The War in Context  
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The paper chase
By Seth Ackerman, Baltimore Sun, February 20, 2004

Why have U.S. political leaders and intelligence agencies turned out to be so wrong about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?

Despite years of warnings from the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA that Saddam Hussein was hiding an illicit arsenal, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. The weapons failure has become the top political issue in Washington, and a blue-ribbon panel has been formed to come up with answers. Was the intelligence failure an honest, unavoidable mistake or was information manipulated to serve a political agenda?

No answer to that question can be complete without looking at the astonishing tale of Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, the highest-ranking defector to leave Iraq. His story leaves no doubt that Washington misled the American public for years about Iraq's WMD. And it also suggests something unexpected: The pattern of lying began not under President Bush but during the Clinton administration. [complete article]

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A secret hunt unravels in Afghanistan
By Steve Coll, Washington Post, February 22, 2004

During the three years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the hunt [for Osama bin Laden] would eventually involve several dozen local paid CIA agents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a secret commando team drawn from Uzbek special forces, another drawn from retired Pakistani special forces, and a deepening intelligence alliance with Massoud, the northern Afghan guerrilla leader. Despite these varied efforts, bin Laden continually eluded their grasp.

Years later, those involved in the secret campaign against bin Laden still disagree about why it failed -- and who is to blame. [complete article]

This extended report was adapted from Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, The Penguin Press (New York: 2004), by Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll.

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CIA admits it didn't give weapon data to the U.N.
By Douglas Jehl and David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 21, 2004

The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged that it did not provide the United Nations with information about 21 of the 105 sites in Iraq singled out by American intelligence before the war as the most highly suspected of housing illicit weapons.

The acknowledgment, in a Jan. 20 letter to Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, contradicts public statements before the war by top Bush administration officials.

Both George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said the United States had briefed United Nations inspectors on all of the sites identified as "high value and moderate value" in the weapons hunt.

The contradiction is significant because Congressional opponents of the war were arguing a year ago that the United Nations inspectors should be given more time to complete their search before the United States and its allies began the invasion. The White House, bolstered by Mr. Tenet, insisted that it was fully cooperating with the inspectors, and at daily briefings the White House issued assurances that the administration was providing the inspectors with the best information possible. [complete article]

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The wrong man to promote democracy
By Kamel Labidi, New York Times, February 21, 2004

This week, President Bush played host to President Zine el-Abidine ben Ali of Tunisia, giving this ruthless autocrat a long-coveted audience at the White House. To his credit, Mr. Bush rebuked Mr. ben Ali for his violations of press freedom, but the United States is sorely mistaken if it believes that democracy and the rule of law can ever take hold under leaders like Mr. ben Ali. The Bush administration's welcome of Mr. ben Ali makes America's aggressive promotion of democratic reform in the Arab world ring hollow.

It's not obvious from Mr. Bush's public statements, but Tunisia today is one of the world's most efficient police states. Since his ouster of President Habib Bourguiba in a coup in 1987, Mr. ben Ali has quashed virtually all dissent and silenced a civil society that once was an example of vibrancy for North Africa and the neighboring Middle East. In the early 1990's, the regime cracked down on the country's Islamist movement, arbitrarily arresting thousands of suspected activists and subjecting them to torture and unfair trials. Mr. ben Ali then extended his crackdown to human rights defenders, opposition leaders and independent journalists. (I, for example, was stripped of my accreditation after 19 years as a journalist following the publication of an interview with a human rights advocate.) [complete article]

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Al Qaeda rebuffs Iraqi terror group, U.S. officials say
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, February 21, 2004

The most active terrorist network inside Iraq appears to be operating mostly apart from Al Qaeda, senior American officials say.

Most significantly, the officials said, American intelligence had picked up signs that Qaeda members outside Iraq had refused a request from the group, Ansar al-Islam, for help in attacking Shiite Muslims in Iraq.

The request was made by Ansar's leader, a Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and intercepted by the United States last month. The apparent refusal is being described by some American intelligence analysts as an indication of a significant divide between the groups. [complete article]

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Kurds reject key parts of proposed Iraq constitution
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, February 21, 2004

Kurdish leaders are refusing to accept key provisions of an interim Iraqi constitution drafted by the Bush administration and instead are demanding far broader autonomy, including the right to control military forces in Kurdish areas and the freedom to reject laws passed by the national government, Kurdish officials said Friday.

The position adopted by the Kurds, an ethnic group that accounts for about 20 percent of Iraq's predominantly Arab population, threatens to block approval of the interim constitution by Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council and deal another setback to the Bush administration's effort to create a sovereign transitional government. Arab leaders oppose almost all of the Kurds' demands, which would effectively preserve an autonomous Kurdish mini-state in northern Iraq with its own army, laws, tax system, judiciary and parliament. [complete article]

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Iraqi Kurdish leaders resist as the U.S. presses them to moderate their demands
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 21, 2004

The alliance between the United States government and Kurdish political parties in Iraq has come under intense strain in recent days, with Kurdish leaders accusing the Americans of trying to block their long stifled hopes for autonomy in the new Iraqi state.

Kurdish leaders say American officials are putting pressure on them to drop some of their main demands for autonomy in negotiations with the other major Iraqi groups, the Shiites and Sunni Arabs, over a temporary constitution to guide the country until the end of next year.

Iraqi leaders on both sides of the negotiations say the talks on the constitution are deadlocked over three main issues: the fate of the 60,000-member Kurdish militia, which Kurdish leaders want to keep; the boundaries of the autonomous Kurdish region, which Kurdish leaders want to expand; and the amount of oil revenue to be set aside for the Kurdish region. [complete article]

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Insider tells of nuclear deals, cash
By Ellen Nakashima and Alan Sipress, Washington Post, February 21, 2004

The Sri Lankan businessman who was an associate of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan has told Malaysian police how Khan shipped components to Libya and Iran for their nuclear weapons programs and received two briefcases with a $3 million payment from Iran, a Malaysian police report disclosed Friday.

In an insider's account of Khan's operation, Buhary Syed Abu Tahir said that Khan asked him to send two shipping containers of used centrifuges -- sophisticated equipment for enriching uranium -- to Iran from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, aboard a merchant vessel owned by an Iranian company, according to the 12-page report. In return, the Iranian contact provided the briefcases filled with dirhams, the currency of the UAE, that were stashed at Khan's guesthouse in Dubai, the report said. Tahir lives and does business in Malaysia. [complete article]

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Libya made plutonium, nuclear watchdog says
By Peter Slevin, Washington Post, February 21, 2004

Libya produced small amounts of plutonium and accumulated large stores of illicit uranium processing equipment during a haphazard 20-year pursuit of nuclear weapons, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said yesterday.

Working with components acquired on the black market, Libyan scientists assembled a small set of gas centrifuges capable of producing weapons-grade uranium and soon ordered 10,000 more, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported. [complete article]

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Comment -- If the Bush administration had a more nuanced approach to the promotion of democracy, the story now coming out of Iran could have been quite different. After President Mohammad Khatami's reformists swept to victory in 2000, America had an opportunity to empower this nascent movement of home-grown Middle Eastern liberalization. But few people in Washington were willing to entertain the notion that there truly could be such a thing as an Islamic democracy and so Khatami's appeal for a dialogue of civilizations fell on deaf ears. Khatami's ability to strengthen the reformist movement was destined to failure if the promise of freedom wasn't coupled with improved economic conditions. Washington could have empowered Khatami by renewing economic ties, but those inside the administration who regard Tehran as a synonym for Hezbollah, nixed such an opportunity.

Now we will be in for a good deal of hand wringing as a debate ensues on how best to "deal with" Iran, but there can be little doubt that neoconservatives will take satisfaction in the election results. If Iran's democracy movement can be described as dead and buried, the advocates of a "forward strategy of freedom for the greater Middle East" will take this as proof that only the United States has the power to confer democratic freedom. As David Frum writes in National Review, "Iran is heading toward a crisis that its leaders believe they can survive only by intimidation and terror -- and the United States cannot much longer postpone deciding what it will do about this menace." Irrespective of whether Iran truly constitutes a menace, of this much we can be sure: Not a single neoconservative will acknowledge (or perhaps even recognize) their own complicity in the decline of Iran's reform movement.

Iran's conservatives roll to victory in controversial elections
Agence France Presse, February 21, 2004

Iranian religious conservatives rolled toward a solid victory in parliamentary elections, sweeping out depleted pro-democracy forces and slamming the door on years of efforts to reform the Islamic republic.

But as results trickled in from Friday's polls, there was no official word on whether the conservatives had rallied enough of Iran's 46.3 million eligible voters to make their triumph credible.

The conservative Guardians Council hailed what it called a "strong turnout" and massive popular support for the fundamentalists, but early results pointed to a participation level well off the 67 percent recorded in 2000. [complete article]

Iran conservatives win big on small vote
By Parisa Hafezi and Paul Taylor, February 21, 2004

Partial results from Iran's disputed parliamentary election have showed Islamic conservatives hostile to President Mohammad Khatami's liberal reforms cruising to an expected victory on a sharply lower turnout.

Interior Ministry figures showed conservatives had won 43 of the first 83 constituencies declared, out of 289 seats contested on Friday, an analyst at the Parliamentary Research Centre said on Saturday. [complete article]

Iran's election turnout: The (other) only democracy in the Middle East
Muslim Wakeup!, February 21, 2004

Iran's democracy has a lot going for it. For one, it has the earliest legal voting age in the world--anyone 15 and older is eligible to vote. That already gives Israel, the perennial claimant to the title of "only democracy in the Middle East," a run for its money.

