The War in Context  
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Cheney: Nations must join in terror fight
By Mike Allen and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, January 24, 2004

[Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos] Cheney urged the European Union to grant Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, membership in the European economic grouping. But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan complained afterward about the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In a conversation with a small group of reporters, Erdogan said he saw "nothing good right now" in postwar Iraq as a result of the U.S.-led intervention there.

"The only good thing is that a dictator is gone, but it's important what is going to replace him," he said. "The current Iraq is worse than Iraq prior to the war and worse than Iraq during the war." [complete article]

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Iraq blasts kill five U.S. troops and four Iraqis
By Dean Yates, Reuters, January 24, 2004

A car bomb has exploded at the entrance to an American military base in Iraq, killing three U.S. soldiers just hours after separate blasts elsewhere left two servicemen and at least four Iraqis dead.

Witnesses on Saturday said they saw a car ram a checkpoint outside the base in Khaldiya, 68 miles west of Baghdad, and explode as a number of soldiers were getting out of a vehicle.

A U.S. Army spokesman said six soldiers were wounded. All three attacks on Saturday took place in the "Sunni triangle" where much of the violence against U.S.-led occupation forces and Iraqis seen to be cooperating with them has taken place. [complete article]

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Bush seeks 7% boost in military spending
By Esther Schrader, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2004

The Bush administration wants to boost military spending by 7%, to nearly $402 billion, in fiscal 2005, the Pentagon said Friday.

That would take the defense budget to levels exceeding those at the height of the Cold War. The increase would help pay for a raft of costly weapons and programs bolstered by Washington's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But the proposed budget does not include the costs of ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which for two years have largely been funded through massive supplemental spending bills.

The administration is expected to make a request later in the year -- most likely after the November presidential election -- for an additional $50 billion or more to pay for those military operations. [complete article]

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Janes: U.S. might strike Hezbollah in Bakaa
By Lou Marano, UPI, January 23, 2004

The prospect of the United States attacking Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon is no idle threat, the editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest said Friday.

On Friday the digest released a report saying the Bush administration is considering such strikes in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where the bulk of Syria's forces are deployed, as way to pressure Damascus. Jane's attributed this to its regional correspondent reporting from Beirut.

In a phone interview from London, Alex Standish, editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest, confirmed that his sources were American and that they were communicating the views of people close to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Asked if his sources were in the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, he replied that he could not identify them further. [complete article]

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The only superbad power
By Serge Schmemann, New York Times, January 24, 2004

It is difficult to believe that George W. Bush has been in the White House for only three years. It seems ages now that we have been living in a new world, in which his administration is closely identified with new passions, new fears, new enemies. Sept. 11, of course, is the dominant reason; it has effectively divided our life into a ''before'' and an ''after,'' pushing the 20th century with its hot and cold wars, its thickets of nuclear missiles and its arguments into a foggy past. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton managed the immediate consequences of the collapse of Communism, but they did so when the presumption was still that the main threat to the world had been lifted, when there seemed no pressing need to define a new, post-Communist order.

For better or for worse, it was left to George W. Bush to propose that new order, and it hasn't worked out the way many had expected -- a world in which arsenals would be sharply reduced and democracies would cooperate in resolving conflicts, ensuring human rights and protecting the environment. Instead, Bush and his team disdainfully chucked out containment and deterrence and declared that America had the right to ensure its security any way it deemed proper, including pre-emptive war. The triumphant America of the 21st century would use multilateral institutions only when it suited American aims. Not only that; guaranteeing its safety required that America impose its democratic values, starting in the Middle East.

Someday Bush may be proven right, and a harmonious chain of friendly democracies may stretch from Central Asia to the Mediterranean. For the time being, the new American order has generated a tsunami of anti-Americanism, with the United States perceived in some quarters as a greater threat to world peace than Al Qaeda. [complete article]

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Interview: Al-Qaida down but not out, says French intelligence chief
By John Leicester, Associated Press (via SF Chronicle), January 23, 2004

The al-Qaida network has been severely destabilized but not destroyed by the war on terror and still represents a "very motivated and very dangerous" threat, the head of France's domestic intelligence agency said Friday.

At the same time, French intelligence has over the past 18 months monitored "a surge in strength" by terror cells that have no organizational links with al-Qaida but which "exist all over Europe," Pierre de Bousquet de Florian said in an interview with The Associated Press.

One such cell was dismantled in France over the past year, with the latest arrests coming this month. France says the cell planned chemical attacks against Russian targets.

Generally, the threat of terrorism for France "is real and of a high level," he said. [complete article]

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Mob leaves Iranian reformist leader injured
By Robin Gedye, The Telegraph, January 23, 2004

A 200-strong gang of political radicals attacked a meeting of Iranian reformists yesterday in the first outbreak of serious violence since moderates were barred from forthcoming elections.

Members of the radical Islamic Hezbollah movement burst into a hall in Hamedan, western Iran. They disrupted a meeting called to discuss the disqualification of 3,605 predominantly reformist candidates from next month's general elections.

The violence erupted after a speaker accused the Guardian Council, the unelected clerical body that vetoed the candidates, of disregarding an order by the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the disqualifications to be reviewed.

"Some 200 people attacked the podium, broke the microphone and beat people," said one witness. [complete article]

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Empty words for the war-torn
By Colbert I. King, Washington Post, January 24, 2004

Since President Bush's State of the Union speech last year, thousands of Americans have experienced the emotional equivalent of a 9/11 event in their lives. Because the tragedies weren't collective, didn't occur in a single day or within the confines of a downtown city block, the devastation and pain may have been lost on the rest of us. But within the past year, more than 500 Americans have lost their lives, thousands have been maimed -- many for life -- and an untold number of U.S. families and communities have been shattered because of war in a far-off place called Iraq.

Last Tuesday night was an opportunity for George W. Bush to eulogize the fallen, a chance for him to tell their families what their sacrifices mean to the nation -- a time for the president to help heal broken hearts. That didn't happen. [complete article]

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Iraqi city fractures along ethnic lines
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, January 24, 2004

"Everyone could be a target of someone in Kirkuk."

The overthrow of former president Saddam Hussein, rather than ushering in an era of reconciliation, appears to have released long-repressed ethnic rivalries and aspirations here. As the June 30 deadline approaches for the U.S.-led occupation authorities to hand over power to an Iraqi government, all sides are jockeying for position.

Kirkuk has emerged as a key arena. It is a city of impossible math. Kurds say they make up 40 percent of the population. Arabs say Arabs make up half, and Turkmens, Iraq's third-largest ethnic group, also say they are half of Kirkuk's population.

"Kirkuk is a flash point," said Ghazi Yahya Auglu, an official of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, one of the political parties in Kirkuk.

Kurdish political parties and their militias want to expel 270,000 Iraqi Arabs from Tamim province, which includes Kirkuk, under a plan to annex the region to a future autonomous zone. [complete article]

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Turkey seeks a say in Iraq as U.S. ties warm
By Amberin Zaman, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2004

Probably few Americans have heard of Col. William Mayville, but news that the commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in northern Iraq is to be transferred to Italy was celebrated in front-page headlines in Turkish newspapers this week.

"The colonel is finally going," gloated Turkey's largest newspaper, Hurriyet.

The American officer has been the object of national ire in Turkey since July, after he ordered the arrests of Turkish special forces troops in northern Iraq for allegedly plotting to kill a prominent Kurdish politician.

Coming only months after the Turkish parliament refused to allow thousands of U.S. troops to use Turkey as a launching pad to invade Iraq, the incident pushed relations between Turkey and the United States to their lowest point in decades. [complete article]

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2 in Iraq overbilling are fired, Halliburton says
By John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2004

Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, said Friday that it fired two employees who allegedly accepted kickbacks in return for helping a subcontractor overbill the Pentagon's Iraq reconstruction program by $6.3 million.

Halliburton officials said they informed Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz last week that an internal audit found that two employees of the company's KBR subsidiary, formerly known as Kellogg, Brown & Root, might have accepted improper payments from a Kuwaiti subcontractor as part of an effort to bilk the Pentagon.

The incident could give ammunition to critics of the war in Iraq and to President Bush's political opponents, just as the 2004 presidential election season heats up. [complete article]

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Profile: Influential Iraqi cleric Sistani
By Pamela Hess, UPI, January 23, 2004

More than 100,000 Iraqis, mostly Shiites, took to the streets of five major cities this week to demonstrate in favor of holding elections sooner than the U.S.-led coalition thinks is prudent. They were reflecting the view of Iraq's most respected cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani, the reclusive, 75-year-old mullah who is now throwing a wrench into U.S. plans to hand over the reins in Iraq.

In a message issued Friday, he called them off, encouraging people not to protest until the United Nations renders an opinion on the feasibility of elections.

Despite his influence -- which he periodically uses to contradict the wishes of the United States -- Sistani is regarded as a friend, according to a U.S. government official who spoke to United Press International on condition his name not be used. [complete article]

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Forsaken Iraqi city rolls out the red carpet for the Japanese
Agence France Presse, January 24, 2004

"Welcome Mister Japan", reads a banner outside a carpet shop in this dusty Shiite Muslim city in southern Iraq, whose residents are hoping that the arrival of Japanese troops on a humanitarian mission may bring long hoped-for prosperity.

"I wrote it to welcome all the Japanese, whether soldiers or businessmen," says shopkeeper Ziad Al Sarai. "We are going to ask them to rebuild our city, and we have nothing but peaceful feelings for them."

Since Monday, an advance party of Japanese troops has been surveying security and reconstruction needs in Samawa, where they will provide humanitarian assistance, such as restoring essential services and hospitals. [complete article]

Comment -- If the so-called coalition of the willing had actually resulted in a broad-based international force in Iraq, perhaps there would have been many more stories like this.

