The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
For Saudis, a hard fight over faith
By Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, January 9, 2004

They're not Felix and Oscar, although they are a somewhat odd couple. One is a bit impish. He looks like a young Omar Sharif, and sports a Vandyke beard - like Robert DeNiro, his favorite movie star.

The other looks more scholarly. He wears wire-rimmed glasses, and is extremely serious - his favorite philosopher is Nietzsche.

The two, however, have similar backgrounds and goals. Khalid al-Ghannami and Mansour al-Nogaidan were once subversive sheikhs, religious leaders espousing the same tenets as Osama bin Laden and his acolytes.

But they both embarked on spiritual journeys - separately - and now embrace a more moderate, inclusive view of Islam, and act as the most outspoken public boosters of religious reform in Saudi Arabia.

In fact, they made 180-degree turns from far right to left, and now say they want a broad reformation of Islam, something akin to what they say John Calvin or Martin Luther kicked off in Christianity. That's no small quest in any part of the Muslim world, much less Saudi Arabia. [complete article]

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Palestinians insist on right to declare state
By Mohammed Assadi, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 10, 2004

A top Palestinian decision-making body voiced its right on Saturday to declare a state unilaterally in the West Bank and Gaza after Israel threatened to take stand-alone measures of its own.

The executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) also named Arab East Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and annexed in a move rejected internationally, as the capital of a Palestinian state. [complete article]

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Iraq's sectarian politics pose danger to country's unity
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), January10, 2004

Handpicking Iraq's interim leadership to reflect its ethnic and religious makeup seemed like the right thing to do six months ago. But communal tensions are on the rise, deepening the country's ethnic and religious fault lines and casting doubt on prospects for installing a peacefully elected government next year.

While Iraqis revel in their newfound freedoms to speak, worship, publish and broadcast as they please, their future as a unified state is being tested by rivalries among Sunni Muslims, Shiites and Kurds jockeying for power after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Attacks against Shiite mosques raise sectarian concerns
By Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), January 10, 2004

An apparently coordinated attack against two Shiite mosques in a town where Muslim sects had lived peacefully has raised concerns about religious and ethnic strife as Shiites and Sunnis jockey for power in postwar Iraq.

Five people were killed and dozens wounded when a gas cylinder rigged with an explosive blew up at the Sadiq Mohammed mosque as worshippers streamed out after prayers on Friday, Islam's holy day.

Ninety minutes earlier, police defused a car bomb outside another nearby mosque. That bomb was packed with 330 pounds of TNT and rigged with four artillery shells and would have doubtless caused many more fatalities. [complete article]

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U.S. plan to hunt Hizbullah in Lebanon most likely to fail
By Nicholas Blanford, Daily Star, January 10, 2004

A mooted Pentagon plan to deploy US Special Forces in the Bekaa Valley to hunt Hizbullah targets is bound to backfire, analysts warn, saying it would boost support for the party and encourage global attacks against US interests.

Instead, they say Washington should encourage Israel to take up Syria’s offer of a resumption of negotiations because a peace deal between the two countries is the surest way of neutralizing Hizbullah’s militant activities. [complete article]

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Bush advisers debating what to do about Syria
By Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, January 9, 2004

Senior aides to President Bush are vigorously debating what to do about Syria as evidence mounts that the government in Damascus is stepping up support for the terror group Hezbollah and allowing anti-American insurgents to reach Iraq, according to U.S. officials.

Civilians in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office are pushing for military action against Syria short of an invasion and have drawn up plans for punitive airstrikes and cross-border incursions by U.S. forces, according to three officials.

But Bush's White House advisers, backed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department, are arguing against a new military venture with much of the U.S. military tied down in Iraq and a presidential election year under way.

That view appears to have prevailed, for now.

"We've got all we can handle, and then some, in Iraq, and our military is either stretched to the breaking point or already broken," said one senior administration official. [complete article]

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Former treasury chief exposes 'disengaged' Bush
By David Teather, The Guardian, January 10, 2004

A former senior economic adviser to George Bush has made an astonishing attack on the president, saying that he was so disengaged in cabinet meetings that he "was like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people".

Paul O'Neill, who was Mr Bush's treasury secretary, makes his comments in an interview with the CBS show 60 Minutes.

The programme will be broadcast tomorrow [Sunday, 7pm]. [complete article]

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Arab-Kurd compromise nears
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, January 10, 2004

The formula for a new federal state in Iraq effectively allows both sides to achieve their primary objectives. The Kurds, who have maintained their own state for the past dozen years, would turn over control of foreign policy, national defense and monetary policy to the central government, while they would retain autonomous rule in the northern area, Kurdish officials said yesterday.

But some Arab leaders and U.S. officials are particularly concerned about Kurdish proposals during the talks to address two ongoing flashpoints -- internal security and the status of oil-rich Kirkuk. Both are potentially explosive problems that have long plagued relations among Iraq's rival ethnic groups. [complete article]

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U.S. seeking backing of U.N. chief for Iraq plan
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, January 10, 2004

The United States moved Friday to secure backing from Secretary General Kofi Annan for the American plan to transfer authority to Iraqis this summer, and to persuade him to send United Nations staff members back to Baghdad promptly.

The American ambassador, John D. Negroponte, met Mr. Annan late Friday after consultations in Washington to spell out what role the United Nations could play and what security assurances the American-led alliance could provide.

The United States is eager for the imprimatur a United Nations presence in Iraq would give the allied forces but has resisted Mr. Annan's repeated demands for "clarity" over exactly what its workers would be asked to do and how safe they would be from attacks like those that drove the organization out of Iraq this fall. [complete article]

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Free-market Iraq? Not so fast
By Daphne Eviatar, New York Times, January 10, 2004

"There is no doubt about American intentions for the Iraqi economy. As Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said, "Market systems will be favored, not Stalinist command systems."

And so the American-led coalition has fired off a series of new laws meant to transform the economy. Tariffs were suspended, a new banking code was adopted, a 15 percent cap was placed on all future taxes, and the once heavily guarded doors to foreign investment in Iraq were thrown open.

In a stroke, L. Paul Bremer III, who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority, wiped out longstanding Iraqi laws that restricted foreigners' ability to own property and invest in Iraqi businesses. The rule, known as Order 39, allows foreign investors to own Iraqi companies fully with no requirements for reinvesting profits back into the country, something that had previously been restricted by the Iraqi constitution to citizens of Arab countries.

In addition, the authority announced plans last fall to sell about 150 of the nearly 200 state-owned enterprises in Iraq, ranging from sulfur mining and pharmaceutical companies to the Iraqi national airline.

But the wholesale changes are unexpectedly opening up a murky area of international law, prompting thorny new questions about what occupiers should and should not be permitted to do. While potential investors have applauded the new rules for helping rebuild the Iraqi economy, legal scholars are concerned that the United States may be violating longstanding international laws governing military occupation. [complete article]

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Pentagon labels Hussein a POW, conferring him special rights
By John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2004

Pentagon lawyers have determined that Saddam Hussein is a prisoner of war, a Defense Department spokesman said Friday, entitling the former Iraqi president to refuse interrogation and possibly complicating the Bush administration's plan to let Iraqis prosecute him.

The much-anticipated decision means that Hussein, captured Dec. 13, will be accorded certain rights under the Geneva Convention. The status bars the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq from using coercion during questioning and allows Hussein to wear a military uniform and receive Red Cross visits and care packages, international law experts said.

"This conflict was governed by the Geneva Conventions, and he is clearly an enemy prisoner of war," senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said of Hussein. "He's an enemy prisoner of war until it's determined otherwise.

"Saddam's ultimate disposition is still something to be determined," he said.

To overturn the decision, the Bush administration would have to find a legal argument for the change. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has repeatedly said Hussein's status would be decided by Pentagon lawyers. [complete article]

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Wishful thinking on Korea
By Nicholas D. Kristoff, New York Times, January 10, 2004

The place we should really lose sleep over is North Korea, not Iraq. That's because President Bush is in effect acquiescing as North Korea builds up its nuclear arsenal.

An administration that was panicked about Iraq's virtually nonexistent nuclear programs is blasé as North Korea reprocesses plutonium, enriches uranium and gets set to produce up to 200 atomic weapons by 2010. North Korea balances its budget by counterfeiting American $100 bills, so counting on its scruples not to sell a nuclear warhead to terrorists seems a dangerous bet. [complete article]

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Pakistan jails French journalists
BBC News, January 10, 2004

A court in Pakistan has sentenced two French journalists to six months in prison for violating visa regulations.

The two men, reporter Marc Epstein and photographer Jean Paul Guilloteau, from L'Express magazine were arrested by the Pakistani authorities last month.

The trial judge ruled they had visited the south-western city of Quetta, near the Afghan border, without permission, also fining them US$1,750 each. [...]

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad says such harsh sentences against foreign journalists are rare in Pakistan.

He says security officials there are alleging the two French journalists were trying to portray some local armed tribesmen as Taleban during their stay in Quetta in December, but the allegation was not raised in court.

Soon after their arrest last month, President Pervez Musharraf criticised the two men and their Pakistani fixer for trying to defame the country by falsely presenting the country as a hub of Taleban activities. [complete article]

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Musharraf's spies revere Jinnah not jihadis
By Simon Cameron-Moore, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 8, 2004

Come alone. No names revealed. No tape recorder, no mobile phones and definitely no cameras.

After giving the rules, the Pakistani bureaucrat chuckled as he explained how to find the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate.

"Everyone knows it. It's got high red walls and a black gate that's never open."

Like any secret service, the ISI is allergic to too much light.

Down the years, coups and clandestine wars have been plotted from within its largely windowless inner sanctum on Islamabad's Zero Point roadway.

But in a rare briefing for a foreign journalist, a senior ISI official sought to set right the agency's appalling image as a former friend of friends of al Qaeda, and enemy of democracy. [complete article]

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Foreigners see backlash at Pakistan religious school
By Mike Collett-White, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 7, 2004

Walk across the marble courtyard of the Abu Bakar Islamic University in the teeming port city of Karachi and you will see as many foreign students as Pakistanis.