But it is the Middle East, and the people over there, being so far away from America and all, don't know any better, so you have to be a little liberal with your definition of democracy. Israel is a democracy that, since 1967, is ruling over 3.7 million Palestinians without providing them with the most basic human rights (never mind voting rights). And Iran is a democracy where a bunch of unelected old men can disqualify whomever they disagree with politically from running for office.

This year, the Guardian Council, the body that was created by conservatives to "protect the ideals of the revolution" decided to prevent almost anyone with a reformist agenda from running--to the tune of turning down around 2,400 candidates. [complete article]

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Get rid of all nuclear arms
By Adil Najam, USA Today (via Yahoo), February 20, 2004

President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) provides the right solution, but to the wrong problem. Nuclear proliferation is merely a symptom; the real issue is the nuclear weapons themselves. And, in this sense, the PSI is no more than a Band-Aid, and a quite small one at that.

The recent scandal in Pakistan, where a corrupt scientist sold nuclear secrets for profit, only demonstrates that such traffic is much too lucrative to be stopped by increased policing. For 60 years, ever since Hiroshima, the U.S. and the world have tried to control the spread of nuclear weapons. We've tried treaties, economic sanctions and moral persuasion. And we've failed.

We could not stop the Soviets from getting nukes. We chose not to resist, and actually ignored, Israel's nuclear program. We looked the other way when India went nuclear and, thus, could do little when Pakistan followed suit. And we merely fumed when North Korea flexed its nuclear muscles. In the meantime, we have built and maintained the world's largest nuclear stockpile.

Can we contain Pakistan's nuclear program? Yes, we can. But first we will need to contain India's. To do that, however, India will need to see China's program rolled back. How does that happen? For that, we will need to start looking at our own. As my grandmother used to say, "If you point one finger at someone, at least three will point back at you." No one said this was easy! [complete article]

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Kazakhstan probes nuclear black market
By Bagila Bukharbayeva, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 20, 2004

Kazakhstan has opened an investigation into the nuclear black market that helped Iran, Libya and North Korea, exploring suspected ties in the country that housed much of the Soviet Union's atomic arsenal, officials told The Associated Press.

Kazakhstan's intelligence agency is examining the Almaty office of a Dubai company linked by President Bush to the market headed by the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, the officials said.

The black market's potential connection to Kazakhstan -- which served as a nuclear testing ground until it disarmed after its 1991 independence -- has raised concern about the proliferation of remnants of the Soviet weapons program. Kazakh officials strongly deny any highly enriched uranium -- the form used in weapons -- has leaked out of the country. [complete article]

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Halliburton's rising cost for Bush
By Stan Crock, BusinessWeek, February 20, 2004

In a normal political season, President George W. Bush could tough out the string of embarrassing charges of war profiteering and bribes emanating from Halliburton, where Vice-President Dick Cheney used to hang his hat. But as Democrats more or less unite behind Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), they're getting the better of Bush on issues ranging from missing Iraqi weapons to missing American jobs. With the 2004 election looking to be as tight as 2000's cliffhanger, the drip-drip-drip of Halliburton charges threatens to erode one of the President's greatest strengths: Character and credibility. [complete article]

Comment -- A lot of the hogwash that flows like honey from the lips of many a Washington commentator often sounds strange to those of us who can only form an opinion about George Bush by watching him on TV. Stan Crock -- whose reading of the Halliburton liability is probably accurate -- refers to Bush's greatest strengths as character and credibility. Earlier this week the Washington Post's White House correspondent, Dana Milbank, in an interview on NPR, described Bush as very smart. Character? Credibility? Smart? A much more convincing assessment of Bush was provided elsewhere in the Washington Post but it didn't come from an observer so close up to the president that he can't see higher than Bush's shoe laces. This came from NASCAR fan, Thomas Hanner, 58, a self-employed contractor from Sarasota, Florida. "He's like me -- his swagger, his confidence -- I can relate to his thinking." Mr. Hanner might be flattering himself by suggesting that swagger and confidence reflect a method of reflection, but he surely describes the core of Bush's appeal: It's the he's-like-me factor. This is why Bush's political mastery should not be underestimated, for in spite of his ties to the economic elite, his disdain for open government, and his aristocratic roots, he still manages to portray himself as a common man.

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Russia tests missile that could evade U.S. defense
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2004

After two days of high-profile military exercises, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said Wednesday that Russia had successfully tested a new strategic missile system, a development that analysts said could allow nuclear warheads to avoid U.S. defenses.

Putin, who is seeking reelection next month, did not identify the system, which he said would allow "deep maneuvering" of Russia's long-range missiles.

Russian and U.S. military analysts said his cryptic description could mean that Russia has developed a "maneuverable reentry vehicle" -- a technology under development for decades that could provide a rudimentary guidance system for intercontinental missiles and render them difficult or impossible to destroy. [complete article]

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Start-up company with connections
By Knut Royce, Newsday, February 15, 2004

U.S. authorities in Iraq have awarded more than $400 million in contracts to a start-up company that has extensive family and, according to court documents, business ties to Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon favorite on the Iraqi Governing Council.

The most recent contract, for $327 million to supply equipment for the Iraqi Armed Forces, was awarded last month and drew an immediate challenge from a losing contester, who said the winning bid was so low that it questions the "credibility" of that bid.

But it is an $80-million contract, awarded by the Coalition Provisional Authority last summer to provide security for Iraq's vital oil infrastructure, that has become a controversial lightning rod within the Iraqi Provisional Government and the security industry.

Soon after this security contract was issued, the company started recruiting many of its guards from the ranks of Chalabi's former militia, the Iraqi Free Forces, raising allegations from other Iraqi officials that he was creating a private army.

Chalabi, 59, scion of one of Iraq's most politically powerful and wealthy families until the monarchy was toppled in 1958, had been living in exile in London when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The chief architect of the umbrella organization for the resistance, the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi is viewed by many Iraqis as America's hand-picked choice to rule Iraq. [complete article]

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Look who's talking
By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, February 19, 2004

One major criticism of the Iraq war is that by invading Iraq, the U.S. actually created more enemies in the Arab-Muslim world. I don't happen to believe that, but maybe it's true. What the critics miss, though, is that the U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein has also triggered the first real "conversation" about political reform in the Arab world in a long, long time. It's still mostly in private, but more is now erupting in public. For this conversation to be translated into broad political change requires a decent political outcome in Iraq. But even without that, something is stirring. [complete article]


Neoconservatives and some liberals argue that the United States must engage in a new form of imperialism to reform the failed states of the Middle East. According to this argument, the United States must shoulder this new form of "the white man's burden" to eradicate the noxious values that give rise to terrorism.

It is of course true that the Islamic world is in dire need of reform, but not reform imposed by foreign armies of occupation. The advocates of neoimperialism forget that the old empires of Europe collapsed because of the nationalist revolts of people who refused to be ruled by others.

In his New York Times column, "Look who's talking," Tom Friedman quotes several articles by Arabs who appear to endorse the view that the American overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime will encourage democratization in the Arab world. But Friedman does not mention that the overwhelming majority of Arabs, including those most committed to democratization, view the American-led invasion of Iraq as an imperial act of aggression rather than as an attempt to bring about reform.

In June 2003, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press issued a report indicating that the war increased Muslim hostility toward the U.S. and toward "the war on terrorism." In October 2003, the annual report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies stated that "the war in Iraq has probably inflamed radical passions among Muslims and thus increased al Qaeda's recruiting power and morale...." Many other intelligence analysts and agencies have also argued that the anger provoked by the occupation of Iraq has facilitated recruiting by militant Islamic groups (see the article "Anger on Iraq Seen as New Qaeda Recruiting Tool" in the March 16, 2003 issue of the New York Times).

Defeating terrorist groups like al Qaeda does entail reforming the societies that produce them. But trying to impose such reform by Humvees and tanks simply strengthens the people one seeks to weaken.

Henry Munson is a visiting scholar in anthropology at Harvard and professor of anthropology at the University of Maine. He is the author of Islam and Revolution in the Middle East.

"GUEST COMMENTARY" is a new feature at The War in Context where I'll be soliciting comments from journalists, academics and other specialists whose insights will add depth to our understanding of the news. If you'd like to participate, please contact me at -- Paul Woodward, Editor

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Sistani hints at allowing election delay in Iraq
By Nadim Ladki, Reuters, February 20, 2004

Iraq's top Shi'ite religious leader hinted in an interview published on Friday that he would allow a delay to elections in line with a U.N. verdict that ruled out polls before the end of U.S.-led occupation in June.

But Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, widely seen as holding the key to Iraq's political future, said any delay should be brief and any interim government should have limited authority.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has sided with the United States, saying elections in Iraq before the political transfer of power on June 30 were not feasible. He also said the date for restoring sovereignty that Washington wants "must be respected."

Sistani told Germany's Der Spiegel that an interim government should be charged only with running the day-to-day affairs of the state in the run-up to quick elections. [complete article]

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A third way for Iraq
By Noah Feldman, New York Times, February 20, 2004

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, and his envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, confirmed yesterday what realists already knew: there is no way to hold national elections in Iraq by June 30, the deadline chosen by the United States for transferring sovereignty to Iraqis. The problem is not only logistics, but also security: no one can guarantee the safety of the thousands of polling places that would be necessary for millions of Iraqi voters.

