The War in Context  
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The world is watching
Lead Editorial, The Guardian, January 17, 2004

The importance of this year's US presidential election, which formally gets under way on Monday in Iowa, cannot be over-estimated. George Bush's presidency, begun amid unprecedented controversy, has only deepened the national divisions that produced the virtual dead-heat with Al Gore in 2000.

Far from trying to bridge this gulf by governing from the centre, Mr Bush has pursued an unapologetically hard-right domestic and foreign policy agenda. Remarkably, he even managed to dissipate the strong sense of national and international solidarity engendered by the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. America's divisions - political, ideological, religious, social and economic - are more sharply defined than ever. They are reflected in Congress, where Republicans narrowly dominate; and, in the last year, by the schism in public opinion over the Iraq war. It is no exaggeration to say that the US is now two nations, a house that, ignoring Abraham Lincoln, is once again in many crucial ways divided against itself. The principal challenge facing those who would supplant Mr Bush is thus how to put America back together again.

The presidential election matters massively for non-Americans, too. Indeed, given that 50% or more of the US electorate may not bother to vote at all next November, it may be that the outcome will be more closely watched abroad than at home. There is barely a single, dusty corner of our interconnected world that is not directly or indirectly affected by American power and policy. From the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the parched fields of Ethiopia, from the Sunni heartlands of Iraq to Korea's demilitarised zone, from the negotiating tables of Delhi and Jerusalem to world forums such as the UN and WTO, US influence projected through military might, muscular diplomacy, economic clout and bilateral aid is everywhere felt. More than that, it is most usually decisive - and divisive. Long after Boston and on a global scale, here is metaphorical taxation without representation. [complete article]

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Three U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, toll reaches 500
By C. Bryson Hull, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 17, 2004

Guerrillas killed three U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi officials on Saturday, taking the death toll of U.S. soldiers in Iraq to 500 since the war to oust Saddam Hussein began last March.

The mounting toll is a problem for President Bush in the months before he seeks re-election in November but Washington insisted it would hand over power in Iraq by mid-2004.

The roadside bomb north of Baghdad appeared to be one of the most powerful used against U.S. occupation forces to date -- killing the five inside a Bradley armored vehicle, which resembles a small tank. Previous attacks on U.S. convoys have tended to cause casualties aboard lighter vehicles such as trucks. [complete article]

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U.N. support crucial in Iraq, U.S. says
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, January 17, 2004

The United States plans to ask the United Nations on Monday to play an active role in virtually every aspect of the political transition in Iraq, from overseeing the selection of an Iraqi government and writing new laws to the transfer of power when the U.S. occupation ends on June 30, senior U.S. officials said yesterday.

The Bush administration and the Iraqi Governing Council will appeal Monday to the United Nations in New York to dispatch a team of envoys to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to convince him that holding fair elections is impossible in the limited time left, the officials said. [complete article]

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Clerics urge Shiites to protest
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, January 17, 2004

Preachers in Shiite Muslim mosques appealed to their followers Friday to prepare for demonstrations, strikes and possible confrontations with occupation troops to back up demands for elections in advance of a transfer of authority from a U.S.-led administration to Iraqis.

The calls increased pressure on the Bush administration and its handpicked Iraqi Governing Council to satisfy demands by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most influential cleric, for elections. President Bush's chief administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and top Governing Council leaders are scheduled to meet in New York next week in hopes of enlisting U.N. help in changing Sistani's mind. [complete article]

Comment -- While the threat from the insurgency seems to have receded in recent weeks, America now faces the much more serious threat of a Shiite uprising. Though many a regime has not flinched from using brutal methods to suppress an insurgency, uprisings have a habit of toppling governments. The power is in Sistani's hands, time is on his side and Bremer should know it. The question is, when Bremer meets Kofi Annan in New York on Monday, what will be the guiding force behind Bremer's decision-making process? The demands for a fair and effective transition of power in Baghdad or a timetable being dictated by Karl Rove?

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Shiite radical leader opposes Kurdish demands for federal Iraq
Agence France Presse (via Kurdish Media), January 16, 2004

Shiite Muslim radical leader Moqtada Sadr hit out Friday at Kurdish demands for an autonomous region within a federal Iraq, saying they would lead only to the country's division.

"We urge unity on all Iraqis," the firebrand cleric told worshippers at the main weekly prayers at this pilgrimage shrine just outside the central city of Najaf.

"I am going to send a delegation to the Iraqis of the north -- I won?t say the Kurds -- to tell them that their plans will lead only to the division of Iraq," said Sadr.

Kurdish representatives in Iraq's US-installed interim leadership have been pressing for the acceptance of an expanded Kurdish autonomous region even before a permanent constitution for the country is drafted by an elected convention next year. [complete article]

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Trip with Cheney puts ethics spotlight on Scalia
By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2004

Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spent part of last week duck hunting together at a private camp in southern Louisiana just three weeks after the court agreed to take up the vice president's appeal in lawsuits over his handling of the administration's energy task force.

While Scalia and Cheney are avid hunters and longtime friends, several experts in legal ethics questioned the timing of their trip and said it raised doubts about Scalia's ability to judge the case impartially.

But Scalia rejected that concern Friday, saying, "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned."

Federal law says "any justice or judge shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might be questioned." For nearly three years, Cheney has been fighting demands that he reveal whether he met with energy industry officials, including Kenneth L. Lay when he was chairman of Enron, while he was formulating the president's energy policy. [complete article]

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Assassination tries linked to al Qaeda
By Juliette Terzieff, San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 2004

Investigators probing two recent attempts to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf are increasingly convinced of two things: Suspects linked to al Qaeda played a role, and they had help from within Pakistan's security apparatus.

A cell phone memory chip found along with the remains of Kashmiri militant Mohammad Jamil -- one of the two suicide bombers who drove bomb- laden trucks into Musharraf's motorcade on Christmas Day -- has led to the detention of more than two dozen people with ties to groups that Pakistani authorities have linked to al Qaeda.

More alarming, analysts say, is evidence that suggests vital information for the Christmas Day attack and a Dec. 14 assassination attempt may have come from inside Pakistani security forces, allowing would-be assassins to penetrate the intricate web of security around Musharraf, Washington's principal ally in the region's war on terrorism. [complete article]

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Reformists scent victory in Iranian parliament row
By Dan De Luce, The Guardian, January 16, 2004

Reformists in Iran's parliament said yesterday that they were encouraged by "positive" signs from the theocracy's supreme leader, but would continue their daily sit-ins in the parliament building until a sweeping ban on moderate electoral candidates was lifted.

The MPs welcomed a call on Wednesday by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for a thorough review of a ban on more than 3,000 candidates hoping to run in next month's elections.

Adopting a more subdued tone after several days of angry speeches, the MPs are waiting to see how the conservative Guardian Council carries out the supreme leader's orders. The council is an unelected body of conservatives that vets all prospective electoral candidates.

"Our demand is free and fair elections, and we will continue our sit-ins until we are confident that the process has reversed," they said in a statement. [complete article]

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Iraq aide brands U.S. formula as 'hasty'
By Matthew Rosenberg, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 16, 2004

An aide to Iraq's most prominent Shiite cleric [Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani] on Friday branded the U.S. formula for transferring power a "hasty agreement" aimed at boosting President Bush's re-election campaign. [...]

"Many political analysts are saying that the purpose of the hasty agreement ... was propaganda for your re-election campaign, especially after what your country has suffered because of military losses in Iraq," the letter [addressed to George Bush and Tony Blair] by cleric Ali Abdul Hakim al-Safi said.

"All we are looking for and want is that our rights not be ignored and the rights of others not be ignored," the letter added. "We know that all the excuses you used to hinder the elections are not based in reality." [complete article]

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Iraq's top Shiite cleric threatens protests against U.S.
Agence France Presse, January 16, 2004

Iraq's leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, threatened a wave of protests if the US-led coalition presses on with plans to hand power to an unelected government by June.

"In the coming days and months, we're going to see protests and strikes and civil disobedience and perhaps confrontations with the occupying force if it insists on its colonial and diabolical plans to design the country's politics for its own interests," said Sheikh Abdel Mahdi al-Karbalai, Sistani's representative in this Shiite holy city.

The bombshell from the spiritual leader of Iraq's majority community prompted no immediate climbdown from Washington on its two-month-old transition blueprint, although White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Iraq's US-installed interim leadership was holding talks with Sistani to defuse the standoff. [complete article]

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The justices take on the president
By Anthony Lewis, New York Times, January 16, 2004

When the Constitutional Convention of 1787 proposed a new federal government, many Americans feared tyranny. James Madison told them that the Constitution had a "precaution" against that possibility: separation of the government into legislative, executive and judicial branches. If one of the three overreached, he wrote in the Federalist Papers, another would stop the abuse of power.

Madison's theory is about to be profoundly tested. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear challenges to two of the Bush administration's most sweeping claims of power -- the power to declare any American citizen an "enemy combatant" and detain him or her indefinitely without trial, and the power to hold the alien captives at the American military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without a chance for them to challenge the basis of their imprisonment in any court. [complete article]

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Bush's power to plan trial of detainees is challenged
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, January 16, 2004

Five uniformed military lawyers assigned to defend detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have filed a brief with the Supreme Court, challenging the basis of President Bush's plan to use military tribunals without civilian court review to try some of the detainees there.

In their 30-page brief, filed late Wednesday, the lawyers assert that President Bush worked to "create a legal black hole" and overstepped his constitutional authority as commander in chief in the way he set up the program for military tribunals. [complete article]

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If so, please share this useful news resource with your friends, relatives, colleagues, students, or staff. The more people come here, the more I'll know my time is well spent, the longer I'll keep up the effort.
Thanks, Paul Woodward

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Global warming and the environment
By Al Gore,, January 15, 2004

I have noticed a troubling pattern that characterizes the Bush/Cheney Administration's approach to almost all issues. In almost every policy area, the Administration's consistent goal has been to eliminate any constraints on their exercise of raw power, whether by law, regulation, alliance or treaty – and in the process they have in each case caused America to be seen by the other nations of the world as showing disdain for the international community.