The looks from young skull-capped, bearded Muslims from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Africa when a Western reporter enters the now infamous madrassah are suspicious and unfriendly, but perhaps that is hardly surprising.

Since 11 students from Malaysia and Indonesia were arrested in September for suspected terror links, the large foreign contingent is feeling under siege and the university is fuming at its growing reputation as a militant breeding ground. [complete article]

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What price a life?
By Jocelyn Hurndall, The Guardian, January 10, 2004

In the pensive hours of the night, I am struck by the varying values that mankind chooses to allot to life - as was my son Tom.

Earlier this month, I read with mixed feelings the news that local Palestinian militia had dynamited an Israeli defence force watchtower in the town of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. It was from this watchtower, which has been responsible for untold misery to many innocent families in Rafah, that Tom was shot in the head last April. At the time he was trying to help Palestinian children to safety. He now lies in a vegetative state in a hospital in London with no hope of recovery.

This week we learned that the Israeli soldier who has been arrested for the shooting is alleged to have smoked cannabis with his battalion. As last year was drawing to a close, a phone call from the British Foreign Office informed me that, under interrogation, this soldier has confessed to shooting my son, knowing he was an unarmed civilian. He claimed that the shot was meant as a "deterrent". From what? From rescuing children? Had he been so conditioned that an act of humanity could only inspire in him such a violent reaction?

I felt no sense of relief then but, for the first time, allowed myself to feel increasing anger. The IDF's inability to differentiate between friend and foe, truth and untruth, and to see themselves as they are seen, is clear to all. [complete article]

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Guantanamo Bay: A global experiment in inhumanity
By Louise Christian, The Guardian, January 10, 2004

It has been estimated that at least 15,000 people are being held without trial under the justification of the "war on terrorism". They include more than 3,000 detained in Iraq after the war, of whom at least 1,000 are still in detention; an estimated further 1,000 to 3,000 detained at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan; and an unknown number being held on the British territory of Diego Garcia.

Bagram is a CIA interrogation centre, practising "stress and duress" or "torture lite". An investigation has reportedly begun there after the deaths of two prisoners in suspicious circumstances. US personnel stationed at Bagram have described the regular practice of sensory deprivation and sleep starvation, as well as incidents of throwing prisoners against walls while hooded.

Ironically, such revelations have surfaced not through any desire to expose human rights abuses, but in order to justify describing such treatment as "torture lite". Meanwhile, three US soldiers were discharged this week for beating and harassing Iraqi prisoners of war, and there are reports that British troops beat eight young Iraqis, one of whom died in custody as a result. [complete article]

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Iraq's Governing Council okays federalism, Kurdish autonomy
Agence France Presse, January 9, 2004

Iraq's interim Governing Council has agreed to a federal structure for the country and to enshrining Kurdish self-rule in three northern provinces in the fundamental law that will precede national elections in late 2005, council member Judge Dara Nuraddin said.

The fate of three more provinces over which the Kurds have claims would be decided in 2005 or 2006, he told AFP.

Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, meanwhile, met four Arab Governing Council members on Iraq's future shape late Thursday and early Friday in the northern town of Salahuddin.

Nuraddin, a Kurdish independent helping draft the country's basic law, said the lawmakers had already decided on basic principles for Kurdish self-rule.

"In the fundamental law, Kurdistan will have the same legal status as it has now," he told AFP, referring to the region that has enjoyed virtual autonomy since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. [complete article]

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Syria and Turkey defy the United States
By Patrick Seale, Gulf News, January 9, 2004

This week's visit to Turkey by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is of considerable geo-strategic significance. It has taken place in close co-ordination with Syria's ally Iran, whose foreign minister Kamal Kharazzi was in Damascus on the eve of the visit. And Turkey's foreign minister Abdallah Gul is expected in Tehran tomorrow.

The three countries are intent on sending a firm message to the US about its policy in Iraq. They are telling Washington that Iraq must remain a unitary state and that they will strongly oppose any attempt to break it up into three mini-states - Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite. Above all, they are warning the US not to encourage the Kurds to seek permanent autonomy, let alone independence.

This is the first time the major states bordering Iraq have publicly united to check what they see as a dangerous American temptation, strongly supported by Israel, to seek to weaken Iraq permanently by re-building it on a federal basis without a strong centre - thereby dealing a blow to the entire Arab system. [complete article]

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Americans need to recognize their place in the world
By Helena Cobban, Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 2004

At the turn of the year, it's good to take stock of issues of vital concern. My big question for the new year: How, during the year ahead, do we hope to see the 4 percent of the world's population who are US citizens interacting with the other 96 percent?

Last March, President Bush took it on himself to start a war for total regime change against Iraq. He made that decision alone - and received military help from only two other nations, Britain and Spain. Previously, Bush had pressed the United Nations hard to launch intrusive inspections of Iraq's weapons programs - and the UN had done just that. But when Bush went to war, he sidelined the UN completely, defying the wishes of nearly all the world's governments - including many of Washington's longtime allies - and of the 5.8 billion people who are their citizens. [complete article]

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'U.S. climate policy bigger threat to world than terrorism'
By Steve Connor, The Independent, January 9, 2004

Tony Blair's chief scientist has launched a withering attack on President George Bush for failing to tackle climate change, which he says is more serious than terrorism.

Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, says in an article today in the journal Science that America, the world's greatest polluter, must take the threat of global warming more seriously.

"In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism," Sir David says.

The Bush administration was wrong to pull out of the Kyoto protocol, the international effort to limit the emission of greenhouse gases, and wrong to imply the protocol could adversely affect the US economy, Sir David says. "As the world's only remaining superpower, the United States is accustomed to leading internationally co-ordinated action. But the US government is failing to take up the challenge of global warming." [complete article]

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Kurds' wariness frustrates U.S. efforts
By Robin Wright and Alan Sipress, Washington Post, January 9, 2004

The United States faces the prospect of two governments inside Iraq -- one for Kurds and one for Arabs -- after so far failing to win a compromise from the Kurds on a formula to distribute political power when the U.S. occupation ends, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

L. Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, twice met with the two main Kurdish leaders over the past week to urge them to back down from their demands to retain autonomy, according to U.S. officials.

But in a new setback for U.S. plans in Iraq, the Kurds have not budged. They insist on holding on to the basic political, economic and security rights they have achieved during a dozen years of being cut off from the rest of Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule.

"They have a strong hand and they're playing it," a senior administration official said. [complete article]

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Kurds' struggle intensifies ethnic conflict in Kirkuk
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, January 9, 2004

As former exiles, Munir al-Makafili and Suhan Said have much in common. Mr. Makafili, an ethnic Turkmen, spent 20 years outside Kirkuk, most of it in Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison for joining an illicit political party.

Ms. Said, an ethnic Kurd, fared little better. Her husband was executed by Saddam Hussein's regime in 1988. She doesn't know why. A month later, police came to her rented home, gave her and her 4-year-old daughter an hour to pack, and trundled them off to a refugee camp in Iraq's Kurd-dominated Northwest.

For 15 years, she lived in a crowded refugee camp with open latrines and frigid winters. Her daughter's survival, Said says, was a miracle.

Now, both Said and Makafili have returned home to try to rebuild their lives.

But since their return to Kirkuk, they've identified new enemies to replace the vanquished Mr. Hussein. For Said, it's the Kurds. For Makafili, it's the Turkmens and the ethnic Arabs who flooded the city in the 1980s under a government program to "Arabize" this oil-producing hub. [complete article]

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Iraqis want Annan to mediate with U.S., ease transition pangs
By Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2004

Iraqi leaders have been urging U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to oversee parts of the country's political transition and even help override U.S. plans for transferring power to Iraqis.

During the last 10 days, an Iraqi Governing Council president and the country's most influential religious leader have asked for U.N. help in negotiating a security agreement to keep U.S. forces in Iraq, and for an alternative plan to the U.S. blueprint for transferring power.

Their requests reflect division within Iraq about the country's next steps and a lack of confidence in the U.S.-led coalition authority.

"They don't trust the U.S., but they don't trust each other," a U.N. diplomat said. "That doesn't bode well." [complete article]

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The shape of a future Iraq: U.S. entangled in disputes
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, January 9, 2004

After insisting for months that Iraqis must determine their future under a kind of passive American supervision, the Bush administration is being forced to take sides in several Iraqi disputes and running into friction with groups long friendly to Washington.

How these new confrontations are resolved will probably determine the staying power and effectiveness of Iraq's future government and, ultimately, even its territorial integrity after the United States transfers sovereignty to Baghdad.

Among the difficulties are the American efforts, so far unsuccessful, to convince a leading Shiite cleric of the legitimacy of the administration's plan to transfer sovereignty to Iraq on June 30, and American wrangling with Islamic groups over the role of Islam in Iraq's laws and constitution.

In addition, the United States has had to dash the hopes of several Iraqi exile leaders who had worked with Washington to plan the Iraq war and now want to stay in power even if they are not selected as part of the government in a future Iraq.

But the biggest dispute, which has become public only in the last few days, is with the Kurds in the north, whose regional state has been democratically run, largely autonomous and protected by the American military since the end of the first Persian Gulf war in 1991. [complete article]

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Iraq mosque blast leaves 5 dead, 37 hurt
By Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 9, 2004

A car rigged with explosives exploded outside a Shiite Muslim mosque as worshippers streamed out of Friday prayers, killing five people and wounding 37, according to medical officials in the central Iraqi town of Baqouba.

Attacks on Shiite and Sunni Muslim mosques have increased in recent weeks, raising tensions between the two communities. An upsurge in sectarian violence could undermine U.S. efforts to put together a democratic government in Iraq, where the Shiite majority was oppressed for decades under Saddam Hussein's mainly Sunni regime. [complete article]

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Powell admits no hard proof in linking Iraq to Al Qaeda
By Christopher Marquis, New York Times, January 9, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell conceded Thursday that despite his assertions to the United Nations last year, he had no "smoking gun" proof of a link between the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and terrorists of Al Qaeda.