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Key U.S. Iraq ally backs Shia chief's elections demand
By Salamander Davoudi, Financial Times, January 23, 2004

Ahmad Chalabi, one of Washington's staunchest allies on Iraq's interim Governing Council, on Friday added to Washington's difficulties with its exit strategy from Baghdad by joining calls for direct elections before the country returns to self-rule.

Speaking in Washington on Friday, Mr Chalabi said: "I believe direct elections are possible. Seek to make them possible and they will be possible. The date of June 30 [by when the US is committed to handing over sovereignty] is firm. We intend to abide by it and President Bush is committed to it." [complete article]

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Sistani calls halt to anti-coalition protests
By Kamal Taha, Middle East Online, January 23, 2004

Iraq's leading Shiite cleric Friday called a halt to mass protests against US plans for handing over power, offering much-needed breathing room to the coalition as it counted the cost of a new wave of rebel attacks on Iraqi civilians.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued the decree to give time to a UN study on the viability of free elections, a week after threatening to launch a civil unrest campaign unless polls were held before the end of June - when the coalition wants to install a new government. [complete article]

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Ex-arms hunter Kay says no WMD stockpiles in Iraq
By Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters (via WP), January 23, 2004

David Kay stepped down as leader of the U.S. hunt for banned weapons in Iraq Friday and said he did not believe the country had any large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons.

In a direct challenge to the Bush administration, which says its invasion of Iraq was justified by the presence of illicit arms, Kay told Reuters in a telephone interview he had concluded there were no Iraqi stockpiles to be found.

"I don't think they existed," Kay said. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War, and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the nineties," he said. [complete article]

Comment -- This resignation has been expected for weeks. The question Mr Kay should answer now is, was he asked by the White House to postpone the announcement until after George Bush's State of the Union speech?

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Cheney: Weapons search needs time
By Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, January 23, 2004

Vice President Cheney said investigators in Iraq may still find weapons of mass destruction, reviving the possibility after nine months of searches.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Bush made no assertion that chemical, biological or nuclear weapons would be found in Iraq. Instead, he referred to "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities."

But Cheney, asked in an interview with National Public Radio whether the administration has given up on finding the weapons Bush has alleged over the last year that Iraq possessed, said, "No, we haven't." He added: "We still don't know the whole extent of what they did have. It's going to take some additional considerable period of time in order to look in all the cubbyholes and ammo dumps and all the places in Iraq where you'd expect to find something like that." [complete article]

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Bush under fire over 'runaway spending'
By Alec Russell, The Telegraph, January 23, 2004

President George W Bush is facing mounting anger from the conservative Right who accused him of letting government spending run out of control.

Forty Republican Congressmen have formed a rebel group committed to curbing federal spending.

The move followed an attack on Mr Bush and the Republican-dominated Congress by six conservative think-tanks and pressure groups in Washington over the surge in spending projects. [complete article]

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Volunteers needed!

Are you a news junkie, an intrepid web explorer and a regular visitor to The War in Context? If so, and you have the time, interest, and aptitude, please consider applying to become an assistant editor. For more information, send me a message telling me why this opportunity interests you, whether you have a relevant field of expertise or interest, how long you've been visiting my site, and what kind of commitment you would be willing to make. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Despair fatigue
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 23, 2004

If there's a dominant mood at Davos this year, it's perhaps a faint hope that the Bush-Cheney economic policies really will kick-start the global economy, coupled with pure fatalism about their performance in the Middle East. It's not just that the administration looks dazed and confused in Iraq. It seems to have forgotten entirely its earlier interest in the conflict most experts think is the real key to regional peace. In his State of the Union speech, for all that Bush talked about America's newfound "mission" to democratize and pacify, he never once mentioned the words "Israel" or "Palestine." Remember the much-ballyhooed "Roadmap" to Middle East peace? It was nowhere to be found in Bush's text, not even meandering between the lines. [complete article]

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Democracy at risk
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 23, 2004

The disputed election of 2000 left a lasting scar on the nation's psyche. A recent Zogby poll found that even in red states, which voted for George W. Bush, 32 percent of the public believes that the election was stolen. In blue states, the fraction is 44 percent.

Now imagine this: in November the candidate trailing in the polls wins an upset victory -- but all of the districts where he does much better than expected use touch-screen voting machines. Meanwhile, leaked internal e-mail from the companies that make these machines suggests widespread error, and possibly fraud. What would this do to the nation?

Unfortunately, this story is completely plausible. (In fact, you can tell a similar story about some of the results in the 2002 midterm elections, especially in Georgia.) Fortune magazine rightly declared paperless voting the worst technology of 2003, but it's not just a bad technology -- it's a threat to the republic. [complete article]

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U.S. offer to amend Iraq plan is rebuffed
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 23, 2004

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite Muslim cleric, has deemed a U.S. plan for the country's political transition unacceptable in "its totality and its details," a representative said Thursday. The remarks signaled Sistani's refusal to consider revisions that American officials hoped would permit the plan to go forward.

The comments by the spokesman, Mohammed al-Yahya Musawi, represented the reclusive Sistani's most forceful and elaborate rejection yet of the Nov. 15 transition agreement. The depth of the objections suggested a widening gulf between compromises U.S. officials are willing to consider and the demands of a man who is perhaps Iraq's most powerful figure. [complete article]

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Give the Shiites a say
By Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, January 23, 2004

During Bush's spirited meeting with an ethnically and religiously balanced delegation from the Governing Council, Ayatollah Abdul Aziz Hakim suddenly and gravely asked to speak privately with the president, according to several at the meeting.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other U.S. officials visibly tensed and tried to bypass the request. But Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, intervened to get Hakim and his interpreter five valuable minutes with the president. Rice sensed that Hakim had something important to say.

We need your protection. Don't abandon us. That was the thrust of Hakim's direct and personal appeal to Bush, according to a reconstruction of the conversation provided by a U.S. source. The ayatollah's remarks clearly applied to Iraq's Shiites, who are thought to make up 60 percent of Iraq's 24 million people. [complete article]

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The New American Century
By Arundhati Roy, The Nation, February 9, 2004

In January 2003 thousands of us from across the world gathered in Porto Alegre in Brazil and declared--reiterated--that "Another World Is Possible." A few thousand miles north, in Washington, George W. Bush and his aides were thinking the same thing.

Our project was the World Social Forum. Theirs -- to further what many call the Project for the New American Century.

In the great cities of Europe and America, where a few years ago these things would only have been whispered, now people are openly talking about the good side of imperialism and the need for a strong empire to police an unruly world. The new missionaries want order at the cost of justice. Discipline at the cost of dignity. And ascendancy at any price. Occasionally some of us are invited to "debate" the issue on "neutral" platforms provided by the corporate media. Debating imperialism is a bit like debating the pros and cons of rape. What can we say? That we really miss it? [complete article]

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The 21st century: a time for new oil wars
By Youssef M. Ibrahim, Daily Star, January 23, 2004

Oil is the one strategic commodity of the world that governments, from superpowers to minor states, will never allow to be free of political control.

To be sure, there are still some naive people out there who think the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with oil. It was all, they maintain, about weapons of mass destruction ­ which have yet to be found ­ and about building democracy. The US is progressively abandoning this project in its effort to get out of Iraq by June, the deadline officially announced by US President George W. Bush. To such people one can only say dream on.

Just before the invasion, neoconservative spokespersons, including Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, were openly saying that one of its benefits would be to turn Iraq into a private US gasoline-pumping station, lowering oil prices and assuring America a substitute to an increasingly recalcitrant Saudi Arabia. The occupation of Iraq ­ have no doubt ­ is about oil. [complete article]

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Immunity pact for American troops in Iraq still unsettled
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, January 23, 2004

The United States has yet to begin serious negotiations with Iraqis on an agreement to guarantee that American troops in Iraq will remain immune from arrest and prosecution by local authorities once a new Baghdad government takes over in June, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The status-of-forces agreement, often one of the most sensitive pacts reached between the U.S. and countries that host American troops, will also set the rules for where U.S. troops will be based and the conditions under which they will operate. [complete article]

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Why Libya gave up on the bomb
By Flynt Leverett, New York Times, January 23, 2004

As President Bush made clear in his State of the Union address, he sees the striking developments in relations with Libya as the fruit of his strategy in the war on terrorism. The idea is that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's apparent decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction was a largely a result of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which thus retroactively justifies the war in Iraq and holds out the prospect of similar progress with other states that support terrorists, seek weapons of mass destruction and brutalize their own people.

However, by linking shifts in Libya's behavior to the Iraq war, the president misrepresents the real lesson of the Libyan case. This confusion undermines our chances of getting countries like Iran and Syria to follow Libya's lead. [complete article]

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Frum and Perle are stirring it up again!

U.N. should change -- or U.S. should quit
By David Frum and Richard Perle, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2004

The United Nations is the tooth fairy of American politics: Few adults believe in it, but it's generally regarded as a harmless story to amuse the children. Since 9/11, however, the U.N. has ceased to be harmless, and the Democratic presidential candidates' enthusiasm for it has ceased to be amusing. The United Nations has emerged at best as irrelevant to the terrorist threat that most concerns us, and at worst as an obstacle to our winning the war on terrorism. It must be reformed. And if it cannot be reformed, the United States should give serious consideration to withdrawal. [complete article]

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For U.S., one-person, one-vote a problem in Iraq
By Evelyn Leopold, Reuters, January 22, 2004

As the world's foremost advocate of democracy, the United States is trying its best to avoid a one-person-one-vote in Iraq -- at least for this year.

The irony is not lost on Shiite followers of Iraq's most influential cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who question why the United States agitates for the ballot box around the world but not in Iraq.

"Clearly Sistani fears it could lead to a less than full representation of the Shiite majority," David Malone, head of the International Peace Academy think-tank and a former Canadian U.N. ambassador, said.