In each case they devise their policies with as much secrecy as possible and in close cooperation with the most powerful special interests that have a monetary stake in what happens. In each case the public interest is not only ignored but actively undermined. In each case they devote considerable attention to a clever strategy of deception that appears designed to prevent the American people from discerning what it is they are actually doing. Indeed, they often use Orwellian language to disguise their true purposes. For example, a policy that opens national forests to destructive logging of old-growth trees is labeled "The Healthy Forest Initiative." A policy that vastly increases the amount of pollution that can be dumped into the air is called the "Clear Skies Initiative." [complete article]

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Cheney's grim vision: decades of war
By James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 2004

In a forceful preview of the Bush administration's expansionist military policies in this election year, Vice President Dick Cheney Wednesday painted a grim picture of what he said was the growing threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States and warned that the battle, like the Cold War, could last generations.

The vice president's tone, in a major address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, was sobering, unlike many other comments recently by senior administration officials that have stressed successes in the war on terrorism. [complete article]

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The failure of intervention demands a new modesty
By Martin Woollacott, The Guardian, January 16, 2004

There is a dispiriting resemblance between recent news about former Yugoslavia and news about Iraq, the two places which bracket the modern era of intervention. The story began properly more than a decade ago when the halting process of persuasion, interference and coercion began which eventually brought a sort of peace to the ex-Yugoslav states. It continued, through some terrible failures and some small successes in Africa and south-east Asia, to culminate in the American descents on Afghanistan and Iraq. What was called humanitarian intervention merged into the campaign against terrorism and then into an assault on a so-called rogue state. Very different interventions, certainly, but some important similarities areevident in the outcomes.

They suggest we should be thinking as much about the sheer difficulty of intervention as about the justification for particular interventions. The Hutton inquiry, straddling these two questions, is only the latest indication that western countries have exaggerated the reliability of the instruments at their disposal. Ineffective diplomacy, overvalued voluntary agencies, armed forces that promise more than they can deliver, and intelligence establishments that deliver more than they should, are all parts of the picture. The weakness of institutions which claim, or are assigned, more competence than they actually possess looms as large as the decisions, right or wrong, of elected governments. [complete article]

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Richard Perle libel watch, week 45
By Jack Shafer, Slate, January 15, 2004

As if Richard N. Perle didn't have enough steaming manure on his legal plate with the Hollinger International scandal bursting all about him, this week the neoconservative macher noisily reiterated his 44-week-old threat to sue New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh for libel. As you may recall, last March Perle noisily announced in the New York Sun his intention to sue Hersh over a New Yorker feature that probed the nexus between Perle's business dealings and his official capacities as the chairman of the Defense Department's Defense Policy Board.

For Perle's reiteration, I thank him! As we entered the New Year and drew closer to the first anniversary of his original threat to sue Hersh, I had begun to worry that Perle would not provide me with the pretext for a last installment in my ongoing "Perle Libel Watch" before the one-year statute of limitations ran out. [complete article]

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Bishops blast Israeli separation barrier
Agence France Presse, January 15, 2004

Fifteen bishops from Europe and the Americas condemned the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank and charged the Catholic church's mission in the Holy Land was being hampered.

"We have seen the devastating effect of the wall currently being built through the land and homes of Palestinian communities," the bishops said in a statement issued after four days of talks in the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem and in Jerusalem.

"This appears to be a permanent structure, dividing families, isolating them from their farmland and their livelihoods, and cutting off religious institutions," the statement added Thursday.

The bishops issued their statement at a press conference in Jerusalem that coincided with the departure for the Vatican of Israel's two chief rabbis, who are due to meet Pope John Paul II on Friday. [complete article]

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Activist rabbi faces trial in Israel
By Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, January 15, 2004

To Israeli state prosecutors Arik Ascherman is a criminal, but to Palestinian Bassam Kiswani he is "the sweetest rabbi."

Ascherman, an immigrant from Erie, Pa., is the head of Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization of 90 rabbis, almost all of them immigrants from Western countries, who bring alleged human rights abuses, usually against the Palestinians, to the attention of the Israeli public and authorities. It is at times unpopular work in a society that views itself as being in a war for survival and where rabbis are often identified with hawkish, right-wing attitudes. [complete article]

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Official: Israel to kill Hamas founder
By Mark Lavie, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 16, 2004

Israel will hunt and kill the founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in retaliation for a deadly attack on Israeli border guards, Israel's deputy defense minister said in the bluntest warning yet against leaders of the Islamic militant group.

Yassin, a quadriplegic, did not try to hide Friday, making his way to a Gaza City mosque near his home in a wheelchair pushed by an assistant.

"We do not fear the threat of death," Yassin, wrapped in a brown blanket, told reporters outside the mosque. "We will not bow to pressure and resistance will continue until the occupation is destroyed." [complete article]

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Suicide bombings - Why they work
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, January 16, 2004

Nothing has done more to tarnish the image of the Palestinian national movement than suicide bombings.

After more than a hundred bombings have left over a thousand Israeli civilians dead and wounded, the exhaustively cultivated image of underage Palestinian Davids facing down machinegun-toting Israeli Goliaths with nothing more than stones, has yielded to grotesque scenes of blood-flooded restaurants, wedding halls, commuter buses, dance clubs, coffee shops, and street corners.

Nothing has done more to align Palestinians in the foreign - especially the American - mind with the feared and loathed likes of Al-Qaida. [complete article]

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Rise of the cleric with all the answers
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, January 16, 2004

In the months since America's war in Iraq, the Shia clergy of Najaf's respected and influential religious school, the hawza 'ilimiyya, have begun to assert a political strength denied them for decades. Ironically, it is from these clerics, who America feared would try to engineer an Iranian-style theocracy, that the most strident calls for democracy have emerged.

Foremost among them is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, 73, a learned, white-bearded cleric who refuses to meet Paul Bremer, America's administrator in Iraq, but who commands the unswerving loyalty of his country's Shia majority.

Already, Ayatollah Sistani has forced the American administration in Baghdad to tear up its first political plan for postwar Iraq. In a fatwa last June, he declared it "fundamentally unacceptable". He insisted that Iraq's new constitution be written by an elected body, not a US-appointed council, as was proposed. In the past week he has criticised Washington's revised political programme, under which appointed provincial caucuses would indirectly elect a transitional government by July. In a statement this week, he demanded full direct elections instead. [complete article]

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U.S. scrambles to salvage transition
By Robin Wright and Daniel Williams, Washington Post, January 16, 2004

The U.S. governor in Iraq headed back to Washington for talks today with President Bush's foreign policy team amid deep uncertainty within the administration over how to save its plan for handing over political power to Iraqis by July 1.

L. Paul Bremer will meet with administration officials on the eve of talks Monday at the United Nations over Iraq's future. After a year of tension with the world body, Washington is now trying to build a partnership with the United Nations to help solve a growing dispute over how to select a new Iraqi government to replace the U.S. occupation, U.S officials said yesterday.

As they reached out to the United Nations, administration officials sought to placate key allies yesterday by saying that they are leaning toward switching course to allow France, Germany and Russia to bid on contracts for rebuilding the war-torn country. [complete article]

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Women in Iraq decry decision to curb rights
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, January 16, 2004

For the past four decades, Iraqi women have enjoyed some of the most modern legal protections in the Muslim world, under a civil code that prohibits marriage below the age of 18, arbitrary divorce and male favoritism in child custody and property inheritance disputes.

Saddam Hussein's dictatorship did not touch those rights. But the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council has voted to wipe them out, ordering in late December that family laws shall be "canceled" and such issues placed under the jurisdiction of strict Islamic legal doctrine known as sharia.

This week, outraged Iraqi women -- from judges to cabinet ministers -- denounced the decision in street protests and at conferences, saying it would set back their legal status by centuries and could unleash emotional clashes among various Islamic strains that have differing rules for marriage, divorce and other family issues. [complete article]

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U.S. may rethink election in Iraq
By Alissa J. Rubin and Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2004

With the United States scrambling to salvage its postwar plans for Iraq, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III flew to Washington on Thursday amid speculation in both capitals that an overhaul of the Iraqi political blueprint could be underway.

Although the White House insisted that Bremer's visit was routine, senior administration officials said the agenda for his meetings today and possibly through the weekend with President Bush and other top officials was being kept secret.

Bremer made a similar trip shortly before a Nov. 15 agreement with the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council was announced, which accelerated the timetable for transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis and detailed the process for forming a transitional government. [complete article]

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Former Bush aide set to inspect Iraq authority
By Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, January 14, 2004

The US Defense Department is poised to appoint Stuart Bowen, a former counsel to President George W. Bush, as the new inspector-general for the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

The appointment is likely to draw fire from Democrats uncomfortable with an appointment of an official who has close White House ties. Mr Bowen also held several legal positions on Mr Bush's staff when he was governor of Texas. It is understood Mr Bowen could take up the position as soon as next week.

When Congress in November approved Mr Bush's request for $87bn (£48bn) to rebuild Iraq, lawmakers insisted on the appointment of a CPA inspector-general to ensure US taxpayer money would not be wasted. [complete article]

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'Criminal neglect' led to media deaths
By Jon Henley, The Guardian, January 16, 2004

The deaths of two journalists in an attack by an American tank and troops on the Palestine hotel in Baghdad were the result of "criminal negligence", for which Washington must bear at least some responsibility, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said yesterday.

