwing up another hurdle to completing the statute by the proposed deadline of February 28 even though they appear highly unlikely to be adopted in full. [complete article]

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Flaws showing in new Iraqi forces
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, December 30, 2003

The interview for aspiring police officers lasts two minutes and goes something like this: Col. Hussein Mehdi, the dean of the training academy, scans the candidate from head to toe for signs that he is shifty. He asks a question to verify his résumé. If the applicant says he studied electrical engineering, for instance, Mehdi inquires about the properties of a light bulb.

Then he gets to the heart of his probe: How do you feel about the "liberation war"?

"We want them to understand that the coalition forces are saviors, not occupiers," said Mehdi, 45. If a candidate has a different opinion, Mehdi said, he will be rejected. [complete article]

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In Sunni bastion, they are ready for a fight
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, December 30, 2003

The boys at the Arabian Gulf Elementary School [in Fallouja] knew what they were supposed to say when a visitor asked about the American soldiers occupying Iraq. With their teachers looking on approvingly, they waved their hands in excitement and jumped to their feet when called upon.

"Since the Americans arrived we have only had problems," declared 12-year-old Mahmoud Ali, a rail-thin child with buckteeth. "We must resist them!"

"We must force them to leave, with bombs, with explosives. They will not listen to words," proclaimed curly-headed Mustafa Saleh, 13.

"I am ready to fight them now!" said Jasem Faisal, 12, and barely as tall as the rifle he seemed eager to have at hand. [complete article]

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A scholarly soldier steps inside the world of Iraq's potent tribes
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 2003

In the battle for Iraqi hearts and minds, Lt. Col. Alan King has two secret weapons: his Palm Pilot and his Koran.

"Sura 2, Aya 62," he recites, quoting the Muslim holy book from memory: "'Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Sabeans are all believers in the book, and therefore their reward is in heaven.'"

Which leads him to another favorite, Sura 29, Aya 46: If you're dealing with a believer, you should work to resolve your conflicts peacefully.

"They're Muslim, I'm Christian," explains Colonel King, a Virginia-born Lutheran with a blond crew cut and a ruddy, boyish face. "So I try to explain to them that we're both believers, and I can go to specific verses in both the Bible and the Koran." [complete article]

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Three FBI agents on trying to prevent another 9/11
By Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, December 29, 2003

One of the country's top counterterrorism officials still remembers vividly the moment he lost it. It wasn't in the first few anxiety-fraught hours after the 9/11 attacks, while he and his colleagues focused incessantly on who was behind the heinous acts and whether more were in the works.

It was when he finally made his way home, almost two days later, as the sun peeped over the horizon. Before falling into bed, he checked his e-mail. What popped up was a short line from a former co-worker that said simply: "IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT." [complete article]

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The terror threat at home, often overlooked
By Kris Axtman, Christian Science Monitor, December 29, 2003

Last month, an east Texas man pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon of mass destruction. Inside the home and storage facilities of William Krar, investigators found a sodium-cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands, more than a hundred explosives, half a million rounds of ammunition, dozens of illegal weapons, and a mound of white-supremacist and antigovernment literature.

"Without question, it ranks at the very top of all domestic terrorist arrests in the past 20 years in terms of the lethality of the arsenal," says Daniel Levitas, author of "The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right."

But outside Tyler, Texas, the case is almost unknown. In the past nine months, there have been two government press releases and a handful of local stories, but no press conference and no coverage in the national newspapers.

Experts say the case highlights the increased cooperation and quicker response by US agencies since Sept. 11. But others say it points up just how political the terror war is. "There is no value for the Bush administration to highlighting domestic terrorism right now," says Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas in Austin. "But there are significant political benefits to highlighting foreign terrorists, especially when trying to whip up support for war." [complete article]

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Pakistan toughens on militants
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, December 29, 2003

The latest in a spate of assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has turned the battle of wits between the general and Islamic extremists into a battle for survival.