With the United Nations having weighed in, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite religious leader who has insisted on direct elections before any transfer can occur, becomes again the pivotal player in the drama. The problem is that while the June 30 date is not inherently significant to Iraqis, it matters greatly to the Bush administration, which has clung to it despite criticism that the time line is designed to fit the American electoral clock, not the Iraqi one.

Washington's initial hope for establishing a transition government in Baghdad by June 30 was pinned on using some sort of nationwide caucus system, but this foundered when Ayatollah Sistani ruled out caucuses as undemocratic. The ayatollah's position is not unreasonable: Iraq's novice electorate needs simplicity and transparency, and it would be hard to find a dozen ordinary Americans outside of Iowa who could explain the caucus system (there is not even an Arabic word for caucus). [complete article]

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Pending a vote, some Iraqis press for a larger governing council
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 20, 2004

As prospects for early elections faded, several Iraqi leaders said Thursday that they wanted the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to remain in place after the United States transferred power back to the people on June 30. Plans are already under way to expand the council, they added.

The leaders, including representatives from the major ethnic and religious groups and members of the council, said a consensus had emerged to increase the current council of 25 people to as many as 125, and to keep it in power until United Nations-assisted elections could be held in early 2005.

Several council members said the plan appeared to have cleared a potentially major obstacle: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, indicated that he would accept an enlarged council as long as this was part of the United Nations recommendation. It was the ayatollah's call for early elections that brought the United Nations to Iraq in the first place. [complete article]

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Plan for caucuses in Iraq is dropped
By Robin Wright and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, February 20, 2004

The Bush administration is abandoning the core idea of its plan to hold regional caucuses for an Iraqi provisional government and will instead work with the United Nations and Iraqis to develop yet another plan for the transfer of political power by June 30, U.N. and U.S. officials said yesterday.

The decision, forced by rejection of the caucus system by a wide range of Iraqis, means that the Coalition Provisional Authority led by the U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, will instead hand over authority to a caretaker government until direct elections can be held, officials said. [complete article]

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Powell: Stability after Iraq handover is prime concern
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, February 20, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the Bush administration was "extremely sensitive" to the danger that Iraq could become destabilized after the United States returned sovereignty June 30 and was working to ensure clear lines of authority.

In an interview, he acknowledged that there were legitimate concerns about Iraq's future after the handover, which will change the status of 100,000 U.S. troops serving alongside tens of thousands of newly trained Iraqi security forces.

"It will be different," he said. "And we don't want it to be a destabilized situation or a situation that could tilt in the wrong direction." [complete article]

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Arabs displaced by Iraqi Kurds
By Elizabeth Blunt, BBC News, February 19, 2004

An international body that monitors displaced people says about 100,000 Arabs have been forced from their homes by returning Kurds in northern Iraq.

The Global IDP Project estimates that about 30,000 Kurds who were evicted under Saddam Hussein have gone back to their home towns and villages.

The Arab families have been pushed out, or fled, the group says.

Many are camped in abandoned public buildings in non-Kurdish areas and are dependent on food aid.

The latest report from the Global IDP Project details the consequences of what it calls the "revolving door effect", triggered by last year's war in Iraq. [complete article]

Read the Global IDP Project report, Iraq: return of evicted Kurds causes new displacements

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Syria and Iran aiding militants, Iraq says
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, February 20, 2004

Senior Iraqi intelligence officers believe an Islamic militant group which has claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in Irbil and a spate of deadly attacks in Baghdad, Falluja and Mosul is receiving significant help from Syria and Iran.

The officers, who have been tracking the activities of domestic and foreign jihadists in northern Iraq, claim that members of Jaish Ansar al-Sunna (the army of the supporters of the sayings of the prophet) have been "given shelter by Syrian and Iranian security agencies and have been able to enter Iraq with ease".

The group is suspected of training suicide bombers and deploying them against US forces in Iraq and Iraqis considered to be collaborating with the US-led authorities. [complete article]

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Post-war, or pre-civil war?
By Ramsey Al-Rikabi, Al-Ahram, February 19, 2004

As the June 30 deadline for handing over sovereignty to Iraqis draws closer, the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces in keeping the peace, so to speak, is of grave importance as domestic issues in both the US and Iraq will be working against it. At a rate of about one US soldier killed per day in a conflict based on what now looks to be almost indefensibly faulty grounds, the Bush administration's main priority this election year is making sure the war is as bloodless as possible -- at least for Americans.

Standard operating procedures for troops stationed in Iraq have changed in such a way as to avoid lethal engagements. US soldiers in Iraq have told Al-Ahram Weekly that, for example, if a patrol comes under fire, the usual response is to leave the area rather than counterattack, unless absolutely necessary. As the US makes plans to pull troops out of cities to bases on the edges of urban centres, Iraqi security forces are being trained and deployed at a break-neck pace, often without proper vehicles or communications and security equipment. The goal is to hand over all security positions to the Iraqis, and damn the consequences. [complete article]

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Iran, Iraq, and two Shiite visions
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, February 20, 2004

The Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala are back in business - teeming with thousands of pilgrims drawn from across the Middle East and Asia.

After decades of persecution by Saddam Hussein's regime, the Shiite resurgence in these two holy cities presents new opportunity - and a potential challenge - for the Shiite leadership in neighboring Iran.

Amid preparations for pivotal elections Friday in Iran - and later this year in Iraq - analysts see two Shiite visions of democracy vying for dominance. Some say the traditionally "quietist" clergy represented by Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is growing more influential at the expense of Iran's all-embracing system of clerical rule embodied by Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [complete article]

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CIA struggles to spy in Iraq, Afghanistan
By Greg Miller and Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2004

Confronting problems on critical fronts, the CIA recently removed its top officer in Baghdad because of questions about his ability to lead the massive station there, and has closed a number of satellite bases in Afghanistan amid concerns about that country's deteriorating security situation, according to U.S. intelligence sources.

The previously undisclosed moves underscore the problems affecting the agency's clandestine service at a time when it is confronting insurgencies and the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, current and former CIA officers say. They said a series of stumbles and operational constraints have hampered the agency's ability to penetrate the insurgency in Iraq, find Osama bin Laden and gain traction against terrorism in the Middle East.

The CIA's Baghdad station has become the largest in agency history, eclipsing the size of its post in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War, a U.S. official said. But sources said the agency has struggled to fill a number of key overseas posts. [complete article]

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Case set to be dropped against GCHQ mole who blew whistle on U.S. bugging
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, February 20, 2004

The prosecution is preparing to abandon the case against a former GCHQ employee charged with leaking information about a "dirty tricks" spying operation before the invasion of Iraq, the Guardian has learned.

Katharine Gun, 29, is due to appear at the Old Bailey next week where she has said she will plead not guilty to breaking the Official Secrets Act.

She has said her alleged disclosures exposed serious wrongdoing by the US and could have helped to prevent the deaths of Iraqis and British forces in an "illegal war". [complete article]

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Pakistani linked to illegal exports has ties to military
By David Rohde, New York Times, February 20, 2004

A Pakistani businessman who has been linked to the illegal export from the United States to Pakistan of high-speed switches has longstanding ties to the country's powerful military, according to documents filed in an American court and interviews here. The switches can be used as triggers for nuclear weapons.

Humayun Khan, the Pakistani businessman whose office address was the final destination for the shipment last fall of 66 triggers, confirmed in interviews that he and his father had been suppliers of equipment and technology to the Pakistani military for the last 20 years.

Mr. Khan insisted that he had not been involved in the effort to smuggle the American-made triggers to Pakistan. [complete article]

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Roots of Pakistan atomic scandal traced to Europe
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, February 19, 2004

The Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan has been demonized in the West for selling atomic secrets and equipment around the world, but the trade began in Europe, not Islamabad, according to court documents and experts who monitor proliferation.

The records show that industry scientists and Western intelligence agencies have known for decades that nuclear technology was pouring out of Europe despite national export control efforts to contain it.

Many of the names that have turned up among lists of suppliers and middlemen who fed equipment, materials and knowledge to nuclear programs in Pakistan and other aspiring nuclear nations are well-known players in Europe's uranium enrichment industry, a critical part of many nuclear weapons programs. Some have been convicted of illegal exports before. [complete article]

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Taliban try to frighten Afghan voters in rural areas
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, February 19, 2003

After a relatively dormant winter, Taliban insurgents are waging a violent campaign in the countryside to frighten people from cooperating with the American-backed government and from taking part in elections scheduled for the summer.

In Zormat, a district in southeastern Afghanistan, the police recently detained three men carrying Taliban leaflets warning people not to register for the vote, a process being overseen by the United Nations that is months behind schedule.

"You should not take an election registration card," the leaflets read, according to the local deputy police chief, Zazai Kamran. "If anyone does, his life will be in danger." The leaflets also call on people to fight against the government. [complete article]

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Israeli suspected of selling nukes to Pakistan and India
Associated Press (via Haaretz), February 19, 2004

An Israeli businessman accused of being a middleman in the nuclear black market worked to supply not only Pakistan but also its arch-rival India, court records indicate.

South Africa-based Asher Karni faces felony charges of exporting nuclear bomb triggers to Pakistan. But court files in the case also include e-mail exchanges between Karni and an Indian businessman who was trying secretly to buy material for two Indian rocket factories. [complete article]

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To vote or not to vote ...
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times, February 20, 2004

With only four months to go before scheduled elections in Afghanistan in June, some experts are calling for the elections to be put off until next year. A delay would enable both international donors and the government of Hamid Karzai to make greater progress in disarming the warlords who still run most of the country and in extending security to rural areas, they argue.