"I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection," Mr. Powell said, in response to a question at a news conference. "But I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did."

Mr. Powell's remarks on Thursday were a stark admission that there is no definitive evidence to back up administration statements and insinuations that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda, the acknowledged authors of the Sept. 11 attacks. Although President Bush finally acknowledged in September that there was no known connection between Mr. Hussein and the attacks, the impression of a link in the public mind has become widely accepted -- and something administration officials have done little to discourage. [complete article]

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Survival of the fittest: An interview with Israeli historian, Benny Morris
By Ari Shavit, Haaretz, January 8, 2004

Benny Morris says he was always a Zionist. People were mistaken when they labeled him a post-Zionist, when they thought that his historical study on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem was intended to undercut the Zionist enterprise. Nonsense, Morris says, that's completely unfounded. Some readers simply misread the book. They didn't read it with the same detachment, the same moral neutrality, with which it was written. So they came to the mistaken conclusion that when Morris describes the cruelest deeds that the Zionist movement perpetrated in 1948 he is actually being condemnatory, that when he describes the large-scale expulsion operations he is being denunciatory. They did not conceive that the great documenter of the sins of Zionism in fact identifies with those sins. That he thinks some of them, at least, were unavoidable. [complete article]

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A short history of apartheid
By Azmi Beshara, Al-Ahram, January 8, 2004

Rhetoric about demography so dominates Israel's political discourse that one might be tempted to assume that Israel has abandoned its preferred designation as the Jewish democratic state in favour of the Jewish demographic state. The condition has reached the stage where it might be diagnosed as an advanced case of demographomania. The mania, of course, is rooted in Zionist principles, in the need to maintain a Jewish majority capable of implementing a democracy that will absorb the Diaspora, accommodate pioneer settlement and the assumption of a common history, and that allows for the fetishisation of military service. For without any of the above Israel would have to practice government by the minority, which inevitably leads to apartheid or racial segregation, to government by a national minority that sees the state as the embodiment of its legitimacy. Such practices demand dual sets of legality. [complete article]

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Things to come
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram, January 8, 2004

"The Palestinian dream of achieving an independent state will happen no matter how long it takes," Yasser Arafat promised on 1 January, the 39th anniversary of his Fatah movement. Three days on -- and closer to earth -- the Palestinian leader admitted the dream is not imminent. 2004 "is going to be a difficult year" he told reporters outside his bullet-holed headquarters in Ramallah.

There are some in the leadership who fear it may prove terminal, if not for the dream then for the political "peace of the brave" they and Arafat have long argued is the only means to realise it. They have grounds for pessimism. [complete article]

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19 left dead in failed hunt for master bomber
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 9, 2004

In a three-week occupation of the biggest Palestinian city the Israeli army has killed 19 people, wrecked dozens of buildings and confined tens of thousands to their homes in a futile search for the leader of "the heart of the terror networks". [complete article]

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Sense of mortality gave push to Kashmir talks
By Amy Waldman, New York Times, January 8, 2004

Pakistan's decision to end state support for Islamic militants in Kashmir was reached after eight months of secret negotiations and essentially cemented with the attack on the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on Dec. 25, officials here say.

On Tuesday, India and Pakistan agreed to resume a formal discussion in February on Kashmir, the Himalayan territory they both claim, and on other issues. By pledging to allow no terrorist activity from its territory, Pakistan met a main condition of India's.

Pakistani officials said the surprise agreement to resume peace talks, stalled since July 2001, was the result of public steps to build good will between the people of the two countries, and of private steps to rebuild trust between their leaders. [complete article]

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Palestinians ready to push for one state
By Mark Lavie, Associated Press, January 9, 2004

The Palestinian premier said Thursday that if Israel unilaterally imposed a new boundary with Palestinian areas he would respond by pushing for a single Arab-Jewish state - a move that could spell disaster for Israel.

A single country including Gaza, the West Bank and Israel would mean that the Jewish state would soon have an Arab majority. That would force Israel to choose between giving Palestinians the right to vote and risk losing the country's Jewish character, or becoming a minority-ruled country like apartheid South Africa. [complete article]

Comment -- If push comes to shove, where will America stand? As the champion of pluralistic democracy or as the defender of an undemocratic Jewish state?

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American invasion plan stirs fierce Saudi debate
By Mai Yamani, International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2004

Newly declassified British reports, revealing fears of a U.S. invasion of Saudi Arabia 30 years ago, are striking a remarkable chord inside the kingdom today.

At the very least they appear to have set off a fierce debate over the increasingly fragile rule of the Saudi royal family and its worsening relations with Washington.

Many Saudis, who believe America invaded Iraq to secure access to its oil, say they cannot exclude the possibility that their country will be next. That prospect is drawing widely different responses, which only highlight the huge sectarian, tribal and regional divisions among the Saudi population. [complete article]

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One nation, under secularism
By Susan Jacoby, New York Times, January 8, 2004

In Campaign 2004, secularism has become a dirty word. Democrats, particularly Howard Dean, are being warned that they do not have a chance of winning the presidential election unless they adopt a posture of religious "me-tooism" in an effort to convince voters that their politics are grounded in values just as sacred as those proclaimed by President Bush.

On one level, the impulse to capitalize on the religiosity of Americans can be seen as transparently, and at times comically, opportunistic. Late last year, Ed Kilgore, policy director of the Democratic Leadership Council, earnestly advised his party's candidates to invoke "God's green earth" in supporting stronger environmental laws. Mr. Dean, the candidate stuck with the label (or libel) of being the most secularist Democratic aspirant, seems to be heeding the advice to get religion. He recently informed an Iowa audience that he prays daily, and in New Hampshire last week, he demonstrated his ecumenism by using the Muslim expression "inshallah," which means God willing.

On a deeper level, the notion that elected officials should employ a religious rationale for policy decisions is rooted in the misconception, promulgated by the Christian right, that the American government was founded on divine authority rather than human reason. When I lecture on college campuses, students frequently express surprise at being told that the framers of the Constitution deliberately omitted any mention of God in order to assign supreme governmental power to "We the People." [complete article]

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Missile may have hit U.S. jet over Baghdad
Reuters, January 8, 2004

A big U.S. military cargo jet may have been hit by a missile before it made an emergency safe return to Baghdad airport with 63 passengers and crew on Thursday, a U.S. military official said.

"We have reason to believe that it may have been hit by a missile. But the investigation is continuing," the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters hours after the four-engine Air Force C-5 jet landed at Baghdad International Airport. [complete article]

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Neocon pair outlines a strategy to 'end evil'
By Nathaniel Popper, Forward, January 9, 2004

Two of Washington's most famed neoconservatives -- David Frum and Richard Perle -- have issued a stinging critique of America's fight against terrorism and are urging more aggressive action.

In their new book, "An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror" (Random House), Frum and Perle call for universal biometric fingerprinting, immediate steps to bring about regime change in Iran and Syria, a military blockade of North Korea, a diplomatic approach that treats Saudi Arabia and France as rivals if not "enemies" and a decreasing American involvement in the United Nations. They describe their manifesto as an attempt to present a unifying "conservative point of view."

Often blunt and unyielding, the book succeeds in providing what some political observers describe as the most comprehensive and coherent summary of the core positions held by various neoconservative camps in the wake of the Iraq invasion. [complete article]

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The real battle in The Hague
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, January 8, 2004

Israel will be present at the discussion about the separation fence in the International Court of Justice in The Hague mainly in order to lose honorably. Nobody in Jerusalem has any illusions that Israel can come out ahead in the decision by the 15 learned judges who were asked to express their opinion regarding "the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying power, in the occupied Palestinian territory."

Israel is chronically isolated in international organizations, and always wavers between its desire for recognition and legitimacy, and its tendency to dismiss the "UM-Shmum" [a derogatory reference to the UN by Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion; UM is the Hebrew acronym for UN].

The same holds true in the case of the fence: The prime minister decided to respond to the claims of the Palestinians, and to present a detailed Israeli position to the court, with the help of a team of legal scholars and a very famous British attorney. At the same time, senior officials dismiss the move as "a joke," and say that at most, it will provide another argument for opponents of the fence. [complete article]

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Israel fears isolation, sanctions over fence
By Ori Nir, Forward, January 9, 2004

Bracing for a ruling against its separation fence by the World Court -- which could pave the way for South Africa-style international sanctions -- Israel and its allies here are considering a campaign to discredit the court as a biased organ of the United Nations.

The proposed campaign is highly controversial even among Israel's top strategists, who acknowledge that it could alienate moderates and liberals who view the court with respect. Nonetheless, the move is seen by some senior advisers as an inevitable last step if the court rejects Israel's arguments and rules the fence a violation of international law, something most observers consider all but certain. [complete article]

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Sounding the alarm about Israel's demographic crisis
By Larry Derfner, Forward, January 9, 2004

When Arnon Soffer first issued his warning in the 1980s -- that Arabs would outnumber Jews in Israel and the occupied territories by around 2010 -- he was widely dismissed as a crackpot Jeremiah. Now the Israeli public and its leaders appear to have caught up with him.

Soffer, head of the geography department at the University of Haifa and a longtime lecturer at the Israeli army's Staff and Command College, has influenced Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and hundreds of other Israeli political, military and economic leaders in recent years. In February 2001, on the night of his election as prime minister, Ariel Sharon sent an aide to ask Soffer for a copy of his original 1987 pamphlet about the demographic threats to Israel -- the same study that had led Yasser Arafat to declare in the late 1980s that the "Palestinian womb" was his people's greatest weapon.

The stark timetables of demography that Soffer published last summer in his updated report have become part of the ABCs of Israeli political knowledge, driving public opinion against holding on to the territories. Polls now show giant majorities in favor of withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the interior of the West Bank. Sharon himself, master builder of the settlements, announced a "disengagement plan" last month that includes the likely uprooting of some settlements in thickly populated Palestinian areas.

