The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Tinker, tailor, jurist, spy
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 30, 2004

So the spooks are supposed to fall on their swords. In Washington and London, it's the spies who are taking the heat for all that wildly misleading stuff shoveled out of the White House and Downing Street stables about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But, you know, it's not just bad intelligence that got us into Iraq, it's bad judgment about the consequences of invading and occupying such a place. And for that the Bush and Blair administrations have no excuses.

It was never a secret that Saddam was a genocidal megalomaniac who wanted WMD. The trick was always to balance the risks he posed against the risks of deposing him. Intelligence is supposed to help make those choices, but all the decisions are up to the politicians. After Saddam steamrollered Kuwait in 1990, the first Bush administration wanted him out, and the Clinton administration subsequently made "regime change" in Iraq its official goal. But when it came to the crunch, Daddy Bush and Slick Willie worried more, and wisely, about the uncertainties of the aftermath. [complete article]

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Pakistan's nuclear hero throws open Pandora's box
By Ian Traynor, The Guardian, January 31, 2004

While on a tour of eight Asian countries in the summer of 2002, Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, arrived in Islamabad with a special request.

Mr Powell asked Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, to arrest Abdul Qadeer Khan, the mastermind of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme and a hero in the country. His demand was extraordinary but so were the allegations which went with it.

He said Mr Khan needed to be questioned over the alleged secret trading of Pakistan's nuclear technology to North Korea and he had evidence.

An American spy satellite had recorded images of a Pakistani transport plane being loaded with missile parts in North Korea. It was, the US believed, part of a barter deal trading Pakistani nuclear know-how for missiles.

According to sources in Washington, Mr Powell offered Gen Musharraf assistance for an inquiry into Mr Khan's activities. The Guardian has learned that money, equipment and lie detectors for interrogations would be made available. Gen Musharraf rejected the overture but the case against Mr Khan has been building up inexorably since.

Yesterday, Mr Khan was under effective house arrest in Islamabad waiting to hear if he will face charges of treason. [complete article]

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Pakistan adopting a tough old tactic to flush out Qaeda
By David Rohde, Ismail Khan, New York Times, January 31, 2004

At the start of the month, Pakistan massed several thousand troops in and around the town of Wana, near the country's mountainous border with Afghanistan. Using a harsh century-old British method, officials handed local tribal elders a list and issued an ultimatum.

If 72 men wanted for sheltering Al Qaeda were not produced, they said, the Pakistani Army would punish the tribe as a group, demolishing houses, withdrawing funds and even detaining tribe members.

Several days later, several thousand tribal elders held a jirga, or council, and agreed to raise a force of their own to find the wanted men. In the last two weeks, the tribes have handed over 42 of them. Tribal members, meanwhile, have bulldozed and dynamited the homes of eight men who refused to surrender. [complete article]

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Pakistan warns U.S. about crossing border
By Munir Ahmad, Associated Press (via WP), January 30, 2004

A hard-line Islamic coalition warned Friday that Pakistani tribesmen might open fire on American troops if the United States extends a planned spring offensive against Afghan rebels into Pakistan.

Such a move would be a "historic mistake," said Riaz Durrani, spokesman for the opposition coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, which controls two Pakistani provinces bordering Afghanistan.

A U.S. official in Washington hinted this week that a planned effort to step up the hunt for Taliban or al-Qaida fugitives at the end of winter could go into Pakistan. For the past two years, thousands of U.S. forces have been operating in southern and eastern Afghanistan but say they haven't crossed the frontier. [complete article]

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New Iraq agency to hunt rebels
By Edward Wong, New York Times, January 31, 2004

The Iraqi authorities, with the help of American intelligence agencies, are creating an intelligence service here that will focus on rooting out guerrilla fighters, especially those from outside the country, Iraqi and American officials said Friday. The service will employ some former agents of Saddam Hussein's security apparatus and will probably receive financing from the American government, the officials said.

Many of the agents will work in the border towns of Iraq to identify foreign fighters who have slipped into the country and will monitor their activities, said Ibrahim al-Janabi, a senior member of the Iraqi Governing Council's security committee. The service will employ 500 to 2,000 people, he said, and is expected to be formed well before the Bush administration transfers sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30.

The Central Intelligence Agency is taking the lead in helping put together the new service, American officials said. The C.I.A. has close ties to the Iraqi National Accord, an opposition group founded by former Baath Party members who worked from London and Jordan to try to overthrow Mr. Hussein's government. [complete article]

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Debate begins on structure of transitional government
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2004

Iraqi leaders are to begin debate Saturday on a newly crafted proposal for a transitional government that would fuse European and American styles of democracy, with executive, legislative and judicial branches underpinned by a bill of rights.The draft law calls for a tripartite presidency, which could help balance power between the three dominant religious and ethnic groups. It is likely to be made up of members of those groups -- Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

The proposal would also require that women hold at least 40 percent of the seats in the transitional national assembly and in a constitutional convention, an effort to ensure women's rights in a nation that has vocal fundamentalist Muslim strains.

The document does not call for the strict version of Sharia religious law in place in countries such as Saudi Arabia, but rather says that the broad sweep of Islam -- encompassing a vast landscape of thought and legal concepts -- should be the principal source for legislation. [complete article]

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Iraqis divided as cleric's role widens
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, January 31, 2004

Before midday prayers, the tinny speakers atop the gold-domed Shrine of Ali proclaimed that Iraq's most prominent Shi'ite Muslim party was backing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's call for early elections, another sign of the revered cleric's growing political power.

But across town that recent day, at the Kufa mosque, Sistani's fiery young rival, Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr, was challenging the senior cleric's view that the United Nations should help determine whether direct elections can be held by a June 30 deadline for a new Iraqi government.

As the reclusive Sistani emerges as the most influential figure in Iraqi politics, there are signs he is taking steps to guard against losing control of the popular movement he has unleashed. [complete article]

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Intensifying Shiite rivalries eat into community's unity at critical time
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), January 30, 2004

The political empowerment of Iraq's Shiite Muslims after decades on the sidelines is producing grave internal rifts, with rival factions and religious leaders competing for advantage before Iraqi sovereignty is restored on July 1.

With so much at stake, the line between politics and religion has blurred. Shows of force are common, and mudslinging is on the rise.

Tension among Shiites in Iraq is not new, but it's more widely pronounced than at any time since Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979 and sidelined the sect in favor of the minority Sunnis. [complete article]

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Report of the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly C.M.G.
By Lord Hutton, January 28, 2004

On 18 July 2003 I was requested by the Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, to conduct an Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly. [complete article]

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Kurds press for independence
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, January 30, 2004

From a tent lined with the red, white and green flag of Kurdistan, a young man's amplified voice excitedly invited passersby Wednesday to "come sign the petition for federalism. It is a step to independence."

A cluster of laborers, shoppers and office workers pressed up to a table to write their names. Some stuck pins in their fingers and signed in blood.

This was the beginning of a mobilization of Iraq's Kurds. Although autonomy within a new, federal Iraq is their official goal, signer after signer at the tent wanted something more: separation, if not now, sometime in the near future. The boy in the booth did nothing to discourage the hope. On a busy, tree-lined street here, the genie of Kurdish desires was out of the bottle. The mood was one of exhilaration. [complete article]

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Returning Kurds, Turkmens threaten Iraq crisis
By Luke Baker, Reuters, January 28, 2004

Officials in Iraq fear a humanitarian crisis if U.S.-led authorities don't start settling the claims of Iraqi minorities seeking to return to homes they were expelled from under Saddam Hussein's government.

An estimated 200,000-300,000 Iraqi Kurds and Turkmens were driven from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and outlying farming villages during Saddam's rule, part of an "Arabisation" process that sought to make the region's ethnic composition more Arab.

In the months since Saddam was overthrown by U.S.-led forces, thousands have returned from exile in Iraq's far north, many bearing papers they say give them title deed to their former lands, and demanding that Arabs now living there leave. [complete article]

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Iraqi city reflects nation's fault lines
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 30, 2004

The fault lines that have emerged in Nasiriyah reveal the forces -- and dangers -- shaping the U.S. plan to create an Iraqi government and turn over sovereignty this summer. In streets along the Euphrates River, Nasiriyah's assertive Islamic parties have proved their ability this week to rally followers, with or without the blessing of the country's leading cleric. Violence lurks under the surface. And the U.S.-led administration, residents say, has little goodwill on which to draw in advocating anything short of direct elections. [complete article]

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Turkey, seeking U.S. pledge on the Kurds' role in the new Iraq, finds mixed message
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, January 30, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell assured Turkish leaders Thursday that in a newly sovereign Iraq the Kurds would have to relinquish their control of oil resources in the north.

But on the second day of a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish officials said they remained concerned that the United States might still yield to Kurdish demands for an autonomous state, which the Turks strongly oppose.

Turkey and other neighbors fear that an Iraq split up into ethnic or religious enclaves could stir up their own restive minorities. Asked if he still feared that Iraq could end up broken up into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions, Mr. Erdogan demurred. [complete article]

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U.S. deaths rise in wake of Saddam capture
By Charles Clover, Financial Times, January 29, 2004

US combat deaths in Iraq have risen sharply during January despite a drop in the number of attacks and the capture of former dictator Saddam Hussein over a month ago.

As of Thursday, 33 American soldiers and one civilian had been killed by hostile fire during the month. That compares with 24 US combat deaths in December, and a total of 32 coalition combat deaths.

The figures appear to show that the security situation in Iraq is not improving, contrary to earlier claims from the US military and politicians. [complete article]

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U.S. military 'sure' of catching bin Laden this year
By Stephen Graham, Assocated Press (via SF Chronicle), January 29, 2004

The U.S. military is "sure" it will catch Osama bin Laden this year, a spokesman said Thursday, but he declined to comment on where the al-Qaida leader may be hiding.

Bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that sparked the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, is widely believed to be holed up somewhere along the mountainous Pakistani-Afghan border with former Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Following last month's capture of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, American commanders in Afghanistan have expressed new optimism they will eventually find bin Laden. Spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said the military now believed it could seize him within months.

"We have a variety of intelligence and we're sure we're going to catch Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar this year," Hilferty said. "We've learned lessons from Iraq and we're getting improved intelligence from the Afghan people."