In a report on the shelling which killed a Reuters cameraman, Taras Protsyuk, and José Couso of the Spanish television station Telecinco, the international media watchdog said it was "inconceivable" that the US government and military command were unaware that up to 200 journalists had been working in the Palestine before the April 8 attack.

"Yet this presence was never mentioned to troops in the field or marked on maps used by artillery support soldiers," the group said in its report, which was based on interviews with reporters who were in the hotel at the time and US soldiers.

"The soldiers on the ground, including Captain Philip Wolford, who authorised the shelling, and Sergeant Shawn Gibson, the tank gunner who fired the shot, did not know, and had never been told, that the hotel was stuffed with journalists," said Jean-Paul Mari, the reporter who carried out the investigation.

"The question now is whether that information was withheld deliberately, out of contempt for non-embedded journalists, or through criminal negligence." [complete article]

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Who gets it?
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 16, 2004

Earlier this week, Wesley Clark had some strong words about the state of the nation. "I think we're at risk with our democracy," he said. "I think we're dealing with the most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory. They even put Richard Nixon to shame."

In other words, the general gets it: he understands that America is facing what Kevin Phillips, in his remarkable new book, "American Dynasty," calls a "Machiavellian moment." Among other things, this tells us that General Clark and Howard Dean, whatever they may say in the heat of the nomination fight, are on the same side of the great Democratic divide. [complete article]

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Sectarianism in Iraq
By Dilip Hiro, The Nation, January 15, 2004

Saddam Hussein's capture on December 13 ended the role of the minority Sunni Arabs as Iraq's ruling group since 1638, when the Sunni Ottoman Turks captured Mesopotamia (then comprising Baghdad and Basra provinces) and incorporated it into their empire. But, as a majority among Baghdad's 6 million inhabitants, and some 20 percent of the total population, Sunni Arabs remain a crucial factor in the complex Iraqi equation.

With Saddam's removal as the nominal leader of Sunni Arabs, the community felt an urgent need to fill the gap. It did so on December 25. That day eighty-five community elders, meeting at Baghdad's famed Umm al Qura Mosque, established the State Council of Sunnis. It consists of various religious-political strands--from mystic Sufis to Salafis (who advocate return to the pristine practices of early Islam) to the Muslim Brotherhood, the forerunner of many Islamist groups in the Arab world--all of them anti-Saddam. The event was a signal to Shiites and Kurds that after a painful period of meandering, the disoriented Sunni Arab community was getting organized to join the fray for power in the new order. [complete article]

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U.S. unfazed by mass Shiite protest in Basra, says demos 'a good thing'
Agence France Presse, January 15, 2004

The United States said it was not bothered by mass protests in Iraq against US plans for returning the country to self-rule, maintaining that such demonstrations are "fundamentally a good thing."

The State Department noted that tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims had taken to the streets of the southern city of Basra to demand early elections in Iraq and said it took their feelings seriously. [complete article]

Comment -- Sounds familiar? The State Department is using George Bush's ploy when asked how he felt about the antiwar demonstrators. He said he supported their right to demonstrate and that this is what the freedom of democracy enables. But the freedom to shout is of little value to those who cannot make themselves heard. The longer they go unheard, the more willing they will become to resort to violence.

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2 on 9/11 panel are questioned on earlier security roles
By Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, New York Times, January 15, 2004

The executive director of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has become a witness in the inquiry and has been interviewed by his own staff about his involvement in shaping the Bush administration's early counterterrorism strategy, officials said on Wednesday.

In addition, one of the 10 commissioners on the panel, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, was also interviewed this week. The unusual dual roles of the director, Philip D. Zelikow, and the commissioner, Jamie S. Gorelick, have raised fresh questions about potential conflicts of interest in the commission, which has been dogged by concerns about its independence since it was created in 2002.

In the transition before President Bush's inauguration in January 2001, Mr. Zelikow worked on Mr. Bush's team to help formulate national security policy. Because he participated in those discussions, investigators interviewed him to learn how much information the incoming administration had about the possibility of a major attack and what steps it took to guard against that threat. [complete article]

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America's empire of bases
By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, January 15, 2004

As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize -- or do not want to recognize -- that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire -- an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can't begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order. [complete article]

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Israel presses White House to reword rights report
By Ori Nir, Forwad, January 16, 2004

Israel is pressuring the Bush administration to omit references to the West Bank security fence from the State Department's annual human rights report.

American diplomats in Tel Aviv recently told Israeli officials that the administration planned to refer to the fence in the report's chapter that scrutinizes Israeli violations of Palestinians' human rights. But, sources said, the administration has not yet made a final decision on the issue.

The report is scheduled to be released in March, the same time that the International Court of Justice is expected to take up the Israeli fence issue. Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are worried that a negative citation in the report will weaken Israel's case at the Hague, according to Israeli diplomats and pro-Israel activists in Washington -- who also are increasingly concerned that any mention will be used as ammunition against Jerusalem in front of the court. [complete article]

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Brazil jails American Airlines pilot over fingerprinting snub
By Larry Rohter, New York Times, January 15, 2004

An American Airlines pilot arriving in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, was jailed Wednesday after he protested new procedures requiring the fingerprinting and photographing of all incoming United States citizens by making what Federal Police officers described as an obscene gesture.

Eleven other crew members on the same flight from Miami were refused entry to Brazil and detained after the police said that they had refused to be fingerprinted and behaved in a "derisive" manner. They were ordered to return to the United States on the next available flight, which was to leave Sao Paulo on Wednesday night.

The dispute heightened Brazilian-American tensions that started Jan. 1 when Brazil demanded that arriving American citizens -- and American citizens alone -- be photographed and fingerprinted. The policy was in retaliation for increased security measures in the United States that require citizens of all but 27 countries, mostly European, to undergo nearly identical procedures. [complete article]

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America, Iraq and presidential leadership
By Senator Edward Kennedy, Center for American Progress, January 14, 2004

I believe that this Administration is indeed leading this country to a perilous place. It has broken faith with the American people, aided and abetted by a Congressional majority willing to pursue ideology at any price, even the price of distorting the truth. On issue after issue, they have moved brazenly to impose their agenda on America and on the world. They have pursued their goals at the expense of urgent national and human needs and at the expense of the truth. America deserves better.

The Administration and the majority in Congress have put the state of our union at risk, and they do not deserve another term in the White House or in control of Congress.

I do not make these statements lightly. I make them as an American deeply concerned about the future of the Republic if the extremist policies of this Administration continue.

By far the most extreme and most dire example of this Administration's reckless pursuit of its single-minded ideology is in foreign policy. In its arrogant disrespect for the United Nations and for other peoples in other lands, this Administration and this Congress have squandered the immense goodwill that other nations extended to our country after the terrorist attacks of September 11. And in the process, they made America a lesser and a less respected land. [complete article]

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A rebel Republican
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, January 15, 2004

One of the tacit operating assumptions of the Bush administration is that the checks and balances have been checked. But that implacable wall has been cracked by an insider's surprising confessions. The former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, fired and forgotten, mild-mannered and grey, appears an unlikely dissident. He was, after all, the CEO of Alcoa, a pillar of the Republican establishment.

More is involved with him than pride and pique. While O'Neill records slights and is dismissed by some as a dotty reject, he does more than tell a few tales in the book The Price of Loyalty. The attack on him, consistent with Bush efforts to intimidate anyone who challenges the official version, underscores the inherent fragility of Bush's public persona, upon which rests his popularity. Bush's greatest political asset is his image as a masterful commander in chief who happens to be a nice man. Alongside him, Dick Cheney is viewed as the sagacious Nestor.

O'Neill's persuasiveness and the long-term damage he does to these icons comes from his years in the Nixon and Ford administrations and his first-hand critique of a government radically unlike any before, especially Republican ones. O'Neill's threat is to a president unusually dependent in an election campaign on fear and credibility to sustain a sense of power and inevitability. He sounds an alarm against an unfit president who lacks "credibility with his most senior officials", behind whom looms a dark "puppeteer", as O'Neill calls the vice-president, and a closed cabal. [complete article]

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Erdogan: If disintegration in Iraq takes place, we intervene
Zaman, January 15, 2004

Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said yesterday that in the event of Iraq's disintegration, Turkey will intervene. Erdogan stated that Iraqi Kurds are trying to take the oil regions under their control and "this should not be allowed. Kurds should be prevented from playing with the fire," warned Erdogan.

Upon receiving the Islam Revolution Supreme Council Leader, Abdulaziz Al-Hakim, Erdogan brought to attention that Iraq's territorial integrity should be protected. According to information given, Erdogan said: "We see the efforts of two Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq to turn the present situation to their advantage. We are surprised by this and we do not think this is right." The Prime Minister emphasized no ethnic and religious discrimination should occur in Iraq. Erdogan stressed the importance of the Iraqi government to be formed in June.

Erdogan said the government supports that 'Iraqis determine Iraq's future,' and added that, in the event of disintegration in Iraq, neighboring countries will intervene. He said: "Syria and Iran think the same as well. I say with sincerity that Iraq's freedom is our greatest priority. Disintegration of Iraq means instability for us. Your happiness is our stability." [complete article]

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Shiites back cleric's call for elections in Iraq
By Matthew Rosenberg, Associated Press (via SF Chronicle), January 15, 2004

Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims shouting "No to America!" marched through this southern city on Thursday to back their spiritual leader's call for early elections, a stand that could stymie a U.S. blueprint for transferring power to a new Iraqi administration.

The demonstration in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, followed a string of violent incidents across the country, including a car bombing in Baqouba and a series of clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents, which left 13 people dead.

An estimated 20,000-30,000 Shiite Muslims turned out to support Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani's demand for an interim legislature to be elected directly and not chosen in provincial caucuses, as called for under the American plan.