"I've been saying, 'Folks, the State of Israel is coming to an end,' and suddenly, in the last three years, the scales have fallen from people's eyes," said Soffer during a recent interview in his office. [complete article]

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He won the battles, but lost the wars
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, January 8, 2004

Shortly before the holidays, just before he underwent surgery for prostate cancer, US secretary of state Colin Powell gave a forlorn and illuminating interview to the Washington Post, published only in one brief excerpt. In it he explained that there was no matter of principle over which he would resign and depicted tenure as a long mission of retreat and loss.

Powell's elegiac tone is in striking contrast to the reigning triumphalism of official Washington. Bush's popularity has spiked to one of its high points with Saddam Hussein's capture. His campaign operation is ginning up his national security doctrine of "pre-emptive self-defence" (as a Republican TV ad has put it) to pose against the supposedly soft Democrats. And, meanwhile, Powell presents himself as bereft, tragic and noble. [complete article]

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Pakistan's nuclear metastasis: How widespread is the cancer?
By Mansoor Ijaz, Weekly Standard, January 8, 2004

India's prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, met Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in Islamabad on Monday on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit. The two erstwhile enemies shook hands and then agreed to hold formal talks starting next month. The bilateral effort will be aimed at finally settling a dispute that has long ranked as one of the world's most dangerous nuclear flashpoints--Kashmir.

But the much-anticipated meeting took place at an awkward moment for Pakistan, one that could define its future as a nation in moral, diplomatic, and economic terms more starkly than any other issue. The conduct of the Pakistani state, ruled for over half its existence by military governments, is under a microscope as nuclear watchdogs try to unravel the extent of damage done by Pakistani nuclear scientists assisting rogue regimes from Tripoli to Tehran to Pyongyang in building sophisticated uranium enrichment facilities. [complete article]

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How an Al Qaeda hotbed turned inhospitable
By Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 2004

When Al Qaeda attacked Saudi Arabia on May 12 - and again on Nov. 8 - it brought home a cold, hard truth for the rulers of Riyadh: the house of Al Saud was now its primary target - even more so than the United States.

That realization is triggering a profound stir in the land where Al Qaeda and other militant groups have long drawn ideological and financial succor. After Sept. 11, Saudi Arabia went through a period of denial (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi). But now there is perhaps no more determined partner for the US war on terror than this Middle Eastern kingdom. The royal family is rounding up suspected terrorists, cracking down on Al Qaeda's financial backers and radical clerics, and moving toward significant educational and gender reforms.

How it will turn out is not at all clear. "There are those who believe in controlled change, and those who say we should rip through the changes," says Khaled al-Maeena, editor of Arab News, in Saudi Arabia. "And there are those who say any change should come under the umbrella of Islam. All three are struggling to come to the forefront." [complete article]

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U.S. presses Iraqi Kurds to compromise on issue of autonomy
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, January 8, 2004

The Bush administration, increasingly fearful of Iraq's breaking up along ethnic lines after the American occupation ends, is urging Kurdish leaders to compromise in their demand for a fully autonomous state in the north, administration officials said Wednesday.

The officials said that L. Paul Bremer III, the American administrator in Iraq, met Friday with top Kurdish leaders to convey the concerns of senior members of the administration that a Kurdish state with all its current powers, plus some authority that it does not have now, posed a threat to the future unity of Iraq.

American officials said the Kurdish reaction was not conveyed back to Washington by Mr. Bremer.

But a Kurdish representative said the Kurdish leaders were adamant in rejecting Mr. Bremer's request. Kurds, the spokesman said, will continue to demand nothing less than the autonomy that the Kurdish area has had since 1991, when the United States decided to protect it as a breakaway part of Iraq. [complete article]

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Helicopter crash kills eight in Fallujah
By Alan Sipress and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, January 8, 2004

U.S. military authorities reported Thursday that eight people -- including four crew members and four passengers -- died when a helicopter went down west of Baghdad in the town of Fallujah. [complete article]

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Sunnis feel chill in new Iraq
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 2004

Like every other Iraqi community, Sunnis trod a path of tears and loss during 35 years of Baathist rule. Their fortune was relative. Their conscripted sons died alongside Shiites and Kurds in the devastating war with Iran; they lost jobs when co-workers reported them for private criticism of the regime; and their standards of living plunged with other Iraqis' under the double blow of war and sanctions that Hussein brought upon his nation.

Hussein's strategy for maintaining power pitted various Sunni Arab tribes against each other as much as it divided Sunnis and Shiites. As a consequence, the Sunnis are fractured by competing factions and ideologies that has left them without a unified voice in a new Iraq.

The one thing they all seem to share is an overarching feeling of being swept aside by forces beyond their control. [complete article]

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U.S. withdraws a team of weapons hunters from Iraq
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, January 8, 2004

The Bush administration has quietly withdrawn from Iraq a 400-member military team whose job was to scour the country for military equipment, according to senior government officials.

The step was described by some military officials as a sign that the administration might have lowered its sights and no longer expected to uncover the caches of chemical and biological weapons that the White House cited as a principal reason for going to war last March.

A separate military team that specializes in disposing of chemical and biological weapons remains part of the 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group, which has been searching Iraq for more that seven months at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. But that team is "still waiting for something to dispose of," said a survey group member. [complete article]

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Report criticizes U.S. on Iraq
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, January 8, 2004

The United States should bring U.N. inspectors into the probe of Iraq's weapons programs to accurately understand how effective the United Nations was in using inspections, sanctions and monitoring to constrain Saddam Hussein, concludes a new study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The report, to be released today, also criticizes the Bush administration's public assessments of the danger posed by Hussein's Iraq in the months leading to the war. It describes as "questionable" and "unexamined" the threat cited by administration officials that Iraq or another rogue state would turn over chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to terrorists. [complete article]

Download the complete 111-page report, WMD in Iraq - Evidence and Implications (PDF format).

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Iraqis are bitter over U.S.-held prisoners
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2004

Visitors hold scraps of paper bearing identification numbers as they pass coils of razor wire and walk across a muddy field toward the prison, where sons, husbands, cousins and other suspected insurgents have been held for months by U.S. forces.

Fathers fidget with prayer beads and curse the soldiers who snatched their boys. Mothers pull their abayas tight against the wind, checking lists of names posted on plywood. Imams come with Korans. Those who can afford to, bring lawyers. Brothers carry food and plastic bags of clothing and wait amid the roar of Humvees.

Iraqis resent many things about the U.S. occupation, but the detention of roughly 13,000 prisoners -- most of whom have not been formally charged -- has triggered intense disgust. The U.S. contends that the detainees have links to the Saddam Hussein loyalists and insurgents attacking coalition forces. Families say many prisoners are innocent and were unjustly handcuffed, blindfolded and led from their villages in humiliation. [complete article]

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Iraq militias said threat to civil order
By Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press (via WP), January 8, 2004

When the gasoline supplies ran low here, tempers got short and the lines at filling stations grew long. Angry motorists brawled with police until a private militia run by a Shiite religious leader restored order.

U.S. officials consider such militias a threat to long-term public order and would prefer to see them absorbed into the national security organizations being formed by the American-led coalition.

However, the militias, some of them run by ethnic and religious groups that the Americans are cultivating, have stepped in to fill a void created by the collapse of Saddam's regime and the difficulties faced by the U.S. military in maintaining order nationwide. [complete article]

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In an oil-rich land, power shortages defy solution
By Neela Banerjee, New York Times, January 8, 2004

Nine months after the American-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, frequent breakdowns in supplies of fuel and electricity, especially in Baghdad, are defying attempts by both Iraqis and foreign occupiers to stitch together something resembling normalcy here.

Increased fuel smuggling -- a phenomenon that stretches back at least a quarter century -- has now added to the already familiar litany of problems including sabotage by insurgents and an infrastructure weakened by decades of war and sanctions. Three influential Shiite ayatollahs recently went so far as to issue fatwas, or religious decrees, prohibiting followers from smuggling and oil profiteering.

In addition, the American bureaucracy for awarding contracts and releasing funds, pilloried by Congress for giving away money too easily, nevertheless moves too slowly to satisfy Iraqis, whose impatience is fertile ground for more acts of rebellion. [complete article]

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For many Iraqis, U.S.-backed TV echoes the voice of its sponsor
By Alan Sipress, Washington Post, January 8, 2004

Nine months after U.S. forces closed Iraq's state-run television stations and subsequently launched the new channel with promises of a democratic dawn for the country's news media, the Pentagon-sponsored station has not won the trust of many Iraqis. By seeking to cast the U.S. occupation in the most favorable light, al-Iraqiya may actually be losing the war for viewers' hearts and minds.

"Al-Iraqiya is failing," said Jaafar Saddiq, assistant dean at Baghdad's College of Media. "It's technically backward. Its message is not convincing. It can't compete with other stations."

Executives and journalists at al-Iraqiya say there are few taboos in their coverage and that they are free to address the everyday concerns of Iraqis. But many Iraqis say that those assertions have no more credibility than al-Iraqiya's nightly newscasts, which fuel the widespread conviction that al-Iraqiya is the mouthpiece for the U.S.-led military alliance and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi leadership. [complete article]

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An unnatural disaster
By Paul Brown, The Guardian, January 8, 2004

Climate change over the next 50 years is expected to drive a quarter of land animals and plants into extinction, according to the first comprehensive study into the effect of higher temperatures on the natural world.

The sheer scale of the disaster facing the planet shocked those involved in the research. They estimate that more than 1 million species will be lost by 2050.

The results are described as "terrifying" by Chris Thomas, professor of conservation biology at Leeds University, who is lead author of the research from four continents published today in the magazine Nature.

Much of that loss - more than one in 10 of all plants and animals - is already irreversible because of the extra global warming gases already discharged into the atmosphere. But the scientists say that action to curb greenhouse gases now could save many more from the same fate. [complete article]

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U.S. set to back state control of Iraqi oil
By David Teather, The Guardian, January 8, 2004

Officials are likely to recommend the creation of a state-run company to own and manage the Iraqi oil industry, shutting out foreign investment and countering, in part, allegations that the US-led invasion of the country was merely an oil grab.