These experts fear that the challenges created in preparing the country of some 28 million people for an election will divert attention and scarce resources from more important tasks, particularly in the security realm.

But Karzai himself, apparently backed by the administration of US President George W Bush, appears determined to forge ahead, at least with presidential elections that he and Washington believe would give the central government greater legitimacy, both internationally and inside Afghanistan. [complete article]

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Holdup at the ballot box
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, February 20, 2004

The Bush administration is now "suggesting" that the elections scheduled for June in Afghanistan - for which the administration itself pushed - may have to be postponed because of "security problems". There's much more to this than a huge understatement.

Not only a third of the country - as Washington says - is unstable, but practically everywhere outside of the capital Kabul. Security advisers for international aid agencies reveal every week what's really happening. Except for the Kabul-Jalalabad road, to travel overland in Afghanistan is still a very dangerous undertaking. Even the recently rebuilt and repaved Kabul-Kandahar road is considered dangerous.

According to the United Nations, at least 70 percent of 10.5 million eligible Afghan voters should be registered for the elections to be considered credible. But at the moment, Afghan registration workers are not even capable of fulfilling their mission in most parts of the country. The administration of US President George W Bush now says that "at least the presidential election" can take place in June, or maybe July. Bushites are "advising" the government of Hamid Karzai on the matter. [complete article]

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Bush administration accused of suppressing, distorting science
By Seth Borenstein, Knight Ridder, February 19, 2004

A group of more than 60 top U.S. scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates and several science advisers to past Republican presidents, on Wednesday accused the Bush administration of manipulating and censoring science for political purposes.

In a 46-page report and an open letter, the scientists accused the administration of "suppressing, distorting or manipulating the work done by scientists at federal agencies" in several cases. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a liberal advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass., organized the effort, but many of the critics aren't associated with it.

White House Science Advisor John Marburger III called the charges "like a conspiracy theory report, and I just don't buy that." But he added that "given the prestige of some of the individuals who have signed on to this, I think they deserve additional response and we're coordinating something."

The protesting scientists welcomed his response.

"If an administration of whatever political persuasion ignores scientific reality, they do so at great risk to the country," said Stanford University physicist W.H.K. Panofsky, who served on scientific advisory councils in the Eisenhower, Johnson and Carter administrations. "There is no clear understanding in the (Bush) administration that you cannot bend science and technology to policy." [complete article]

Read the statement, Restoring scientific integrity in policymaking, signed by Paul Ehrlich, Edward O. Wilson, and many other leaders of America's scientific community, including twenty Nobel Laureates and nineteen National Medal of Science signatories. The statement begins:

"Successful application of science has played a large part in the policies that have made the United States of America the world's most powerful nation and its citizens increasingly prosperous and healthy. Although scientific input to the government is rarely the only factor in public policy decisions, this input should always be weighed from an objective and impartial perspective to avoid perilous consequences. Indeed, this principle has long been adhered to by presidents and administrations of both parties in forming and implementing policies. The administration of George W. Bush has, however, disregarded this principle."

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Missing in action in Iraq
By Naomi Klein, The Globe and Mail, February 18, 2004

It was Mary Vargas, a 44-year-old engineer in Renton, Wash., who carried U.S. therapy culture to its new zenith. Explaining why the war in Iraq was no longer her top election issue, she told the Internet magazine Salon that, "when they didn't find the weapons of mass destruction, I felt I could also focus on other things. I got validated."

Yes, that's right: war opposition as self-help. The end goal is not to seek justice for the victims, or punishment for the aggressors, but rather "validation" for the war's critics. Once validated, it is of course time to reach for the talisman of self-help: "closure." In this mindscape, Howard Dean's wild scream was not so much a gaffe as the second of the five stages of grieving: anger. The scream was a moment of uncontrolled release, a catharsis, allowing U.S. liberals to externalize their rage and then move on, transferring their affections to more appropriate candidates.

All of the front-runners in the Democratic race borrow the language of pop therapy to discuss the war and the toll it has taken not on Iraq, a country so absent from their campaigns it may as well be on another planet, but on the American people themselves. To hear John Kerry, John Edwards and Howard Dean tell it, the invasion was less a war of aggression against a sovereign nation than a civil war within the United States, a traumatic event that severed Americans from their faith in politicians, from their rightful place in the world and from their tax dollars. [complete article]

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Why Iraqi women aren't complaining
By Haifa Zangana, The Guardian, February 19, 2004

Iraqi family law is the most progressive in the Middle East. Divorce cases are heard only in the civil courts (effectively outlawing the "repudiation" religious divorce); polygamy is outlawed unless the first wife welcomes it (and very few do); and women divorcees have an equal right to custody of their children.

The "liberators" of Iraq can take no credit for this. The secular family code was introduced in 1959. Saddam Hussein weakened its inheritance provisions but left it mostly unchanged. Now it is under threat from the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. IGC resolution 137 will, if implemented, eliminate the idea of civil marriage and place several aspects of family law - including divorce and inheritance rights - directly under the control of religious authorities.

I was in Baghdad when the resolution was issued, on my first visit home since 1975 when, fearful for my life and the safety of my family, I left the country of my birth. I noticed with amazement how little attention any of the women I met paid to resolution 137. Only 100 women demonstrated in the city's Firdose Square to condemn it. Where was the outcry? [complete article]

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Jihad on the cards
Iraq's insurgency is homegrown, not imported

By Tony Karon,, February 18, 2004

... the "Zarqawi letter" [recommending to al-Qaeda a strategy of "sectarian warfare" in Iraq] actually contains its own negation of the argument that the ongoing violence in Iraq is primarily the work of foreign jihadis. The author writes that the number of foreign jihadis who have made it to Iraq is, in fact, "negligible," and laments the reluctance of Iraqis to sacrifice themselves in suicide attacks. "Jihad here unfortunately (takes the form of) mines planted, rockets launched, and mortars shelling from afar," the author complains. "The Iraqi brothers still prefer safety and returning to the arms of their wives, where nothing frightens them. Sometimes the groups have boasted among themselves that not one of them has been killed or captured. We have told them in our many sessions with them that safety and victory are incompatible, ... that the (Islamic) nation cannot live without the aroma of martyrdom and the perfume of fragrant blood spilled on behalf of God, and that people cannot awaken from their stupor unless talk of martyrdom and martyrs fills their days and nights."

The bad news here is obvious: It is precisely these 9-5 nationalist warriors who want to fight but also to survive, rather than the Islamist "martyrs" with their suicide bombs, that are responsible for most of the attacks on the U.S. and its allies in Iraq. Three or four grisly suicide bombings may have grabbed the headlines in January, but according to a report distributed by the U.S. Agency for International Development that month in fact saw 642 attacks of the hit-and-run type described by the author of the "Zarqawi letter," presumably conducted by Iraqis who then returned home to their families and communities. And that suggests that even when and if the "Wild Card" Zarqawi is nabbed, Iraq will remain the proverbial "tough town" for the U.S. and its allies. [complete article]


American foreign policy has often been crippled by the assumption that patriotism is a uniquely American sentiment. In Vietnam, Robert McNamara saw only a war against communism. As he himself has admitted, he did not understand that many Vietnamese saw the war in Vietnam as a nationalist struggle against foreign domination. In Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld sees only a war against terrorism. He does not understand that many Iraqis see the attacks on American troops as part of a nationalist struggle against foreign occupation.

The insurgency has thus far been primarily a Sunni Iraqi phenomenon. It is true that the occupation has attracted some foreign Islamists to Iraq. These foreigners appear to have been involved in some of the deadliest suicide bombings. But the overwhelming majority of the insurgents killed or captured have been Sunni Iraqis fighting "for God and country."

In addition to rejecting the occupation of their land by foreign soldiers, the Sunni Iraqis also oppose the creation of a state dominated by Shiites. The Shiites will accept nothing less. By occupying Iraq, the United States has assumed responsibility for reconciling these seemingly irreconcilable goals (not to mention the seemingly irreconcilable goals of Kurds and Arabs).

When Israel invaded Lebanon in June of 1982, the Shiites of southern Lebanon initially welcomed the Israelis as liberators. But this welcome soon turned into rage as Israeli troops began acting like an army of occupation. Israel's invasion became one of the main reasons for the emergence of Hezbollah. The threat spawned by the occupation of southern Lebanon thus turned out to be far more dangerous than the threat it was supposed to eliminate. The Bush administration has created a similar situation in Iraq.

Henry Munson is a visiting scholar in anthropology at Harvard and professor of anthropology at the University of Maine. He is the author of Islam and Revolution in the Middle East.

"GUEST COMMENTARY" is a new feature at The War in Context where I'll be soliciting comments from journalists, academics and other specialists whose insights will add depth to our understanding of the news. If you'd like to participate, please contact me at -- Paul Woodward, Editor

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Shiites clamor for direct elections
By Eric Talmadge, Associated Press, February 18, 2004

Ali Khadim is tired of what he considers the decadence that he sees around him. Women should wear head scarves. Liquor stores should be closed. Only a government based on Islam, he says, can make that happen and, perhaps, restore order to Iraq .

"We must have a person who can represent the people," the 22-year-old metalworker said this week. "We must have a whole new Islamic government, an Islamic system, Islamic law. Our time has come."

His opinion appears to be gaining strength in areas of the country dominated by Shiite Muslims, long suppressed by secular or Sunni-dominated governments, including the regime of Saddam Hussein.