The massive demonstration showed that the United States cannot afford to take al-Sistani, the most powerful cleric of Iraq's majority Shiites, lightly. [complete article]

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Iraqis, U.S. authorities look to U.N.
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Atlanta Journal-Constitution), January 15, 2004

Iraqi leaders and U.S. authorities hope next week's meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will help resolve the impasse over a Shiite Muslim leader's objections to key parts of an American-backed political plan for Iraq.

At stake is the July 1 deadline for the United States to transfer power to a provisional Iraqi government and the international legitimacy that U.N. involvement would confer on the political plan--something Iraqi leaders need to counter skepticism at home.

There is no mention of a U.N. role in a Nov. 15 political agreement signed between L. Paul Bremer, America's top civilian official in Iraq, and the Iraqi Governing Council. But the accord ran into trouble when Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani raised objections, throwing into doubt whether the July 1 deadline could be met. [complete article]

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Mass demonstrations by women, others, against sudden Islamization of Iraqi law
By Juan Cole,, January 15, 2004

The Baghdad/London daily az-Zaman reports that there were widespread demonstrations on Tuesday by women against the order decreeing abolition of Iraq's uniform civil codes in favor of religious law, which they say "repeals women's rights" in Iraq. This story appears to have been completely missed so far by the Western news media, which is a great shame. Women are important, too, guys. [complete article]

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Ancient custom of demanding blood money now abused in Iraq
By Maureen Fan, Knight Ridder, January 14, 2004

The payment of blood money is an ancient tribal custom intended to settle disputes and end feuds, especially in rural areas. But in the absence of law and order, the abuse of fasil has increased greatly, due to the powerful influence of tribes.

Doctors are afraid to operate out of concern that their patients will die and their kin will come after them. Families of carjackers and thieves killed while committing crimes are demanding fasil from the victims. Tribal sheiks have agreed publicly not to seek compensation on behalf of criminals, but they've continued to do it because so many people are without jobs and need money. [complete article]

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Gangsters operate own prisons as kidnapping soars in Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, January 15, 2004

Kidnapping is now the crime of choice among gangsters in Baghdad.

Colonel Feisal Ali, a veteran Baghdad policeman, said: "Criminals who used to steal gold and jewellery now specialise in kidnapping because it is easier and more profitable. Some actually maintain their own private prisons."

Even the very moderately wealthy in Baghdad are terrified that kidnappers will strike at them or their families. They drive their children to school fearing that, otherwise, they will be seized at the school bus stop. Some of the richer businessmen have sent their children out of the country to Jordan or the Gulf. [complete article]

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OPEC mulls move to euro for pricing crude oil
By Patrick Brethour, Globe and Mail, January 12, 2004

OPEC is considering a move away from using the U.S. dollar -- and to the euro -- to set its price targets for crude oil, the highest-profile manifestation of the debilitating effect of depreciation on the greenback's standing as the currency of international commerce.

Several members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are seeking formal talks on using the euro, as well as the U.S. dollar, when determining price targets for crude, a senior oil minister within the cartel said Monday. "There are countries that are proposing this," Venezuela's Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said in Caracas. "It's out there, under discussion."

Mr. Ramirez did not specify which OPEC members are pushing the proposal, but much of the impetus is believed to come from Persian Gulf producers.

They have seen their purchasing power in Europe pinched as the U.S. dollar loses ground against the euro -- including touching a record low Monday. [complete article]

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Iranian cleric rules in favor of some reformist candidates
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, January 15, 2004

Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, broke his silence Wednesday on the barring of reformist candidates from parliamentary races, saying the incumbents among them should be allowed to run.

Ayatollah Khamenei, meeting with members of the anti-reformist Guardian Council on Wednesday evening, also said nonincumbent candidates should be considered on their merits rather than rejected out of hand.

"If their aptitude was proved in the past," he said, "the principle is that they are still competent unless it can be proved otherwise."

Ayatollah Khamenei has the final word over all state matters, and his intervention is expected to ease the mounting political confrontation. [complete article]

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Oil-rich city will be major test for Iraq
By Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 14, 2004

Iraq's long-suppressed Kurds have converged on oil-rich Kirkuk to claim it as their own, setting the stage for a struggle that will profoundly affect this country once the Americans hand over power to a new Iraqi leadership.

Already, tensions are rising among the Kurdish, Arab and Turkomen ethnic groups vying for control of the city.

Despite their shared Muslim faith, the three communities have been distrusting and killing each other for centuries. The hatred boiled over in May with 11 people killed, then in August when at least another 11 people were killed. Fresh clashes left two more dead on New Year's Eve.

"This is not the Arabs' homeland. Their home is in the south," said Ribawar Ibrahim, a 25-year-old Kurd who fought against Saddam Hussein's rule.

Ibrahim is a peshmerga, or "one who faces death," who marched in with American forces and Kurdish comrades during the invasion of Iraq last year.

Ibrahim gave up his weapons after the fall of Kirkuk but is willing to pick up the gun again to keep the city in Kurdish hands. [complete article]

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Pentagon: Suicides of U.S. troops rising in Iraq
By Charles Aldinger, Reuters, January 14, 2004

At least 21 U.S. troops have committed suicide in Iraq, a growing toll that represents one of every seven American "non-hostile" deaths since the war began last March, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

"Fighting this kind of war is clearly going to be stressful for some people," Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder told reporters in an interview.

He said the military was taking steps to prevent suicides, ascribed by one defense analyst to a perception among young soldiers that the U.S. force in Iraq was spread thin and faced an endless task. [complete article]

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Splitting Iraq...
By Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, January 8, 2004

Salam blogged about a subject close to every Iraqi's heart these last few days- the issue of federalism in Iraq and the Kurdish plan to embrace Kirkuk and parts of Mosul into the autonomous region in the north.

I can sum it up in two words: bad idea. First off, Kirkuk doesn't have a Kurdish majority as Talabani implies in every statement he makes. The Arabs and Turkomen in Kirkuk make up the majority. After the war and occupation, the KDP (led by Berazani) and PUK (led by Talabani) began paying party members to set up camp in Kirkuk and its outskirts to give the impression that there was a Kurdish majority in the oil-rich area. The weeks of May saw fighting between Kurdish Bayshmarga and Turkomen civilians because in some selected areas, the Turkomen were being attacked and forced to leave their homes and farms.

While Kurds and Turkomen generally get along in Iraq, there is some bitterness between them. Making Kirkuk a part of 'Kurdistan', as some are fond of calling it, would result in bloodshed and revolt. The Arabs in Kirkuk would refuse and the Turkomen wouldn't tolerate it. To understand some of the bitterness between Turkomen and Kurds, one only has to look back at what happened in 1959 in the northern part of Iraq. [complete article]

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Security, reconstruction and political normalization in Afghanistan -- falling short
By Amit Pandya, Center for American Progress, January 13, 2004

This week, Afghanistan's constitutional loya jirga (national assembly) agreed to a new draft constitution, following three weeks of extremely contentious deliberations. President Bush welcomed the news, saying that this "lays the foundation for democratic institutions" and will "help ensure that terror finds no further refuge in that proud land." The assessment of the special representative of the United Nations Secretary General was more guarded. Lakhdar Brahimi feared that the elections to be held this year under the new constitution would be pointless without more security throughout Afghanistan.

Two years after the U.S. military intervention, the situation in Afghanistan is by all accounts unpromising. The efforts of U.S. armed forces, the Afghan government and the international community to secure Afghanistan from the Taliban and al Qaeda are producing mixed results. Afghan civilians continue to be victimized by local warlords, nominally affiliated with the Kabul government but not controlled by it. Reconstruction, in terms of physical infrastructure, human welfare and political institutions, appears to have slowed considerably. In just one sign of the failure on the security and reconstruction fronts, half of the country’s thirty two provinces are now no-go areas for aid workers. [complete article]

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Think again: Neocons
By Max Boot, Foreign Policy, January/February, 2004

A cabal of neoconservatives has hijacked the Bush administration's foreign policy and transformed the world's sole superpower into a unilateral monster. Say what? In truth, stories about the "neocon" ascendancy -- and the group's insidious intent to wage preemptive wars across the globe -- have been much exaggerated. And by telling such tall tales, critics have twisted the neocons' identities and thinking on U.S. foreign policy into an unrecognizable caricature. [complete article]

Comment -- On sites such as this, most of the commentary on neoconservatives comes from their critics, so, once in a while it's worth seeing how the neocons represent themselves.

Max Boot is one of the most vocal advocates of neoconservatism and commentary of his appears frequently in mainstream publications both sides of the Atlantic. His article above, appearing in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's journal, Foreign Policy, forms another strand in an ongoing campaign through which the neocons are attempting to reposition themselves. Their motives would appear to be threefold:

1. Regime change in Iraq was intended to serve as a "demonstration" both to other Middle East regimes and also the rest of the world. The message across the Middle East was, initiate internal reform leading to pro-American democratization now; otherwise the U.S. will bring about such change by force. The message to the rest of the world was, the "international community" is a liberal fantasy. States have a simple choice: they can either support or oppose U.S. global "primacy". (If writers such as Boot see a meaningful distinction between primacy and supremacy it's not clear to me what that is. I suspect that it's simply that the former sounds more like a benign expression of power.)

Now it's becoming clear that the demonstration has been far from effective in its intended outcome the neocons don't want their reputation tarnished by being held responsible for the results. They are thus at pains to distance themselves from the administration and its difficulties in Iraq by pointing out that they were not the authors of the post-war plan.