And the United Nations basically agrees with the Bush administration. "There is a perception that early elections tend to favor extremists rather than the moderates," one senior U.N. official said. [complete article]

Comment -- The issue that should be up for discussion is what makes June 30 immutable as the date set for the transfer of sovereignty? In this momentous task of creating a democracy in Iraq, should a timetable be dictated by a presidential election in America? If the White House wants to unfurl another "mission accomplished" banner, it better get clear about what is the mission and when it can be said to have truly been accomplished.

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The finality of evil
America vs. human nature

By Jeff Taylor, Reason, January 22, 2004

From the audacious title, to an opening that quotes Thomas Paine's rebuke of the "sunshine patriot," to a proposal for immediately widening the war against al-Qaeda to include Hamas and Hezbollah, An End to Evil is a worthy election-year polemic from Richard Perle and David Frum. The work is clearly meant to help define foreign policy for a second Bush Administration, and it may well do that if sloganeering continues to displace actual strategic planning. [complete article]

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Unveiled women are root of all evil, says Saudi cleric
By Robin Gedye, The Telegraph, January 22, 2004

Saudi Arabia's most senior Islamic cleric has condemned women who mingled unveiled among men at a business conference this week, saying their actions could cause "evil and catastrophe".

Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of the desert kingdom, made his comments after the country's top businesswoman called for reform and pictures of her supporters - without headscarves - appeared on newspaper front pages.

"Allowing women to mix with men is the root of every evil and catastrophe," he said. "It is highly punishable. Mixing of men and women is a reason for greater decadence and adultery.

"This is prohibited for all. I severely condemn this matter and warn of grave consequences. I am pained by such shameful behaviour in the country of the two holy mosques [Mecca and Medina]." [complete article]

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CIA officers warn of Iraq civil war, contradicting Bush's optimism
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, January 21, 2004

CIA officers in Iraq are warning that the country may be on a path to civil war, current and former U.S. officials said Wednesday, starkly contradicting the upbeat assessment that President Bush gave in his State of the Union address.

The CIA officers' bleak assessment was delivered verbally to Washington this week, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified information involved.

The warning echoed growing fears that Iraq's Shiite majority, which has until now grudgingly accepted the U.S. occupation, could turn to violence if its demands for direct elections are spurned.

Meanwhile, Iraq's Kurdish minority is pressing its demand for autonomy and shares of oil revenue.

"Both the Shiites and the Kurds think that now's their time," said one intelligence officer. "They think that if they don't get what they want now, they'll probably never get it. Both of them feel they've been betrayed by the United States before." [complete article]

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Senate panel's GOP staff spied on Democrats
Infiltration of files seen as extensive

By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, January 22, 2004

Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.

From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.

The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle has already launched an investigation into how excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were posted to a website last November.

With the help of forensic computer experts from General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, his office has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized more than half a dozen computers -- including four Judiciary servers, one server from the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and several desktop hard drives.

But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely disclosures is now known to have been far more extensive than the November incident, staffers and others familiar with the investigation say. [complete article]

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Ex-C.I.A. aides ask for leak inquiry by Congress
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, January 22, 2004

A group of former intelligence officers is pressing Congressional leaders to open an immediate inquiry into the disclosure last summer of the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame.

Their request, outlined in a letter on Tuesday to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and others, reflects discontent and unrest within the intelligence services about the affair, along with concern that a four-month-old Justice Department investigation into the matter may never identify who was behind the disclosure. The syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who first identified Ms. Plame as a C.I.A. officer in a column last July, has identified his sources only as Bush administration officials, and the Justice Department inquiry has not yet produced any public findings.

It is unusual for former intelligence officers to petition Congress on a matter like this. The unmasking of Ms. Plame is viewed within spy circles as an unforgivable breach of secrecy that must be exhaustively investigated and prosecuted, current and former intelligence officials say. Anger over the matter is especially acute because of the suspicion, under investigation by the Justice Department, that the disclosure may have been made by someone in the White House to punish Ms. Plames's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, for opposing administration policy on Iraq. [complete article]

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The American disengagement plan
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, January 22, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, will this evening meet U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the White House, and will try to explain Sharon's "disengagement plan" to her. But Weisglass can learn a lesson from her - it is doubtful if Sharon's plan will be carried out at a time when the United States has quietly completed its own disengagement from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All the signs point to the Americans believing war between the Israelis and Palestinians to be a lost cause and a waste of time and political prestige. [complete article]

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U.S. advice to Israelis: Don't start Syria talks
By Ori Nir, Forward, January 23, 2004

The Bush administration recently advised the Israeli government against taking up the offer of Syrian President Bashar Assad to resume peace negotiations, Israeli and American diplomats in Washington confirmed.

The administration, according to sources, voiced several concerns regarding Assad's recent public claims that he is willing to resume peace negotiations with Israel. The main concern, sources said, is that negotiations with Syria, which have slim chances of yielding an agreement anytime soon, would divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian track and impede efforts to implement the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

Another reason for America's opposition to Israeli-Syrian negotiations now, according to sources, is the desire to keep pressuring Syria to do more in the war on terrorism. Administration officials "want to have their own Syria policy, in which they can get [Syrian] concessions on Iraq," said a Washington activist with close connections to the administration. [complete article]

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Sharon the survivor: why Greek island affair could sink him
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 22, 2004

For months, Ariel Sharon's bitterest opponents have gleefully speculated on the nature of his downfall. Would he be toppled by the "Greek island affair" allegedly involving millions of dollars in bribes and plans to build an exotic casino on a tiny island in the Aegean Sea? Or would he be felled by the very scheming that helped bring him to power, using front companies to launder illegal campaign contributions?

For a while, the money was on the investigation of the "Cyril Kern affair", allegedly involving bribery and more illegal money in an attempt to bury the earlier scandal.

At times Mr Sharon's critics wearily confessed that they thought he might ride the storm, buoyed by a public that revered him for hitting back hard against the Palestinians. They cared little for the complex details of grubby corruption investigations.

But yesterday the betting was back on the Greek island affair to spell the prime minister's political doom, after a wealthy businessman and leading power broker in his Likud party, David Appel, was indicted for allegedly paying bribes to Mr Sharon and his youngest son, Gilad. [complete article]

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Iraq's top Shia cleric makes case for early direct poll
By Charles Clover, Financial Times, January 22, 2004

Any team of United Nations specialists sent to Iraq will have to "prove" its case if it asserts that the country is not capable of holding early elections, according to a statement issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's office yesterday. The statement was posted on Shia mosques.

The 75-year-old Mr Sistani, the supreme spiritual authority for Iraq's majority Shia Muslims, has insisted on early elections to a provisional assembly later this year.

He opposes the US-backed plan to choose assembly members via a series of provincial caucuses.

A spokesman for Mr Sistani said the statement was an "explanation" of the cleric's position. He added that "there was no reversing" his decision on the matter of elections "unless a group of experts on statistics and elections sent by [UN secretary- general] Kofi Annan proves the impossibility of holding elections in a specialised study presented to the Marjai'a [top level Shia clerics]". [complete article]

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2 G.I.'s killed as security is seen as obstacle to Iraq vote
By Edward Wong and John H. Cushman Jr., New York Times, January 22, 2004

For months, the Bush administration has resisted Iraqi calls for direct elections by June 30, citing the need for a census to compile voter rolls and other measures to ensure fair voting but too cumbersome to complete in time.

But some experts say that many of these conditions could be met. Another obstacle, perhaps greater and largely unacknowledged, according to the military, the United Nations and outside election experts, is the continuing violence in Iraq. To argue that security is a serious impediment, however, would be to admit that American forces are unable to quell the running war with the insurgents. [complete article]

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An address worthy of Enron
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, January 22, 2004

In the gallery at President Bush's State of the Union address the other night I saw Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots; Adnan Pachachi, the current head of the Iraqi Governing Council; and a bunch of other people -- all there to personify something Bush was saying. When he got to Iraq, I had my own man for the gallery. I pictured a smiling Ken Lay.

The former Enron chairman presided over a company that was going under while continuing to report a nifty profit. Whether Lay knew what was going on we have yet to learn. But the fact remains that he officiated over a sham, giving investors an accounting that was not at all true.

It was the same Tuesday night with Bush when it came to the war in Iraq.
[complete article]

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Bush may seek billions for Iraq after election
By Adam Entous, Reuters, January 21, 2004

President Bush may seek an additional $40 billion or more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year -- on top of the $400-billion military budget he will send to Congress next month, congressional sources and budget analysts said on Wednesday.

But Bush is unlikely to send the request to Congress until after the November presidential election to minimize any political damage, the sources said.

Bush's Democratic challengers have criticized the high cost of the war in Iraq and its chaotic aftermath. They say Iraq has cost $120 billion so far despite initial administration assurances that it would be "an affordable endeavor." [complete article]

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Military lawyer slams U.S. terrorism tribunals
By Deborah Charles, Reuters, January 21, 2004

The U.S. Marine Corps lawyer assigned to defend an Australian terror suspect being held at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba Wednesday criticized the military tribunal process and said it will not allow a fair trial.

Maj. Michael Mori, who in November was assigned to be the military attorney for David Hicks -- an Australian held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba -- said the system set up by the Pentagon for trials of non-U.S. citizens captured during what U.S. officials call the war on terror was unfair.

"The military commissions will not provide a full and fair trial," Mori told a news conference. "The commission process has been created and controlled by those with a vested interest only in convictions."

"Fairness is extremely important in all cases, particularly those that have commanded such international attention and will have international impact," he said.
[complete article]

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Pakistan nuke probe reached Iran, Libya
By Paul Haven, Associated Press (via Newsday), January 21, 2004

Pakistan's decision to detain and question some of its leading nuclear scientists came after it dispatched top-secret investigative teams to Iran and Libya to check allegations that greed led the men to cash in on nuclear know-how, a senior Pakistani official told The Associated Press.

Disclosure of the investigative missions indicates the seriousness with which the government is taking allegations of nuclear proliferation after months of public denials.