From dusty marketplaces to crowded mosques, the call for free and direct elections to choose Iraq's next government, as articulated by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, is getting stronger and louder across the country's southern half, the heartland of its Shiite majority. [complete article]

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Annan discounts June election in Iraq, may anger Shiite majority
Agence France Presse, February 19, 2004

UN chief Kofi Annan discounted elections in Iraq before US forces hand over control on June 30, a move that may anger the country's Shiite majority as the power debate heats up.

But Shiite politicians were not rushing to judgement on Annan's prognosis, while tensions on the ground are already high following a wave of violence this month that left more than 200 Iraqis dead. [complete article]

See also Annan to back U.S. on Iraq plan (WP)

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France, Germany want a U.N. resolution on Iraq
By Paul Richter and Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2004

France and Germany said Wednesday that a new U.N. Security Council resolution on the world body's role in Iraq would be needed, prompting U.S. concerns about possible delays in reconstruction efforts and in the planned hand-over of sovereignty this summer.

The U.S. has been urging the United Nations to take a greater role in Iraq, but a new resolution may set up a new confrontation between the United States and two leading war opponents. The new complications arise as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan prepares to issue recommendations on how a new Iraqi government should be selected.

Annan was expected to tell the Security Council today that direct elections were not possible before the scheduled June 30 power transfer but would be desirable by the end of the year. Additional recommendations based on a U.N. team's visit to Iraq this month are expected next week.

Bush administration officials said they feared that a debate over a new resolution could drag on long enough to force a postponement of the hand-over to a transitional Iraqi government. They also worry that it could provide the U.N. with enough leverage to force an overhaul of major infrastructure projects in the country, such as those for power plants and oil field redevelopment. [complete article]

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U.S. Presidential politics and self-rule for Iraqis
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, February 19, 2004

In the Bush administration, it is considered heresy to suggest postponing the planned return of sovereignty to Iraq. Turning over control by June 30, administration officials say, is crucial to assuaging Iraqi distress over living under American occupation.

Yet in recent weeks, diplomats and even some in the administration have begun to worry that the date reflects more concern for American politics than Iraqi democracy. Their fear is that an untested government taking power on June 30 may not be strong enough to withstand the pressures bearing down on it.

"When we went into Iraq, our plan was to have a government, build a structure and write a constitution that would be a source of longterm stability," said an administration official. "Now that's out the window." [complete article]

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Suicides in Iraq, questions at home
By Theola Labbé, Washington Post, February 19, 2004

Two-year-old Jada Suell tumbled out of the car and ran ahead of everyone -- her grandmother, her mother, her cousins and her 4-year-old sister, Jakayla -- toward the grave of Joseph Dewayne Suell.

"Dada," said the little girl. In the Sunday afternoon quiet of Cedar Grove cemetery, her toddler voice reverberated like a shout.

"Yes, we're going to Daddy's grave," her grandmother Rena Mathis said reassuringly.

The silver grave cover bore colorful wreaths and American flags -- a nod to Suell's three years of military service. He was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 as an Army petroleum supply specialist out of Fort Sill, Okla. Less than two months later, he was dead.

A report provided to the family at their request says that the 24-year-old died of a drug overdose on Father's Day, one of 22 suicides reported among troops in Iraq last year. [complete article]

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Students struggle as parents serve in Iraq
By Nick Childs, BBC, February 18, 2004

The crowded halls look and sound like those of almost any American school - but Robert M Shoemaker High School in Killeen, Texas is not just any school.

It sits right next to Fort Hood, America's largest army base.

Of the more than 2,000 students here, more than half have parents or relations who are involved in operations in Iraq.

The students are under strain of absent parents, and some mourn parents who will never come home. [complete article]

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Truck bombs kill 11 Iraqis at army base run by Poles
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 19, 2004

Suicide bombers attacked a Polish military base south of Baghdad on Wednesday morning, killing 11 Iraqis and wounding more than 100 others, including soldiers and civilians.

The attack began when two trucks packed with explosives raced toward the military compound in Hillah, about 60 miles south of the capital. Guards fired on the vehicles, causing one to explode. The other crashed into a concrete barrier and blew up, Lt. Col. Robert Strzelecki, commander of the Polish base, told The Associated Press.

Preliminary reports indicated that the 11 people killed were Iraqis. American officials in Baghdad said 102 people were wounded, including 58 soldiers at the base. It was unclear if any of the wounded were Americans. A spokesman for the American military in Baghdad said only 6 of the 58 wounded soldiers remained hospitalized. The extent of the injuries to the Iraqis was unclear, but officials said women and children were among them.

The suicide attack was the third such bombing in eight days, after more than 100 people were killed in back-to-back bombings: of a police station south of Baghdad on Feb. 10, and at an army recruitment center in the capital on Feb. 11. In all three attacks, the overwhelming majority of the dead were Iraqi civilians. [complete article]

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No end to war
By Patrick J. Buchanan, The American Conservative, March 1, 2004

On the dust jacket of his book, Richard Perle appends a Washington Post depiction of himself as the "intellectual guru of the hard-line neoconservative movement in foreign policy."

The guru's reputation, however, does not survive a reading. Indeed, on putting down Perle's new book the thought recurs: the neoconservative moment may be over. For they are not only losing their hold on power, they are losing their grip on reality.

An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror opens on a note of hysteria. In the War on Terror, writes Perle, "There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust." "What is new since 9/11 is the chilling realization that the terrorist threat we thought we had contained" now menaces "our survival as a nation." [complete article]

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The diminishing of John Ashcroft
A bipartisan groundswell of rebellion

By Nat Hentoff, Village Voice, February 12, 2004

In January of 2003, I, hardly known as a conservative or Bush admirer, was invited by David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, to appear at its annual Conservative Political Action Conference. It was the first time a Voice writer had been asked to speak at this center of conservative activism.

Joining me at the panel on civil liberties, the Constitution, and the Bush-Ashcroft Patriot Act was Bob Barr, an authentic conservative Republican but also a libertarian. He and I led the attack on the attorney general's dismantling of parts of the Bill of Rights. Before us was an audience of Bush enthusiasts, but some seemed to be rather receptive to what we were saying. [complete article]

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When borders become cultural walls a nation is beginning to strangle itself

'Mr Ferrer can't be with us tonight'
By James Verini, The Guardian, February 18, 2004

In the spring of 2003, the celebrated Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi was travelling to South America from Hong Kong. He did not intend to stop in the US, but his flight path took him through New York's John F Kennedy airport. There, Panahi, a winner of the Golden Bear award at the Venice film festival who had visited the US several times, expected to while away a few dull hours. Instead, he was detained by officials; because his fingerprints were not on file, he was handcuffed and held in custody for several hours. He was so incensed at his treatment that he vowed never to return to the US.

Panahi's experience is extreme, but not rare. According to organisations connected with film, theatre, music, opera and dance, new American immigration and visa policies are making it extremely difficult, sometimes impossible, for foreign artists of all sorts to come to the US to perform and show their work.

No one, it seems, is exempt. Last week, at the Grammy awards, the Cuban guitarist Ibrahim Ferrer was supposed to have received an award - but he couldn't get into the country. The 76-year-old was cited as a security risk. A Peking Opera company had to cancel an 18-city tour because the American consulate in China claimed not all of the musicians could adequately prove that they intended to return home after the tour ended. The South African anti-apartheid leader and singer Vusi Mahlasela had to cancel a good chunk of a US tour because his visa took months to get approved, as did the Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia. [complete article]

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Bush administration may alter Iraq self-rule plan
By Barry Schweid, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 18, 2004

The Bush administration is considering a major shift in its plan for transition to Iraqi self-rule, possibly extending and expanding the U.S.-appointed Governing Council so it can take temporary control of the country on July 1, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

The serious consideration of that option comes as the Bush administration waits for U.N. help -- now delayed by at least a week -- in settling differences among Iraqi leaders on how to meet the July 1 U.S. deadline.

Under active consideration is extending and expanding the U.S.-handpicked Iraq Governing Council so that it could take interim control in Baghdad until a legislature could be elected, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. [complete article]

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Annan to back indirect elections in Iraq, diplomats say
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, February 18, 2004

Secretary General Kofi Annan has decided to endorse the view that the interim government to take office in Iraq this summer cannot be chosen by direct elections, but he will delay for at least a week his recommendation on how best to chart the country's political future, senior United Nations diplomats said today.

The diplomats, speaking anonymously, said that Mr. Annan would make his statement about direct elections after consulting on Thursday with his special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is returning from a weeklong examination of the political situation in the country. Mr. Brahimi is then scheduled to discuss his findings in a lunch meeting with the Security Council.

While Mr. Brahimi has concluded that setting up credible elections by the June 30 date for returning sovereignty to Iraq is not feasible, he has not made a clear choice among the options for how the transfer should occur, and more time will be needed to develop the final United Nations recommendation, the diplomats said. [complete article]

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Report says military distorts war deaths
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, February 18, 2004

By refusing to make public its estimates of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has undercut international support for the US campaigns in those countries and has made the postwar stabilization of the two societies more difficult, according to an independent report to be released today that accuses the Pentagon of appearing indifferent to the civilian cost of war.

The analysis by the Project on Defense Alternatives, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, concludes that the Pentagon has not fully disclosed in recent years accidental deaths and injuries inflicted upon civilian populations by American military forces. Its failure to do so has made it more difficult to predict how local populations will receive the United States after a conflict, the report said.

According to the report -- "Disappearing the Dead: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Idea of a 'New Warfare' " -- the Pentagon's stance has also distorted the national debate over whether to go to war. [complete article]

See the full report.