But as one door closed on foreign investment another opened yesterday when the Pentagon invited bids for contracts worth $5bn (£2.75bn) to rebuild Iraq, the first in a string of deals funded by $18.6bn allocated for the reconstruction effort.

Both American and Iraqi oil officials are proposing a state-owned business model based on similar arrangements in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

This approach differs markedly from America's desire to liberalise other parts of the Iraqi economy, where policy makers are investigating wide-scale privatisation of state-owned enterprises. [complete article]

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The domination effect
By David Miller, The Guardian, January 8, 2004

"Information dominance" came of age during the conflict in Iraq. It is a little discussed but highly significant part of the US government strategy of "full spectrum dominance", integrating propaganda and news media into the military command structure more fundamentally than ever before.

In the past, propaganda involved managing the media. Information dominance, by contrast, sees little distinction between command and control systems, propaganda and journalism. They are all types of "weaponized information" to be deployed. As strategic expert Colonel Kenneth Allard noted, the 2003 attack on Iraq "will be remembered as a conflict in which information fully took its place as a weapon of war". [complete article]

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I.M.F. says rise in U.S. debts is threat to world's economy
By Elizabeth Becker and Edmund L. Andrews, New York Times, January 8, 2004

With its rising budget deficit and ballooning trade imbalance, the United States is running up a foreign debt of such record-breaking proportions that it threatens the financial stability of the global economy, according to a report released Wednesday by the International Monetary Fund.

Prepared by a team of I.M.F. economists, the report sounded a loud alarm about the shaky fiscal foundation of the United States, questioning the wisdom of the Bush administration's tax cuts and warning that large budget deficits pose "significant risks" not just for the United States but for the rest of the world. [complete article]

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U.S. pressed to revive Mideast peace process
By Robin Wright and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, January 7, 2004

With the Palestinian Authority on the verge of collapse, the United States is coming under growing pressure to revive the deadlocked Middle East peace process -- or face the prospect that its partners will begin looking for alternatives, according to European and U.N. diplomats.

The United Nations, the European Union and Russia, the other three parties in the diplomatic quartet that sponsors the "road map" for peace launched by President Bush in June, now fear that 2004 will be a lost year in the peace process because of the U.S. presidential election, the officials said.

Charging that the road map is "completely paralyzed" and the quartet held "hostage" by a moribund process, a senior European diplomat said yesterday that frustrated U.S. allies are interested in looking at other options, including the unofficial Geneva accord outlined by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. [complete article]

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It's because they fear us, say teenage refuseniks jailed by Israeli army
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 7, 2004

Haggai Matar never expected that his sentence would be so harsh. But as the teenage refusenik reports to a military prison today, he says he will draw comfort from the judges' description of him as a threat to the survival of Israel.

Mr Matar is one of five young men starting one-year sentences at No 6 military prison near Haifa.

They all refused to serve because they object to the occupation.

"I take it as a compliment that they are so afraid of our ability to persuade others that they called us dangerous and have to lock us up," said Mr Matar, 19.

Until now, objectors have generally been allowed to walk free, or have received administrative sentences of a few weeks in jail, to save the military public embarrassment. [complete article]

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Iraqi cleric criticises U.S. handover plans
By Raju Gopalakrishnan, Reuters, January 7, 2004

Iraq's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric says U.S. plans for a handover of power to Iraqis were unfair, with Washington announcing a carrot-and-stick peace drive that involves freeing hundreds of prisoners.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in a statement on Wednesday that a transitional government in June and elections next year would not "ensure in any way the fair representation of the Iraqi people". [complete article]

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Iraq's arsenal was only on paper
By Barton Gellman, Washington Post (via Yahoo), January 7, 2004

... investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war: that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones. In public statements and unauthorized interviews, investigators said they have discovered no work on former germ-warfare agents such as anthrax bacteria, and no work on a new designer pathogen -- combining pox virus and snake venom -- that led U.S. scientists on a highly classified hunt for several months. The investigators assess that Iraq did not, as charged in London and Washington, resume production of its most lethal nerve agent, VX, or learn to make it last longer in storage. And they have found the former nuclear weapons program, described as a "grave and gathering danger" by President Bush and a "mortal threat" by Vice President Cheney, in much the same shattered state left by U.N. inspectors in the 1990s.

A review of available evidence, including some not known to coalition investigators and some they have not made public, portrays a nonconventional arms establishment that was far less capable than U.S. analysts judged before the war. Leading figures in Iraqi science and industry, supported by observations on the ground, described factories and institutes that were thoroughly beaten down by 12 years of conflict, arms embargo and strangling economic sanctions. The remnants of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile infrastructures were riven by internal strife, bled by schemes for personal gain and handicapped by deceit up and down lines of command. The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. [complete article]

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The battle for Iran's future
By Bagher Asadi, New York Times, January 7, 2004

Looking back on three decades of international news coverage of Iran gives me a squeamish feeling. For a host of reasons -- historical-civilizational significance, geostrategic position, pre-eminence in the Persian Gulf and, not least, the still unfolding dynamism of the 1979 revolution -- Iran has consistently been at the center of international attention. So much so, in fact, that a decade ago the American scholar Graham Fuller called his book on Iran "The Center of Universe."

There have been many times when I felt elated to see my country and its affairs viewed with keen interest everywhere -- including in 1979, when the Iranian people brought down the monarchy, and in 1997, when they enthusiastically elected President Mohammad Khatami as a symbol and beacon of much-needed reform.

Then there have been occasions for a different type of feeling. Last month's earthquake was one such event. Another, of course, is the nuclear imbroglio.

The nuclear issue -- which is neither my cup of tea nor a matter of daily bread and butter for ordinary Iranians -- has for months now received the lion's share of outside attention, diverting attention from the burning issues my country has been grappling with. Far and away the most important is the coming elections for the seventh session of the Majlis, Iran's 290-seat Parliament. What is practically at stake in this vote, set for Feb. 20, is nothing less than the future of Iran's governance structure. [complete article]

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When doing the right thing leads to arrest
By Sara B. Miller, Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 2004

Danny Sigui saw a murder unfold. He called 911 and testified as the key witness during the trial. In the process, he unwittingly alerted officials to his immigration status, and days later was arrested and jailed.

"For doing a good thing, this is what I get," says Mr. Sigui, who came to the US illegally in 1989 from Guatemala. He was deported back there in late October.

The episode has turned a spotlight on the tension between local officials and federal immigration authorities when it comes to deciding how best to keep the public safe. [complete article]

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The God gulf
By Nicholas D. Kristoff, New York Times, January 7, 2004

Religion may preach peace and tolerance, yet it's hard to think of anything that -- because of human malpractice -- has been more linked to violence and malice around the world. And now as we enter a new campaign year, it's time to brace ourselves for a new round of religious warfare and hypocrisy at home.

America is riven today by a "God gulf" of distrust, dividing churchgoing Republicans from relatively secular Democrats. A new Great Awakening is sweeping the country, with Americans increasingly telling pollsters that they believe in prayer and miracles, while only 28 percent say they believe in evolution. All this is good news for Bush Republicans, who are in tune with heartland religious values, and bad news for Dean Democrats who don't know John from Job.

So expect Republicans to wage religious warfare by trotting out God as the new elephant in the race, and some Democrats to respond with hypocrisy, by affecting deep religious convictions. This campaign could end up as a tug of war over Jesus. [complete article]

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Is the U.S. ready for democracy?
By David Newsom, Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 2004

Today's debate over bringing democracy to the Muslim Middle East often centers on whether the region is "ready for democracy."

Another question is equally valid: "Is the United States ready to tolerate democracy?"

Systems based on guaranteed freedoms, the rule of law, and peaceful electoral transitions are obviously desirable for all. But democratic systems are often unpredictable. [complete article]

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From afar, Americans try to steer presidential election
By Arie Farnam, Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 2004

During the past year, I have noticed political dissidence building among my fellow American expatriates living in Europe and around the world.

Now, their growing concern will take concrete shape here in Prague, Czech Republic, in less than two weeks. On Jan. 19 - when the US political season officially begins with the Iowa Democratic caucuses - the American Voices Abroad (AVA) coalition, a collection of American civil-liberties and antiwar organizations from around the globe, will launch a campaign around Europe to try to influence the US presidential election.

Back in November, 50 representatives of Americans living in Europe and the Middle East met in Prague to hash out initial plans. [complete article]

Find out more about American Voices Abroad here.

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Senior Iraqi urges U.N. to enter planning for self-rule
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, January 7, 2004

A senior member of Iraq's interim authority appealed to the United Nations to play a direct role in planning Iraq's transition to self-rule and negotiating the future role of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, U.S. and U.N. diplomats said Tuesday.

Abdel Aziz Hakim, a Shiite Muslim who was president of the U.S.-appointed Iraq Governing Council last month, asked U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in a confidential Dec. 29 letter to U.N. experts to Iraq to determine how to plan the transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition. [complete article]

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High court may broaden terror war review
By Gina Holland, Associated Press (via Miami Herald), January 5, 2004

The Supreme Court will announce this month whether it will broaden a review of the Bush administration's imprisonment of terror suspects.

The court already overrode the objections of the administration in November to take an appeal that asks whether foreigners held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may contest their captivity in American courts.

Now justices will decide whether to hear the appeal of U.S.-born terrorism suspect Yaser Esam Hamdi. The government won its argument in a lower court that Hamdi may be kept incommunicado and without access to a lawyer or U.S. courts, even though he is a citizen. [complete article]

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Eight children killed in bomb attack near school in Afghanistan
By Hamida Ghafour, The Telegraph, January 7, 2004

A bomb killed sixteen people - at least eight of them children - in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar yesterday.

The explosion, near an Afghan army barracks housing commandos fighting remnants of the Taliban and al-Qa'eda, took place about 20 minutes after a much smaller device exploded close by, injuring a child.