The investigation also has resulted in some researchers being barred from leaving Pakistan. [complete article]

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Most Iran VPs, ministers quit in protest
By Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press (via Newsday), January 21, 2004

Iran's worst political crisis in years deepened Wednesday, with the government saying most of its ministers and vice presidents have submitted resignations to protest the barring of thousands of would-be candidates from upcoming elections.

Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi warned that unless the candidates are reinstated, "the country will face many problems, both at home and abroad."

"Such disqualifications of prospective candidates is against democracy," Abtahi said after a Cabinet meeting. "The 1979 Islamic revolution was based on democracy, and such methods damage our Islamic democracy and turn elections into sham elections."

Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told The Associated Press that most of Iran's six vice presidents and 24 ministers have handed letters of resignation to President Mohammad Khatami. He didn't identify them. [complete article]

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Turkish leader warns of Kurd role in Iraq
By Louis Meixler, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 21, 2004

Kurdish control of an autonomous area in a future Iraqi state would threaten the stability of the country, a view shared by northern Iraq's neighbors, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday.

Erdogan, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, said he will raise those concerns when he meets President Bush at the White House on Wednesday.

Turkish leaders have repeatedly said they fear that expanding Kurdish self-rule in northern Iraq could lead to the country breaking apart and could threaten the stability of Iraq's neighbors, which has sizable Kurdish minorities.

"Let me be open and very frank with you," Erdogan said. "Any federal system based on ethnicity is not going to be healthy and will damage the future of Iraq." [complete article]

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Al-Qaida foils Saudi attack
Agence France Presse (via Aljazeera), January 21, 2004

Al-Qaida has foiled an attack by Saudi security forces on its members in Riyadh, Islamist websites have reported.

Two websites carried a statement on Tuesday attributed to the "Al-Qaida Organisation in the Arabian Peninsula" outlining how the attack was thwarted.

The group "was tipped off by elements within the Saudi security service about an impending attack against the mujahidin, who were in a public place in Al-Rabwa neighbourhood of Riyadh", the statement said. [complete article]

Comment -- David Frum and Richard Perle should take note. The headline reads "Al-Qaida foils Saudi attack" -- not, "Saudis foil Al-Qaida attack." While the neocons flex their muscles and make threats about regime change in Saudi Arabia, they should pause to ask themselves, who has more extensive connections in the Kingdom -- the Bush administration or Osama? If the House of Saud falls, who will step into the power vacuum? Secular, liberal, pro-western business leaders, or Wahhabi clerics and their supporters?

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How the '20th hijacker' got turned away
By Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman, Newsweek, January 26, 2004

The young Saudi said he had arrived in Orlando to meet a friend. But when pressed for details by an alert immigration inspector, "his story fell apart," says one law-enforcement official. The inspector put the Saudi on a flight out of the country. That incident, in late August 2001, was fateful. The FBI has since concluded that the would-be visitor, who carries the common Saudi name of al-Qahtani, may well have been the elusive "20th hijacker" who was supposed to be aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania on the morning of 9/11. [complete article]

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Thousands of Iraqis march to demand elections
By Dean Yates, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 20, 2004

Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims hit the streets of four Iraqi cities Tuesday, calling on the United States to hand over Saddam Hussein to be tried as a war criminal and demanding a bigger say in their political future.

The fresh rallies followed a march through Baghdad Monday by tens of thousands of people from the majority Shi'ite community demanding direct elections to decide who controls Iraq when the United States hands back power in June.

Many of Tuesday's protesters were supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand religious leader who has expressed support for Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. [complete article]

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Protesting Iraqi marriage vote
By Borzou Daragahi, Newsday, January 19, 2004

A decision by Iraq's American-backed Governing Council to hand control of marriage and divorce laws to religious authorities has sparked outrage among Iraqi women, who fear clerics will revoke the rights they enjoyed under the ousted regime.

Under Directive 137, approved by the council on Dec. 29 in less than 15 minutes, Muslim and Christian clergy will have final say about issues involving marriage, divorce and inheritance - matters that under Saddam Hussein were handled in civil court. The decision, which must be approved by a future Iraqi government to become law, means religious leaders would dictate such things as the number of wives a man may have, who gains custody of children in divorces, whether girls and women may inherit property, and how easily a man can get a divorce. [complete article]

Kurdish Iraqi women demonstrate against threat to their rights
Agence France Presse (via Kurdish Media), January 21, 2004

Thousands of Kurdish women marched in northern Iraq on Wednesday against an interim Governing Council decision to repeal long-standing secular family laws, once the most advanced in the Arab world.

At the same time, about 500 veiled women gathered in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf to support the decision that still has to be passed into law by US chief administrator Paul Bremer.

Some 5,000 women marched in the city of Suleimaniyah, said organisers from the Kurdistan Women’s Union, affiliated to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is headed by council member Jalal Talabani.

"It’s a heavy blow for women of Iraq and Kurdistan," said the union’s chairwoman, Kafia Souleiman, accusing those who took it of "ignoring the long struggle of women in this country". [complete article]

See also Riverbend on changing Family Law to Shari'a here and here.

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Kurdistan diary

Day one
By Alastair Leithead, BBC News, January 20, 2004

Only a couple of hours out of Baghdad there's a geological fault that the Kurds say marks the end of Iraq and the start of Kurdistan.

The foothills of the Jabal Harim mountains that cross the main road north are an impressive sight looming out of the morning mist.

But the small Iraqi checkpoint, with its cheery and welcoming soldiers who waved as they ushered us past, is many miles from the current border with the area administered by the Kurdish authorities. [complete article]

Day two
By Alastair Leithead, BBC News, January 21, 2004

It was a smoky and busy bar with dozens of voices talking over each other - a couple of gin-fuelled songs springing from the far corner.

Like a cosy pub you would find the world over, but like no pub you would find in any other part of Iraq.

Kurdistan is different - there are trees unlike much of the flat desert land in the south, the traffic lights work, the people speak an entirely different language. And they like going to the pub. [complete article]

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U.S. weighs letting Iraqi council rule; cleric may agree
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Philadelphia Inquirer), January 21, 2004

The U.S.-led coalition may turn over sovereignty to the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council if an influential Shiite Muslim cleric sticks to his demand for early legislative elections, coalition and Iraqi officials said yesterday.

One top Iraqi official said the cleric would accept a transfer of power to the Governing Council as a way out of the standoff.

Coalition officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that transferring power to the Governing Council was among options under study if the United Nations fails to convince Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani that early elections are not feasible. [complete article]

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Bush's foreign policy is cast in favorable light
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2004

The first rule of a State of the Union speech is to "put a Klieg light on the convenient facts and ignore the inconvenient ones," said foreign policy veteran James M. Lindsay.

And nowhere was that rule more in evidence than in President Bush's appearance before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night to deliver a lead-with-the-chin defense of some of the most controversial aspects of his foreign policy.

On the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for example, Bush continued to assert that the U.S.-led war had quashed a looming threat to the world. But instead of declaring, as he had so often in the past, that such banned weapons would yet be found, Bush talked of identifying "dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the Untied Nations."

The phrasing was so tortured that, despite his practice sessions, Bush tripped over the words. [complete article]

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Can he come back?
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, January 21, 2004

Howard Dean was exactly what the Democratic Party needed -- last year. Having learned one lesson, Democrats moved on to the next.

What Democrats needed after their disastrous losses in the 2002 election was a backbone transplant. The party's rank and file were clamoring for less timidity in confronting George W. Bush. The yearning was not just -- or even primarily -- about the war in Iraq. For most, it simply meant having leaders who stopped looking over their shoulders and checking Bush's popularity ratings. Democrats were sick of intimidation and capitulation.

The good doctor Dean answered the need and he soared. What he did not count on is that Democratic presidential candidates are a teachable species. They made adjustments. So did the voters. [complete article]

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If this is a service that you value, please help keep the site running by making a donation.
It's easy if you have a credit card. To donate, just hit the PayPal "donate" button below! (PayPal, with 31 million account members and available in 38 countries, is an eBay company that enables secure online transactions.) If you prefer to donate by check, send an email here for more information. Thank you, Paul Woodward, Editor

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Big test for the contenders
By David Frum and Richard Perle, New York Times, January 21, 2004

The results of the Iowa caucuses are being hailed as a victory for the tough-minded wing of the Democratic Party. But how tough really are the Iowa winners? Senators John Kerry and John Edwards, the top two finishers, may have shunned the wild rhetoric of Howard Dean. But they share their party's general unwillingness to think hard or realistically about the war on terrorism. [complete article]

Comment -- Leading neocons Frum and Perle reiterate George Bush's challenge to the Democrats: Are you guys tough enough to deal with terrorism? "Reiterate" would of course be the way they would describe it -- at least, that is, while they attempt to keep up the facade that the neocons are not steering the Bush administration. What's interesting about the Frum-Perle challenge though, is that while it is ostensibly a challenge to Democratic presidential contenders, it clearly advocates a primary focal point for foreign policy in a second Bush administration: Saudi Arabia.

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All in the family
By Douglas Brinkley, Mother Jones, January/February, 2004

Over the past year a cottage industry of anti-Bush diatribes has exploded onto the best-seller list. Many have unforgettable titles like Molly Ivins' Bushwhacked or Hunter S. Thompson's Kingdom of Fear or Al Franken's Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them). These books are brimming with nasty one-liners and parlor jokes portraying George W. Bush as a dangerous dunce, an aristocratic oil brat unfit for the Oval Office. The Bush Cabinet fares no better: Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, has been characterized as an utterly corrupt stalking horse for Halliburton, while Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has become Dr. Strangelove incarnate.

Given this left-liberal publishing phenomenon, where evil Bushies lurk around every civic bend dismantling our constitutional rights, it is with welcome relief that political commentator and one-time GOP strategist Kevin Phillips has stepped into the fray. Unlike the recent spate of anti-Bush books, Phillips' American Dynasty -- an erudite manifesto on the dangers of cronyism, hereditary privilege, "paper entrepreneurialism," and tax shelters -- is devastating due to its analytical fair-mindedness. [complete article]

Order 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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Terrorists plan D.C. fundraiser
By Sam Dealey, The Hill, January 21, 2004

House Administration Chairman Robert Ney (R-Ohio) will ask Attorney General John Ashcroft today to investigate a charity event for ties to an Iranian terrorist group backed by Saddam Hussein.