The Christmas Day attack occurred less than two weeks after another attempt on Mr. Musharraf's life - and just one day after Musharraf announced that he had cemented a deal with hard-line Islamic opponents that would keep him in power until 2007 if he stepped down as military chief.

The escalation in attacks is likely to harden the government's stance against suspected Islamic extremists - and puts security issues squarely at the center of Musharraf's agenda as Pakistan prepares to host a key South Asian leaders' summit next week. [complete article]

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The price of ignorance
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, December 28, 2003

The suicide bomber at the Geha Junction, Shehad Hanani, was from Beit Furik, one of the most imprisoned villages in the territories that is surrounded by earth roadblocks on all sides. It's a place where women in labor and the sick have to risk walking through fields to get to the hospital in adjacent Nablus. At least one woman in labor, Rula Ashatiya, gave birth at the Beit Furik checkpoint and lost her infant. Few Israelis are capable of imagining what life is like in Beit Furik: the almost universal unemployment, poverty, endless siege and humiliations of life inside a prison. A young man like Hanani, who was 21, had no reason to get up in the morning other than to face another day of joblessness and humiliation.

However, Israelis have little interest in knowing the lay of the land from which terror springs. The Israeli media have next to nothing to say about life in Beit Furik. By the same token, few Israelis heard about the killing of the suicide bomber's relative, Fadi Hanani, 10 days ago in Nablus, just as they hadn't heard about all the killings of Palestinians in the past few months. Life in Beit Furik and the killing in Nablus do not justify a suicide bombing at a bus station, but whoever wants to fight terror must first and foremost improve life in Beit Furik. [complete article]

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Double or quit, Mr President
By Ian Mather, The Scotsman, December 28, 2003

The campaign to re-elect the president starts here. Next year’s global agenda will be dominated by the drive to secure two successes in the war on terror that would almost guarantee the return of George Bush to the White House in November: the capture of Osama bin Laden and a successful withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Despite the discovery of Saddam Hussein, Bush’s administration faces continuing problems over Iraq with the death toll of American troops heading steadily towards the 500 mark.

While the failure to find weapons of mass destruction has proved less of an embarrassment for Bush than for Tony Blair, the US leader’s triumphant declaration of victory on board the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last May now looks increasingly hollow for many Americans.

All the energies of the world’s one true superpower will now be directed towards devising an exit strategy that will allow the troops to start streaming home before the election. [complete article]

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Iraqi council flexes muscles
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2003

Seen by a distrustful public as a tool of the occupying powers, Iraq's Governing Council is coming of age on the job as it tries to define a leadership to take over from the United States and its allies.

But as the 25-member body steers Iraq toward sovereignty, promised in a mere six months, it is acting like a defiant adolescent, challenging the authority and wisdom of those who gave it life. And its bargaining position has been strengthened by the Bush administration's apparent eagerness to declare its mission accomplished before the U.S. presidential election. [complete article]

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Mosul a test case for coalition's effort to win over Sunni strongholds
By Maureen Fan, Knight Ridder, December 28, 2003

Mohammed Adnan Ismail al Dabagh, 25, was polite and close to tears, but his words were edged with menace as he approached the American military colonel in charge of watching over Mosul University.

Adnan, a policeman, had been apolitical until his brother was killed. Now he clutched his brother's photograph and bloodstained plaid shirt as he pointed to the bullet holes in his brother's sweater, which he wore.

"I asked for my brother's rights and for a judge to sentence the American soldier who shot him," he said, moments after meeting the American colonel. "I told him if they will not do this, then I will kill 10 American soldiers." [complete article]

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Halliburton contracts in Iraq: The struggle to manage costs
By Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times, December 29, 2003

The Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in southern Iraq is crucial to keeping the oil flowing from the region's petroleum-rich fields. So when American engineers found the antiquated plant barely operating earlier this year, there was no question that repairing it was important to the rebuilding of Iraq. Setting the price for the repairs was another matter.