Passers-by were helping the victim, with curious pupils who had come out of a nearby school looking on, when the second bomb, attached to a bicycle or cart, exploded. [complete article]

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U.S. welcomes N.Korean offer on nuclear power program
By Arshad Mohammed and Paul Eckert, Reuters, January 6, 2004

The United States said on Tuesday a North Korean offer to freeze its nuclear power industry was a positive step that it hoped would lead to a fresh round of six-way talks on ending Pyongyang's suspected atomic weapons programs.

North Korea's explicit offer to suspend its nuclear power program as well as to refrain from testing or making nuclear weapons went further than a Dec. 9 statement in which Pyongyang generally offered to freeze its "nuclear activities."

Pyongyang made the offer as a private U.S. delegation that included congressional aides, former U.S. officials and an Asia scholar flew to North Korea hoping to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex at the heart of the country's nuclear program. [complete article]

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Torture by proxy
By Christopher H. Pyle, San Francisco Chronicle, January 4, 2004

On Sept. 26, 2002, U.S. immigration officials seized a Syrian-born Canadian at Kennedy International Airport, because his name had come up on an international watch list for possible terrorists. What happened next is chilling.

Maher Arar was about to change planes on his way home to Canada after visiting his wife's family in Tunisia when he was pulled aside for questioning. He was not a terrorist. He had no terrorist connections, but his name was on the list, so he was detained for questioning. Not ordinary, polite questioning, but abusive, insulting, degrading questioning by the immigration service, the FBI and the New York City Police Department.

He asked for a lawyer and was told he could not have one. He asked to call his family, but phone calls were not permitted. Instead, he was clapped into shackles and, for several days, made to "disappear." His family was frantic.

Finally, he was allowed to make a call. His government expected that Arar's right of safe passage under its passport would be respected. But it wasn't. Arar denied any connection to terrorists. He was not accused of any crimes, but U.S. agents wanted him questioned further by someone whose methods might be more persuasive than theirs. [complete article]

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Pakistan denies nuclear transfer report
By Paul Haven, Associated Press (via Newsday), January 6, 2004

Pakistan on Tuesday denied a report that its scientists gave high-tech centrifuge design technology to Libya, the latest allegation linking the U.S. ally's nuclear program to Washington's bitterest enemies.

The alleged technology transfer to Libya took place after Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pledged in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that he would rein in his nuclear scientists in an effort to keep their expertise from falling into the hands of rogue regimes or terrorists, The New York Times said in a story in Tuesday editions.

There's no evidence the Pakistani government knew its scientists were selling information, but the alleged technology transfers raised doubts about Musharraf's ability to make good on his promise, the Times said.

"This is total madness. The report is absolutely false, and there is no truth in it," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press. [complete article]

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How the war machine is driving the U.S. economy
By Andrew Gumbel, The Independent, January 6, 2004

What do the war in Iraq and the economic recovery in the United States have in common? More than one might expect, to judge from the last couple of rounds of US growth figures.

The war has been a large part of the justification for the Bush administration to run ever-widening budget deficits, and those deficits, predicated largely on military spending, have in turn pumped money into the economy and provided the stimulus that low interest rates and tax cuts, on their own, could never achieve. [complete article]

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42 journalists killed during Iraq war
By Jamey Keaten, Associated Press, January 6, 2004

Killings of journalists surged to an eight-year high in 2003, with many of the 42 victims being gunned down, bombed or caught in crossfire during the Iraq war, a media advocacy group said Tuesday.

Last year's total was the highest since 49 journalists died in 1995 -- a time when reporters in Algeria were targeted in an Islamic insurgency, Reporters Without Borders said in its annual report.

"The massive military deployment and the unprecedented scale of media coverage of the war in Iraq have a lot to do with it," the group said in its report "2003, a Black Year." [complete article]

The complete report from Reporters Without Borders can be read here.

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Trips to Iraq reshape war views on Hill
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 2004

In a development that has received little public attention, about a third the US Congress has been to Iraq since May - and the trips are shifting the political dynamic on Capitol Hill about the war.

Unlike during Vietnam, when congressional visits often fueled lawmakers' opposition to the war, these tours of Iraq are tending, if anything, to blunt antiwar sentiment. In many cases, they are solidifying support in Congress for the military effort.

On one level, this trend highlights key differences between Iraq and Vietnam in terms of casualties, objectives, and military success. But another factor is also at work: These visits are more tightly controlled than those during the Vietnam era. Members don't spend the night in Iraq - a security decision some members say they regret, given the hazards of flying in and out of Iraqi airports. Nor are they allowed to roam the streets or talk widely with Iraqis. [complete article]

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Pakistan called Libyans' source of atom design
By Patrick E. Tyler and David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 6, 2004

Pakistan was the source of the centrifuge design technology that made it possible for Libya to make major strides in the last two years in enriching uranium for use in nuclear weapons, Bush administration officials in Washington and other Western experts said Monday.

The officials emphasized that they possessed no evidence that the Pakistani government of President Pervez Musharraf -- a crucial ally in the pursuit of Al Qaeda -- knew about the transfer of technology to Libya, which helped finance Pakistan's early nuclear weapons program three decades ago. Many of the centrifuge parts that Libya imported, and which Italy intercepted in October, were manufactured in Malaysia, according to experts familiar with the continuing investigation.

The timing of the transfer of the centrifuge design from Pakistan calls into question General Musharraf's ability to make good on his vow to President Bush that he would rein in Pakistani scientists selling their nuclear expertise around the globe. The general made that pledge shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States. Yet the main aid to Libya appears to have come since those attacks, suggesting that Pakistani scientists may have continued their trade even after the explicit warning. [complete article]

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Iran 'ready to play role in restoring Iraq'
By Andrew Woodcock, PA (via The Scotsman), January 6, 2004

Iran appears ready to play a positive role in the restoration of normality in its neighbour Iraq following the recent war, Britain's envoy in Baghdad said today.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock was speaking after his first visit to Tehran for talks with Iran's foreign minister since taking up his post in Iraq.

He said fears that Iran's clerical regime wanted to install a "clone" of its own religious form of government in Iraq appeared to be unfounded. [complete article]

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Trouble looms after coalition tells Kurds self-rule can stay
By Owen Bowcott and Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, January 6, 2004

Kurdish political leaders have been reassured that their region's semi-autonomous status will be allowed to continue after the handover to Iraqi self-rule on June 30.

The decision, which will infuriate neighbouring states and antagonise other Iraqis, is likely to have far-reaching consequences for any future constitutional settlement.

There have already been armed clashes in Kirkuk - with Arabs and Turkomans against Kurds - over control of the disputed, oil-rich city. Last week six people were killed.

The deal on preserving regional autonomy was reached at the weekend at a meeting in the Kurdish city of Irbil, when the American administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and his British deputy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, met Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP). The latter group is determined to extend its control beyond what were once the "safe havens" to the whole of the predominantly Kurdish north, including Kirkuk. [complete article]

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Saddam's capture: was a deal brokered behind the scenes?
By David Pratt, Sunday Herald, January 4, 2004

For a story that three weeks ago gripped the world's imagination, it has now all but dropped off the radar.

Peculiar really, for if one thing might have been expected in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's capture, it was the endless political and media mileage that the Bush administration would get out of it .

After all, for 249 days Saddam's elusiveness had been a symbol of America's ineptitude in Iraq, and, at last, with his capture came the long-awaited chance to return some flak to the Pentagon's critics. [complete article]

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Feeling besieged, Iraq's Sunnis unite
By Alan Sipress, Washington Post, January 6, 2004

Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims, who enjoyed a favored place under former president Saddam Hussein and now complain of discrimination, have formed a national council to press their interests with U.S. occupation forces and counter the threat of domination by rival Shiite Muslims.

Founders of the shura, or consultative, council said its establishment a week ago is unprecedented in the history of Iraq's Sunnis, reflecting their dramatic reversal of fortune following Hussein's ouster. By forming a body representing a cross-section of Sunnis, they said, they hope to offer the U.S. government a central interlocutor for discussing their future and that of Iraq. [complete article]

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On edge, Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq try to talk it out
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 2004

In a side building at Saddam Hussein's last great monument to himself - the "Mother of All Battles Mosque" - built at a cost of $10 million with soaring minarets styled after missiles and Kalashnikovs to commemorate his survival of the 1991 Gulf War, a group of Shiite and Sunni clerics have gathered to fight one of Hussein's most divisive legacies.

With the threat of sectarian strife hanging over Iraq's transition, punctuated by mosque takeovers in the southern city of Basra, an explosion at a small Sunni mosque in Baghdad, and the press rife with talk about rivalry across Iraq's great sectarian divide, the imams want to head off potential conflict. [complete article]

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Turmoil, neglect have millions homeless in Iraq
By Matthew B. Stannard, San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 2004

Most of Iraq's problems are easy to see: shattered buildings, long lines for gas, bombs exploding in the streets. But one of its most critical challenges -- providing homes for those without them -- lurks in the shadows.

The issue has deep roots, going back at least 20 years into the regime of Saddam Hussein. Under his presidency, a mild housing shortage in 1980 became a serious problem in the 1990s and a full-blown crisis by 2000, according to the 2003 United Nations/World Bank Joint Iraq Needs Assessment. [complete article]

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Iraqis revive ancient word 'ulooj' to insult, greet U.S. troops
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, January 5, 2004

College students whisper the word when they spot U.S. troops in Baghdad streets. Vandals scrawl the word across military vehicles. Sneering taxi drivers mutter it when convoys block their cabs.

"Ulooj," they say, and while some use it with disdain and others more lightheartedly, it's unmistakably not a nice reference - though what precisely the ancient term from Arabic literature means depends on whom you ask. Among the translations offered: pigs of the desert, foreign infidels, little donkeys, medieval crusaders, bloodsuckers and horned creatures.

While no one can quite pin down the original definition, Iraqis agree on the modern definition: "It's the American military," said Maria Hassan, a 23-year-old history major at a university in Baghdad. "We use this word from the past for our occupiers of the present." [complete article]

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Volatile nuclear rivals begin to talk
By Owais Tohid and Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 2004

Less than two years after skating on the edge of nuclear warfare, archrivals India and Pakistan are cautiously shaking hands once again.