The event, to be held Saturday at the Washington Convention Center, is billed as a "night of solidarity with Iran." The organizers, led by the Iranian-American Society of Northern Virginia, hope to raise $140,000 to help survivors of the earthquake in Bam on Dec. 26, which killed 30,000 people.

But a number of sponsoring groups have strong ties to the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), and the fundraiser may violate the prohibition on providing material support for global terrorism. [complete article]

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Army Reserve chief fears retention crisis
By Vernon Loeb, Washington Post, January 21, 2004

The head of the Army Reserve said yesterday that the 205,000-soldier force must guard against a potential crisis in its ability to retain troops, saying serious problems are being "masked" temporarily because reservists are barred from leaving the military while their units are mobilized in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly said his staff is working on an overhaul of the reserve aimed in part at treating soldiers better and being more honest with them about how long they're likely to be deployed. Helmly said the reserve force bureaucracy bungled the mobilization of soldiers for the war in Iraq, and gave them a "pipe dream" instead of honest information about how long they might have to remain there. [complete article]

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What I saw in North Korea
By Jack Prtichard, New York Times, January 21, 2004

"Time is not on the American side," Kim Gye Gwan, vice foreign minister of North Korea, told me a few weeks ago. "As time passes, our nuclear deterrent continues to grow in quantity and quality." Those words are an indictment of United States intelligence as well as a potential epitaph on the Bush administration's failed policy in North Korea.

On Jan. 8, North Korean officials gave an unofficial American delegation, of which I was a member, access to the building in Yongbyon where about 8,000 spent fuel rods had once been safeguarded. We discovered that all 8,000 rods had been removed.

Whether they have been reprocessed for weapons-grade plutonium, as Pyongyang claims, is almost irrelevant. American intelligence believed that most if not all the rods remained in storage, giving policymakers a false sense that time was on their side as they rebuffed North Korean requests for serious dialogue and worked laboriously to devise a multilateral approach to solving the rapidly escalating crisis. [complete article]

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Another voice of academia is silenced in Iraq
By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2004

They buried Abdul Latif Mayah on Tuesday, and with him, many academics' hopes for intellectual freedom in the new Iraq.

Gunned down only 12 hours after advocating direct elections on an Arab television talk show, Mayah was the fourth professor from Baghdad's Mustansiriya University to be killed in the last eight months, his death the latest in a series of academic slayings in post-Hussein Iraq.

"His assassination is part of a plan in this country, targeting any intellectual in this country, any free voice," said Salam Rais, one of Mayah's students. "He is the martyr of the free world."

Tuesday, many academics acknowledged that the killers had succeeded in their campaign of intimidation. [complete article]

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In the State of the Union, Bush's "forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East" made no mention of Israel, Palestine, the occupied territories, the settlements, the "security fence", or a "road map" to peace

With eye on Sharon, Israeli settlement grows in West Bank
By Peter Hermann, Baltimore Sun, January 20, 2004

There are no immediate plans to abandon any of the 142 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, home to more than 220,000 Israelis. And many Israelis dismiss Sharon's comments about dismantling settlements as a false threat, that he is not serious when he says he is willing to make "painful concessions" to end Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.

At the same time, Sharon has a record of getting his way, whatever the obstacles, first as an army general, then as the Cabinet minister in charge of housing programs and now as head of the government. Over the past two months, he has said repeatedly that some settlements will have to go if there is to be a lasting peace. [complete article]

Lost hope in Mid-East conflict
By Chris Morris, BBC News, January 19, 2004

The metal gate is open when we drive through the Israeli checkpoint into the green fields surrounding the Palestinian village of Deir Balut.

But at night it's always closed and the main road into the village is blocked off by lumps of concrete.

"Don't fall ill here between six in the evening and eight in the morning", says Raad Mustafa. "If you do, you'll die". And he should know. [complete article]

Sharon, bulldozer diplomacy, and fear of transfer
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, January 21, 2004

Ariel Sharon is the acknowledged inventor of what may be called bulldozer diplomacy, the use of gargantuan earthmovers to create facts literally on the ground.

But his sprawling current masterwork, the security fence, may now be taking him in directions in which he may have little desire to go.

One direction, in fact, may be toward his political past. Years ago, Sharon was the progenitor and chief proponent of the argument - since adopted by his opponents on the far-right - that the only independent Palestinian state acceptable to Israel would be one occupying the present-day Kingdom of Jordan. [complete article]

Suddenly, Jordan is an enemy
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, January 21, 2004

The latest victim of the separation fence was the Kingdom of Jordan, which was reprimanded yesterday by the prime minister.

His sharp remarks and open threat that "Jordan has a lot to lose" changes Jordan's status to nearly an enemy country.

Jordan's position is not new. For months, Jordan has been trying to explain to Israel that it is vehemently opposed to the separation fence, not because it does not understand Israel's security needs, but because it has its own security and political needs.

Jordan's main concern is that the fence will force a large wave of Palestinian emigration toward Jordan and that would force Jordan to take preemptive steps to prevent such a move into its territory. [complete article]

Journey into prison
By Toine van Teeffelen, Electronic Intifada, January 20, 2004

Upon arrival in Tel Aviv, back from a holiday with Mary and the kids, a stout security guard with a friendly smile leads me deep into the Ben Gurion Airport complex for interrogation. In a small, sparsely decorated room the man shows me his Ministry of Defence insigna, and asks me how I feel.

A second person in the room, apparently a witness, brings me a plastic cup of water, staying silent, his head down. In a rather relaxed manner, the interrogator starts rolling his questions in a simple, straighforward English.

"How did you meet your wife?"

"Do you like Arab society?"

"Which Moslem teachers do you know in Bethlehem?"

Toine van Teeffelen is a Dutch national, married to a Palestinian, and is a local coordinator of the United Civilians for Peace, a Dutch initiative to send civilian monitors to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. [complete article]

Israeli fighter jets strike south Lebanon
The Guardian, January 20, 2004

The Israeli army today changed its account of the border incident to acknowledge that the soldier killed in the clash had actually been on Lebanese and not Israeli soil at the time.

"We deviated [from standard procedure] by going into Lebanon," Reuters reported Brigadier General Yair Golan as saying.

"From their [Hizbullah's] standpoint [the attack] is legitimate, although not from ours," Brig Gen Golan said. "It is very serious and an escalation ... it is a provocation by Hizbullah." [complete article]

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Kurds turn against U.S. after losing control over oil-rich land
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, January 21, 2004

Iraqi Kurds, the one Iraqi community that has broadly supported the American occupation, are expressing growing anger at the failure of the United States and its allies to give them full control of their own affairs and allow the Kurds to expel Arabs placed in Kurdistan by Saddam Hussein.

Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, told The Independent in an interview that the Kurds had been offered less autonomy "than we had agreed in 1974 with the regime of Saddam Hussein". [complete article]

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Iran said to renege on nuclear promises
By George Jahn, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 20, 2004

Western diplomats and nuclear experts voiced growing concern that Iran has reneged on its promise to fully suspend uranium enrichment -- a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Worries over Tehran's nuclear intentions coincided with decreased concern among nuclear watchdogs about Libya's nuclear ambitions. Tripoli volunteered last month to give up chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or weapons programs.

Disarmament teams are in Libya to start dismantling the country's weapons of mass destruction, and diplomats say the North African country apparently was sincere in its vow to disarm.

The most recent developments threaten, therefore, to put Iran at center stage at the next top-level meeting of the International Atomic Energy agency in March. [complete article]

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Defending the freedom to be fat

U.S. stalls U.N. plan to fight obesity
By Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, January 20, 2004

The United States, where two-thirds of adults are overweight, succeeded Tuesday in stalling a global plan to fight an obesity epidemic.

The World Health Organization executive had hoped to approve the plan to promote healthy food and lifestyles, drawn up with the help of member states, nutritional experts and the food industry, at the end of a debate Tuesday.

But the United States, backed up by its powerful food industry, has questioned findings on which the U.N. agency's plan is based and called for more study. [complete article]

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Toward a more responsible nuclear nonproliferation strategy
By Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed, Arms Control Today, January/February, 2004

As a presidential candidate in 2000, George W. Bush ... referred to nuclear weapons as "obsolete weapons of dead conflicts" and talked of making substantial reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. He offered some hope that nuclear weapons would be destroyed, delivery systems reduced, and programs designed to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons materials and technologies strengthened. He opposed ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but pledged to continue a decade-old U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing.

Bush criticized the Clinton administration for failing to make reductions in the U.S. nuclear force posture -- even though such reductions had actually been blocked by a Republican Congress -- stating: "America should rethink the requirements of nuclear deterrence in a new security environment. The premise of Cold War targeting should no longer dictate the size of our arsenal.....I will pursue the lowest possible number [of nuclear weapons] consistent with our national security. It should be possible to reduce the number of American nuclear weapons significantly further than what has already been agreed to under START II, without compromising our security in any way."

Time has powerfully demonstrated, however, that these bold statements were no more than campaign rhetoric. [complete article]

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An extreme inspiration
By Simon Jeffery, The Guardian, January 20, 2004

The frozen wastes of the Antarctic are far removed from the conflict of the Middle East but a joint team of Israeli and Palestinian amateur explorers hopes that its pioneering mission there will have a peaceful influence back home.

The six man and two woman unit, which included an Israeli special forces veteran and two former Fatah activists, set itself the goal of overcoming its divisions to work together in one of the world's most hostile natural environments and climb a previously unclimbed mountain.