2. The neocons are in no doubt that the Bush administration has been the greatest champion of their cause and that the continued pursuit of that cause depends on George Bush's reelection. They also recognize that the characterization of his administration as having been steered by a neocon cabal is for him a campaign liability. Rather than glory in the influence that they have clearly wielded, they are now making the politically judicious choice of stepping onto the sidelines and casting themselves as nothing more than one among many pressure groups that participates in the fray of political debate. Thus, for instance, they attempt to cast Dick Cheney as a sympathetic mainstream conservative rather than their most loyal supporter.

3. By promoting the idea that the term "neocon" has become a synonym for Jew, neocons are attempting to silence their critics by implicitly accusing them of anti-Semitism.

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Hussein warned Iraqis to beware outside fighters, document says
By James Risen, New York Times, January 14, 2004

Saddam Hussein warned his Iraqi supporters to be wary of joining forces with foreign Arab fighters entering Iraq to battle American troops, according to a document found with the former Iraqi leader when he was captured, Bush administration officials said Tuesday.

The document appears to be a directive, written after he lost power, from Mr. Hussein to leaders of the Iraqi resistance, counseling caution against getting too close to Islamic jihadists and other foreign Arabs coming into occupied Iraq, according to American officials.

It provides a second piece of evidence challenging the Bush administration contention of close cooperation between Mr. Hussein's government and terrorists from Al Qaeda. C.I.A. interrogators have already elicited from the top Qaeda officials in custody that, before the American-led invasion, Osama bin Laden had rejected entreaties from some of his lieutenants to work jointly with Mr. Hussein. [complete article]

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Clashes rise in southern Iraq
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, January 14, 2004

The boom of exploding dynamite packets, followed by the rat-a-tat of returning assault-rifle fire, echoed all Tuesday morning through the streets of this gritty, once peaceful city on the Euphrates River, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Angry demonstrators confronted Ukrainian army tanks and Iraqi police at City Hall plaza for the second day in a row. A block away, Ali Aziz, 35, a stocky, out-of-work laborer, watched the battle from behind a schoolyard wall, red-eyed and shaking with anguish.

"I have three children to support, we are living in one rented room and I have to hold up a bucket to the ceiling when it rains," he said. "I helped protect the city offices during the war, but now the old thieves are back inside, and they only give jobs to their friends." The protesters were "out there to defend all our rights," he said. [complete article]

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Lift ban on reformers or I quit, says Iran's president
By Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph, January 14, 2004

Mohammad Khatami, the Iranian president, last night threatened to resign in the trial of strength between Islamic hardliners and reformers.

He warned that he would take all the country's prominent reformers with him unless hardliners rescinded a ban preventing thousands of progressives from standing in next month's parliamentary elections.

He appeared to throw his weight behind the reformers after prevaricating for two days. "We will leave together or we will stay together. We have to remain firm. If one day we are asked to leave, then we will all leave - together," he said.

His comments came during a meeting with 27 provincial governors, who have threatened to resign en masse if the ban remains in force. Several government ministers were also said to have prepared resignation letters. [complete article]

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Scientists suffer nuclear secrets' fallout
By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2004

Living with a top scientist in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, members of Mohammed Farooq's family said they knew that military intelligence agents were watching and listening to them.

Farooq joined Pakistan's effort to build an atomic bomb 27 years ago and answered to the armed forces. The military intelligence agency keeps a close eye on those entrusted with such national secrets.

"People associated with the nuclear program fully understand the secrecy involved in it," Farooq's son Osman, 19, said in an interview. "They know before joining any nuclear-related organization that they will be constantly monitored, around the clock."

But they don't expect to disappear. About 10 p.m. on Dec. 1, days after news broke that Pakistani scientists may have passed bomb-making secrets to Iran, military intelligence agents led Farooq from his home. His family has not heard from him for six weeks. [complete article]

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Deadly thirst
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 13, 2004

Ask Ariel Sharon about the Six Day war and he will tell you that the fighting of that momentous week in 1967 really began more than two years earlier as Israel responded not to Syria's tanks but its bulldozers.

Damascus was constructing a vast canal to divert the waters of two of the Jordan River's main tributaries away from Israel in an attempt to squeeze dry an already parched land. For Israel, the threat to its precarious water supply was as great a challenge to the existence of the fledgling Jewish state as any Arab army. Artillery duels and the Israeli air force brought work to a halt.

"People generally regard June 5 1967 as the day the Six Day war began," Mr Sharon wrote in his autobiography. "That is the official date. But, in reality, it started two-and-a-half years earlier, on the day Israel decided to act against the diversion of the Jordan. While the border disputes between Syria and ourselves were of great significance, the matter of water diversion was a stark issue of life and death."

The threat from Arab armies was buried by Israeli victories and the overwhelming technological weapons superiority it enjoys today, along with a stash of secret atom bombs. But continued competition for scarce water supplies continued to dog the Middle East. Anwar Sadat signed Egypt's peace accord with Israel in 1979 with a warning. "The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water," he said. [complete article]

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Israel's demographic timebomb
By Jonathan Spyer, The Guardian, January 14, 2004

Israeli right-of-centre politics is today turned in on itself. The reason for this derives from the prominence in recent weeks given to proposals for unilateral disengagement by Israel from the Gaza Strip and the greater part of the West Bank, in the event of the continuation of the current deadlock between the sides.

The Likud party's raison d'être, since its formation in 1973, has been the rejection of any territorial compromise in the West Bank, an area it considered crucial strategically, and which is saturated with sites and symbols of Jewish historical, cultural and religious importance.

In order to grasp what is happening in Likud, it is important to understand that the party has always rested on two not necessarily compatible foundations. The first is a disenchanted political realism, an acceptance that Zionism would need to re-establish itself in Israel in the face of violent Arab opposition to its claim, and a consequent viewing of the world and the conflict in stark, zero-sum terms. The second is a romantic nationalism, and a sentimental, historical attachment to the land. [complete article]

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Female bomber kills four Israelis at entrance to Gaza Strip
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, January 14, 2004

A female suicide bomber blew herself up early Wednesday at one of the entrances to Gaza Strip's main Erez crossing terminal to Israel, killing three IDF soldiers and an Israeli civilian.

One of the casualties was later named as 22-year-old Border Police Staff Sergeant Vladimir Trostinsky, from Rehovot.

Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, jointly claimed responsibility for the blast, which also wounded 12 people. [complete article]

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A Palestinian asks, who made my son a suicide bomber?
By Greg Myre, New York Times, January 14, 2004

Bilal al-Masri lost his 15-year-old son, Amjad, to Israeli Army gunfire on Jan. 3. During the funeral hours later, his teenage nephew was shot and killed by Israeli troops. And on Sunday, Mr. Masri's 16-year-old son, Iyad, set out seeking revenge as a suicide bomber, but killed only himself.

Mr. Masri is angry at the Israeli military, but in a telephone interview on Tuesday from Nablus, in the West Bank, he directed his sharpest criticism at fellow Palestinians who had turned Iyad into a human bomb.

"Those who sent him were not supposed to do that," said Mr. Masri, 44, who works at a pharmacy. "They were supposed to understand his situation and not to let him do such a thing, even if he asked."

The parents of Palestinian suicide bombers almost always praise their sons and daughters as martyrs and heroes. Mr. Masri's opposition is a sentiment rarely voiced. [complete article]

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Israeli soldier faces manslaughter charge over Briton's death
The Guardian, January 14, 2004

An Israeli soldier is expected to be charged with manslaughter following the death of British peace activist Tom Hurndall, who was shot in the head nine months ago in the Gaza strip, Israeli military sources said today.

The 22-year-old student died last night at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney, south-west London, after being in a coma since the shooting. His family have said they hope that the accused Israeli soldier will be charged with murder.

Witnesses said Mr Hurndall was shot as he was shepherding children to safety out of the path of an Israeli tank in the town of Rafah on April 11 last year. He was with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a pro-Palestinian group whose activists volunteer to serve as buffers between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. [complete article]

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Betrayal behind Israeli attack on U.S. ship
By Adm. Thomas Moorer (former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff), Houston Chronicle, January 9, 2004

After State Department officials and historians assembled in Washington, D.C., last week to discuss the 1967 war in the Middle East, I am compelled to speak out about one of U.S. history's most shocking cover-ups.

On June 8, 1967, Israel attacked our proud naval ship -- the USS Liberty -- killing 34 American servicemen and wounding 172. Those men were then betrayed and left to die by our own government.

U.S. military rescue aircraft were recalled, not once, but twice, through direct intervention by the Johnson administration. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's cancellation of the Navy's attempt to rescue the Liberty, which I personally confirmed from the commanders of the aircraft carriers America and Saratoga, was the most disgraceful act I witnessed in my entire military career. [complete article]

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September 11: Will terror panel's report be an election issue?
By Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, January 19, 2004

A new political battle is brewing over the federal panel investigating the 9/11 terror attacks, Newsweek has learned. Facing a May deadline that many members no longer think they can meet, the panel is weighing asking Congress for more time to prepare its report. Some members want a few extra months -- which would push back its release into the summer. But the prospect of unleashing the report in the middle of the election season is creating anxiety inside the White House. Some aides fear that the document will contain fresh ammo for Democrats eager to prove Bush was inattentive to terrorism warnings prior to 9/11. As a result, Bush officials recently floated a surprise strategic switch: they might OK a delay, but only if the report were put off until December, thereby "taking it out of the election," said a commission source. Late last week, though, the White House told the commission it was sticking with its longstanding position of no give on the May deadline.

If the commission has suggestions about how to improve defenses, "we need to know now," a White House spokeswoman said.

Still, the issue of a new deadline for the 9/11 report was described by commission sources as the subject of highly sensitive negotiations. Fueling them: frustration over administration delays in delivering documents and cumbersome hurdles imposed on sensitive national-security materials. [complete article]

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The barreling Bushes
By Kevin Phillips, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2004

Dynasties in American politics are dangerous. We saw it with the Kennedys, we may well see it with the Clintons and we're certainly seeing it with the Bushes. Between now and the November election, it's crucial that Americans come to understand how four generations of the current president's family have embroiled the United States in the Middle East through CIA connections, arms shipments, rogue banks, inherited war policies and personal financial links.