In July, the Halliburton Company estimated that the overhaul would cost $75.7 million, according to confidential documents that the company submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers. But in early September, the Bush administration asked Congress for $125 million to do the job -- a 40 percent price increase in just six weeks. [complete article]

See also U.S. decisions on Iraq spending made in private

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By George Packer, The New Yorker, December 29, 2003

"Revenge Is Sour" is the title that George Orwell gave to a short essay on war-crimes trials, written just after the Second World War. "The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream," he argued. "Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also." He cited the story of an old woman reported to have fired five shots into the body of Benito Mussolini, one for each of her dead sons. "I wonder how much satisfaction she got out of those five shots, which, doubtless, she had dreamed years earlier of firing," Orwell wrote. "The condition of her being able to get near enough to Mussolini to shoot at him was that he should be a corpse." [complete article]

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Karbala transformed after suicide attacks
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 28, 2003

So revered is this city among Shiite Muslims around the world that its golden domes and minarets draw millions of pilgrims each year to spiritual reflection.

But a day after four suicide car bombs killed seven coalition soldiers and seven Iraqi policemen and injured more than 100 others, Karbala is a city transformed, joining the ranks of other wounded places in Iraq where security can no longer be taken for granted. Here, in what were once relatively peaceful streets, the rumble of Humvees and the loading of Kalashnikovs are sounds that are becoming as familiar as the calls to prayer.

Iraqi policemen stand watch in 24-hour shifts at government buildings and carry AK-47's when attending the funerals of their colleagues. The Polish military has imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Bulgarian soldiers have set up roadblocks and checkpoints around the city. [complete article]

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Row after row, photos of the fallen turn loss into something personal
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, December 28, 2003

Newspapers have chosen something between the high school yearbook, the database and the graveyard as a motif for memorializing this war. Periodically, because death in Iraq is no longer really news but must be noted in some form, we collect images of the dead and lay them out in orderly lines, thumbnail "faces of the fallen" above the barest epitaphs, noting the name, the age and perhaps the means of their extinguishing. [...]

Military pictures generally show soldiers with their individuality annihilated, while snapshots capture people with their personalities intact. In war soldiers die, which is to be expected; but soldiers are also people, and when people die it is excruciating. No matter how tiny the image, no matter how thoroughly everything else has been cropped out of the shots, it is surprising how consistently people emerge from these pictures. In these galleries of faces, which it would be easier for all of us to think of as just soldiers, individuality asserts itself. [complete article]

See the Washington Post's Faces of the fallen: U.S. fatalities in Iraq (be patient while this page loads).

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U.S. distracted - and the world changed
By Martin Walker, UPI, December 26, 2003

While the Bush administration focused relentlessly on the war in Iraq and its confused and bloody aftermath, the rest of the world has been busy reshaping the geopolitical map that has prevailed since the end of the Cold War. In Europe, Russia, China, India, the Middle East and South America, regional powers have been adjusting to the new realities of American military and strategic dominance, and to potential American weaknesses in the longer term. [...]

America's focus on the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq has shrouded the degree to which other countries are making their own arrangements -- and how far the Bush administration has been forced to adapt in its turn. In his State of the Union address in January, 2002, President Bush defined Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil." But having learned the costs of unilateral American action over Iraq, he has now been persuaded to work multilaterally with less than obedient partners.

The British, French and German foreign ministers crafted a deal this year to bring Iran's nuclear ambitions back within the non-proliferation rules of the International Atomic Energy Authority, and China has become a key player in the North Korean negotiations. Perhaps President Bush has cunningly nudged the Europeans and Chinese into taking their share of responsibility for global crisis management, or perhaps the Bush administration has learned a lesson; it is too soon to tell. Either way, this is no longer the lonely American superpower running the show. [complete article]

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Pakistan: The west's soft centre
By Peter Preston, The Guardian, December 29, 2003

Here is one terrorist threat even Tony Blair doesn't need to vamp up. It is self-evidently real and ominously recurrent. If, one day soon, it claims its target, then the world of Bush and Blair - plus their so-called war against Osama and chums - will be rocked to its core. The peril couldn't be greater, the edifice more ripe for toppling. Yet somehow, when these bombs go off, we shrug and look away. Somehow we don't make the connections.