At the summit, scaled with the accidental symbolism of the eight amateurs roped together in mixed groups, they unfurled the two national flags and read a declaration in support of a non-violent solution to the Middle East conflict. [complete article]

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Iraq's ex-U.N. envoy: U.S. sowing chaos
By Rawya Rageh, Associated Press (via The State), January 20, 2004

Saddam Hussein's former U.N. envoy accused the United States of deliberately sowing chaos in Iraq to prevent democracy from taking hold.

In interviews with The Associated Press on Saturday and Monday, former Iraqi U.N. envoy Mohammed al-Douri denounced a U.S. plan to create an appointed legislative body in Iraq and demanded free, direct elections instead.

He accused the United States of creating chaos in occupied Iraq as an excuse to avoid direct elections of a new government because that vote could lead to the United States losing control of Iraq's oil wealth and strategic location.

Al-Douri said democratic elections would be preferable to an appointed body no matter who wins - even if his Sunni Muslim minority, which held favor during Saddam's rule, is defeated by Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority.

"For me what is important is Iraq, not the majority or minority. I'll accept anyone who is elected - a Shiite or even a Kurd, if that is the people's choice," al-Douri said. "The important thing is that the (Iraqi) people elect, and not have individuals appointed by foreign entities like the United States." [complete article]

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Iraq and weak dollar loom over snowy Davos forum
Agence France Presse, January 20, 2004

Hundreds of the world's most powerful people begin five days of public and private talks here Wednesday on Iraq, the weak dollar and other global questions, with the spotlight on US Vice President Dick Cheney. [complete article]

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Going for broke
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 20, 2004

According to advance reports, George Bush will use tonight's State of the Union speech to portray himself as a visionary leader who stands above the political fray. But that act is losing its effectiveness. Mr. Bush's relentless partisanship has depleted much of the immense good will he enjoyed after 9/11. He is still adored by his base, but he is deeply distrusted by much of the nation.

Mr. Bush may not understand this; indeed, he still seems to think that he's another Lincoln or F.D.R. "No president has done more for human rights than I have," he told Ken Auletta.

But his political handlers seem to have decided on a go-for-broke strategy: confuse the middle one last time, energize the base and grab enough power that the consequences don't matter. [complete article]

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Bush and the Great Wall
By Mike Davis, TomDispatch, January 20, 2004

When delirious crowds tore down the Berlin Wall in 1989, many hallucinated that a millennium of borderless freedom was at hand. Globalization was supposed to inaugurate an era of unprecedented physical and virtual electronic mobility.

Instead neoliberal capitalism has promptly built the greatest barrier to free movement in history. This Great Wall of Capital, which separates a few dozen rich countries from the earth's poor majority, completely dwarfs the old Iron Curtain. It girds half the earth, cordons off at least 12,000 kilometers of terrestrial borderline, and is incomparably more deadly to desperate trespassers. [complete article]

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Give Iraqis the election they want
By Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2004

Proving again that Martin Luther King Jr. had the right idea, the peaceful demonstrations by thousands of Iraqi Shiites demanding direct elections have been a far more effective challenge to the arrogance of the U.S. occupation than the months of guerrilla violence undertaken by a Sunni-led insurgency.

Led by clerics demanding real democracy, the protests have strongly raised this question: What right does the United States have to tell people that they cannot be allowed to rule themselves?

With the stated reasons for the U.S. invasion -- the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his ties to Al Qaeda -- now a proven fraud, the Bush administration was left with one defense: It was bringing democracy to this corner of the Mideast. If we now fail to promptly return full sovereignty to the Iraqis, inconvenient as that outcome may be, the invasion will stand exposed as nothing more than old-fashioned imperial plunder of the region's oil riches — and the continued occupation could devolve into civil war. [complete article]

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Annan signals he'll agree to send U.N. experts to Iraq
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, January 20, 2004

Secretary General Kofi Annan gave strong indications on Monday that he would accept a request to send United Nations experts to Iraq, in a move that could help end the stalemate over how to turn over authority to an Iraqi-led government.

Mr. Annan met Monday with top American, British and Iraqi officials from Baghdad. The meeting came after months of ill will between the United States and the United Nations, which refused to authorize the Bush administration's decision to use military action. Last fall, after a fatal bombing at its Baghdad headquarters, the United Nations pulled out of Iraq, citing security concerns and a lack of clarity about its role.

Striking a stance that was at once cooperative and cautious, Mr. Annan told a news conference that he understood the urgency of the issue but that "further discussions should take place at the technical level." Those discussions began almost immediately, with United Nations election experts being briefed on the complicated political plans by which the occupation authority hopes to transfer power to Iraqis on June 30.

Diplomats said that despite Mr. Annan's careful public statements, it appeared likely that he would decide quickly to approve the request. A European diplomat who took part in the meeting said, "In my experience at the United Nations, when you say you'll consider something, you've already put your foot on the slope." [complete article]

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Iraq's halting progress
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, January 20, 2004

How are things going in Iraq, six months before the planned handover of power to the Iraqi people? The honest answer is "not very well." Despite many improvements in Iraqi life, the American-led occupiers haven't yet found a way to put Iraq back together -- politically, economically or socially.

That's why the Bush administration's decision to seek assistance from the United Nations made sense. The administration doesn't have a lot of good alternatives left. [complete article]

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Kirkuk: Harbinger of Iraq's future
By May Ying, Aljazeera, January 18, 2004

Down a potholed road, past a cemetery where her ancestors are buried, Farida Said sits on the floor of a darkened tent in the pouring rain, 10 feet from an open latrine.

Farida, a Kurd, was born in Kirkuk as was her father and grandfather. Before being expelled in 1991, she once owned a house here.

Across the street in a modest home sits Riyadh Hasan, a soft-spoken geography teacher and ethnic Arab who came to Kirkuk in 1978 as part of Saddam Hussein's effort to Arabise the city.

Both Farida and Riyadh have become political footballs in a highly emotional, sometimes violent contest between Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, Christians and even foreign states, over who should live in Kirkuk and who should control the oil-rich city from which half of all Iraq's oil exports flow. [complete article]

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Where day to day living has had its heart cut out
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 20, 2004

Fatina Zen stayed until the end, peering down her street through the lashing rain as towering concrete slabs were slotted into place one by one across the middle of the road. She wondered if her son might suddenly appear on the other side to wave goodbye but he never came.

The 52-year-old grandmother finally left once the latest section of Israel's "security fence" - recently renamed the "terror prevention fence" to improve its image abroad - had bisected the street as it worms its way through the Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Abu Dis.

Except that in Abu Dis it is not a fence but an eight metre-high wall (27ft) that has divided families and torn apart a longstanding community. [complete article]

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9/11 panel unlikely to get later deadline
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, January 19, 2004

President Bush and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) have decided to oppose granting more time to an independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, virtually guaranteeing that the panel will have to complete its work by the end of May, officials said last week.

A growing number of commission members had concluded that the panel needs more time to prepare a thorough and credible accounting of missteps leading to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the White House and leading Republicans have informed the panel that they oppose any delay, which raises the possibility that Sept. 11-related controversies could emerge during the heat of the presidential campaign, sources said. [complete article]

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Row brews over U.N. role in Libya
By Ian Traynor, The Guardian, January 19, 2004

The US and Britain are to open their first direct negotiations today with UN nuclear inspectors over how to scrap Libya's secret nuclear bomb project, amid a row over who should be in charge.

The contest over Libya is the third in less than a year, following furious rows between the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency and the Americans over the arms inspections in Iraq in the run-up to the war and then over how to deal with Iran after it was found to be running a secret nuclear programme.

John Bolton, the combative US undersecretary of state in charge of arms control, who makes no secret of his contempt for UN agencies, is to lead the talks in Vienna with the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, who visited Libya a fortnight ago after Colonel Muammar Gadafy announced he was renouncing his weapons of mass destruction programmes under a secret deal with the US and Britain. [complete article]

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George W. Bush and the real state of the Union
The Independent, January 20, 2004

232: Number of American combat deaths in Iraq between May 2003 and January 2004

501: Number of American servicemen to die in Iraq from the beginning of the war - so far

0: Number of American combat deaths in Germany after the Nazi surrender to the Allies in May 1945

0: Number of coffins of dead soldiers returning home from Iraq that the Bush administration has allowed to be photographed

0: Number of funerals or memorials that President Bush has attended for soldiers killed in Iraq

100: Number of fund-raisers attended by Bush or Vice-President Dick Cheney in 2003 [complete article]

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UK officials say Iraq elections by June viable
By Nicolas Pelham, Financial Times, January 19, 2004

British officials in Basra no longer oppose early elections in Iraq, saying security and procedural obstacles to polls could be surmounted before the transfer to civilian control on June 30.

"We have a working hypothesis that you could manage an electoral process within the timeframe and the security available," said Dominic D'Angelo, British spokesman for the UK-led southern zone of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Basra.

The volte face comes after demonstrators packed Basra's streets on Thursday in response to a call from Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's senior Shia cleric, to back his demand for an elected assembly. British officials estimated there were between 100,000 and 300,000 protestors.

Coalition officials fear Ayatollah Sistani could issue a fatwa, or religious edict, to his followers to suspend co-operation with the coalition authorities if polls do not go ahead. [complete article]

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Hate mail
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, January 19, 2004

Deborah Fink is a singer and music teacher living in London. She is also Jewish. Last month, out of the blue, she received a deluge of hateful emails - more than 150 in the space of a week.

One came from a rabbi in New York, informing her: "Your soul, my dear, is petrified and lost." Another said, menacingly: "Hitler killed the wrong Jews."

Yet another - ostensibly from a Jewish doctor of medicine in the US - elaborated on the Holocaust theme. "Too bad Hitler didn't get your family," it said. "With six million Jews dieing [sic] 60 year [sic] ago it's a shame scum like you somehow managed to survive."

What, exactly, had Ms Fink done to deserve this vitriol? The short answer is that she had been planning to sing.