[complete article]

Comment -- If the US military is really sure of capturing Osama bin Laden this year one doesn't have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that Karl Rove has a great interest in when this might happen. When would be the most fortuitous time? If it happens too soon, Bush may suffer the same fate as Churchill. Americans might conclude that the war is over, so we don't need a "war leader." If it happens right before the election then it will be very hard to quell highly plausible accusations of a conspiracy. How about a week before the GOP convention?

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Where's the apology?
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 30, 2004

George Bush promised to bring honor and integrity back to the White House. Instead, he got rid of accountability.

Surely even supporters of the Iraq war must be dismayed by the administration's reaction to David Kay's recent statements. Iraq, he now admits, didn't have W.M.D., or even active programs to produce such weapons. Those much-ridiculed U.N. inspectors were right. (But Hans Blix appears to have gone down the memory hole. On Tuesday Mr. Bush declared that the war was justified -- under U.N. Resolution 1441, no less -- because Saddam "did not let us in.")

So where are the apologies? Where are the resignations? Where is the investigation of this intelligence debacle? All we have is bluster from Dick Cheney, evasive W.M.D.-related-program-activity language from Mr. Bush -- and a determined effort to prevent an independent inquiry. [complete article]

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Debate over Iraqi arms poses risk to president
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 30, 2004

The intensifying debate over prewar American intelligence about Iraq presents President Bush with difficult and risky alternatives as he balances election year politics with calls to overhaul the intelligence apparatus and to restore the nation's credibility around the world.

He could order the start of an inquiry about the performance of intelligence agencies, as Democrats and the former chief weapons inspector, David A. Kay, have insisted, but his aides fear that that could prove politically damaging and would almost certainly reopen old wounds with the C.I.A.

He could keep arguing that military action was justified no matter how immediate a threat Saddam Hussein posed, and put off an examination and possible overhaul of America's intelligence operations for another year. But his political team worries that doing so could keep the issue alive through a long campaign. [complete article]

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White House cites Iraq's history of seeking arms as a reason for war
By Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, January 30, 2004

The Bush administration, justifying its decision to go to war against Iraq despite its failure since then to find any banned weapons there, said Thursday that even if Saddam Hussein had not amassed stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, the United States could not have afforded to leave him in power because he had a history of trying to acquire them.

On the defensive since its former chief weapons inspector said he now believed that Iraq did not have any substantial stockpiles of banned weapons at the start of the war, the White House sent Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, to appear on the three network morning news programs to carry the message that the war was justified even if Mr. Hussein's weapons stockpiles are ultimately found to have been nonexistent. [complete article]

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Looking for intel on the intel
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, January 29, 2004

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a burning question here is how the C.I.A. could have gotten the intelligence about Iraq so wrong.

While American inspectors have yet to wrap up their work in Iraq, there is already an enormous gap between the alarming intelligence assessments prepared before the war and the more modest weapons programs the inspectors have actually uncovered so far.

This is not a dispute among specialists but an issue that raises fundamental questions about the quality of American intelligence and its role in shaping foreign policy. A nation that has embarked on a policy of military pre-emption to neutralize new dangers requires the most reliable and accurate intelligence. It can literally be a matter of war and peace. [complete article]

Comment -- Maybe it's time for a revision of the "Bush doctrine." The National Security Strategy says that:

To support preemptive options, we will:

build better, more integrated intelligence capabilities to provide timely, accurate information on threats, wherever they may emerge;

coordinate closely with allies to form a common assessment of the most dangerous threats; and

continue to transform our military forces to ensure our ability to conduct rapid and precise operations to achieve decisive results.

The purpose of our actions will always be to eliminate a specific threat to the United States or our allies and friends. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just.

Maybe it should now go something like this:

There are a lot of bad guys out there and the truth is we don't know who they all are, where they are or what they're planning. That means we need to be able to launch preemptive attacks as and when we see fit, not necessarily in response to imminent threats, but just in case they're out there. It's called prudent war - war, just to be on the safe side.

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'The public must look to what is missing from the report'
By Scott Ritter, The Guardian, January 30, 2004

Tony Blair's government is heralding the Hutton report as a victory, since it absolves it of any wrongdoing regarding the "sexing up" of intelligence about the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The Hutton report was released at the same time as the former head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, testified before the US Congress that there appear to be no WMD in Iraq, and that the intelligence was "all wrong". Given this, the Hutton findings have taken on an almost Alice in Wonderland aura. By focusing on a single news story broadcast by the BBC, Hutton has created a political smokescreen behind which Blair is seeking to distract the British public from the harsh reality that his government went to war based on unsustained allegations that have yet to be backed up with a single piece of substantive fact. Lord Hutton was in a position to expose this; he chose not to. It is left to the public, therefore, to carefully examine his report, looking not for what it contains but for what is missing. [complete article]

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Britain opposes international court review of security fence
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, January 30, 2004

The British government will today infuriate Arab opinion by supporting Israel in a legal challenge to the construction of its controversial wall along the West Bank.

The Foreign Office is to lodge an objection at the international court of justice in The Hague, which is scheduled to review the barrier's legality.

Israel has repeatedly argued that it needs the wall to protect it from suicide bombers, such as the one responsible for yesterday's carnage in Jerusalem.

But the Foreign Office minister Lady Symons, in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle published today, says a hearing at the international court on the issue of the wall would "serve to politicise the court in a way for which it was not designed." The objection comes in spite of repeated declarations by the Foreign Office that the wall's encroachment onto Palestinian land is illegal. [complete article]

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Building a wall, breaking a relationship
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, January 30, 2004

Israel's plan to build a security fence inside the West Bank is beginning to bulldoze its friendly relationship with neighboring Jordan, which for decades has been one of its few reliable Arab partners.

With Israel under continuing assault from suicide bombers (such as the terrorist who attacked a Jerusalem bus yesterday, killing at least 11 people), Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pressed ahead with his plans for the barrier. Sharon argues that if the Palestinians won't control the suicide bombers, then Israel must take unilateral steps to protect itself -- including the fence.

But to Israel's consternation, Jordan has taken a leading role in opposing the barrier. The Jordanian foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, told his country's parliament on Jan. 21: "Construction of the wall would kill every opportunity for a viable Palestinian state." He said it would pose a "direct threat . . . to Jordanian national security because it might revive the transfer option [of Palestinians to Jordan] despite all Israeli assertions to the contrary." [complete article]

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Maybe the Ottoman Empire knew better
By Yair Sheleg, Haaretz, January 29, 2004

Prof. Yehuda Kedar, a former Palmach ([Israel's] pre-state militia) fighter and geographer (a founder of the Geography Faculty at Tel Aviv and Haifa Universities), would like to see a "condominium" between Israel and the Palestinians.

Condominium is a Latin word for joint rule by two or more states over the same country. Kedar is indeed suggesting that Israel and the Palestinians jointly rule the whole of Israel, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan. Each would manage its own internal affairs, there would be joint foreign relations and defense systems, and a judicial system that would handle clashes between members of the two peoples.

There would be no borders in this unified country, and all members of both peoples could come and settle anywhere in the country. Kedar calls his model "The United 'State of Israel' and Palestine" - USIP, for short. [complete article]

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General warns of Pakistani, Saudi extremists
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, January 30, 2004

While much of the U.S. military is currently focused on stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, extremists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia pose a longer-term strategic challenge to American interests, the senior U.S. military commander in the region said yesterday.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, who heads U.S. Central Command, cited the extremist threat in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as the "two broadest strategic problems" confronting him, on top of what he called the "immediate problems" of Iraq and Afghanistan. [complete article]

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Truth catching up to Bush
By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, January 29, 2004

Regardless of who emerges as the Democratic presidential nominee, the race has already served its greater democratic purpose: It has blown away George W. Bush's wartime aura of patriotic infallibility.

Not only Howard Dean, the passionate truth-teller about Iraq, but Senator John Kerry, Gen. Wesley Clark and others have found their voices to question almost all aspects of Bush's post-Sept. 11 performance.

They are bringing home to Americans the worldwide debates about their president's penchant for exploiting and fanning fears by exaggerating dangers, taking unilateral actions abroad, and squandering U.S. credibility. [complete article]

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At Baghdad forum, topic is democracy, but not elections
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, January 29, 2004

It was billed as a folksy "town hall meeting," sponsored by the Baghdad City Council, in which local citizens from all segments of Iraqi society would exchange views on the country's transition to democracy.

But the meeting that transpired Wednesday afternoon in the ballroom of the Palestine Hotel was a carefully scripted, invitation-only event. Officials gave speeches, questions were prepared in advance and 20 delegates had about one minute each to present the views of their respective tables.

The burning issue among Iraqis at the moment is whether it will be possible to hold direct national elections in the next several months, as the nation's leading Shiite Muslim cleric has demanded, or whether the U.S.-sponsored plan for a gradual transition to democracy will prevail.

As a result of this stalemate, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed Tuesday to a request from U.S. and Iraqi officials to send a team to Iraq to assess the feasibility of holding elections soon and to suggest alternatives if the team concludes it is not possible.

But all references to this question were brushed aside at the meeting, and the U.S. plan was presented as a fait accompli. [complete article]

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Iraq commission could pose serious threat to Bush
By Alan Elsner, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 29, 2004

An independent commission to investigate intelligence failures before last year's invasion of Iraq being demanded by Democrats could pose a serious political threat to President Bush.

But analysts said with Bush's Republicans in control of both houses of Congress he stood a good chance of avoiding such an investigation, which would keep the issue alive in the run-up to November's presidential election.

"The administration wants as little attention as possible paid to the process by which they concluded that war with Iraq was a good idea," said Steven Walt, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

"A commission would keep the issue in the news for another year. That's the last thing they want," he said. [complete article]

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Crying wolf on Iraqi WMD costs U.S. credibility on North Korea
By Jon B. Wolfsthal, Christian Science Monitor, January 29, 2004

Polls show Americans continue to think the Iraq war, overall, was justified, even if weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - the public rationale for the war - have not been found.