Although the issue of Kashmir remains as thorny as ever, the two South Asian powers appear to have decided that they have more to gain from easing tensions than by coming to blows. [complete article]

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Our move
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, January 5, 2004

A private delegation of American experts sets out on a trip to North Korea tomorrow, and if it goes as planned -- and if the Bush administration plays its aftermath shrewdly -- the visit could mark a significant step toward negotiations to end Kim Jong-il's nuclear-weapons program.

One item on the group's agenda is a visit to the nuclear-reactor complex at Yongbyon. This is where the North Koreans, by their own avowal, have been reprocessing weapons-grade fuel for nearly a year. The North Koreans have not allowed any outsider on the site since December 2002, when they kicked out inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who had been monitoring the facility according to terms of a 1995 accord with the United States. [complete article]

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Military split on how to use special forces in terror war
By Gregory L. Vistica, Washington Post, January 5, 2004

With Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pressuring the Pentagon to take a more aggressive role in tracking down terrorists, military and intelligence officials are engaged in a fierce debate over when and how elite military units should be deployed for maximum effectiveness.

Under Rumsfeld's direction, secret commando units known as hunter-killer teams have been ordered to "kick down the doors," as the generals put it, all over the world in search of al Qaeda members and their sympathizers. [complete article]

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Big bonus for re-upping with Uncle Sam
By John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2004

Stretched thin and eager to keep soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army started 2004 with a new policy: $5,000 to $10,000 bonuses for soldiers in the two war zones who sign up for three more years.

The carrot comes with a stick. Having authorized unit recruiters to start handing out the bonuses when the new year began Thursday, Army officials said Monday they were extending a policy prohibiting soldiers from leaving the service, even if their contractual obligation was over, as long as their units were in a war zone. About 7,000 soldiers are affected. [complete article]

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No word from Bush on forms in leak probe
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, January 6, 2004

White House press secretary Scott McClellan declined to say Monday whether President Bush thinks his aides should sign forms that would release reporters from any pledges of confidentiality regarding the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. [complete article]

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U.S. concerned about Cuban-Venezuelan bid to nurture leftist movements in hemisphere
By George Gedda, Associated Press, January 5, 2004

The Bush administration is becoming increasingly concerned about what it sees as a joint effort by Cuba and Venezuela to nurture anti-American sentiment in Latin America with money, political indoctrination and training.

As U.S. officials see it, the alliance combines Cuban President Fidel Castro's political savvy with surplus cash that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez obtains from oil exports.

Venezuelan resources may have been decisive in the ouster of Bolivia's elected, pro-American president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A key recipient of Venezuelan help has been Evo Morales, a charismatic Bolivian legislator who has broad support among his country's indigenous population. He is an avowed opponent of the capitalist system. [complete article]

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Israeli colonel resigns over army's 'immoral' actions
By Justin Huggler, The Independent, January 5, 2004

A reservist colonel in the Israeli army has resigned his commission in protest at his army's "immoral conduct" in the occupied territories. In a searing open letter to the army's chief of staff, Lt-Col Eitan Ronel, a veteran of 1973's Yom Kippur War, the invasion of Lebanon, and the first Palestinian Intifada, returned his officer's commission.

His resignation came even as five teenage conscripts were yesterday sentenced to a year in prison each for refusing to serve in the Israeli army "as long as it acts as an army of occupation". Scores of reservists have refused to report for duty for similar reasons, and many of them have been sentenced to prison terms, but Lt-Col Ronel, 51, is believed to be the first Israeli officer to resign his commission in protest. [complete article]

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We won't scrap WMD stockpile unless Israel does, says Syria's president
By Benedict Brogan, The Telegraph, January 6, 2004

Syria is entitled to defend itself by acquiring its own chemical and biological deterrent, President Bashar Assad said last night as he rejected American and British demands for concessions on weapons of mass destruction.

In his first major statement since Libya's decision last month to scrap its nuclear and chemical programmes, he came closer than ever before to admitting that his country possessed stockpiles of WMD.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Assad said that any deal to destroy Syria's chemical and biological capability would come about only if Israel agreed to abandon its undeclared nuclear arsenal. [complete article]

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Kurds pay price for 'Mr' remark
BBC News, January 5, 2004

Two members of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party have been arrested for calling Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan "Mr Ocalan".

The remark came on Saturday in a press statement about prison conditions by two local officials of the Democratic People's Party.

They referred to Abdulllah Ocalan as "sayin", which also means "respected and esteemed" in Turkish.

They are now accused of "propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation." [complete article]

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Muzzling a whistle-blower
By Dan Ephron, Newsweek, January 12, 2004

Sometime last year Mordechai Vanunu received a visitor at his prison cell in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon. The guest was an Israeli security official, and the proposal he was carrying would have made Vanunu -- a former nuclear technician jailed since 1986 for revealing Israel's atomic secrets -- a free man. But not entirely. Vanunu, who had another year left on his sentence, would have had to sign a pledge to never again talk publicly about Israeli nukes or about Dimona, the nuclear plant where he worked and where Israel is said to have built at least 200 atomic bombs. Though Vanunu had suffered from dreadful prison conditions since his arrest the offer held little appeal. "He said he won't do it," recounts Mary Eoloff, a retired American schoolteacher who, along with her husband, legally adopted Vanunu a few years ago, in a failed attempt to win him U.S. citizenship. "He believes in freedom of speech." [complete article]

Learn more about Mordechai Vanunu here, about Israel's nuclear weapons program here, and about the BBC's documentary on Vanunu and Israel's nuclear weapons that led the Sharon government to accuse the BBC of demonizing Israel.

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Ethnic rivalries boil in northern Iraq city
By Adnan Hadi, Reuters, January 5, 2004

Attackers fired a rocket at a Kurdish political party's headquarters in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk overnight, the latest salvo in nearly a week of simmering tensions among ethnic groups in the oil-rich city.

Police said on Monday a Russian-made Katyusha rocket hit the head office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of two main political parties representing the Kurdish minority in Iraq. A guard in the building was injured.

It followed the deaths of at least six people in two days of violent disturbances last week between Kurds seeking to tighten their grip on the city and their Arab and Turkish-speaking Turkmen opponents. [complete article]

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Quarantining dissent
How the Secret Service protects Bush from free speech

By James Bovard, San Francisco Chronicle, January 4, 2004

When President Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up "free speech zones" or "protest zones," where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.

When Bush went to the Pittsburgh area on Labor Day 2002, 65-year-old retired steel worker Bill Neel was there to greet him with a sign proclaiming, "The Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us."

The local police, at the Secret Service's behest, set up a "designated free-speech zone" on a baseball field surrounded by a chain-link fence a third of a mile from the location of Bush's speech.

The police cleared the path of the motorcade of all critical signs, but folks with pro-Bush signs were permitted to line the president's path. Neel refused to go to the designated area and was arrested for disorderly conduct; the police also confiscated his sign. [complete article]

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Foresight was 20/20
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, January 5, 2004

The Bush administration has been hammered for failing to anticipate or plan for the many problems of postwar Iraq or to set aside the money to pay for them. Its spokesmen insist, as they did before the war, that there was no way of knowing in advance what challenges might come up and what it might take to meet them.

Yet, looking back at what Washington's foreign policy community expected from an intervention in Iraq, it's striking how much of the trouble the U.S. mission now faces was accurately and publicly predicted.

On my desk is a pile of more than a dozen studies and pieces of congressional testimony on the likely conditions of postwar Iraq, prepared before the invasion by think tanks of the left, center and right, by task forces of veteran diplomats and area experts, and by freelancing academics.

The degree of consensus was remarkable: Iraq's reconstruction would be long and costly, violence was likely and goodwill toward the United States probably wouldn't last for long. [complete article]

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Iraq police chief says U.S. army gunned down family
By Robin Pomeroy, Reuters, January 5, 2004

The police chief investigating the deaths of an Iraqi family gunned down in their car in northern Iraq said on Monday he was convinced U.S. troops were responsible, although the army has denied involvement.

Tensions have been rising in Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, since the bodies of the family were found on a nearby highway on Saturday. Coalition forces said the bodies were of a man, a woman and a child.

General Mazhar Taha al-Ganaim, police chief of Salahaddin province, said four people were killed -- two men, a woman and a nine-year-old boy.

A fifth man who survived and was taken to Tikrit hospital has told local soldiers the car was fired on by a U.S. Army convoy. Mazhar said he had interviewed other witnesses and was "100 percent" sure this was true. [complete article]

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Shiites against federal Iraq
IslamOnline, January 4, 2004

Iraqi Shiites vehemently rejected the Kurdish-proposed federalism of Iraq, joining an increasingly growing Arab, Sunni and Turkoman opposition to the drive.

"The first and foremost priority should be given to our main goal: the independence of Iraq. Our Kurdish brothers should bear this in mind," the representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Sheikh Sadrudin al-Qabanji, told hundreds of Iraqis in Friday, January 2, prayers.

He said the legitimate rights of the Kurds can be tackled later "after reaching this end" and "all Iraqis [now] should act in concert to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq".

"I beg you Kurdish brothers to work for the common welfare and do not think narrow-mindedly," he added. [complete article]

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Kurdish region in Northern Iraq will get to keep special status
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, January 5, 2004

The Bush administration has decided to let the Kurdish region remain semi-autonomous as part of a newly sovereign Iraq despite warnings from Iraq's neighbors and many Iraqis not to divide the country into ethnic states, American and Iraqi officials say.

The officials said their new position on the Kurdish area was effectively dictated by the Nov. 15 accord with Iraqi leaders that established June 30 as the target date for Iraqi self-rule. Such a rapid timetable, they said, has left no time to change the autonomy and unity of the Kurdish stronghold of the north, as many had originally wanted.

"Once we struck the Nov. 15 agreement, there was a realization that it was best not to touch too heavily on the status quo," said an administration official. "The big issue of federalism in the Kurdish context will have to wait for the Iraqis to resolve. For us to try to resolve it in a month or two is simply too much to attempt."