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Iraq: Anybody got a plan?
By Tony Karon,, February 18, 2004

If it can't yet point to a happy ending in Iraq, the Bush administration at least needs to show Americans that it has a plan for winning the peace. It was that need that brought Washington's point man in Iraq, Ambassador J. Paul Bremer, rushing home last November for unscheduled consultations at the White House. Back then, the U.S. casualty total was climbing steadily and there was no sign of an end to the insurgency; Capitol Hill was reeling from sticker shock over the administration's $87 billion budget request; the Iraqi Governing Council handpicked by Bremer had failed to achieve legitimacy and was making no progress towards drawing up a new constitution. All of that made Bremer's three-year plan for nurturing Iraqi democracy a luxury the Bush administration could no longer afford. So, not for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration changed its plan for Iraq.

Bremer returned to Baghdad with a new deal: The U.S. would transfer sovereign political authority in Baghdad to an Iraqi provision government by July 1, 2004, by which time it also hoped to have transferred much of the responsibility for maintaining day-to-day order in Iraq to new Iraqi security forces. Recognizing the IGC's legitimacy problem, Bremer proposed that a new government be chosen at regional caucuses convened all across Iraq by bodies picked by the occupation authority.

Bremer's plan aimed to reassure Iraqis, their neighbors and the American electorate that the occupation of Iraq was nearing an end. Three months later, however, Bremer's plan is in serious trouble, and it's far from clear how and by whom a new one will be authored. [complete article]

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U.S. election plan in Iraq founders
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, February 18, 2004

An American plan to select a transitional Iraqi assembly through a series of regional caucuses has been effectively abandoned by Iraq's interim Governing Council.

But with nationwide elections looking unlikely before the US-led coalition hands over sovereignty on June 30, the council members are unable to agree on an alternative plan.

There's no shortage of options, however. In interviews with council members, three key ideas appear to be taking shape. [complete article]

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Voting for the wrong side
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, February 16, 2004

Undaunted by the current muddle over elections in Iraq, the United States is pressing ahead with plans to democratise the rest of the Middle East.

In the coming months, according to a report in the Washington Post last week, the US will seek support from the G8, Nato, the European Union, the World Trade Organisation - and probably anyone else who is prepared to listen - in order to bring the project to fruition.

The big question, though, is whether Washington's dream of spawning democracy in the region is realistic or, indeed, actually has much to do with democracy.

Before the invasion of Iraq, neo-conservatives in the US predicted that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would spark regime change throughout the Middle East. So far, there's no sign of that happening and subsequent evidence that the war was launched under false pretences has left the neo-cons discredited.

One view of the grand democracy project, therefore, is that it's a change of tack by the neo-cons - a non-military way of pursuing their goals for regime change. On the other hand, it might be the opposite: a face-saving way for the Bush administration to extricate itself from the grip of neo-con fantasies. [complete article]

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Red Cross slams Israel barrier
BBC News, February 18, 2004

The International Committee of the Red Cross has condemned Israel's building of a barrier in the West Bank as "contrary" to international law.

The aid agency said the barrier, whose proposed route cuts into Palestinian areas, went "far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power".

Israel says the barrier is designed to stop suicide bombers.

But Palestinians dispute the barrier's legality and say the wall is little more than a land grab.

The ICRC's comments come just days before a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the legality of the controversial barrier. [complete article]

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Palestinian Authority is seen near collapse
By Charles A. Radin, Boston Globe, February 18, 2004

External political pressures, internal power struggles, and multiple financial crises have brought the Palestinian Authority to the brink of collapse, Palestinian and Israeli officials and analysts say, raising concerns that a possible Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could create a chaotic vacuum and throw control of the territory into the hands of the Islamic extremist group Hamas.

The mounting problems have reportedly caused a major rift between longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who is under intense pressure from Egypt, European nations, and the United States to undertake reforms of financial and security systems that would prepare the authority to reassume control of Gaza.[complete article]

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U.S. seeks safeguards for Israel's Gaza pullout
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 18, 2004

Three senior administration officials plan to impress upon Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week that his plan to withdraw Israeli settlers from Gaza needs safeguards to reduce the possibility that the Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as Hamas, or other radical Palestinian groups will fill a sudden power vacuum, U.S. officials said.

In the absence of Palestinian action against militant groups, the Bush administration has for many weeks signaled that it is supportive of Sharon's plan to "disengage" from the Palestinians. The officials -- deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, national security senior director Elliott Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns -- are arriving in Israel today with a list of questions to better understand how the plan would unfold, how it is connected to possible unilateral steps on the West Bank, and how it meshes with the broader goal of establishing a Palestinian state. [complete article]


"The Gaza Strip has since 1948 been little more than a massive refugee camp, dotted since 1967 with Israeli settlements. Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza while consolidating his grip on the West Bank means essentially that the territory will be ceded to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and those among the nationalist Fatah movement willing to continue the 'armed struggle.' The Palestinian Authority has to all intents and purposes collapsed, and won't be resurrected without a comprehensive peace deal that creates a viable Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza (which Sharon has never had any intention of allowing). An Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, under fire and in the absence of a deal, vindicates the positions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah militants in the intra-Palestinian debate. It makes nonsense of the diplomacy-based strategy of the Palestinian Authority, and instead will be interpreted as a victory of arms, in the same way that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon saw Hezbollah being hailed as the first Arab army ever to have forced Israel to retreat. If the Israelis simply withdraw, not only does Hamas assume the mantle of leadership (which it already does on the streets of Gaza), but the territory once again becomes Egypt's problem -- Gaza's border with Israel will be closed; its border with Egypt will have to be opened as the route by which the masses of humanitarian aid necessary to sustain the population will have to be directed. Hamas is the Palestinian wing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and it's not hard to envisage that the impact of having to essentially absorb Gaza could dramatically destabilize the Mubarak regime. (Militant organizations based in the Palestinian refugee population nearly brought down regimes in Jordan in the late 1960s and Lebanon in the 1970s.) Gaza is already a campus of innovation by groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even Hezbollah, with their engineers constantly developing and refining new techniques in deploying remote-detonated shaped charges against heavily armed Merkava tanks, in producing short-range artillery rockets and who knows what else. If the Israelis simply pull out absent a political deal, Gaza will become the new Afghanistan by measure of jihadi training camps-per capita."

Tony Karon is Senior Editor for world coverage at Besides daily analyses of the top international stories such as the conflict in Iraq, the Middle East crisis and the war on terrorism, he writes an occasional column, titled "Undiplomatic Dispatch."

"GUEST COMMENTARY" is a new feature at The War in Context where I'll be soliciting comments from journalists, academics and other specialists whose insights will add depth to our understanding of the news. If you'd like to participate, please contact me at -- Paul Woodward, Editor

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The IDF's shooting range
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, February 15, 2004

It sometimes seems the Gaza Strip has become the central shooting range of the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF's firing zone and training field. The weapons in use there are of dubious legality, the rules of engagement lack the element of restraint, and punitive measures that Israel would not conceive of inflicting in the West Bank are par for the course, in a region that produces far less terrorism than the West Bank.

The operation last Wednesday, in the Sajiyeh quarter of Gaza City, in which 15 Palestinians were killed - including at least seven civilians - was the latest illustration, for the time being, of what Israel allows itself to do in Gaza. Fifteen dead for the sake of liquidating one Hamas man who wasn't very senior in the organization is an intolerable price. In Gaza, though, it has become routine: Once every week or two, the IDF moves in, kills, demolishes and pulls out, and no one knows exactly what it was all in aid of. Why do wanted individuals have to be liquidated now in Gaza altogether? Is it only to bring about more revenge terrorism? [complete article]

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Israeli Arabs rip Sharon proposal
By Paul Martin, The Washington Times, February 17, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has won no friends in this sprawling Arab city with a proposal that the community and others like it might be ceded by Israel to a future Palestinian state.

Although Israeli Arabs of Umm-al-Fahm share much with their fellow Arabs in the neighboring West Bank, the former say they are more concerned about preserving the rights they enjoy as Israelis -- including access to jobs, free speech, a democratic vote and a measure of political freedom.

"We have a saying here," said Shoaa Saad, 22, "that the 'evil' of Israel is better than the 'heaven' of the West Bank.

"Here you can say whatever you like and do whatever you want -- so long as you don't touch the security of Israel. Over there, if you talk about [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat, they can arrest you and beat you up." [complete article]

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Israelis kill crops to oust beduin
By Jonathan Cook, Aljazeera, February 16, 2004

Four crop-spraying planes circling overhead have brought silent death to the fields of wheat and barley that Shaikh Salih Abu Darim and his beduin tribe will need to feed themselves and their goats and sheep for the year.

The Araqib tribe have farmed the land close to the city of Beer Sheva in southern Israel for generations. But in the past year the Israeli government has declared war on them and some 70,000 other beduin living in 45 communities it refuses to recognise in the Negev (al-Naqab).

On 15 January the authorities stepped up the pressure on the Araqib to leave by spraying powerful herbicides on their crops, making the young shoots shrivel and die in the following weeks.

It was the third time the Araqib's crops had been sprayed in the past two years by a government agency, the Israel Lands Authority.

"This time we hurriedly took what crops we could for feed," says Abu Darim. "We made the mistake of giving them to our animals. Nearly 400 of the sheep miscarried."