But this doesn't mean that the intelligence failure in Iraq - not just by the US, but by Britain, France, Israel, and others - is without a price. The costs to US international credibility are high and are being felt in other parts of the world, most of all with regard to North Korea.

Seeds of doubt sown in Iraq over US intelligence now have countries in East Asia, including close US allies, openly doubting US intelligence about North Korea's nuclear program. These doubts may enable North Korea to divide the US from its allies in the region and reduce the chances for a peaceful termination of North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions. [complete article]

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Kay: 'We were almost all wrong'
By William Branigin, Washington Post, January 28, 2004

David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, told a Senate hearing today that the inability to find banned weapons of mass destruction in that country since the fall of Saddam Hussein points to a major intelligence failure, and he suggested that an independent investigation look into the reasons for it. [complete article]

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The new commissars
By Anders Strindberg, The American Conservative, February 2, 2004

Universities are no strangers to disagreement and debate. In fact, the process of argumentation has always been an important way for academics to sharpen theories and refine analyses -- be it in biology, economics, or political science.

Not so in the field of international studies, claim the intellectual cadres of the neoconservative movement, who have long been bitter about the under-representation of their worldview within academia. This imbalance, they claim, is not due to any weaknesses in their arguments but to the fact that U.S. universities in general, and departments studying the Middle East in particular, constitute a monolithic cabal of America-hating left-wing extremists with whom debate is impossible. Academia must be brought to heel. [complete article]

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The shadow of Iraq
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, January 29, 2004

There are different ways of reading the spectacular one-sidedness of Hutton's conclusions. One is that the Ulster law lord might be a touch naive about the seamier side of 21st century political life; another, that the legalistic defence offered by Blair, Hoon and senior civil servants naturally appealed to a conservative judge far more than the BBC journalists' case that the main thrust of their story was in fact right; a third that, as a lifelong servant of the British crown, he knew where his duty lay when the credibility of the state was at risk.

But whatever the mixture of motives, Hutton's unqualified endorsement of the government's behaviour is bound, in the current climate, to be widely regarded in the country as a cover-up. It will have no credibility for millions who opposed the war on Iraq; it will merely add to the sense that the political system is unable to deal with the crisis triggered by Britain's participation in the illegal invasion and occupation. [complete article]

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The future of journalism is at stake
By Martin Bell, The Guardian, January 29, 2004

This was a bad day for the BBC. I cannot remember a worse one, certainly in the 34 years I worked for what remains the greatest broadcasting organisation in the world. It would be hard to envisage a kinder verdict on the government or a harsher one on the corporation. [complete article]

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The GI's weapon of choice in Iraq: dollars
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, January 29, 2004

In November, the deadliest month for US soldiers in the occupation of Iraq, angry and sometimes desperate calls began streaming back to the US from commanders, complaining that the government wasn't giving them what they needed to battle an intensifying insurgency.

But the front-line soldiers weren't calling out for more ammunition, armor-plated Humvees, or night-vision goggles. Instead what they wanted was a little money, enough to restart the Commander's Emergency Response Program, or CERP, a decentralized aid program started shortly after the US occupation began. [complete article]

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Winning hearts and minds
By David Hilfiker, TomDispatch, January 29, 2004

"I'm not into the detainee business," said Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, and commanding officer of the U.S. military base in the Yithrib District of Iraq in what has become known as the Sunni Triangle. "We're really into rebuilding Iraq. I don't like entering houses."

I was surprised even to be having an interview with Col Sassaman. Ten of us, members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) located in Baghdad, had accompanied three Iraqi lawyers to the base from nearby Balad, a city in which 60,000 Shiite Muslims living in its central districts are surrounded by 60,000 Sunni Muslims. Without advance notice, accompanied by three unknown Iraqi men, it seemed unlikely to me that we would get access to the base, much less end up in a ninety-minute interview with the commanding officer. [complete article]

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Arab tribes rally against Iraq oil city's inclusion in Kurdish region
Agence France Presse, January 27, 2004

Some 250 Arab tribal chiefs marched through Iraq's northern oil centre of Kirkuk Tuesday to oppose Kurdish demands for the city to be included in an expanded Kurdish autonomous region.

The lunchtime demonstration grouped together leaders from the region's main Arab tribes -- the al-Jubbur, Shammar, al-Obeid, al-Bayati and al-Saadun, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

"We are here today to say we are against federalism and that Kirkuk is an Arab town," said one of the organisers, Aggar Jabbar al-Sumaydai, a Arab member of the province's US-appointed interim leadership.

"We believe that federalism will spark civil war in Kirkuk," he said. [complete article]

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An unexpected powerhouse
By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, January 29, 2004

If Karl Rove thinks he can take down John Kerry the way his mentor, Lee Atwater, took down Michael Dukakis, he's got another thing coming.

The Kerry who delivered that victory speech in Manchester on Tuesday night was the most effective Democratic politico since the fall of Bill Clinton. Within his first two minutes at the microphone, Kerry had delivered a stinging populist attack on the president and managed to identify himself with his Vietnam vet comrades who surrounded him onstage. [complete article]

Comment -- It's been interesting to hear pundits such as conservative commentator, David Brooks (formerly at The Weekly Standard, now a columnist for The New York Times) express their sadness about the apparent cynicism of Democratic voters whose sole concern seems to be the candidates' "electibility." How can we debate issues if all that concerns these voters is who can beat Bush? Clearly, that's a disingenuous concern coming from people who are themselves anxious to see Bush win. But beyond that, to see Democratic concern with electoral viability as a cynical calculation is to underestimate the depth of passion driving the issue, while overestimating how well the average Democrat understands the detailed workings of the primaries. I doubt, for instance, that too many voters in South Carolina either know or have attempted to find out how the campaign has been playing out in Arizona. What animates the issue of electibility is a conviction that George Bush's presidency has been bad for America and bad for the world.

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Scrap Mars mission, save Hubble

It clearly didn't take long for the White House to conclude that Bush's mission to Mars wouldn't win him many votes -- it didn't even merit a mention in the State of the Union. Nevertheless, Democrats should already be pouring scorn on the plan while strongly defending Hubble. An administration willing to support a fantastically expensive project of debatable scientific value at the same time that it decides to axe a moderately expensive project -- maintaining Hubble -- whose value has been hailed globally, is an administration with cockeyed priorities.

'Save the Hubble' campaign soars
By David Whitehouse, BBC News, January 29, 2004

A petition website calling for the Hubble Space Telescope to be saved is attracting a growing number of hits. was established by University of Brasilia lecturer Fernando Ribeiro following the US space agency's decision to abandon the scope.

"I hope it will become a forum about Hubble's prospects and a launch pad (so to speak) for a campaign to save it."

Left alone, Hubble, called the most important scientific instrument ever, could only survive another three years. [complete article]

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The Shiites are getting restless, but Iraq is salvageable
By Mustafa Alrawi, Daily Star, January 29, 2004

The recent demonstrations by Iraqi Shiites demanding that elections be held in the coming months, before power is handed over to an Iraqi authority by June 30, are to be applauded, not feared ­ at least for the moment. However, there is a lingering cloud on the horizon that if Washington fails to understand the gravity of the current situation, the US civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, could find himself in the soup, with the peaceful demonstrations precursors of far more serious troubles before year's end. [complete article]

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Van bomber kills three in Baghdad
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 29, 2004

A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed van disguised as an ambulance outside a hotel Wednesday, killing three other people and shearing off the building's facade in what residents said was a grim reminder of Baghdad's lack of security.

Witnesses said the vehicle -- a white van bearing the insignia of the Red Crescent Society -- barreled down the street off a busy commercial thoroughfare around 6:30 a.m., maneuvered past barbed-wire and concrete barricades, then exploded after stopping in front of the Shaheen Hotel, where foreign contractors were staying. Police and security personnel said they fired at the vehicle as it sped toward them. [complete article]

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Shiites hold huge protest in southern town to demand local democracy
Associated Press, January 29, 2004

Thousands of Shiite Muslims protested in a southern city demanding the U.S.-appointed provincial governor's resignation, as a suicide bomber driving a van with ambulance markings killed three people in the capital.

The protest [led by Muqtada al-Sadr] Wednesday by some 10,000 people in Nasiriyah town is the latest sign of the growing empowerment of Iraq's majority Shiites who were repressed for decades by Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime. [complete article]

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Perle fundraising for terrorists?
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 29, 2004

Pentagon adviser Richard N. Perle, a strong advocate of war against Iraq, spoke last weekend at a charity event that U.S. officials say may have had ties to an alleged terrorist group seeking to topple the Iranian government and backed by Saddam Hussein.

The event, attended by more than 3,000 people Saturday at the Washington Convention Center, generated enough concerns within the administration that officials debated whether they had the legal authority to block the event, U.S. officials said yesterday. FBI agents attended it and, as part of a continuing investigation, the Treasury Department on Monday froze the assets of the event's prime organizer, the Iranian-American Community of Northern Virginia.

Perle, in an interview, said he was unaware of any involvement by the terrorist group, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), and believed he was assisting the victims of the Bam earthquake when he delivered the paid speech.

"All of the proceeds will go to the Red Cross," Perle said. Informed that the Red Cross had announced before the event it would refuse any monies because of the event's "political nature," Perle said: "I was unaware of that." Perle declined to say how much he received. [complete article]

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Suicide attack on Jerusalem bus
BBC News, January 29, 2004

At least 10 people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack on a bus in west Jerusalem, along with the bomber.

Dozens were also injured in the blast which was detonated not far from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's residence.

Mr Sharon was not there at the time, but in an early response he cancelled a meeting with donor countries that had been meant to ease conditions for the Palestinians.

The blast coincided with a complicated prisoner swap between Israel and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, including hundreds of Palestinian militants.

However, Israeli officials said the bombing would have no bearing on the prisoner exchange.

No group has yet said it carried out the attack, though militant group Islamic Jihad has promised to avenge an Israeli incursion in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in which eight people including five of its fighters died. [complete article]

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Eight Palestinians die in clash
BBC News, January 28, 2004

At least eight Palestinians have been killed in clashes during an Israeli army raid on the Gaza Strip - the deadliest incursion for weeks.

Palestinian militants opened fire as tanks went into Gaza City's al-Zeitoun area, witnesses said.