Consider the chill facts, though. Twice, during the 10 days before Christmas, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, has narrowly survived highly professional assassination attempts. First, the bridge he was travelling over near Islamabad was destroyed by five separate charges only seconds after his car made it to the other side. (An electronic blocking device in his limo bought him the fraction of time that saved his life.)

Then, as if to signal al-Qaida's return to more tested methods, a Rawalpindi suicide attack killed 14 people and injured nearly 50. Musharraf, again, escaped by seconds. How many more lives does this president have left? [complete article]

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Reality of suicide bombings
By Liam Pleven, Newsday, December 28, 2003

Such is the chilling logic of the suicide bomb, borne out in many of the more than 50 attacks worldwide of a bloody 2003, attacks that killed roughly 650 other people and underscored a striking new reality: Terrorism is increasingly defined by people who are willing to die to kill others.

It is a reality that could have huge implications for the United States, not only because American targets have been struck by suicide bombers before, and not only because U.S. troops face the danger daily in Iraq, but because Osama bin Laden has threatened more such attacks on U.S. soil.

By getting closer to their intended targets, suicide bombers have been able to cause great destruction.

Firing a missile or mortar at a building, for instance, may cause serious damage and death, as when a U.S. colonel was killed and 18 people wounded by a barrage of rockets that struck the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad in late October.

But there have been well over a dozen suicide attacks in Iraq over the past year, and the majority of them have killed more people than the hotel bombardment. A suicide bomber who manages to get an explosives-laden vehicle close enough can turn a building into rubble, as demonstrated by the truck bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, which killed the UN's top envoy in Iraq and 20 other victims. [complete article]

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U.S. faces a mountainous task in its pursuit of Bin Laden
By Husain Haqqani, Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2003

With the Al Qaeda terrorist threat in the United States raised to orange, and with Saddam Hussein's capture fresh in mind, the question is: Will Osama bin Laden be next? Here are five reasons why it won't be easy. [complete article]

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Shiites are emerging from fear
By Juan Cole and Shahin Cole, Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2003

Few religious groups in Iraq were as brutally and lethally repressed by Saddam Hussein's regime as the Shiites. Although Shiites constitute about 65% of Iraq's population, the largely Sunni Arab Baath Party had marginalized them politically. The massacres that followed the Shiite rebellion in the spring of 1991 after the Persian Gulf War remain burned in the Shiite's collective memory. It was not surprising, then, that the capture of Hussein had great emotional resonance among Iraq's Shiites.

It will take time before Hussein stops haunting Shiite dreams. But if his absence emboldens the Shiite majority, U.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer III could face new difficulties as he moves toward the selection of a new Iraqi transitional government. For example, Bremer disregarded the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's call for one-person, one-vote elections, but with Hussein in captivity and the fear of reprisal gone, Sistani may not back down. There are other indications that Shiites may more aggressively push their agenda. [complete article]

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Attacks force retreat from wide-ranging plans for Iraq
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, December 28, 2003

The United States has backed away from several of its more ambitious initiatives to transform Iraq's economy, political system and security forces as attacks on U.S. troops have escalated and the timetable for ending the civil occupation has accelerated.

Plans to privatize state-owned businesses -- a key part of a larger Bush administration goal to replace the socialist economy of deposed president Saddam Hussein with a free-market system -- have been dropped over the past few months. So too has a demand that Iraqis write a constitution before a transfer of sovereignty.

With the administration's plans tempered by time and threat, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and his deputies are now focused on forging compromises with Iraqi leaders and combating a persistent insurgency in order to meet a July 1 deadline to transfer sovereignty to a provisional government. [complete article]

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The Iraq dilemma: Do it right or quick?
By Doyle McManus and Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2003

President Bush has proclaimed two highly ambitious goals for the U.S. occupation of Iraq in the next six months: to crush the anti-American insurgency and then, on June 30, to transfer sovereignty to a still-unformed Iraqi government.