The recent campaign of crop-spraying by the authorities - more than 6000 acres have been destroyed over a wide area of the Negev in the last two years - is not the only weapon being used by the state. [complete article]

Comment -- Colonization has always involved theft but since colonizers do not wish to think of themselves as thieves they struggle to construct a notion that land claimed is not land that has been taken away. Nothing seals such a claim more absolutely than the assertion of a divine right or a manifestation of destiny. And nothing more easily offends this claim than the presence of the native. Whether he be a beduin, an aboriginal, or a native American -- he must be dehumanized and pushed out of sight if the colonizer is to have any hope of sustaining an untroubled conscience as he claims the land as his own.

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Iraqi Kurds reject coalition's call to disband militia
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, February 18, 2004

Kurdish leaders in the northern autonomous area are refusing to disband their military forces, the peshmerga, and are pushing for a veto over any deployment of the Iraqi army in their region.

Kurdish officials are proposing that the 50,000-60,000 fighters controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic party, both of which have a seat on the Iraqi governing council, should be transformed into a regional self-defence force similar to the US national guard.

The proposal comes amid alarm in the Kurdish areas at the suicide bombings in Irbil, and the violence in neighbouring Sunni Arab areas. It also highlights the problems faced by US and British administrators trying to find common ground among the country's ethnic and sectarian groups. [complete article]

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2,000 Kurds camp in huge Iraq stadium, victims of Baath's Arabisation
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), February 17, 2004

Jamilah Abdullah and her five children, all under the age of five, live in a freezing dank bathroom at Kirkuk's sports stadium on the outskirts of town. There is no electricity and no running water.

With no door either, a plastic curtain is their only protection from the freezing nights and bitter wind. The stench of human waste is gut-wrenching.

Like most of the 2,000 Kurds squatting in the stadium, she was evicted from her home in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 255 kilometres (160 miles) north of Baghdad, a victim of Saddam Hussein's brutal Arabisation policy.

City officials estimate that 600,000 Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians were banished from Kirkuk in the 30 years from 1963, when the Baath party first swept to power, and its final collapse in 2003. [complete article]

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Kurds keep their chins up over reunification with Iraq
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2004

Kurdistan is in a precarious part of the Middle East. Bordered by Syria, Turkey and Iran, its people have been denied independence for generations, and tens of thousands of them were killed by Iraqi security forces. Their predicament improved after the 1991 Persian Gulf War when a "no-fly" zone patrolled by U.S. and British warplanes kept Hussein's forces out of the north.

That glimmer of freedom has evolved into what is essentially an ethnic enclave that has little in common with the larger Iraq. But the Kurds -- pressured by the U.S. to forgo independence because it would upset the political balance in the region -- have reconciled to the fact that their fate is entwined with a new federal government based in Baghdad. They insist, however, that they retain much of their autonomy and cultural liberation, including Western-influenced universities and less strict attitudes about Islam.

"We have enjoyed almost a state of independence," said Barham Salih, prime minister of the eastern part of the region, which is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. "The irony is that now we are giving up power to join the state of Iraq. Our young have no concept of Baghdad, or that Iraq is their fate. The country must open up to the Kurds so we can feel part of Iraq." [complete article]

Comment -- The suggestion that the Kurds "have reconciled to the fact that their fate is entwined with a new federal government in Baghdad" sounds like a premature reading of the Kurdish mood. A willingness to "wait and see" might be closer to the truth.

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An Iraqi council with clout
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, February 18, 2004

President Bush made sure to set aside time to see them during his quickie Thanksgiving Day trip to Iraq. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell scheduled a meeting with them when he was last here. So did Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans.

In a country in search of new leadership, the 37 members of the Baghdad City Council are quickly becoming influential, if still behind-the-scenes, players. They may not have the name recognition of a grand ayatollah or a wealthy exile, but they have one very important thing going for them: They are the closest thing Iraq has to a democratically elected representative body with real clout.

Selected by their neighbors to serve as liaisons to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, they are doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers and other highly educated citizens. Few had been involved in politics before, but now they speak out as much about national issues as local ones. [complete article]

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Shiite vote plan would exclude 'Sunni triangle'
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 18, 2004

Shiite leaders are pushing a new plan for the transfer of power in Iraq that calls for partial elections, with balloting in the relatively secure Shiite and Kurdish areas but not in the more turbulent "Sunni triangle."

The proposal, which has grown out of an emerging alliance between Kurdish and Shiite political parties, is part of the intensifying scramble for power among politicians before the United Nations announcement, expected this week, on whether election are feasible in Iraq.

But partial elections, American officials said, would further alienate the Sunnis, who are already generating most of the violence against the Americans and their Iraqi allies. [complete article]

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Iraqis chafe under coalition political control
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), February 17, 2004

Iraqis chafed at the bit of coalition political control, with overseer Paul Bremer being warned of a possible crisis if he vetoes an Islamic constitution for Iraq and a report that the interim Governing Council is backing away from a deal on transferring sovereignty.

Shiite clerics reacted angrily to Bremer's threat to use his veto if the US-appointed Governing Council proposes a basic law that challenges the spirit of Western-style democracy.

The council has been tasked with writing a temporary constitution, or fundamental law, that will govern Iraq until national elections are held.

But many observers believe some council members are pushing to implement Islamic rule in the post-occupation era.

Bremer vowed that the new law would protect civil liberties in line with the agreement he reached with the Governing Council last November that set June 30 as the final day of the US-led occupation.

"Our position is clear, and the text that is in there now is as I say. It can't become law until I sign it," Bremer said. [complete article]

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Iraq slaying underscores risk missionaries face
By Farah Stockman and Diane Allen, Boston Globe, February 18, 2004

They believe that God sent them to Baghdad. They believe the Divine Spirit sent them to support Iraq's tiny Christian community and perhaps even to spread the Gospels to the country's Muslim population. Since the war ended in Iraq last spring, American missionaries have traveled into one of the world's most dangerous places, eager to open the first church of their denomination and to see ancient landmarks that are mentioned in the Old Testament.

But last weekend, their presence in Iraq was tragically highlighted when gunmen sprayed a taxi full of Baptist pastors who were on their way back from a sightseeing trip to Babylon. The "execution-style" slaying claimed the Rev. John Kelley of Wakefield, R.I., and wounded two others -- the Rev. Kirk DiVietro of Franklin, Mass., and the Rev. David Davis of Vernon, Conn. [...]

The role religion will play in the new Iraq has been a central controversy as the country moves toward self-governance.

Against this backdrop, American missionaries have traveled to Iraq to support the emergence of new churches among Iraq's indigenous Christians, who make up 750,000 of the country's estimated 25 million people.

The Bush administration has been close to some missionary groups, some of whom make up a core constituency of supporters. Samaritan's Purse, a group that sent medicine to Iraq shortly after the war, is run by the Rev. Franklin Graham, the Rev. Billy Graham's son, who led the prayer at President Bush's inauguration. World Vision, a Christian humanitarian group, is funded by the United States Agency for International Development to work in Iraq. [complete article]

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Attacks grow bolder, better organized
By Valentinas Mite, Asia Times, February 18, 2004

The raid on the al-Fallujah police station at the weekend was the most sophisticated attack on Iraqi security forces since the announcement of the end of "major combat" operations last May. Police at the station were caught unaware and underequipped when a group of nearly 50 men wearing masks stormed the building, freeing a number of prisoners, shooting mortar rounds and spraying the rooms with bullets. [complete article]

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Tokyo lets loose lapdogs of war
By Chalmers Johnson, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2004

Japan may have regained its sovereignty in 1952, but the decision to dispatch Japanese troops to Iraq earlier this month has reminded many of its citizens just how little independence the country really has -- and just how much control the United States retains.

If British Prime Minister Tony Blair is President Bush's poodle, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is his cocker spaniel.

"We are still occupied by the American military," said an acquaintance of mine who is a former official of Japan's Ministry of Education and now a university president. "We are a satellite. Our foreign policy revolves entirely around the wishes of Washington." [complete article]

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Highlighting women's struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq
By Nora Boustany, Washington Post, February 18, 2004

Democratic and Republican women joined last Thursday evening at a screening of the award-winning movie "Osama," which champions the cause of Afghan women who have been subjected to religious tyranny and oppression.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs, spoke at a special screening of the movie, hosted by the Motion Picture Association of America.

At the event, Clinton and Chris McGurk, vice chairman of MGM, launched the Vital Voices Afghan and Iraqi Women's Leadership Program, backed by a $6 million grant to train and empower women. [complete article]

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U.S. sees Al-Qaeda everywhere
By Ritt Goldstein, Inter Press Service, February 17, 2004

In an apparent attempt to downplay the internal Iraqi dynamics sparking ongoing attacks, the Bush administration has been blaming al-Qaeda for much of the violence.

Key in this effort has been the portrayal of the ultra-orthodox Kurdish group Ansar al Islam and its alleged leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The Bush administration and some of its allies accuse Ansar, long at odds with the secular, western-oriented Kurdish groups allied with the coalition, of close links with al-Qaeda. Zarqawi is seen as the man behind most terror plots that are publicised. But 'facts' keep changing. [complete article]

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Federal prosecutor sues Ashcroft
Associated Press (via MSNBC), February 17, 2004

A federal prosecutor in a major terrorism case in Detroit has taken the rare step of suing Attorney General John Ashcroft, alleging the Justice Department interfered with the case, compromised a confidential informant and exaggerated results in the war on terrorism.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino of Detroit accused the Justice Department of "gross mismanagement" of the war on terrorism in a lawsuit filed late Friday in federal court in Washington.

Justice officials said Tuesday they had not seen the suit and had no comment.