The fighting came hours before Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei had talks with United States Middle East envoy, John Wolf. [complete article]

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Hezbollah forced to redefine itself
By Ian Fisher, New York Times (IHT), January 29, 2004

The tense and hilly border here is where, if all goes to plan, Israeli trucks will on Friday return the bodies of 59 men killed during Israel's long occupation of southern Lebanon. The streets will be packed in celebration, predicted a grocer, Mahmoud Tahir, who lived under that occupation for 22 of his 63 years. And Tahir has no question whom to thank: Hezbollah, hero to virtually all of southern Lebanon even if Israel and the United States consider the Shiite Muslim group to be on the "A-team" of world terror.

"It was a big victory," Tahir said, referring to a significant trade of prisoners and human remains, announced last week, that Israel negotiated with Hezbollah despite its policy of not dealing with what it considers terror groups. "Israel has acknowledged Hezbollah for the second time. The first victory was when Hezbollah kicked the Israelis out in 2000." But for all the happiness at the prisoner exchange - plus an attack last week in which Hezbollah guerrillas killed an Israeli soldier who strayed over the border - an undercurrent of uncertainty seems to be tugging at Hezbollah. Victories this clear come rarely these days. [complete article]

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Pakistan sheds no light on detained scientists
By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2004

A court hearing erupted in angry shouting Tuesday when a lawyer for Pakistan's government refused to satisfy a judge's demand that he explain why intelligence authorities were detaining nuclear weapons scientists without having filed charges.

Lawyers for the detainees' families say the military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency is holding at least eight scientists and three retired military officers amid allegations that Pakistanis sold bomb-making secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

President Pervez Musharraf and three senior government ministers have said at least some of the men taken in for interrogation over the last two months are rogue profiteers guilty of selling nuclear weapons secrets for personal gain.

The detainees' families say that the men have not sold any secrets and that it is impossible to do so because of tight security. Any sale to governments abroad of information crucial to Pakistan's national security, they say, could not have been done without the military's knowledge and approval. [complete article]

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Investigation of nuclear 'heroes' divides Pakistan
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, January 26, 2004

Street protests and heated debate erupted this weekend in Pakistan, following the president's admission Friday that some of the nation's scientists may have sold nuclear technologies to other countries. The official credence given to the allegations, long denied by the government, is dividing national loyalties between President Pervez Musharraf and the so-called father of the Islamic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Dubbed as "national heroes" after Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, Mr. Khan and his close aides have been the subject of an ongoing government investigation into possible dealings with Iran and Libya. Sensitive to the scientists' popular status, the government had moved forward gingerly with the probe.

Once again risking domestic upheaval to satisfy the international community, Mr. Musharraf distanced the state from the alleged proliferation deals, which he said were done by the scientists for their own financial gain. [complete article]

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Nuclear chief tells of black market in bomb equipment
By Ian Traynor, The Guardian, January 26, 2004

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, gives notice today of the existence of a nuclear black market of "fantastic cleverness" supplying countries illicitly seeking to develop a nuclear bomb.

Speaking after Pakistan's virtual admission that some of its top scientists were active in the illegal trade networks and the IAEA's confirmation that Libya had acquired a nuclear bomb design, he says in today's issue of Der Spiegel: "It's obvious that the international export controls have completely failed in recent years.

"A nuclear black market has emerged, driven by fantastic cleverness. Designs are drawn in one country, centrifuges are produced in another, they are then shipped via a third country and there is no clarity about the end user.

"Expert nuclear businessmen, unscrupulous firms, and perhaps also state bodies are involved. Libya and Iran made extensive use of this network." [complete article]

See also How Pakistan fuels nuclear arms race.

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U.S. plans Al Qaeda offensive
By Christine Spolar, Chicago Tribune (via Yahoo), January 28, 2004

The Bush administration, deeply concerned about recent assassination attempts against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and a resurgence of Taliban forces in neighboring Afghanistan, is preparing a U.S. military offensive that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, military sources said.

U.S. Central Command is assembling a team of military intelligence officers that would be posted in Pakistan ahead of the operation, according to sources familiar with details of the plan and internal military communications. The sources spoke on the condition they not be identified.

As now envisioned, the offensive would involve Special Operations forces, Army Rangers and Army ground troops, sources said. A Navy aircraft carrier would be deployed in the Arabian Sea.

Referred to in internal Pentagon messages as the "spring offensive," the operation would be driven by certain undisclosed events in Pakistan and across the region, sources said. A source familiar with details of the plan said this is "not like a contingency plan for North Korea, something that sits on a shelf. This planning is like planning for Iraq. They want this plan to be executable, now." [complete article]

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Beware the Islamist backwaters
By Michael Scott Doran, Daily Star, January 27, 2004

What are the primary causes of Al-Qaeda's global jihad? The bombings last year in Istanbul and Riyadh point us toward the answer. Secular Turkey and theocratic Saudi Arabia could hardly have less in common, yet the attacks exposed striking similarities. In both cases, Al-Qaeda took root among disaffected provincials with links to the state security apparatus. Not surprisingly, both governments are working to cover up the radical Islamist skeletons in their closets. [complete article]
Michael Scott Doran is Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University

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Kurds' dream clashes with U.S. plans
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 28, 2004

There is growing concern among Iraq's Kurds that the United States will once again abandon them midway in their age-old aspiration to set up a federal Kurdish state.

Kurdish leaders and many others in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq are convinced that Washington promised, just before invading Iraq 10 months ago, that the Kurds would be granted autonomy under a federal system after the fall of Saddam Hussein. U.S. officials say no such guarantees were made.

The Kurds, who established a semiautonomous area in Irbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk provinces in northern Iraq under U.S. and British protection following the 1991 Gulf War, were among the strongest Iraqi supporters of the war that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"In the last 12 years, we've had a free and democratic atmosphere. It's impossible for the Kurds to accept one scintilla less than what they have enjoyed," Neschirwan Barzani, the prime minister of the Irbil, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. [complete article]

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U.N. envoy warns against premature polls in Iraq
By Carol Giacomo, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 27, 2004

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Tuesday premature elections in Iraq could do more harm than good and signaled he would not play the kind of leadership role there that Washington has pressed him to play.

Brahimi's comments, coming ahead of talks with senior U.S. officials, were likely to draw a mixed reaction from the administration, which is struggling to bring the world body back into Iraq in order to salvage a planned political transition from U.S. occupation forces to Iraqis on June 30.

"If you get your priorities wrong, elections are a very divisive process," said Brahimi, speaking at a luncheon sponsored by two U.N. support groups, the U.N. Foundation and the United Nations Association.

"They create tensions. They create competition. And in a country that is not stable enough to take that ... one has to be certain it will not do more harm than good," he said. [complete article]

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BBC chairman quits over Hutton
BBC News, January 28, 2004

BBC chairman Gavyn Davies has resigned in the wake of Lord Hutton's criticisms of the corporation's reports.

Mr Davies told the corporation's governors of his decision as they met at 1700 GMT.

It comes after Lord Hutton said the suggestion in BBC reports that the government "sexed up" its dossier on Iraq's weapons with unreliable intelligence was "unfounded".

And he criticised "defective" BBC editorial processes over defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan's broadcasts of the claims on the Today programme.

Announcing his resignation, Mr Davies said the people at the top of organisations should accept responsibility for their actions. [complete article]

Comment -- If the chairman of the BBC is willing to accept responsibility for his actions, why can't Bush and Blair? A lapse in editorial oversight occured under chairman Davies' watch and he took responsibility and resigned. A failure in intelligence led Bush and Blair to war. So far no one accepts responsibility for that.

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Citing free speech, judge voids part of antiterror act
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, January 27, 2004

For the first time, a federal judge has struck down part of the sweeping antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act, joining other courts that have challenged integral parts of the Bush administration's campaign against terrorism.

In Los Angeles, the judge, Audrey B. Collins of Federal District Court, said in a decision made public on Monday that a provision in the law banning certain types of support for terrorist groups was so vague that it risked running afoul of the First Amendment. [complete article]

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Ad agency is sought to pitch elections
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, January 28, 2004

The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad wants to hire an advertising agency to sell the Iraqi public on its plans for a new democratic government, even as U.S. officials and Iraqi leaders struggle to decide whether that government should be formed through elections, caucuses or some combination.

The occupation authority invited advertising agencies with Middle East experience to "prepare a proposal for planning, developing and executing a full communications plan in support of the Iraq electoral process." Bidders were given six days to formulate their programs, and their proposals were due today. [complete article]

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Kurds campaign for federal state
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, January 28, 2004

The crisis over elections in Iraq is destabilising the north of the country, where thousands of Kurds were yesterday campaigning for the right to remain autonomous amid fears they would be "sold out" by the coalition authorities.

Most Iraqi Kurds, who make up an estimated 15-20% of the country's 25 million people, have enjoyed virtual independence under a US and British air umbrella operating from Turkey since the Gulf war in 1991.

They are now reluctant to give up their freedom to an as yet unspecified central government in Baghdad.

In a series of public meetings, phone-ins, newspaper adverts and cultural events to mark "referendum week", Kurds in the northern self-rule area have been urged to sign a petition in support of the "right to determine their future". [complete article]

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Kurds, divided, face new future
By Nicholas Birch, Christian Science Monitor, January 28, 2004

"Iraq's future can't be entrusted to Iraqi Kurds - they're just a bunch of backward tribes."
Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani "couldn't tell a democratic system from the back of a cow - all he's interested in is dollars from Washington."

Off-the-cuff remarks from incautious Turkish officials?

No. The men speaking, Abdulaziz and Seyhmus, are members of Turkey's 15-million-strong Kurdish minority. Unemployed, they spend most of their time at this cafe in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir. Like most of the people here, they are farmers the Turkish Army expelled from their villages during its 15-year war with the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). [complete article]

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U.N. faces new dangers in Iraq
By Maggie Farley and Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2004

Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Tuesday that he would send a team of election experts to Iraq, a move that may significantly increase the United Nations' influence in the country but presents new political and physical risks.