The issue of whether Iraq is to be divided into ethnic states in a federation-style government is of great significance both inside the country and throughout the Middle East, where fears are widespread that dividing Iraq along ethnic or sectarian lines could eventually break the country up and spread turmoil in the region. [complete article]

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After Iran rebuff, U.S. may try quieter diplomacy
By Caren Bohan, Reuters, January 4, 2004

America's interest in public overtures toward Tehran may cool after Iran last week rebuffed an offer of a senior humanitarian mission but experts say the gesture may pay off as efforts shift to quieter diplomacy.

After a catastrophic earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam, Washington sent a series of clear signals of possible interest in renewing a dialogue with Iran -- which President George W. Bush has branded as part of an "axis of evil." [complete article]

Comment -- The diplomatic moves here don't seem too hard to decipher. The State Department saw the Iranian earthquake providing an opportunity for tentatively opening US-Iranian dialogue while toning down the axis-of-evil rhetoric. The White House on the other hand felt that offering to send their idea of Florence Nightingale (Republican senator and former head of the American Red Cross, Elizabeth Dole) would be a good way of showing the world and potential Bush voters, "we care". If Dole got snubbed it would make the mullahs look bad, but if they decided to let her in the administration would garner some valuable footage for public diplomacy - images of Dole surveying the rubble and consoling the victims; a non-militaristic metaphor for the administration's goal of rebuilding the Middle East. Simply asking the Iranians what they need and then providing them with such assistance would be the most effective way of helping, but it might not be as useful for the Bush campaign.

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From rogue nuclear programs, web of trails leads to Pakistan
By David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, New York Times, January 4, 2004

The Pakistani leaders who denied for years that scientists at the country's secret A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories were peddling advanced nuclear technology must have been averting their eyes from a most conspicuous piece of evidence: the laboratory's own sales brochure, quietly circulated to aspiring nuclear weapons states and a network of nuclear middlemen around the world.

The cover bears an official-looking seal that says "Government of Pakistan" and a photograph of the father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan. It promotes components that were spinoffs from Pakistan's three-decade-long project to build a nuclear stockpile of enriched uranium, set in a drawing that bears a striking resemblance to a mushroom cloud.

In other nations, such sales would be strictly controlled. But Pakistan has always played by its own rules.

As investigators unravel the mysteries of the North Korean, Iranian and now the Libyan nuclear projects, Pakistan -- and those it empowered with knowledge and technology they are now selling on their own -- has emerged as the intellectual and trading hub of a loose network of hidden nuclear proliferators. [complete article]

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By Jeet Heer, Boston Globe, January 4, 2004

Supremely confident in winning conventional wars on the battlefield, the United States military tends to become skittish when combating small-scale insurrections. More than 40 years ago, as the United States was struggling to shore up the faltering regime in South Vietnam, President John F. Kennedy advised West Point graduates that they would have to confront "another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin -- war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him."

In Iraq today, as rockets are launched from donkey carts and the occupation death toll climbs past that of the war itself, we see exactly the type of conflict Kennedy warned about: American soldiers fighting cloaked insurgents who practice hit-and-run murders before melting into the general population. The Cold War may be over, and the Iraqi rebels may lack significant popular support or even a coherent cause. But as the United States faces the prospect of a drawn-out and unconventional struggle in Iraq, the turbulent history of guerrilla movements -- and the counterinsurgency campaigns mounted against them -- has received new attention. [complete article]

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Bible Belt missionaries set out on a 'war for souls' in Iraq
By David Rennie, The Telegraph, December 27, 2003

American Christian missionaries have declared a "war for souls" in Iraq, telling supporters that the formal end of the US-led occupation next June will close an historic "window of opportunity".

Organising in secrecy, and emphasising their humanitarian aid work, Christian groups are pouring into the country, which is 97 per cent Muslim, bearing Arabic Bibles, videos and religious tracts designed to "save" Muslims from their "false" religion.

The International Mission Board, the missionary arm of the Southern Baptists, is one of those leading the charge.

John Brady, the IMB's head for the Middle East and North Africa, this month appealed to the 16 million members of his church, the largest Protestant denomination in America.

"Southern Baptists have prayed for years that Iraq would somehow be opened to the gospel," his appeal began. That "open door" for Christians may soon close. [complete article]

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Afghans endorse new constitution
BBC News, January 4, 2004

Afghanistan's grand assembly or loya jirga has agreed on a new constitution that aims to bring stability and unity to a nation ravaged by war.

It envisages a powerful presidency - in line with the wishes of current leader Hamid Karzai - and two vice-presidents.

The constitution is designed to consolidate an ethnically diverse state able to stand up to Taleban insurgents.

Agreement was reached after three weeks of heated debate that exposed the country's fragile ethnic relations. [complete article]

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Rebranding Bush as man of peace
By Suzanne Goldenberg, Simon Tisdall and Nicholas Watt, The Guardian, January 3, 2004

The White House has retreated from its doctrine of regime change and pre-emptive military action and is returning to traditional diplomacy in an effort to repackage George Bush as a president for peace. [...]

"There is a definite shift in US policy in everything but words," said Joseph Cirincione, an arms control expert. "The official doctrine has not changed but all our actions have, and the result is a shift away from military action towards diplomatic engagement. First with Iran, then with Libya and now with North Korea, we see a much greater effort to affect changes in regime behaviour rather than changes of regime."

Analysts in Washington say the Bush administration has little choice if it is to fulfil a highly ambitious election year agenda that seeks to disarm "rogue states" such as North Korea while advancing towards a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, encouraging conflict resolution in Sudan, and achieving credible transformations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

All these objectives are complicated and to some degree hindered by the "war on terror" against a resurgent al-Qaida, and by America's failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. [complete article]

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British soldiers 'kicked Iraqi prisoner to death'
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, January 4, 2004

Eight young Iraqis arrested in Basra were kicked and assaulted by British soldiers, one of them so badly that he died in British custody, according to military and medical records seen by The Independent on Sunday.

Amnesty International has urged its members to protest directly to Tony Blair about the death of Baha Mousa, the son of an Iraqi police colonel, and to demand an impartial and independent investigation into the apparent torture of the Basra prisoners. [complete article]

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Making compromises to keep a country whole
By Edward Wong, New York Times, January 4, 2004

As the countdown to the handover of power in Iraq enters its final six months, American officials are focusing on how to create a working democracy. They are trying to walk a fine line between giving ethnic and religious groups the territory, resources and autonomy they demand, and ensuring that such power does not give rise to dangerous nationalisms.

That prospect was evident last week in northern Iraq, when clashes among Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen in Kirkuk left at least five people dead. Arabs are trying to lay claim to the oil-rich city, which Kurdish leaders say should be integrated into a proposed autonomous Kurdish region. That corner of the country seemed to be edging closer to more sweeping sectarian conflict. [complete article]

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Power transfer in Iraq starts this week
By Robin Wright and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, January 4, 2004

After eight months of debate and delay, the United States this week will formally launch the handover of power to Iraq with the final game plan still not fully in place.

The United States begins the complicated political, economic and security transfer with a general framework and a June 30 deadline for completion. But critical details are still being negotiated between the Iraqis and U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, some of which could determine whether the new Iraqi government is ultimately embraced by the majority of Iraq's 22 million people. [complete article]

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For G.I.'s, pride in war efforts but doubts about Iraq's future
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, January 4, 2004

American soldiers, from privates to generals, say they believe that their fight to restore security and stability in Iraq is winnable in the long run, but that an American military presence will be required for years to keep the country from falling into chaos.

In nearly 100 interviews and conversations in the last four weeks, soldiers across Iraq expressed a complex set of emotions and sentiments toward their rebuilding mission, now entering its ninth month.

They take enormous pride in having ousted Saddam Hussein and restored a semblance of normal life for many of the 25 million people in this war-battered nation. But they also voice a mix of pity, disdain and admiration for Iraqis and question what the future holds for this country and the military presence here. To succeed, many soldiers and commanders say, sizable numbers of American forces will have to remain here for three years or more. [complete article]

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If the bomb is so easy to make, why don't more nations have it?
By Gregg Easterbrook, New York Times, January 4, 2004

Libya has pledged to dismantle its atomic weapons program. That is obviously good news, in addition to being a victory for George W. Bush's aggressive foreign policy. But what, exactly, is Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi giving up? Not much.

"Libya was in no position to obtain access to nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future," says a statement by the Federation of American Scientists, an independent group that tracks arms control issues. After visiting Libya last week, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, declared the country's program at "very much at an early stage." Libya may be closing down its nuclear program because it wasn't working anyway.

This points to an important reality about nuclear weapons: they are extremely difficult to make. Claims that bomb plans can be downloaded from the Internet, or that fissile material is easily obtained on the black market and slapped together into an ultimate weapon, seem little more than talk-radio jabber. Nations like Libya that have made determined attempts to obtain atomic munitions have not even come close. [complete article]

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What is safe enough?
By Ellen Goodman, Washington Post, January 3, 2004

Could we rewind the videotape to Dec. 15, when Howard Dean qualified his pleasure at the capture of Saddam Hussein by saying that it "has not made America safer"? Dean was instantly lambasted by his opponents, especially Joe Lieberman, who said the doctor was climbing "into his own spider hole of denial."

Well, six days later, after the sort of terrorist "chatter" designed to make your teeth chatter, the country was put on orange alert for a "spectacular" attack rivaling those of Sept. 11. Then six Air France flights destined to fly into the homeland were grounded. And finally, under "emergency rules," our government has required armed guards on foreign flights.

Are we safer yet? [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

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

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.

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.

The Geneva bubble
By Ilan Pappe, London Review of Books, January 8, 2004
On 10 March 1948, the Zionist leadership adopted the infamous Plan Dalet, which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of the areas regarded as the future Jewish state in Palestine. Palestine was not divided, it was destroyed, and most of its people expelled. These were the events which triggered the conflict that has lasted ever since.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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