To do so, Bush and his right-hand man in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, must make a series of crucial decisions that may determine whether the U.S. invasion is remembered as a triumph or as the overreach of an arrogant superpower.

Underlying almost every choice is a basic dilemma: Is it more important to do Iraq "right" -- to make sure stability and democracy take firm root -- or to do it "quick," before the majority of both Iraqis and American voters decide that the occupation has become too great a burden? [complete article]

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In Iraq, pace of U.S. casualties has accelerated
By Vernon Loeb, Washington Post, December 28, 2003

The number of U.S. service members killed and wounded in Iraq has more than doubled in the past four months compared with the four months preceding them, according to Pentagon statistics.

From Sept. 1 through Friday, 145 service members were killed in action in Iraq, compared with 65 from May 1 to Aug. 30. The two four-month intervals cover counterinsurgency operations, far costlier than major combat operations, which President Bush declared over on May 1.

Increases in those wounded in action have been equally dramatic this fall. Since Sept. 1, 1,209 soldiers have received battlefield wounds, more than twice the 574 wounded in action from May 1 through Aug. 30. [complete article]

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Iraqis intent on revenge turn to killing
By Margaret Coker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 28, 2003

... revenge killings are the fastest-growing crime in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities, according to police working for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. It is a worrying trend, which Iraq's overworked and understaffed police say they can't control due to lack of security and the passion that inspires the killings.

"Mostly they are highly organized operations. They come. They shoot. They don't leave a scrap of evidence," said Maj. Abbas Abed Ali, from Baghdad's Baya district police station. "We don't have much luck finding the killers. Their families sympathize with them, and their victims' families flee." [complete article]

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Saudi arrests 4,000, seizes arms near Yemen border
Reuters (via WP), December 27, 2003

Saudi Arabia has arrested more than 4,000 people and seized large quantities of weapons and drugs in the south of the country, along the border with Yemen, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Saturday.

The agency did not say over what time the arrests and the seizures were made in the Najran province. Both Yemen and Saudi Arabia are combating Islamic militants believed to be linked to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda. [complete article]

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Saudi denies British report it foiled airliner attack
Reuters (via WP), December 28, 2003

Saudi Arabia denied on Sunday a British media report that security forces had seized light planes packed with explosives near Riyadh's King Khalid airport, foiling a suicide plot to blow up a Western airliner.

"A Saudi security official confirmed that the story...was not true," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

"The official said neither the British Foreign Office nor British Airways are able to confirm such information," SPA said.

The Mail on Sunday quoted Patrick Mercer, security policy chief for Britain's opposition Conservative Party, as saying two pilots apparently intended to crash their light planes into a Western jet as it taxied slowly on the tarmac. [complete article]

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U.N. Security Council to weigh WMD ban in Middle East
By Reuters (via Haaretz), December 27, 2003

The United Nations Security Council, at the request of Arab nations, will meet on Monday to discuss a Syrian draft resolution calling for the Middle East to rid itself of all nuclear, biological and chemical arms.

Arab diplomats said they sought the meeting after the council earlier this week issued a statement welcoming Libya's announcement that it was voluntarily abandoning its programs for developing weapons of mass destruction.

But they said the draft was clearly aimed at Israel, widely believed to be the only country in the Middle East to have nuclear weapons, though it has never officially acknowledged possessing them. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The dense web of al Qaeda
By Peter Bergen, Washington Post, December 25, 2003
[Is al Qaeda] 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?

'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.

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.

The Saudi paradox
By Michael Scott Doran, Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2004
Al Qaeda's nightmare scenario is that the Americans and the Iraqi Shi`ites will force Riyadh to enact broad reforms and bring the Saudi Shi`ites into the political community. There is no question that many hard-line Saudi clerics share precisely the same fears.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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