The danger was underscored by a series of bombings and ambushes Tuesday that left six U.S. soldiers and two CNN employees dead. But Annan said he decided that reengagement was worth the risk after he was asked last week by Iraqi leaders and the U.S.-led occupation administration to help break a deadlock over how to select an interim Iraqi government. [complete article]

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Iraqi whispers mull repeat of 1920s revolt over Western occupation
By Hannah Allam and Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, January 27, 2004

Whispers of "revolution" are growing louder in Baghdad this month at teahouses, public protests and tribal meetings as Iraqis point to the past as an omen for the future.

Iraqis remember 1920 as one of the most glorious moments in modern history, one followed by nearly eight decades of tumult. The bloody rebellion against British rule that year is memorialized in schoolbooks, monuments and mass-produced tapestries that hang in living rooms.

Now, many say there's an uncanny similarity with today: unpopular foreign occupiers, unelected governing bodies and unhappy residents eager for self-determination. The result could be another bloody uprising. [complete article]

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Poll suggests civil war tops Iraqi fears
By Michael Georgy, Reuters (via Boston Globe), January 25, 2004

Iraqis, rattled by daily carnage since Saddam Hussein's fall, fear a sectarian civil war would be the biggest threat to their country, an opinion poll released yesterday by the US-led administration indicated.

Nearly 30 percent of respondents said they feared sectarian bloodshed the most, followed by 16.5 percent who were most anxious about large vehicle bombs planted by guerrillas that have killed scores of people. [complete article]

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Cheney's favorite leak
By Eric Boehlert, Salon (via ICH), January 27, 2004

Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that a magazine article, based on leaked and unevaluated intelligence, definitively proved links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden has triggered a new round in the Bush administration's conflict with the intelligence community.

"It's disgusting," said Vincent Cannistraro, the former CIA chief of counter-terrorism. "It's bullshit," said Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who served in the agency's Near East division. [complete article]

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Nukes: Can U.S. practice what it preaches?
By Stansfield Turner (former Director of Central Intelligence), Christian Science Monitor, January 28, 2004

In June 2002, President Bush advised the nation that the greatest threat to US security lies in the possibility of terrorists acquiring unconventional weapons. It would seem logical, then, to reassess whether national security strategy is doing all that is possible to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists. A good starting point: the United States' own nuclear policies.

With respect to chemical and biological weapons, the US has eschewed possession of them and is destroying what stocks it has. The record is more problematic with nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has taken policies on these weapons in two directions that differ substantially from previous policies. A necessary question to ask is whether these changes impede or abet preventing terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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Dirty bomber? Dirty justice
By Lewis Z. Koch, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, January/February, 2004

On May 8, 2002, 31-year-old Brooklyn-born Jose Padilla was arrested by FBI agents at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and held as a witness in connection with the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Speaking at a special news conference in Moscow a month later, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft accused Padilla of being a new kind of terrorist bomber. Ashcroft professed no doubts and offered no equivocation—just a flat out accusation: "We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or ‘dirty bomb,' in the United States." Ashcroft said the arrest of Padilla "disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot," one that could have caused "mass death and injury." President George W. Bush accused Padilla of "conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism" and declared him an "enemy combatant." Using the little understood USA Patriot Act, Padilla was denied access to an attorney.

In a matter of minutes, the 40-plus-year history of Miranda rights was swept away. At the time of this writing, Padilla is still sitting in a cell at the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, subject to an unknown number of hours or days or months of questioning, ignorant of his legal rights and the charges against him, and without the advice of an attorney. The government contends Padilla falls under a special exception to the Constitution, but a host of legal scholars feel otherwise. [complete article]

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9/11 commission says it needs more time to complete inquiry
By Philip Shenon, New York Times, January 28, 2004

The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks announced on Tuesday that it was seeking an extension of its deadline to complete the investigation until at least July, raising the prospect of a public fight with the White House and a final report delivered in the heat of the presidential campaign.

The White House and Republican Congressional leaders have said they see no need to extend the congressionally mandated deadline, now set for May 27, and a spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said Tuesday that Mr. Hastert would oppose any legislation to grant the extension.

But commission officials said there was no way to finish their work on time, a situation they attribute in part to delays by the Bush administration in turning over documents and other evidence. [complete article]

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Iran: Trouble within, but ties with neighbors never better
By Peyman Pejman, Inter Press Service (via, January 28, 2004

Although Iran is facing political turmoil inside the country, its relationship with Persian Gulf and Middle Eastern countries has never been better since clerics ended 2,500 years of monarchy in 1979.

Whereas once countries in the region were fearful that Tehran might want to dominate the region and help topple Sunni-majority kingdoms and undemocratic rulers in the Middle East, nowadays Iranian leaders are much in demand – and in sight – in regional meetings, conferences and bilateral trips.

"The presence of Iran is itself significant. At the beginning, it was a taboo to talk about Iran. We could not invite them. We could only meet them on the periphery of meetings in Europe or somewhere. That is not the case anymore," says Abdel Reza Assiri, a Kuwaiti political scientist. [complete article]

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Ayatollahs seek ways to blend religion with politics
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, January 27, 2004

"Millions march in Baghdad to demand elections" blazed the Kayhan newspaper in Tehran last week over a picture of demonstrators waving placards of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shia cleric in Iraq who has defied the US in calling for early direct elections to choose a government.

Since it became clear more than a year ago that the US was committed to removing Saddam Hussein, Iran has pursued a complex strategy over its western neighbour. Tehran is wary of any nearby US military presence, especially since US President George W. Bush lumped it alongside Iraq and North Korea in an "axis of evil".

But Iran has long understood that a representative government in Baghdad would reflect the numerical weight of Iraq's Shia Muslims, who make up at least 55 per cent of its 22m population. They have strong cultural links with fellow Shia in Iran, some 90 per cent of a population of 60m. [complete article]

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Smouldering rebellion against Saudi rule threatens to set country ablaze
By John R Bradley, The Independent, January 28, 2004

The tiny city of Sakaka, the capital of Saudi Arabia's remote al-Jouf province that borders Iraq, may seem an unlikely setting for the beginning of a popular, violent revolution against the ruling Saud family. But you do not have to spend too long here to realise this is what is happening.

Al-Jouf has been witness to an extraordinary level of political violence in recent months. The deputy governor, say locals, was assassinated. Also killed was the police chief and the region's top Sharia court judge. Seven men have been arrested. Saudi officials admit the attacks are linked and that the seven may have been aided by as many as 40 others. [complete article]

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U.S. says it never warned of "imminent" Iraq threat
Agence France Presse, January 27, 2004

"I think some in the media have chosen to use the word 'imminent.' Those were not words we used. We used 'grave and gathering' threat," [White House spokesman Scott McClellan] insisted.

But if Bush never called Saddam's Iraq an "imminent threat" in so many words, he said it was "urgent," Vice President Dick Cheney called it "mortal" and it was "immediate" to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

In an October 7, 2002 televised speech to the nation, Bush likened the standoff with Iraq to the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when Soviet missiles were revealed to be based just 90 miles (145 kilometers) off US shores.

In that same speech, he warned that Saddam "could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists" like the al-Qaeda network behind the September 11, 2001 attacks. [complete article]

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13 killed in 5 separate attacks in Iraq
CNN, January 27, 2004

Five attacks claimed the lives of 13 people in Iraq Tuesday, including six U.S. soldiers, two CNN employees, four Iraqi policemen and an Iraqi civilian, according to police and military sources. [complete article]

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Pentagon e-voting plan 'flawed'
BBC News, January 22, 2004

The Pentagon has defended its internet voting system after a critical report recommended it should be scrapped.

Four computer experts who reviewed the pilot project said the risks of online voting could not be eliminated.

"It has numerous other fundamental security problems that leave it vulnerable to a variety of well-known cyber attacks," said the report.

The Pentagon is standing by the system, which could be used in November's presidential elections. [complete article]

See the complete report, A security analysis of the Secure Electronic
Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE)

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Iraq election debate hinges on food rationing system
By Charles Clover, Financial Times, January 27, 2004

How long it would take to generate paper lists of Iraqis over voting age, according to province, district, or other consituency? Ahmed Al-Mukhtar, a director general in Iraq's Ministry of Trade, does a quick calculaion.

"We have eight printers, and each prints 1600 lines per minute. Let's see. It would take three weeks - less if we got more printers," he says.

Iraq has no up-to-date census, which US officials have given as a prime reason for oppposing direct elections later this year. But Mr al-Mukhtar says Iraq has something even better: a database for a national food rationing system which has been in place since sanctions were imposed in 1990. [complete article]

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David Kay interview
By Tom Brokaw, NBC News, January 26, 2004

TB: There has been recently a report given to the Pentagon that there’s a possibility, a strong possibility of civil war breaking out in Iraq.

DK: I think it’s going to be very, very difficult in this political transition to avoid some degree of internal conflict. And it certainly could spin out of control to civil war.

TB: Is this déjà vu all over again? It looks very much like what the British went through when they went in there in 1918 and then finally gave up in the early 1930s.

DK: Well, Tom, there are times that I thought this was déjà vu all over again not only with regard to that but where I started out my life, which was in the Vietnam conflict and things. It is going to require a great deal of wisdom and perseverance to avoid that occurring. [complete article]

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Leak against this war
By Daniel Ellsberg, The Guardian, January 27, 2004

By the time I released to the press in 1971 what became known as the Pentagon Papers - 7,000 pages of top-secret documents demonstrating that virtually everything four American presidents had told the public about our involvement in Vietnam was false - I had known that pattern as an insider for years, and I knew that a fifth president, Richard Nixon, was following in their footsteps. In the fall of 2002, I hoped that officials in Washington and London who knew that our countries were being lied into an illegal, bloody war and occupation would consider doing what I wish I had done in 1964 or 1965, years before I did, before the bombs started to fall: expose these lies, with documents.

I can only admire the more timely, courageous action of Katherine Gun, the GCHQ translator who risked her career and freedom to expose an illegal plan to win official and public support for an illegal war, before that war had started. Her revelation of a classified document urging British intelligence to help the US bug the phones of all the members of the UN security council to manipulate their votes on the war may have been critical in denying the invasion a false cloak of legitimacy. That did not prevent the aggression, but it was reasonable for her to hope that her country would not choose to act as an outlaw, thereby saving lives. She did what she could, in time for it to make a difference, as indeed others should have done, and still can.