As early as 1964, George H.W. Bush, running for the U.S. Senate from Texas, was labeled by incumbent Democrat Ralph Yarborough as a hireling of the sheik of Kuwait, for whom Bush's company drilled offshore oil wells. Over the four decades since then, the ever-reaching Bushes have emerged as the first U.S. political clan to thoroughly entangle themselves with Middle Eastern royal families and oil money. The family even has links to the Bin Ladens -- though not to family black sheep Osama bin Laden -- going back to the 1970s.

How these unusual relationships helped bring about 9/11 and then distorted the U.S. response to Islamic terrorism requires thinking of the Bush family as a dynasty. The two Bush presidencies are inextricably linked by that dynasty. [complete article]

Order Kevin Philip's new book, "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush," through this link and The War in Context will receive a 15% commission.

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Rumsfeld warned of U.S. war crimes
By Mark Turner, Financial Times, January 13, 2004

US military forces in Iraq "appear" to have committed war crimes by detaining relatives of suspected insurgents or wanted former officials, and demolishing their homes, the US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has warned.

Kenneth Roth, the organisation's executive director, told US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a letter on Monday that the US had reportedly demolished homes "on at least four recent occasions, in situations that did not meet the test of military necessity".

It said the actions "rather appeared to be for the purpose of punishing or compelling the co-operation of the family in question". In two incidents, it added, "US forces also reportedly detained close relatives of a person that the US was attempting to apprehend. In these cases the individuals detained were themselves not suspected of responsibility for any wrongdoing."

According to Human Rights Watch, destroying civilian property as a reprisal or deterrent "amounts to collective punishment, which is prohibited by the 1949 Geneva Conventions". Detaining people in order to compel actions from the opposing side "amounts to hostage taking, which is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions: in other words, a war crime". [complete article]

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Al Hakim against Kurds' forming federation, January 13, 2004

Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, a member of the Iraqi Interim Governing Council and the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), is against the initiative of Iraqi Kurds to form ethnic-based federation.

Diplomatic sources said on Tuesday that Al-Hakim assumed an attitude against the initiative of Iraqi Kurds to form an ethnic-based federation in his meeting in the [Turkish] Foreign Ministry.

The same sources quoted Al-Hakim as saying in the meeting that they were not against a federation but they did not want a religious or ethnic based federation.

Al-Hakim expressed uneasiness about efforts of Kurdish groups in Iraq and said that Turkey was a big and strong country and it could help them. [complete article]

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Shia unrest spells trouble for U.S. policy in Iraq
By Charles Clover and Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, January 13, 2004

For the last two months, coalition officials have been pressing ahead with the US plan, assuming that the elderly Ayatollah would change his mind. Instead, Mr Sistani's issuance of a a formal written ruling on the matter, which in Islam is tantamount to a law, all but ruled that out.

On Monday, Paul Bremer, the US civil chief in Baghdad, said he would press ahead with the original plan of holding caucuses to select members, calling it "the best way forward to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people".

But according to people close to the coalition, the caucus process will be modified to involve a degree of popular elections. It remains unclear whether this will satisfy Mr Sistani.

One of the ideas under consideration is that selected candidates to represent every province on the transitional assembly be approved in a "quick and dirty" election. Another possibility is to hold a referendum on the composition of the assembly.

Insisting that Mr Sistani's opposition is a problem but not an insurmountable obstacle, people close to the coalition said they sensed that his influence in the provinces was not as great as some analysts might suggest. [complete article]

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Egypt muzzles calls for democracy
By Glenn Frankel, Washington Post, January 6, 2004

In what was widely regarded as one of his most important speeches of 2003, President Bush proclaimed in November that it was time for the United States to support democracy in the Middle East. He said the establishment of a free Iraq would be "a watershed event in the global democratic revolution." And he called upon Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country and the second-biggest recipient of U.S. military and economic aid, to be in the vanguard.

"The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East," Bush declared.

U.S. officials insist they are seeing slow but positive changes in human rights conditions here. But rights advocates, opposition politicians and analysts interviewed here paint a darker portrait: of an authoritarian government that tightens or loosens the screws of repression depending upon how it perceives threats, that is obsessed with its Islamic opposition and feels harassed by human rights activists, and that wields a powerful state security apparatus that operates under far-reaching emergency laws and often deals brutally with opponents.

And they contend that, contrary to Bush's pronouncements, U.S. aid -- nearly $2 billion per year over the past two decades -- has propped up an unpopular government, its army and police, and helped suppress democracy. [complete article]

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The awful truth
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 13, 2004

People are saying terrible things about George Bush. They say that his officials weren't sincere about pledges to balance the budget. They say that the planning for an invasion of Iraq began seven months before 9/11, that there was never any good evidence that Iraq was a threat and that the war actually undermined the fight against terrorism.

But these irrational Bush haters are body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freaks who should go back where they came from: the executive offices of Alcoa, and the halls of the Army War College. [complete article]

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White House fires back at O'Neill on Iraq
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, January 13, 2004

The Bush administration reacted angrily yesterday to allegations by former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill that the president was detached from policymaking and was planning from his first days in office to remove Saddam Hussein even without evidence that the Iraqi leader had weapons of mass destruction. [...]

Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols said yesterday that the department's inspector general was asked to examine whether O'Neill had improperly released confidential material. He said the administration is particularly concerned about a document shown on "60 Minutes" that said "secret."

The administration previously allowed the release of some sensitive documents. Bob Woodward, author of "Bush at War," writes that his information included "notes taken during more than 50 national security council and other meetings," as well as "other personal notes, memos, calendars, written internal chronologies, transcripts and other documents." [complete article]

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Feud among Iraqi council members could stymie Bush plan for Arab democracy
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, January 12, 2004

A fight brewing within the U.S.-appointed Iraqi government could sabotage the Bush administration's dream of building a secular Arab democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

As the July 1 date to dissolve the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council draws nearer, some council members are pushing to remain in office even after a new national assembly is created to replace the council.

Under the proposal, which has been discussed only in private meetings, the group might advise the new government or, some argue, cast deciding votes on legislation passed by the assembly.

"The danger is that the general assembly would make a decision and the governing council would disagree," said Baghdad University political science professor Hamid Shihad. "There would be political chaos." [complete article]

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Bush team revising plans for granting self-rule to Iraqis
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, January 13, 2004

The Bush administration, seeking to overcome new resistance on the political and security fronts in Iraq, is revising its proposed process for handing over power to an interim Iraqi government by June 30, administration officials said Monday.

Officials held a round of urgent meetings in Washington and Baghdad in the wake of the rejection on Sunday by a powerful Shiite religious leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, of the administration's complex plans to hold caucuses around the country to select an interim legislature and executive in a newly self-governing Iraq. Officials say they are responding to the cleric's objections with a new plan that will open the caucuses to more people and make their inner workings more transparent.

Administration officials also expressed concern about a separate part of Ayatollah Sistani's statement on Sunday that demanded that any agreement for American-led forces to remain in Iraq be approved by directly elected representatives. [complete article]

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U.S. military 'brutalised' journalists
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, January 13, 2004

The international news agency Reuters has made a formal complaint to the Pentagon following the "wrongful" arrest and apparent "brutalisation" of three of its staff this month by US troops in Iraq.

The complaint followed an incident in the town of Falluja when American soldiers fired at two Iraqi cameramen and a driver from the agency while they were filming the scene of a helicopter crash.

The US military initially claimed that the Reuters journalists were "enemy personnel" who had opened fire on US troops and refused to release them for 72 hours. [complete article]

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Iran leader delays ruling on exclusion of reformists
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, January 13, 2004

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme religious leader, said Monday that he would not intervene for the moment in the gathering confrontation between the two main political camps in Iran -- the hard-liners and the reformists -- after a review panel that he controls barred hundreds of reformist candidates from running in parliamentary elections next month.

Ayatollah Khamenei, meeting with governors from around the country who threatened to resign en masse if the exclusions stood, urged them to avoid tension.

"Once all legal steps have been exhausted, if we arrive at a sensitive situation which demands a decision, there can be no doubt that I will intervene and give my opinion," he was quoted as saying on state-run television.

"We must respect the law and act according to it, because a bad law is better than lawlessness and violation of the law," he added. [complete article]

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Middle East studies under scrutiny in U.S.
By Michael Dobbs, Washington Post, January 13, 2004

When Rashid Khalidi took over the newly established Edward Said Chair of Middle East Studies at Columbia University last fall, the appointment was generally viewed as an academic coup for the school, which had succeeded in wooing away a prominent Middle East expert from the University of Chicago, a longtime rival.

But Khalidi soon became the target of an Internet campaign that questioned his patriotism. Conservative critics zeroed in on his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq and his public expressions of sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

"Columbia vs. America," declared a story on Campus Watch, a Web site dedicated to revealing the alleged bias of mainstream Middle East studies programs at U.S. colleges and universities. The New York Sun dubbed Khalidi "the professor of hate." [complete article]

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German trial of 9/11 suspect collapses
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, December 12, 2003

The trial of a Moroccan accused of plotting the September 11 attacks spectacularly collapsed last night after new evidence by a mystery witness - believed to be the al-Qaida mastermind Ramzi bin al-Shibh - was presented to a German court.

In an embarrassing blow to US efforts to bring those involved in planning the attacks to justice, a judge ordered the immediate release of Abdelghani Mzoudi. [...]

Last month Mr Mzoudi's lawyers failed in attempts to have Shibh's statements presented in court. The US authorities had passed on his testimony to the German authorities with the explicit understanding it would not be used in any court proceedings.