Ms Fink is a member of Just Peace UK, a mainly, but not exclusively, Jewish group opposing the Israeli occupation and seeking "a viable and sovereign Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states". [complete article]

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Aid cut off to millions in North Korea
The Guardian, January 19, 2004

The UN world food programme (WFP) has been forced to cut off food aid to 2.7 million North Korean women and children during the country's harsh winter due to lack of foreign donations, a spokesman for the agency said today.

The WFP received new promises of aid from the US, the EU and Australia after warning in December of an impending crisis, but those supplies could take up to three months to arrive, said Gerald Bourke.

The food crisis coincides with efforts to arrange new talks on the standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Despite diplomatic tensions, two leading critics of the North's nuclear programme - the US and South Korea - are among its biggest food donors, and the WFP said that no governments had cited the nuclear issue as a factor in deciding whether or not to contribute. [complete article]

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100,000 demand Iraqi elections
Associated Press (via The Guardian), January 19, 2004

Today's demonstration [in Baghdad] saw a huge crowd of Shia Muslims, estimated by reporters at up to 100,000 strong, march about three miles to the University of al-Mustansariyah, where a representative of their spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, delivered a speech directed at the parties to the meeting at the UN headquarters.

Ayatollah Sistani, the country's most influential Shia leader, has rejected a US formula to transfer power via a provisional legislature selected by 18 regional caucuses. He insists instead upon full-blown national elections.

Under Washington's plan, a transitional government would be appointed to take over from the US-led coalition on July 1, with full elections not taking place before 2005.

"The sons of the Iraqi people demand a political system based on direct elections and a constitution that realises justice and equality for everyone," Ayatollah Sistani's representative, Hashem al-Awad, told the crowd. "Anything other than that will prompt people to have their own say."

The crowd responded by chanting: "Yes, yes to elections. No, no to occupation." [complete article]

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Frustrated Baghdad residents turn over foreign insurgents
By Nadia Abou El-Magd, Associated Press (via News & Observer), January 19, 2004

For six months, the Arab foreigners lived quietly in a Baghdad neighborhood with their wives and children, until neighbors tipped off U.S. forces they could be insurgents.
On Monday morning, American soldiers came to the door of a brown-brick house and - speaking in Arabic over a loudspeaker - ordered those inside to surrender.

When the raid was over, three men were dead, a Syrian and two Yemenis. Two of the men were shot trying to escape; the other blew himself up in the front yard. Inside the house, U.S. troops found a weapons cache.

The U.S. military had no comment on the incident. But witnesses and Iraqi police described how Iraqi civilians, increasingly frustrated with guerrilla violence, are cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition to catch suspected rebels. [complete article]

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UN 'to explore Iraqi elections'
BBC News, January 19, 2004

The United Nations is considering sending a team to Iraq to explore whether credible elections could be held before power is transferred.

After talks with Iraq's interim leaders in New York, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the UN would have a "role to play" in Iraq from July onwards.

The US has sought the return to Iraq of UN staff withdrawn after bomb attacks.

Earlier in Baghdad, thousands of Shia Muslims marched against coalition plans for an appointed government.

Mr Annan said he was studying a request from the US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer and members of the Iraqi Governing Council to send a team to Iraq to examine the feasibility of holding direct elections by May. [complete article]

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America as a one-party state
By Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, February 1, 2004

America has had periods of single-party dominance before. It happened under FDR's New Deal, in the Republican 1920s and in the early 19th-century "Era of Good Feeling." But if President Bush is re-elected, we will be close to a tipping point of fundamental change in the political system itself. The United States could become a nation in which the dominant party rules for a prolonged period, marginalizes a token opposition and is extremely difficult to dislodge because democracy itself is rigged. This would be unprecedented in U.S. history.

In past single-party eras, the majority party earned its preeminence with broad popular support. Today the electorate remains closely divided, and actually prefers more Democratic policy positions than Republican ones. Yet the drift toward an engineered one-party Republican state has aroused little press scrutiny or widespread popular protest. [complete article]

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War of ideas, part 4
By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, January 18, 2004

The Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks and has not persuaded Israel to give up one settlement in three years. To think America can practice that sort of hypocrisy and win the war of ideas in the Arab-Muslim world is a truly dangerous fantasy. [complete article]

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Iraqis protest at handover plan
BBC News, January 19, 2004

Tens of thousands of Shia Muslims have marched against coalition proposals for a transfer of power, just hours before the US seeks UN backing for the plan.

The rally in Baghdad follows a peaceful protest in Basra calling for direct elections to a transitional government.

US administrator Paul Bremer will ask the United Nations to support its plan for an interim selected authority.

Any sustained opposition by Iraq's Shia majority would cause serious problems for the US, correspondents say.

Monday's protest saw thousands upon thousands of Iraqis marching through the capital, many clasping each other's hands above their heads, to demand full general elections. [complete article]

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Blood, bewilderment and rage
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, January 19, 2004

At 8 a.m. Sunday, Abdullah Daud was waiting in a long line at a checkpoint outside the U.S. administration headquarters, hoping to be chosen for a day's construction work inside. By 10 a.m., Daud lay on an emergency room cot, blood seeping through bandages on his head.

"I don't know what kind of Iraqi could do something like this against other Iraqis, exactly at the time when the checkpost would be most crowded," said Daud, 26, his voice shaking with bewildered rage as he described what he had seen: a pickup truck exploding a few yards away from him as dozens of people filed in to work, women screaming, men rushing to help the wounded, bodies falling, a girl with her feet blown off.

Daud speculated that the suicide bombers must have come from somewhere else, "from Palestine, or from Osama" bin Laden, he said with disgust, "who thinks he is the new Islamic prophet."

Then the wounded man's anger took another turn. "It's all the Americans' fault," he said. "They should help us as they promised they would." [complete article]

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Wary Annan set to discuss a possible U.N. role in Iraq
By Robin Wright and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, January 19, 2004

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is prepared to try to help the United States salvage its Iraq strategy, despite more than a year of rancorous relations over the country, largely due to his deep concern about the potential for a political implosion in Iraq, according to senior U.S. and U.N. officials.

But Annan, who is also wary of U.S. motives, intends to ask some tough and specific questions in talks with L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, and the Iraqi Governing Council at their meeting today in New York, U.N. officials say. The key is how much authority the United States is willing to cede on policy, a critical issue because the United Nations does not want to be used simply to give credibility to the troubled U.S. plan to hand over power to Iraq by June 30.

Annan has set three other conditions for the United Nations to return to Iraq: complete clarity on the scope of the U.N. role, security guarantees, and assurances that the substance of the U.N. role would justify the risks. [complete article]

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U.N. prepares for meeting about Iraq, wary of U.S. motives
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, January 18, 2004

The United States comes to the United Nations on Monday, asking the organization that the Bush administration has kept at a deliberate distance from its Iraq stabilization plan to step in now and help rescue it.

In off-the-record comments, many here complain about being asked to validate a process from which they were excluded, and wonder if the world organization is not being manipulated by the White House for election-year political purposes.

The November agreement between the United States and the Iraqi Governing Council to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30 made no mention of any United Nations role, and the omission was one that Secretary General Kofi Annan said he took as a snub. [complete article]

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Back from exile, Kurds demand political power
By Edward Wong, New York Times, January 19, 2004

For 130 Kurdish families just returned from exile, purgatory is a muddy field of green canvas tents propped up on this city's edge, the floors damp with rainwater, the interiors warmed by small kerosene heaters.

It is not the homecoming they expected. Driven from Kirkuk more than a decade ago by Saddam Hussein's government, they eke out their days waiting for what they say is their due.

"We lost years of our lives, so we need compensation," Lukman Abdul-Rahman, 39, said as he stood surrounded by a dozen men, all nodding vigorously. "The Kurds have suffered much more than others, and we should be the government's top priority."

Kurdish demands for political rights and reparations have suddenly emerged as one of the most pressing issues confronting American officials, who are trying to create an Iraqi transitional government. Kirkuk, an oil-rich city just outside the northern Kurdish region, is the linchpin of the Kurds' drive to retain their autonomy. [complete article]

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Coalition faces new battlefront
By Borzou Daragahi, The Scotsman, January 19, 2004

Pop music was always meant to be subversive but in Iraq it is proving to be too subversive for the coalition.

As Americans flood Iraq’s airwaves with radio stations playing harmless Western and Arab pop tunes, the young are turning elsewhere for their musical inspiration.

They turn to artists like Sabah al-Jenabi who sings: "America has come and occupied Baghdad. The army and people have weapons and ammunition. Let’s go fight and call out the name of God."

Banned from the air, such songs are proving increasingly popular in the CD and tape shops of Baghdad, Fallujah and Ramadi. [complete article]

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The question all the candidates must face
Can you make us feel safe? Not every Democrat has a convincing answer

By Joe Klein, Time, January 18, 2004

In New Hampshire last week, I bumped into Howard Dean's worst nightmare. Her name is Ruth Bedinger. She is retired and working in the Dean campaign office as a volunteer. I met her at a house party for General Wesley Clark.

"I'm switching to Clark," she told me, after listening to the general's new, sleek stump speech. "When I saw Dean speak, it was like a revival meeting -- very exciting but not much detail. This was a lot more intelligent and cogent. There was no anger here, which is the one thing I was worried about with Dean."

Bedinger's change of heart seemed indicative of a tectonic shift in the Democratic electorate, a phenomenon deeper than the sudden waning of Dean's poll numbers -- a movement toward sobriety and away from bombast, a search for a candidate with ballast. [complete article]

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A single conscience v. the state
By Bob Herbert, New York Times, January 19, 2004

Katharine Gun has a much better grasp of the true spirit of democracy than Tony Blair. So, naturally, it's Katharine Gun who's being punished.

Ms. Gun, 29, was working at Britain's top-secret Government Communications Headquarters last year when she learned of an American plan to spy on at least a half-dozen U.N. delegations as part of the U.S. effort to win Security Council support for an invasion of Iraq.