I have no doubt that there are thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now - the Pentagon Papers of Iraq - whose unauthorised revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq. [complete article]

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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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Mr. Cheney, meet Mr. Kay
Editorial, New York Times, January 27, 2004

Vice President Dick Cheney continued to insist last week that Iraq had been trying to make weapons of mass destruction, apparently oblivious to the findings of the administration's own chief weapons inspector that Iraq had possessed only rudimentary capabilities and unrealized intentions. The vice president's myopia suggests a breathtaking unwillingness to accept a reality that conflicts with the administration's preconceived notions. This kind of rigid thinking helped propel us into an invasion without broad international support and, if Mr. Cheney is as influential as many say, could propel us into further misadventures down the road. [complete article]

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The Bush administration split over how to restore Iraqi self-rule
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, January 26, 2004

The Bush administration is deeply divided over how to defuse opposition to a U.S.-backed plan for restoring self-rule to Iraq and avert even deeper instability.

Publicly, the White House and the U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, remain committed to turning over power on July 1 to an interim government selected by an interim assembly chosen through regional caucuses.

But privately, President Bush's national security aides are debating a number of U.S. and British fallback options, including acceding to a demand by Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, that the assembly be directly elected.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld favor a proposal to turn over power early - by April 1 - to the Governing Council, a body of U.S.-installed Iraqi leaders, said senior U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. [complete article]

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One Iraqi, one vote?
By Dilip Hiro, New York Times, January 27, 2004

In calling the capture of Saddam Hussein "crucial to the rise of a free Iraq," President Bush forgot the old saw about being careful what you wish for. Six weeks later, the administration seems shocked by the effect that event had on the country's Shiite community, which makes up 60 percent of the population.

No longer worried about the return of Saddam Hussein, the Shiites -- led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- are focusing on the second part of their much-shouted slogan, "No, no to Saddam; no, no to America." And the Bush team seems unable to stomach the idea that democracy in Iraq will mean Shiites assuming power, and most likely developing close ties with Shiite-dominated Iran.

So now President Bush and his proconsul in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, are watching as Ayatollah Sistani, a recluse who had remained above the political fray, turns into the second coming of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. More embarrassingly for an administration that fought a "war for democracy," it is now opposing Ayatollah Sistani's call for direct elections to the new national provisional assembly. [complete article]

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Contain Sunni anger, but expect instability for years to come
By Mahan Abedin, Daily Star, January 27, 2004

The downfall of Saddam Hussein has exposed deep-rooted centrifugal forces in Iraq. One of the achievements of the former Baathist regime was its tentative success in submerging the inherent tensions of Iraqi identity into a wider pan-Arab unity. The rapid disintegration of the regime after the US military onslaught and Saddam's humiliating capture arguably destroyed the last surviving plank of Arab nationalism.

The Kurdish drive for greater autonomy, and possibly independence, is often identified as the most powerful centrifugal force. However, the threat posed by Arab Sunni elites and their constituents is only now beginning to command attention. It will be a challenge for the emerging Iraqi polity to successfully integrate Arab Sunnis into national life. The new Iraqi state may find this almost impossible, since "integrating" the Sunnis will also entail diminishing their former power and prestige. [complete article]

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Customs agent tells of stopping '20th hijacker'
CNN, January 26, 2004

A U.S. Customs officer told the independent commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on Monday how he kept a man who authorities now suspect could have been the 20th hijacker from entering the United States. [...]

[The suspect,] Al-Qahtani was sent back to London on Virgin Atlantic's Flight 16, with a connecting flight to Dubai.

He was later captured in Afghanistan by U.S. troops and is being held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, officials said.

Melendez-Perez said that "to the best of my knowledge," immigration officers made copies of the incident and sent the paperwork to the FBI. "The FBI has never interviewed me." [complete article]

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America: An empire to rival Rome?
BBC News, January 26, 2004

In a new six-part series entitled Age of Empire, the BBC's Jonathan Marcus sets out on a journey to examine America's place in the modern world.

"America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish. We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves - safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life."

So declared President George Bush in the traditional graduation address at the US Military academy at West Point in June 2002.

But despite his insistence that the US has no imperial ambitions, the word "empire" is increasingly used by academics and pundits alike when talking about America's role in the world. [complete article]

To listen to the first part in this series, go here (requires Real Audio).

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White House retreats from weapons claims
By Terence Hunt, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 26, 2004

The White House retreated Monday from its once-confident claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Democrats swiftly sought to turn the about-face into an election-year issue against President Bush.

The administration's switch came after retired chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay said he had concluded, after nine months of searching, that Saddam Hussein did not have stockpiles of forbidden weapons. Asked about Kay's remarks, White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to repeat oft-stated assertions that prohibited weapons eventually would be found.

McClellan said the inspectors should continue their work "so that they can draw as complete a picture as possible. And then we can learn -- it will help us learn the truth." [complete article]

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The art of camouflage
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, January 26, 2004

David Kay's remarks over the weekend -- that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction before the war and that U.S. intelligence agencies missed the signs that would have told them as much -- held few surprises for anyone who'd closely read his official report on the matter last October.

Kay was the CIA's chief weapons inspector until he resigned last week. The difference between his report of last fall and his statements of recent days is that he was still on the Bush administration's payroll when he wrote the former and a free agent when he made the latter. It's the difference between obfuscation and clarity -- political allegiance and public candor.

The discrepancy is not so much a comment on David Kay or George W. Bush as a general caution on how to read official reports. [complete article]

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The Mullah and democracy
By Bernhard Zand, Der Spiegel (via NYT), January 26, 2004

The two most powerful religious leaders in the modern history of the Shiites studied in Najaf with the legendary Grand Ayatollah Abd al-Kassim al-Chui. Neither of the two turned out entirely as his teacher might have wished. According to Chui, one of the two men, Iran's revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini, was always more interested in politics than theology. A great tribune of the people, but only moderately successful as a religious scholar.

In the 1980s, Chui referred to the other of his two pupils and his later successor, Sajid Ali al-Sistani, as a great mind, adding that his problem was that he was too much of a homebody. According to Chui, Sistani spent too much time studying religious texts instead of venturing outside and encouraging his fellow believers to resist Saddam's dictatorship. The old Chui disapproved of Sistani's behavior. Perhaps it is precisely this criticism from the man who was his teacher in the days of the Iran-Iraq war, and who died in 1992, that today shapes the actions of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. [complete article]

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The next president
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 26, 2004

For regular visitors to this site eager to find out which presidential candidate I'm going to endorse, the long wait is over. I want to express my wholehearted and unequivocal support for the Democratic nominee -- the man who is going to beat George Bush. By the time I get a chance to vote in the primaries, the nominee will already have been chosen. Nevertheless, even if I could vote in New Hampshire, like many other Democrats across America, I've come to the conclusion that this is an election where we need the focus and discipline to set aside our personal preferences.

For many of us in 2000 the mantra was "vote your conscience." Now it might be better to say, vote with consequence. How "your guy" makes you feel, how noble are his goals, how pristine is his political record -- none of this matters one iota if he never makes it to the White House. There is no principle so high that it can be squared with a sense of resignation when contemplating the possibility of George Bush's re-election. Who can unseat him? That alone matters.

The latest Newsweek poll presents a clear outline of the task at hand. While a narrow majority of those polled would favor Kerry over Bush, 78% believe that it is likely that Bush will win. That either means that the majority of people don't realize they're in a majority or that they lack faith in the democratic process. Either way, Democrats clearly feel disempowered.

This means that if we are going to see a Democrat return to the White House in 2005, there needs to be a rekindling of faith; a renewal of the conviction that we actually have the power to make this happen. In a reversal from 2000, the ultimate form of cynicism this time around is to support a candidate who can't win.

In a body politic that often appears neither reflective nor informed, many of us are left with mixed feelings about the fact that democracy so easily gets reduced to a popularity contest; a contest in which style so frequently trumps substance. This perception has swelled the ranks of the disaffected and led thousands of Americans to become political bystanders, frustrated by a system that they feel powerless to change.

But now, if we have disdain for a flawed political system we would do well to reconsider the nature of politics. A useful starting point might be a definition eloquently provided last week by Iran's president Mohammed Khatami when he addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos: "Politics," he said, "is the art of creating the highest degree of reconciliation between the ideal and the possible." Politics is moreover an art that we can either critically and passively observe, or that we can struggle, though imperfectly, to practice.

The result of the 2004 presidential election has the power to change the world. To view the likely prospects of a Democratic or a Republican victory as a choice between the lesser of two evils would be to profoundly underestimate the danger implicit in a victory for George Bush. Equally, it would reveal a sad disregard for our responsibility and capacity as individuals to be agents of change.

While the outcome of the primaries remains uncertain, we can still be of one mind, one voice and one effort in our dedication to defeat George Bush.

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Our man in Baku
Editorial, Washington Post, Janaury 25, 2004

Ilham Aliyev was inaugurated as president of the oil-rich Muslim country of Azerbaijan three months ago after an election condemned by international observers as blatantly fraudulent. When members of the opposition tried to protest, they were brutally beaten by police. There followed a massive, nationwide crackdown in which more than 1,000 people were arrested, including opposition leaders, activists from nongovernmental organizations, journalists and election officials who objected to the fraud. More than 100 remain in prison, including most of the senior opposition activists. A new report by Human Rights Watch documents numerous cases of torture, including severe beatings, electric shock, and threats of rape against the opposition leaders. Mr. Aliyev, who succeeded his strongman father, meanwhile has been consolidating dictatorial powers: Most recently he was named director of Azerbaijani radio and television.

Azerbaijan, in short, might look like a good place for President Bush to start implementing his frequently declared policy of "spreading freedom" to the world -- and in particular the greater Middle East. Instead he is doing the opposite. [complete article]

See also Azerbaijan: Government launches post-election crackdown from Human Rights Watch.

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Cheney 'waged war' on Blair Iraq strategy
By James Blitz and Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, January 25, 2004

Dick Cheney, US vice-president, "waged a guerrilla war" against attempts by Tony Blair, the British prime minister, to secure United Nations backing for the invasion of Iraq.