Last night it was not clear why the German authorities had chosen to ignore the advice, or why the Americans had apparently tried to suppress evidence that appeared to indicate Mr Mzoudi's innocence. [complete article]

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Troops disperse Iraqis rioting for food
By Nadia Abou El-Magd, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 12, 2004

Ukrainian soldiers fired into the air Monday to disperse hundreds of Iraqis who rioted for jobs and food as a second southern Shiite Muslim city was rocked by unrest -- a barometer of rising frustration with the U.S. led-occupation in a region of Iraq considered friendly to the Americans. [...]

In a similar protest in Amarah on Sunday, waves of protesters rushed British troops guarding the city hall before being pushed back. On Saturday, clashes in Amarah killed six protesters and wounded at least 11.

Unrest in the Shiite areas has spread as the country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, has spoken out against the U.S.-backed formula for transferring power to the Iraqis.

In a full-page newspaper advertisement Monday, al-Sistani repeated his demand that a proposed provisional legislature be elected rather than chosen by regional committees as called for under a plan endorsed by the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi Governing Council. [complete article]

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Top Shiite cleric hardens call for early Iraqi vote
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, January 12, 2004

Iraq's most influential Shiite Muslim cleric hardened his opposition on Sunday to U.S. plans for ceding control of Iraq to a transitional government, repeating his call for early elections and raising the specter of violence if his demand was not met.

The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, rebuffed delegates from the U.S.-appointed Governing Council who visited the holy city of Najaf in an effort to convince him that regional caucuses should choose a new assembly. The assembly would in turn choose a transitional government. The U.S.-backed plan would culminate in a new ratified constitution and a new elected government by the end of 2005.

Sistani insisted, as he has since November, on direct elections this year that would give the country's majority Shiite population a chance to flex its electoral muscle.

"The planned transitional assembly cannot represent the Iraqis in an ideal manner," Sistani said in statement issued by his office. "New problems will arise as a result of this that will only worsen the tensions in the political and security situation.

"The ideal mechanism . . . is for elections, which a number of experts confirm can be held within coming months with an acceptable degree of credibility and transparency." In December, Sistani called on the United Nations to send a team to assess the environment for holding elections. [complete article]

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Once-ruling Sunnis unite to regain a piece of the pie
By Edward Wong, New York Times, January 12, 2004

Fakri Abdullah al-Qaisi says the vision came to him as it does with all prophets: in communion with God, atop a holy mountain. God's message, he said, was to unite the Sunni Muslims of Iraq.

That was in February, outside Mecca, at the barren Mount Arafat.

Mr. Qaisi returned to Iraq in June, and now has begun to realize his calling. He has brought together 85 leaders of Sunni groups from across the country -- groups often at odds with one other — to form the State Council for the Sunnis, the first unified political voice for Iraqi Sunnis opposed to American rule. [complete article]

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Brahimi to be U.N. adviser on Iraq
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, January 12, 2004

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan this week will appoint Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan the past two years, as his senior adviser on the United Nations' role in Iraq's transition to self-rule, say U.N. diplomats.

The decision to enlist Brahimi's support in fashioning the U.N.'s Iraq policy underscores the organization's intention to step up planning for its return to Iraq. But senior U.N. officials cautioned that it was still unlikely that the United Nations would undertake a significant role in the country until a provisional Iraqi government takes power in July. [complete article]

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Does this site help you become better informed?

If so, please share this useful news resource with your friends, relatives, colleagues, students, or staff. The more people come here, the more I'll know my time is well spent, the longer I'll keep up the effort.
Thanks, Paul Woodward

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Spies, lies, and weapons: What went wrong
By Kenneth M. Pollack, Atlantic Monthly, January/February, 2004

I began my career as a Persian Gulf military analyst at the CIA, where I saw an earlier generation of technical analysts mistakenly conclude that Saddam Hussein was much further away from having a nuclear weapon than the post-Gulf War inspections revealed. I later moved on to the National Security Council, where I served two tours, in 1995-1996 and 1999-2001. During the latter stint the intelligence community convinced me and the rest of the Clinton Administration that Saddam had reconstituted his WMD programs following the withdrawal of the UN inspectors, in 1998, and was only a matter of years away from having a nuclear weapon. In 2002 I wrote a book called The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, in which I argued that because all our other options had failed, the United States would ultimately have to go to war to remove Saddam before he acquired a functioning nuclear weapon. Thus it was with more than a little interest that I pondered the question of why we didn't find in Iraq what we were so certain we would. [complete article]

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Blair admits weapons of mass destruction may never be found
By Sarah Hall, Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Borger, The Guardian, January 12, 2004

Tony Blair yesterday signalled that weapons of mass destruction may never be found in Iraq, in his first admission of fallibility over the central justification he gave for going to war with Iraq.

In his most downbeat assessment of the contentious issue so far, the prime minister said he did not know whether WMD would be unearthed, and conceded that this flew in the face of widespread initial expectations.

"I do not know is the answer," he admitted. "I believe that we will but I agree there were many people who thought we were going to find this in the course of the actual operation ... We just have to wait and see". [complete article]

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The media, nuclear power, and failed peace: An interview with David Hirst
By Maureen Clare Murphy, The Electronic Intifada, January 9, 2004

"It seems to me clear that a great many Israelis, ideally, would like to see an Arab-free West Bank and Gaza. The statistics seem to show that. But of course, the question is how to implement this," David Hirst explains in this interview with EI. David Hirst worked as The Guardian's Middle East correspondent from 1967 to 2001, and authored the classic book The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, which was published in its third edition in 2003 with a new 120 page foreword. From Beirut, Hirst spoke with EI on the bias of the American media towards Israel in its coverage of the conflict, the implications of Israel's nuclear aresenal, and how Israel is more of a strategic liability than asset for the U.S. [complete article]

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Cry, our beloved country
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, January 11, 2004

Perhaps, after all, the world will save Israel from itself. Perhaps Israel's real friends will increase the pressure on the government. Perhaps they will understand that, even in Israel, external pressure is not always bad, because it may be the last chance to bring Israel back on the straight and narrow and make it a more just state.

The last attempt is modest, at present, but bodes well. The UN, an institution not highly thought of in Israel, resolved to bring the separation fence to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ), another institution sneered at in this country. This has already aroused surprising nervousness in Jerusalem's government corridors. Where the outcry of the Palestinians and the protest of the extreme left failed, the UN succeeded. This is not bad news. Suddenly Jerusalem officials discovered the wrongs the fence was causing. After most of its construction was completed, incarcerating thousands of families in compounds without anyone caring, a feeling of discomfort arose in Jerusalem. Yosef Lapid even warned of turning Israel into South Africa in the eyes of the world.

Good morning, justice minister, but your warning is too late. South Africa has been here for a long time already, and this is how most states of the world see it. Still, better late than never, only it's a pity the justice minister needed The Hague threat to understand that the fence his government built is an apartheid fence. [complete article]

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Overnight, a towering divide rises in Jerusalem
By James Bennett, New York Times, January 12, 2004

With a towering concrete slab lowered almost tenderly into a ragged street, Israel began drawing a hard line around Jerusalem on Sunday, walling it off from Abu Dis, an Arab village joined to the city for generations.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can look like the stalest of stalemates, a furious standoff that defies measurement and maybe even change. But in this crowded neighborhood of east Jerusalem, the city's Arab section, there was something monumental, even defining, about the 30-foot slab descending from the twilight, just after a muezzin called the sunset prayer over the crane's roar.

Israel has begun work on other sections of the Jerusalem barrier, which it says is a necessary bulwark against suicide bombers. But it has not built in such a busy area or so close to Jerusalem's center and holy sites. [complete article]

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Settlers vent fury at Sharon proposal
The Guardian, January 12, 2004

Tens of thousands of Israeli settlers and their supporters gathered in Tel Aviv last night to denounce Ariel Sharon's plan to remove Jewish outposts in the West Bank and Gaza, attacking their former champion in their biggest show of force for months.

At least two members of Mr Sharon's cabinet joined the crowd estimated at around 80,000, amid mounting anger at the prime minister's "separation" plan outlined last month, under which Israel would close some of the 150 illegal settlements and retrench behind its security wall.

The rally of groups from the Israeli right and Mr Sharon's Likud party, who once considered him their standard-bearer, piled further pressure on Mr Sharon, who is caught between the demands of his constituency and the need to advance the stalled peace process. [complete article]

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Syria rejects Israeli offer of talks
The Guardian, January 12, 2004

Syria rebuffed an invitation from Israeli leaders for peace talks today, claiming it was "not serious".

The Israeli president, Moshe Katsav - whose largely ceremonial position carries only limited political influence - had invited his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, to visit Jerusalem for negotiations.

It was not clear whether the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had backed the invitation, but he has recently repeated his opposition to talks with Israel unless they are restarted from scratch after Syria "stops helping terror".

With or without Mr Sharon's blessing, though, the invitation did not impress officials in Damascus. [complete article]

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Study published by Army criticizes war on terror's scope
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, January 12, 2004

A scathing new report published by the Army War College broadly criticizes the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism, accusing it of taking a detour into an "unnecessary" war in Iraq and pursuing an "unrealistic" quest against terrorism that may lead to U.S. wars with states that pose no serious threat.

The report, by Jeffrey Record, a visiting professor at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, warns that as a result of those mistakes, the Army is "near the breaking point."

It recommends, among other things, scaling back the scope of the "global war on terrorism" and instead focusing on the narrower threat posed by the al Qaeda terrorist network. [complete article]

See the complete report, Bounding the global war on terrorism (PDF format).

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'Antiwar' speech a timely reminder
By Matthew Miller, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 12, 2004

Howard Dean's major contribution to the debate so far isn't what you think.