The plans, which included e-mail surveillance and taps on home and office telephones, was outlined in a highly classified National Security Agency memo. The agency, which was seeking British assistance in the project, was interested in "the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals."

Countries specifically targeted were Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan. The primary goal was a Security Council resolution that would give the U.S. and Britain the go-ahead for the war. [complete article]

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French fury over U.S. treatment of air staff
By Kim Willsher, The Telegraph, January 18, 2004

In the latest bout of Franco-American squabbling, hundreds of Air France pilots and cabin crew who have French nationality but were born in Muslim countries are furious at being singled out for stringent security measures when they land in the US.

Some of the 324 affected employees complain that they were treated like "terrorist suspects" after being separated from fellow cabin crew and grilled for up to four hours by security agents on arrival at American airports. The treatment, they say, was "discriminatory and insulting". [complete article]

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CBS cuts MoveOn, allows White House ads during Super Bowl
By Timothy Karr,, January 19, 2004

The nearly 100 million viewers expected to tune in to next month's Super Bowl on CBS will be served up ads that include everything from beer and bikinis to credit cards and erectile dysfunction.

They will also see two spots from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. What's missing from America's premiere marketing spectacle will be an anti-Bush ad put forth by upstart advocacy group The group had hoped to buy airtime to run "Child's Pay", a 30-second ad that criticizes the Bush administration's run-up of the federal deficit.

CBS on Thursday rejected a request from MoveOn to air the 30-second spot, saying "Child's Pay" violated the network's policy against accepting advocacy advertising, a company spokesperson told reporters. [complete article]

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Iranian hardliners refuse to back down
By Dan De Luce, The Guardian, January 19, 2004

Iran's powerful Guardian Council said yesterday that it stood by a decision to disqualify thousands of reformist candidates from standing in next month's parliamentary elections.

The constitutional body, which is dominated by hardliners, said it would not be influenced by criticism from MPs, who have been holding a sit-in to protest at the ban.

"The Guardian Council won't back down at all," a spokesman, Ebrahim Azizi, told a press conference. [complete article]

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Why the U.S. is running scared of elections in Iraq
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, January 19, 2004

The occupation of Iraq continues to get worse for George Bush and Tony Blair. The deaths of at least 20 people in a suicide bomb attack outside the coalition headquarters in Baghdad yesterday morning underlines the spiralling unrest in the country. The toll of US casualties since Saddam Hussein's capture is higher than in the same period before it. Angry protests over unemployment and petrol shortages have erupted in several cities in the south, in areas under British control.

Above all, Washington's plans for handing power to an unelected group of Iraqis is being strongly challenged by Iraq's majority Shia community. The occupiers who invaded Iraq in the name (partly) of bringing democracy are being accused of flouting democracy themselves.

Oh yes, and then there's the small matter of the weapons of mass destruction on which Saddam increasingly appears to be the man who had truth on his side. When he said he had destroyed them years ago, he, rather than Bush and Blair, was the man not lying. [complete article]

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Arms issue seen as hurting U.S. credibility abroad
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 19, 2004

The Bush administration's inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- after public statements declaring an imminent threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- has begun to harm the credibility abroad of the United States and of American intelligence, according to foreign policy experts in both parties.

In last year's State of the Union address, President Bush used stark imagery to make the case that military action was necessary. Among other claims, Bush said that Hussein had enough anthrax to "kill several million people," enough botulinum toxin to "subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure" and enough chemical agents to "kill untold thousands."

Now, as the president prepares for this State of the Union address Tuesday, those frightening images of death and destruction have been replaced by a different reality: Few of the many claims made by the administration have been confirmed after months of searching by weapons inspectors. [complete article]

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Bowing to the mighty ayatollah
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, January 26, 2004

There really should be no contest. On one side is history's most important superpower, victorious in war, ruling Iraq with 150,000 troops and funding its reconstruction to the tune of $20 billion this year. On the other side is an aging cleric with no formal authority, no troops, little money, who is unwilling to even speak in public. Yet last June, when Ayatollah Sistani made it known that he didn't like the American plan to transfer power to Iraqis, the plan collapsed. And last week, when Sistani announced that he is still unhappy with the new American proposal, Paul Bremer rushed to Washington for consultations. What does this man have that the United States doesn't?

Legitimacy. Sistani is regarded by Iraqi Shiites as the most learned cleric in the country. He is also seen as having been uncorrupted by Saddam Hussein's reign. "During the Iran-Iraq War, Sistani managed to demonstrate that he could be controlled neither by Saddam nor by his fellow ayatollahs in Iran, which has given him enormous credibility," says Yitzhak Nakash, the leading authority on Iraqi Shiites. [complete article]

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Al-Qaeda launches online terrorist manual
By Jason Burke, The Observer, January 18, 2004

Al-Qaeda has issued a chilling new call to arms to recruits who remain undetected by security agencies. In a terrorist manual published on the internet, Osama bin Laden says: 'After Iraq and Afghanistan will come the Crusader invasion of Saudi Arabia. All fighters all over the world must be ready.' [complete article]

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How Pakistan fuels nuclear arms race
By Antony Barnett, The Observer, January 18, 2004

Dramatic evidence from Iran and now Libya reveals a clandestine and sophisticated network stretching from North Korea, Malaysia and China to Russia, Germany and Dubai. Yet one country more than any other stands accused of easing this proliferation. In the network of illegal radioactive trade, all roads point to Pakistan. More precisely, they lead to the Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta in north Pakistan. [complete article]

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U.S. stars hail Iraq war whistleblower
By Martin Bright, The Observer, January 18, 2004

She was an anonymous junior official toiling away with 4,500 other mathematicians, code-breakers and linguists at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham.

But now Katharine Gun, an unassuming 29-year-old translator, is set to become a transatlantic cause célèbre as the focus of a star-studded solidarity drive that brings together Hollywood actor-director Sean Penn and senior figures from the US media and civil rights movement, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Gun appears in court tomorrow accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act by allegedly leaking details of a secret US 'dirty tricks' operation to spy on UN Security Council members in the run-up to war in Iraq last year. If found guilty, she faces two years in prison. She is an unlikely heroine and those who have met her say she would have been happy to remain in the shadows, had she not seen evidence in black and white that her Government was being asked to co-operate in an illegal operation. [complete article]

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Surging Shiite demands put U.S. in a bind
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2004

The Bush administration has been backed into a corner on its political plan for Iraq by unexpectedly strident opposition from Shiite Muslim clerics, who played their trump card last week, calling on their followers to stage mass demonstrations.

In the next few days, the administration, along with the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council, plans to craft a new plan for choosing a transitional government that is more satisfactory to all the sects and ethnic groups in the country, including the long-suppressed Shiite majority. But there is every indication that no matter what shape it takes, the proposal could be unacceptable to crucial political players.

"The administration is facing problems on all three fronts -- with the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds ... and the situation with the Shiites is looking more and more like a crisis," said Bathsheba Crocker, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The picture could get a whole lot uglier."

The bind for the U.S. is that if it accedes to the Shiites' demand for direct elections -- and thus more clout -- it risks alienating Sunni Muslims and Kurds as well as secular Iraqis and women, who would probably have more representation under the current plan calling for caucuses and indirect elections. If the United States sticks to the proposal now on the table, it will face potentially destabilizing Shiite street protests. [complete article]

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Iraqi Kurdish leader demands guarantees
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, January 18, 2004

A top Kurdish leader said Saturday that Iraq's Kurdish minority would not sign on to guidelines being formulated for a transitional government unless Kurds were guaranteed an expanded region of autonomy and an ironclad commitment to expel Arabs settled in the area by deposed president Saddam Hussein.

Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, said he lacked faith that a future, elected Iraqi government would fulfill Kurds' ambitions for self-rule in regions they consider their historic homeland -- including the oil-rich Kirkuk area.

"We do not see any justification for postponement," he said in an interview, discussing the Kurds' demand. "Any voice that would oppose this does not show good intent. As far as a majority imposing its will on the Kurds, this cannot be tolerated." [complete article]

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Baghdad car bomb 'leaves 20 dead'
BBC News, January 17, 2004

At least 20 people have been killed and more than 60 injured in a suicide car bombing outside the US headquarters in the Iraqi capital.

The huge blast occurred at about 0800 (0500GMT) near Assassin's Gate - a heavily fortified entrance to one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

Most victims are thought to have been Iraqis waiting to meet US officials.

It is the deadliest attack since New Year's Eve and comes as the US tries to persuade the UN to return to Iraq. [complete article]

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The mullah behind the curtain
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, January 17, 2004

Granted vast authority under the U.S. occupation, L. Paul Bremer has been the most powerful man in Iraq for the past seven months. But that is changing fast -- almost hourly. Indeed the new Iraqi era that America set in motion last March is hurtling ahead so fast that one can barely keep up with it.

Bremer may still hold the title of Iraq's civil administrator. But the most powerful man in Iraq at the moment is actually the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the reclusive Shiite cleric from the southern city of Najaf who persistently refuses to meet with Bremer. [complete article]

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Bush-Cheney energy strategy: Procuring the rest of the world's oil
By Michael Klare, Foreign Policy in Focus, January, 2004

When first assuming office in early 2001, President George W. Bush's top foreign policy priority was not to prevent terrorism or to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction -- or any of the other goals he espoused later that year following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Rather, it was to increase the flow of petroleum from suppliers abroad to U.S. markets. In the months before he became president, the United States had experienced severe oil and natural gas shortages in many parts of the country, along with periodic electrical power blackouts in California. In addition, oil imports rose to more than 50% of total consumption for the first time in history, provoking great anxiety about the security of the country's long-term energy supply. Bush asserted that addressing the nation's "energy crisis" was his most important task as president. [complete article]

The article above is part of FPIF's PetroPolitics conference report containing additional articles on oil and climate change, oil and war, oil and development, and alternatives to oil.

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

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.

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