Mr Cheney remained implacably opposed to the strategy even after George W. Bush, US president, addressed the UN on the importance of a multilateralist approach, according to a new biography of Mr Blair.

The US vice-president, along with the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, has consistently argued that the US could be constrained by the UN's inability to reach agreement over the need to invade Iraq. [complete article]

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Iraqi melting pot nears boiling point
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2004

This fabled city of muddy streets and hidden guns, where one person's folklore is another's atrocity, has U.S. officials concerned that ethnic tensions could ignite a civil war and spoil plans for a unified Iraq.

Rising between the mountains and the desert, Kirkuk and the surrounding region are home to 40% of Iraq's oil reserves. The city is a strategic foothold in the north for competing Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. History and myth here are twisted and revised daily over sugared tea. One day Kirkuk appears to be a multiethnic success story; the next it seems to be tumbling into chaos.

"Dry kindling is all over the place," said Col. William Mayville, commander of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade overseeing Kirkuk. "So you don't want someone coming in here with matches and making a fire." [complete article]

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Kurds await Iraq's embrace, and hope it's not too tight
By Neela Banerjee, New York Times, January 26, 2004

For the last 12 years, Chope Hamed has lived in Iraq without living in Iraq.

Ms. Hamed's home is the capital of the Kurdish northeast of Iraq, a region that gained de facto independence from the rest of the country in 1991, after the Americans established a no-flight zone to keep Saddam Hussein's forces at bay.

So while young people farther south grew up within the cloistered repression of the Baathist rule, Ms. Hamed, a 24-year-old college student, enjoyed new freedoms and saw the bigger world through satellite television and the Internet. While Muslim women elsewhere in Iraq veil themselves in ever-increasing numbers, Ms. Hamed and most other women in Sulaimaniya walk with their thick, dark hair tumbling over their shoulders. [...]

A world of possibility and freedom is what this younger generation of Kurds is desperate to preserve, as their elders meet with other Iraqi politicians in Baghdad to mesh the Kurdish north once more with the Arab south. Already, Kurdish politicians recognize their youth as an independent-minded force to be reckoned with, a politically sophisticated group that regards the rest of Iraq as a foreign -- and backward -- country. [complete article]

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Power rangers
By Joshua Micah Marshall, The New Yorker, January 19, 2004

Last March, after Jacques Chirac, the French President, announced that he would veto any new United Nations resolution sanctioning war against Iraq, the White House saw a chance for a different sort of victory. If a majority of the fifteen Security Council members voted for a new resolution and France vetoed it, the United States could claim that the problem was not American unilateralism but French obstructionism. And that hope set the United States scrambling to line up the votes of Chile, Mexico, Pakistan, and a trio of impoverished states from the west coast of Africa. "No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote," President Bush said at a news conference broadcast worldwide on March 6th. "It's time for people to show their cards, let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam."

But, apart from Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria, the countries on the Security Council declined to side with the United States. Emissaries threatened and cajoled, to no avail. Pakistan, admittedly, had a restive Muslim population to contend with. But Mexico and Chile said no, too, and so did Cameroon and Guinea and Angola, a country that is heavily dependent on American trade and good will. In the end, Bush didn't call for a vote.

At the time, this moment of mortification received scant attention; the outbreak of war was imminent. It was a curious spectacle, though. No country in the world could stand in the way of America's determination to remove Saddam. But the United States seemed powerless to persuade even the smallest nations to legitimatize its power with a symbolic vote. [complete article]

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Democracy and Islam can coexist
An interview with Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan

By Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 26, 2004

This week President Bush will welcome Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It looks as if Turkish-U.S. relations are on the mend after a rough year in which Turkey refused to let U.S. troops pass through its territory during the war with Iraq. Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Erdogan told Newsweek and The Post's Lally Weymouth that he and Bush will discuss a settlement of the seemingly intractable Cyprus issue. He also said he will speak to Bush about his concerns that Iraq could come apart. Moreover, he said he's been asked by Syria to act as an intermediary in the Middle East peace process and is willing to do so. [complete article]

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U.S. must quit Iraq before vote, say Sunnis
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, January 26, 2004

An influential Sunni Muslim group in Iraq said yesterday it was opposed to partial elections scheduled for the summer and wanted a vote taken only when American forces had left the country.

The opposition of the newly organised Council for Sunnis in Iraq represents another dilemma for the US-led administration in Baghdad, which is already under pressure to rewrite its political programme in Iraq a second time. [complete article]

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Delays and split on Iraqi council imperil U.S. plan
By Edward Wong, New York Times, January 26, 2004

A powerful cleric's demand for quick elections has delayed the drafting of an interim constitution and created a serious new split in the Iraqi Governing Council, officials said Sunday, further undermining the Bush administration's troubled plan for a political transition in Iraq.

Without an interim constitution, which is supposed to be completed in less than five weeks, the entire timetable for an American transfer of power to an Iraqi government by June 30 could be disrupted. And the divide in the Governing Council has presented the American authorities with a new complication in pushing their plan for a caucus-style process for selecting a transitional national assembly, which now seems increasingly endangered. Many Shiite Arab council members are supporting direct elections, while Sunni Arab and Kurdish members say it is impossible to hold them.

The underlying obstacle to the Bush administration's plans is the unrelenting demand of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, for direct elections for the assembly. [complete article]

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Ex-inspector says C.I.A. missed disarray in Iraqi arms program
By James Risen, New York Times, January 26, 2004

American intelligence agencies failed to detect that Iraq's unconventional weapons programs were in a state of disarray in recent years under the increasingly erratic leadership of Saddam Hussein, the C.I.A.'s former chief weapons inspector said in an interview late Saturday.

The inspector, David A. Kay, who led the government's efforts to find evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs until he resigned on Friday, said the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies did not realize that Iraqi scientists had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to Mr. Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes.

Dr. Kay also reported that Iraq attempted to revive its efforts to develop nuclear weapons in 2000 and 2001, but never got as far toward making a bomb as Iran and Libya did. [complete article]

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Saudi peace initiative: Arab states to absorb refugees
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, January 25, 2004

According to a new peace initiative being prepared by Arab states, Israel will negotiate a peace agreement with all the Arab states, and not just with the Palestinians, and Arab states would absorb Palestinian refugees.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyasa reported Saturday that the initiative, led by Saudi Arabia, would include "declarations of peace agreements between all Arab states," which will bring an end to the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. The states would declare a normalization in their ties with Israel, including the appointment of ambassadors.

The Arab states will demand that Israel withdraw to its borders prior to the June 1967 war, in other words, to leave the Palestinian territories and withdraw from the Golan Heights. [complete article]

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Too late for two states?
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, January 24, 2004

More than three years into the intifada, the Palestinian situation seems worse than ever: the weekly death toll, the poverty and now the wall. So has the uprising failed? And how can suicide bombings ever be justified? Seumas Milne had exclusive access to leaders across the political spectrum - from president Yasser Arafat in his devastated compound to the underground strategists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He found an unprecedented willingness to compromise - but a growing belief that the wall will scupper the best ever hope for peace. [complete article]

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Two-state solution again sells Palestinians short
By George Bisharat, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2004

It is a tragic irony that, more than 55 years ago, one desperate people seeking sanctuary from murderous racism decimated another — and continue to oppress its scattered survivors to this day. In 1948, about 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, their land and possessions taken by the new Jewish state of Israel. This included the Jerusalem home of my grandparents, Hanna and Mathilde Bisharat, which was expropriated through a process tantamount to state-sanctioned theft.

Today, many assume that to achieve Middle East peace, we Palestinians must surrender our right to return to our homes and homeland. Millions of Palestinians -- with memories and photographs of our stolen properties, keys to our front doors, and an abiding sense of injustice -- are expected to swallow our losses in order to facilitate a "two-state solution." [complete article]

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Two-state plan at risk, warns Arafat
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, January 24, 2004

The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has declared that "time is running out for the two-state solution" to the Middle East conflict - in an exclusive interview with the Guardian - because of the impact of Israel's "security barrier" and settlement expansion on the viability of a future Palestinian state.

The unprecedented warning from a man who has devoted the past 30 years to achieving a state in the West Bank and Gaza next to Israel came as momentum builds in Ariel Sharon's embattled government for a "unilateral disengagement" from the most heavily populated Palestinian areas. [complete article]

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Israel and Hizbullah to swap prisoners
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, January 26, 2004

Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbullah will on Thursday exchange hundreds of prisoners and dozens of bodies in the first stage of a prisoner release scheme, it was announced yesterday. [complete article]

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'It's just wrong what we're doing'
By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, January 24, 2004

[Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara] decided to break his silence on Iraq when I called him up the other day at his Washington office. I told him that his carefully enumerated lists of historic lessons from Vietnam were in danger of being ignored. He agreed, and told me that he was deeply frustrated to see history repeating itself.

"We're misusing our influence," he said in a staccato voice that had lost none of its rapid-fire engagement. "It's just wrong what we're doing. It's morally wrong, it's politically wrong, it's economically wrong."

While he did not want to talk on the record about specific military decisions made Mr. Rumsfeld, he said the United States is fighting a war that he believes is totally unnecessary and has managed to destroy important relationships with potential allies. "There have been times in the last year when I was just utterly disgusted by our position, the United States' position vis-à-vis the other nations of the world." [complete article]

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Kay asks why U.S. thought Iraq had WMD
By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press, January 25, 2004

U.S. intelligence agencies need to explain why their research indicated Iraq possessed banned weapons before the American-led invasion, says the outgoing top U.S. inspector, who now believes Saddam Hussein had no such arms.

"I don't think they exist," David Kay said Sunday. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist -- we've got to deal with that difference and understand why." [complete article]

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Iraq’s breakup will spark civil war, says Saudi FM
Reuters (via Daily Times), January 25, 2004

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Saturday he "hoped beyond hope" a sovereign Iraq would emerge quickly and warned any breakup of the country would spark civil war and wider conflict. Prince Saud also told Reuters in an interview that security was a precondition to the handover of power by Washington to a sovereign Iraqi government.