It isn't his innovative use of the Internet or his grassroots fund raising; it isn't even his nimble ability to transform the Democratic base's outrage over President Bush into his own personal political trampoline.

No, in terms of the issues facing the nation in 2004, Howard Dean's most unique contribution - the place he departs from every other Democrat and all the major news media - is his correct refusal to accept George Bush and Karl Rove's language defining the post-9/11 struggle against terrorism as a "war." [complete article]

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Does this site help you become better informed?

If so, please share this useful news resource with your friends, relatives, colleagues, students, staff, fellow Congess members, constituents, fellow cabinet members, fellow members of the National Security Council (and if you happen to be married to the president, well include him too - it's good that we all be well informed!). The more people come here, the more I'll know my time is well spent, the longer I'll keep up the effort.
Thanks, Paul Woodward

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Perle-Frum book updates neocon Middle East agenda
By Jim Lobe, Daily Star, January 12, 2004

If ever there were any doubt about the Middle East policy preferences of the neoconservative hard core in Washington, Richard Perle and David Frum have put them to rest.

The two fellows at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), known to some as "Neocon Central" in Washington, describe their new book, An End to Evil, as a "manual for victory" in the "war on terrorism."

In it, the two call for Washington to cut off the flow of oil from Iraq and arms supplies to Syria and pursue suspected terrorists into Syrian territory, unless Damascus implements a thoroughgoing "Western reorientation" of its policies, beginning with a withdrawal from Lebanon. They also recommend actively promoting, through direct action if need be, the secession of Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province unless Riyadh provides the "utmost cooperation" in the war on terror.

The authors urge Washington to give up on the creation of a Palestinian state, saying, "We will not cure the vast malaise in Muslim civilization exposed by Sept. 11, 2001, by carving out a 23rd Arab state in the Judean hills."
[complete article]

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Bush decided to remove Saddam 'on day one'
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, January 12, 2004

In the Bush White House, Paul O'Neill was the bespectacled swot [nerd] in a class of ideological bullies who eventually kicked him out for raising too many uncomfortable questions. Now, 13 months later at a critical moment for the president, the nerd is having his revenge.

Mr O'Neill's account of his two years as Treasury secretary, told in a book published tomorrow and in a series of interviews over the weekend, is a startling tale of an administration nominally led by a disengaged figurehead president but driven by a "praetorian guard" of hardline rightwingers led by vice president Dick Cheney, ready to bend circumstances and facts to fit their political agenda.

According to the former aluminium mogul and longstanding Republican moderate who was fired from the US Treasury in December 2002, the administration came to office determined to oust Saddam and used the September 11 attacks as a convenient justification.

As Mr O'Neill, who sat in countless national security council meetings, describes the mood: "It was all about finding a way to do it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this'."

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," Mr O'Neill told the CBS network programme, 60 Minutes. In the book, based largely on his recollections and written by an American journalist, Ron Suskind, Mr O'Neill said that even as far back as January 2001, when President Bush took office, no one in the NSC questioned the assumption that Iraq should be invaded. [complete article]

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The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill

Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill traces the former Alcoa CEO's rise and fall through the Administration: from his return to Washington to work for his third President, whom he believed would govern from the sensible center, through O'Neill's disillusionment, to his firing, executed in a surreal conversation with Cheney, a man he once considered a fellow traveler. Suskind had access not only to O'Neill but also to the saddlebags he took with him when he left town, which included a minute-by-minute accounting of his 23 months in office and 19,000 pages of documents on CD-ROM. (Time)

Order Suskind's new book (discussed on this evening's 60 Minutes, CBS News) through The War in Context's new bookstore.

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Kurds' soft sell for a hard-won autonomy
By Brendan O'Leary, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2004

It is a maxim of politics that territorial autonomy is begrudgingly conceded by central authorities and ungratefully received by those to whom it is granted. That's one way to understand what is happening in Kurdistan, or what some still call northern Iraq. The Kurds of Kurdistan would like to be independent but will accept autonomy in a binational federation with Arab Iraq. Washington, Arab Iraqis and regional powers begrudgingly concede this emergent reality.

The Kurds are the largest nation without their own state in the Middle East. Greater Kurdistan was partitioned among Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq after World War I, even though it had a better self-determination case than most of the new states created by Woodrow Wilson and his allies. British colonial authorities in Iraq promised local Kurds autonomy in compensation but broke their word to appease Turkey and serve their petroleum interests. In independent Iraq, Kurds experienced coercive assimilation, expulsion and genocide at the hands of successive Sunni Arab-dominated regimes, most recently Saddam Hussein's. This history explains why they aspire to an independent Kurdistan. [complete article]

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Iran reformists barred from polls
BBC News, January 11, 2004

Hundreds of reformist candidates in Iran have been barred from standing in general elections next month by an unelected conservative body.

Reformists walked out of parliament on Sunday to protest against the ruling - they also plan to hold a sit-in.

More than half of the 1,700 candidates registered have reportedly been disqualified by the Guardian Council.

They include the brother of President Khatami, who is head of the country's largest reform party, the IIPF. [complete article]

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Professor Nagl's war
By Peter Maass, New York Times, January 11, 2004

Maj. John Nagl approaches war pragmatically and philosophically, as a soldier and a scholar. He graduated close to the top of his West Point class in 1988 and was selected as a Rhodes scholar. He studied international relations at Oxford for two years, then returned to military duty just in time to take command of a tank platoon during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, earning a Bronze Star for his efforts. After the war, he went back to England and earned his Ph.D. from St. Antony's College, the leading school of foreign affairs at Oxford. While many military scholars were focusing on peacekeeping or the impact of high-tech weaponry, Nagl was drawn to a topic much less discussed in the 1990's: counterinsurgency.

At Oxford, he immersed himself in the classic texts of guerrilla warfare. There are different schools of thought, but almost every work in the canon imparts the message that counterinsurgency is one of the hardest types of warfare to wage. Nagl read ''Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice,'' by Col. C.E. Callwell, a British officer who in 1896 warned of ''protracted, thankless, invertebrate war'' in guerrilla terrain. Nagl also read ''Small Wars Manual,'' published in 1940 by the United States Marine Corps, which cautions: ''Every detachment representing a tempting target will be harassed or attacked. The population will be honeycombed with hostile sympathizers.''

The more Nagl read, the more he understood the historical challenge of insurgency. Julius Caesar complained that his legions had trouble subduing the roving Britons because his men ''were little suited to this kind of enemy.'' In the early 1800's, Carl von Clausewitz wrote of ''people's wars'' in which ''the element of resistance will exist everywhere and nowhere.'' The book that most forcefully captured Nagl's imagination was written by T.E. Lawrence, popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, the British officer who, during World War I, led Arab fighters against the Turkish rulers in the Middle East and described the campaign (taking liberties with the facts) in his counterinsurgency classic, ''Seven Pillars of Wisdom.'' [complete article]

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Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric sticks to election demand
By Khaled Farhan, Reuters, January 11, 2004

Iraq's most revered Shi'ite leader insisted Sunday that democratic elections must he held within months, denting U.S. hopes of winning his crucial backing for Washington's roadmap for handing back sovereignty to Iraqis.

Officials from the U.S.-appointed Governing Council went to the Shi'ite Muslim city of Najaf Sunday to meet Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and try to persuade him to back the U.S. plan.

Under the plan, regional caucuses will select a transitional Iraqi assembly by the end of May, and the assembly will select an interim government that will take over sovereignty by the end of June. Full elections and a constitution will follow in 2005.

Sistani wants the transitional assembly to be directly elected, and is not backing down from his stance. If he does not back the U.S. roadmap, many of Iraq's majority Shi'ites may well refuse to accept the process. [complete article]

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Inquiry into Iraq protest deaths
BBC News, January 11, 2004

British forces in Iraq are examining the events that led to the deaths of at least five protesters in the southern city of Amarah.

Iraqi police and British troops, who control the region, shot at demonstrators when their protest about job shortages turned violent. [complete article]

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Perle's pulp fiction
By Mark Schone, Boston Globe, January 11, 2004

Though it's hard to recall now, there have been times during the past 25 years when conservative intellectuals were not drawing government salaries. Whenever they are out of power, they pay the bills by giving speeches, staffing right-wing think tanks, and pouring their Manichaean daydreams into pulp fiction.

Conservatives are prolific novelists, if not good ones. Since Sept. 11, 2001, reporters have handled the "factual" statements of the Bush camp with kid gloves, but literary critics long ago donned rubber gloves to dispose of his brain trust's admitted inventions. The ick factor is high, because these Friends of Bill Bennett aren't writing books of virtue. They're putting their steamy, bodice-ripping ids on paper. Why, for example, is there S&M in "1945," Newt Gingrich's 1995 fantasia about the World War II? "She rolled onto him," pants Newt (or, one hopes, ghostwriter William Forstchen), "and somehow was sitting athwart his chest . . . 'Tell me or I will make you do terrible things."'

Sometimes these scenes appear to give a disturbing hint of what the authors may want outside the bedroom as well. Lynne (Mrs. Dick) Cheney's satirical third novel, "The Body Politic," concerns a Republican vice president who dies of a heart attack during sex with his mistress. His wife takes his job. "The Body Politic" was first published in 1988, around the time of Dick Cheney's third heart attack. It was rereleased during the recount drama in November 2000, right before the veep-to-be's fourth. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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?

'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.

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.

Survival of the fittest: An interview with Israeli historian, Benny Morris
By Ari Shavit, Haaretz, January 8, 2004
"Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here." [...] "If the end of the story turns out to be a gloomy one for the Jews, it will be because Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer in 1948. Because he left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself."

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

By Jeet Heer, Boston Globe, January 4, 2004
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.

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