"The impact of a fragmented Iraq will not be just on Saudi Arabia. It's the whole region. I think there will be conflict between the Iraqi independent (ethnic and religious) entities that would arise. This will spread to its neighbouring countries," said the minister, whose country borders Iraq. [complete article]

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Down but not out, Iraq's Sunnis remain confused on the best way ahead
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), January 24, 2004

With zeal and piety, Sheik Maki Hussein Hamdan recounted a 7th century tale exalting the virtues of jihad. The Prophet Muhammad, he told worshippers, handed a trusted follower a sword and told him to go out and chop off the heads of God's enemies until it bends.

In the same sermon, Hamdan warned the congregation in this hotbed of anti-American resistance that Sunni Arabs will lose out if they don't step forward and claim their place in Iraq's new political order.

His mixed message Friday reflected the predicament, and perhaps confusion, of the Sunni Arab minority now deprived of its privileged place under Saddam Hussein and facing domination by communities it once oppressed. [complete article]

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The president makes danger his campaign theme
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, January 25, 2004

There was something familiar in the language that President Bush used in his State of the Union speech Tuesday when he asked Americans to stay with him through the journey that began on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. "We've not come all this way through tragedy and trial and war only to falter and leave our work unfinished," Mr. Bush said, in words that bore the strong imprint of his chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, an evangelical Christian.

Some listeners detected an allusion to a passage in "Amazing Grace," the hymn written by a slave trader turned minister and abolitionist, John Newton, after he survived an Atlantic storm:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

Newton was referring in the last two lines to his salvation by God, a sentiment often echoed by the president. But in this speech, which served as the opening shot of Mr. Bush's 2004 campaign, the real message was there if listeners substituted the name "Bush" for "grace." [complete article]

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Khatami calls for free elections
By Sadeq Saba, BBC News, January 25, 2004

Iran's President, Mohammad Khatami, has hardened his position on the country's election row by demanding a fair and free poll.

He urged the unelected Guardian Council which has disqualified more than 3,000 candidates from next month's elections, to make a full review of its decision.

He has tried to find a solution by holding talks behind closed doors.

Mr Khatami's comments indicate his patience is wearing thin with the country's hardline conservatives. [complete article]

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The nuclear market: An array of vendors
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 25, 2004

The bluntly worded conclusion by the chief American arms inspector in Iraq, David Kay, that Saddam Hussein "got rid" of his unconventional weapons long before the Iraq invasion last year underscores a point that has become clear to intelligence experts in the past few months: President Bush moved first, and most decisively, against a country that posed a smaller proliferation risk than North Korea, Libya and Iran or even one of America's allies, Pakistan.

While Dr. Kay's team has come up largely empty-handed so far, contributing to his decision to resign on Friday, a team of American experts visiting North Korea were shown what appeared to be at least a rudimentary ability to produce plutonium — though they were not able to confirm that North Korea spent 2003 churning out new weapons.

Meanwhile, investigators crawling through Libya's newly opened nuclear weapons program have uncovered a remarkably sophisticated network of nuclear suppliers, spanning the globe from Malaysia to Dubai. [complete article]

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Confronting the nuclear 'underworld'
Q&A: Pervez Musharraf, Washington Post, January 25, 2004

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, survivor of two recent assassination attempts, arrived at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and immediately had to deal with allegations that some of his country's leading scientists had sold nuclear technology to Iran and Libya in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In an interview on Friday with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth, the 60-year-old general insisted that the government itself was not involved in any transfer of nuclear know-how or technology and was not aware of the scientists' activities at the time. On the assassination plots, he charged that al Qaeda was behind the attacks and pledged to crack down on extremist groups operating in Pakistan. He also spoke at length about turning a new page in Pakistan's tense relations with neighboring India. [complete article]

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Militant flourishes in plain sight
By Paul Watson and Mubashir Zaidi, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2004

A barrage of U.S. cruise missiles several years ago didn't sap Fazlur Rehman Khalil's devotion to holy war, and two subsequent bans issued by Pakistan's government haven't silenced his invective against Jews and Americans.

But Khalil, who co-signed Osama bin Laden's 1998 edict that declared it a Muslim's duty to kill Americans and Jews, is not leading his holy warriors from inside a secret mountain cave. He lives comfortably with his family in this city adjacent to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, next to his Koranic girls' school and bookshop, just down the street from a police checkpoint.

And he still is urging his followers to fight the United States. [complete article]

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Jury said to hear evidence in C.I.A. leak
By Eric Lichtblau and David Johnston, New York Times, January 24, 2004

A special prosecutor has begun presenting evidence to a grand jury about the improper disclosure of an undercover C.I.A. officer's identity and has advised several people who have been employed at the White House that they could be summoned to testify, senior officials said on Friday.

The prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, began submitting evidence this week to a grand jury at the federal courthouse here. It was not immediately clear who faced subpoenas. At least some White House employees have been asked to meet informally with the prosecutor in what appeared to be a possible effort to obtain voluntary admissions of wrongdoing in exchange for offers of immunity, the officials said.

Mr. Fitzgerald's decision to use a criminal grand jury, first reported by Time magazine on its Web site,, was not unexpected, but it did ratchet up the seriousness of the criminal inquiry, raising a possibility of courthouse appearances by Bush administration officials compelled to testify under oath. [complete article]

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Changes in U.S. Iraq plan explored
By Robin Wright and Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 25, 2004

The Bush administration has produced a list of possible changes for Iraq's political transition, with some U.S. and British officials acknowledging for the first time that the original plan could even be scrapped altogether if the United States is to preempt the growing clamor for elections.

In two rounds of talks at the United Nations and Washington last week, the United States told U.N. representatives that everything is on the table except the June 30 deadline for handing over power to a new Iraqi government, U.N. and U.S. officials said.

"The United States told us that as long as the timetable is respected, they are ready to listen to any suggestion," a senior U.N. official said. [complete article]

Comment -- The pragmatism of the Bush administration apparently has only one limitation: an unswerving commitment to the June 30 deadline. The other parties, each for their own reasons no doubt, aren't challenging that commitment. Nevertheless, if negotiations drag on, will Washington blink? Or will it engineer a make-believe transfer in sovereignty whose credibility only need be sustained in the gullible minds of good number of American voters?

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Iraq's path hinges on words of enigmatic cleric
By Edward Wong, New York Times, January 25, 2004

An austere home in a dusty alleyway here has become a center of power rivaling the American occupation headquarters in Baghdad -- and the scene of fierce inner struggles for one man's ear.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a reclusive 73-year-old cleric revered by many of Iraq's 15 million Shiites, hears arguments and requests here from the country's most senior politicians, occasionally issuing decrees through them that thwart the plans of the world's sole superpower.

Donkey carts trundle through the mouth of the narrow alleyway, but bodyguards keep most visitors out. On Saturday morning, two dozen men in brown robes pleaded to be allowed to seek the cleric's spiritual advice. Only two emissaries from a Baghdad mosque were allowed in. [complete article]

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Fighting for their future
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2004

When U.S. troops entered Baghdad, members of the Iraqi Women's League, a pro-democracy group suppressed under Saddam Hussein, cheered.

But these days when members gather in their shabby office, the talk is of an unexpected consequence of the dictator's overthrow: a decision by the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council to replace the country's civic family laws with Islamic Sharia.

"We had a war with a tyrant regime, but now we have another kind of war," said Aida Ayeedi, a teacher at the College of Agriculture in Baghdad. "This war is with those religious men who think that women are just instruments to bear children and create the next generation." [complete article]

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Kurdistan diary

Day four
By Alastair Leithead, BBC News, January 23, 2004

Halabja is the Kurdish town where Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in an effort to crush opponents. [complete article]

Day three
By Alastair Leithead, BBC News, January 22, 2004

Sulaymaniyah is in the heart of Kurdistan, where people have a grasp of history that betrays their patriotism for the Kurdish nation. On the third day of his trip into northern Iraq, Alastair Leithead explores what makes the Kurds so different. [complete article]

See also day one and day two.

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

[This has been a week during which the demands of Ayatollah Sistani have captured more attention than those of the Kurds. Nevertheless, there are ominous signs that over the coming months and years, just as Beirut and then Sarajevo became synonymous with interminable conflict, Kirkuk is at risk of sharing the same fate.]

Iraqi city fractures along ethnic lines
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, January 24, 2004
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: Harbinger of Iraq's future
By May Ying, Aljazeera, January 18, 2004
Whether Kirkuk becomes part of Kurdistan or remains part of Iraq may depend largely on who is in the majority - a highly contested and unknown figure. [...] Even the word Kirkuk is in dispute. Kurds think it is a Kurdish name and Turkmen claim it is Turkman. However, the truth about Kirkuk and its identity lies somewhere in the ambiguities of national feeling, 50 years of manipulated census figures and a legacy of ethnic cleansing.

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.

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.

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.

The 21st century: a time for new oil wars
By Youssef M. Ibrahim, Daily Star, January 23, 2004
Oil and politics make an intoxicating cocktail ­ addictive, but with deadly consequences. It has always been so. Just look at the events of the past three decades: the rise of OPEC in the early 1970s and its spectacular initial success in setting global oil prices; the 1973 Arab oil embargo that shook Western economies to the core; last year's US-led invasion of Iraq, a country that happens to possess the world's second-largest oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia. Not to mention the often repeated call by neoconservatives in America to "occupy" Arab oil countries.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
[During a week when barely a day has passed without an appearance on one of the nation's leading op-ed pages by the Frum-Perle double act, it's been plain to see that these particular neocons who like to demurely cast themselves as Bush cheerleaders have no desire to give up their actual role as puppet-masters.]

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.

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.

Sharon, bulldozer diplomacy, and fear of transfer
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, January 21, 2004
Sharon has long since renounced the "Jordan is Palestine" argument, both for the sake of relations with the neighboring kingdom, and in recognition that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip may be a political inevitability. But officials in Jordan, which signed a full peace treaty with Israel in the mid-1990s, now fear that Israel's budding Great Wall may indirectly realize the far-right's fever dream of mass, ostensibly "voluntary" transfer of thousands of West Bank Palestinians across the River Jordan.

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?

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