The suit is the latest twist in the Bush administration's first major post-Sept. 11 terrorism prosecution, which is now in danger of unraveling over allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. [complete article]

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Iran reformers criticize supreme leader
By Brian Murphy, Associated Press (via Newsday), February 17, 2004

In a daring protest described Tuesday as a "cry of agony," more than 100 reformist lawmakers accused Iran's supreme leader of allowing freedoms to be "trampled" and rigging upcoming parliament elections in favor of hard-line backers.

The attack -- in a letter sent to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- raised political dissent to levels unimaginable just a few weeks ago and shattered taboos about public criticism of Iran's unchallenged political and spiritual authority.

The letter struck right at a core complaint: that Khamenei's regime has corrupted the spirit of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled a Western-backed monarchy. His supporters believe he is incapable of error and answerable only to God. [complete article]

See excerpts from letter by reformist lawmakers to Iran's supreme leader.

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Iran's anniversary clouded by electoral crisis
By Golnaz Esfandiari, Asia Times, February 18, 2004

Twenty-five years ago, mass protests against the United States-backed regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi led to one of the key events of the 20th century - the Islamic revolution in Iran. Crowds at that time chanted, "Down with the Pahlavi monarchy! Down with [then Prime Minister Shahpour] Bakhtiyar!"

But celebrations to mark the event have been overshadowed by the political crisis over the disqualification of more than 2,000 pro-reform candidates from parliamentary elections scheduled for Friday. The candidates have been accused of being "unIslamic "or disloyal to the constitution". Among them are 80 sitting lawmakers, which means that in at least 132 of the 290 seats in parliament there's little opposition. [complete article]

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'Terrorism': A world ensnared by a word
By John V. Whitbeck, International Herald Tribune, February 17, 2004

In his televised "Meet the Press" interview Feb. 8, President George W. Bush was never asked a question about "terrorism." Yet he used the word (or a variant) 22 times. The word explained, and justified, everything - past, present and future.

Few American politicians or commentators dare to question the conventional wisdom that "terrorism" is the greatest threat facing America and the world. If so, the real threat lies not in the behavior to which this word is applied but in the word itself.

It is no accident that there is no agreed definition of terrorism, since the word is so subjective as to be devoid of any inherent meaning. At the same time, the word is extremely dangerous, because people tend to believe that it does have meaning, and they use and abuse it by applying it to whatever they hate as a way of avoiding rational thought and discussion and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral behavior. [complete article]

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Blue helmets as cannon fodder
By Linda Polman, The Guardian, February 17, 2004

A peacekeeper was killed this month in Afghanistan. However tragic, it is not unusual for soldiers of peace to die on a tour of duty. Since 1990, in missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia alone, more than 1,200 peacekeepers died. What was unusual about the death of this soldier is that it made CNN news. He was Canadian. The 1,200 dead peacekeepers in west Africa were Nigerians.

Another single death, of an American peacekeeper in Somalia in 1992, not only made headlines, but was also decisive for the way we practice peacekeeping today. This GI's Blackhawk helicopter was shot down. A CNN camera crew filmed his body being dragged through Mogadishu. US TV viewers, who had long forgotten why Americans were in Somalia, woke up with a start and President Clinton withdrew US troops from the operation. The US didn't participate in UN peacekeeping missions again until late last year.

Dutifully following the US, most western countries have also been saying no to UN missions. And if they do show up, it's with a very small number of troops. The west has become unwilling to accept casualties in UN peacekeeping. [complete article]

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Bush's war against nuance
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, February 17, 2004

To satisfy the hallowed journalistic tradition that there must be two sources for almost anything, I offer you Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Candy Crowley of CNN. They both are on record as having George Bush say that he doesn't do nuance. "Joe, I don't do nuance," the president supposedly told the senator. As for Crowley, she heard it this way: "In Texas, we don't do nuance." If these two sources don't suffice, I offer you the 7,932 words that make up the text of the president's interview with Tim Russert. There ain't a nuance anywhere in the whole mess. [complete article]

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Fearing Fort Bragg
The Economist, February 12, 2004

Within certain military circles, "Fort Bragg" is a code word for what the stress of combat can do to a man. In 2002, the murders of four military wives by their soldier husbands within six weeks at the base in South Carolina prompted the army to take a hard look at how combat affects troops and their families: three of the Fort Bragg soldiers had returned from special-forces duty in Afghanistan. Two of the men committed suicide after killing their wives.

With 123,000 troops returning from Iraq in the next few months (to be replaced by 110,000 soldiers and Marines), and another 11,000 being "turned" over in Afghanistan, America is in its largest troop rotation since the second world war. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the operation "a logistics feat that will rival any in history"; it may also have a sizeable social effect. [complete article]

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Weapons 'capacity' of Iraq challenged
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, February 17, 2004

Prewar Iraq was highly unlikely to produce a device that could easily inflict mass casualties -- despite President Bush's current assertion that Saddam Hussein had the "capacity" to make a weapon of mass destruction, former weapons inspectors and former national security officials say.

Bush's assertion about Iraq's capabilities, which he made repeatedly during his interview last week on the NBC television program "Meet the Press," is a central prong of his administration's defense that the war was justified despite the failure to find stockpiles of unconventional weapons. It is a theme to which Bush is likely to return often in this election year. And it marks Bush's first characterization of the Iraq threat since the testimony of his former chief weapons inspector, David Kay.

"David Kay did report to the American people that Saddam had the capacity to make weapons," Bush said. "Saddam Hussein was dangerous with weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with the ability to make weapons."

But Kay did not describe Iraq's production capacity so clearly in either his interim public report last fall or in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 28. In an interview last week, he told the Globe that although Iraq had pesticide equipment that could be switched to produce fine-grain anthrax in a lab, it would have remained a challenge to deliver it in a way that would inflict mass casualties. [complete article]

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Rifts widen in Bush's foreign policy team
By Howard LaFranchi, The Christian Science Monitor, February 17, 2004

When it comes to Iraq, the Bush administration's foreign policy team is speaking with one voice: All the players are saying that despite faulty prewar intelligence, the president's decision to go to war was right.

But behind the unanimity is dissonance in tones and forcefulness that suggests the deeper differences that have been part of the Bush foreign policy since the beginning. The failure to see eye to eye extends to the so-called Bush doctrine of preemptive war - one of the administration's defining policies - and reaches to the president's top foreign-policy players.

The continuing differences have only added to President Bush's woes as the White House has grappled with questions of whether what the administration knew about Iraq justified a war. But the bigger issue, some experts say, is what the differences suggest about the administration's ability to confront continuing problems, like North Korea and Iran, especially as Bush enters a battle for reelection.

With key members of the Bush foreign policy team expected to leave their posts at the end of the term - including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell - some are trying to set the record straight on the role they've played. They are also, clearly, trying to shape the direction things might go in a second term. [complete article]

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What the terrorists want
By Gwynne Dyer, Jordan Times, February 17, 2004

In the post-Sept. 11 chill, even conceding that the terrorist leaders are intelligent people with rational goals seemed somehow disloyal to America's dead. Instead, it was assumed that their fanaticism made them too blind or stupid for purposeful action at the strategic level. Even terrorist groups as marginal and self-deluded as the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Weathermen had a more or less coherent analysis, political goals and some notion of how their attacks moved them towards those goals, but the public debate in the US grants none of that to Al Qaeda.

Yet, the Islamist radicals have always been completely open about their goals. They want to take power in the Muslim countries (phase one of the project), and then unite the entire Muslim world in a final struggle to overthrow the power of the West (phase two). They are still stuck in phase one, with little to show for it despite thirty years of trying, so in the early 1990s Osama Ben Laden and his colleagues switched from head-on assaults on the regimes in Muslim countries to direct attacks on Western targets. Yet, their first-phase goal remains seizing power in the Muslim world, not some fantasy about "bringing the West to its knees". [complete article]

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'Al-Qaeda' missive holds mixed message
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times, February 18, 2004

A letter purportedly written to senior al-Qaeda leaders by a key associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, appears to undermine a major thesis of hardcore neo-conservatives who led the United States drive to war in Iraq.

The letter, which is essentially an appeal for help in launching a "sectarian war" against Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim population, was circulated by the Pentagon after it was allegedly found on a compact disc in a raid on a safe house in Baghdad on January 23 that netted a prominent courier of the al-Qaeda terrorist group. It was leaked to the New York Times, which reported on it February 10.

US war planners clearly saw the 17-page letter as confirmation that their strategy for pacifying Iraq, particularly the so-called Sunni triangle, was working. Its quick declassification and wide dissemination suggested that the message was one that the Pentagon was eager to get out, precisely because it corresponded to the military's own claims that it was grinding down the armed opposition in the occupied country. [complete article]

Note -- It has also been reported that the CD containing this letter was found not in Baghdad but by Kurdish militia patrolling the Iranian border who recently apprehended Hassan Ghul, a Pakistani who has also been linked to Zarqawi.

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The fantasy of democracy in an Arab state
By Robert Fisk, The Independent (via Information Clearing House), 13 February 2004

For democracy, read fantasy. Iraq is getting so nasty for our great leaders these days that anything - and anyone - is going to be thrown to the dogs to save them. The BBC, the CIA, British intelligence - any journalist that dares to point out the lies that led us to war - get pelted with more lies. The moment we suggest that Iraq never was fertile soil for Western democracy, we get accused of being racists. Do we think the Arabs are incapable of producing democracy, we are asked? Do we think they are subhuman?

This kind of tosh comes from the same family of abuse as that which labels all and every criticism of Israel anti-Semitic. If we even remind the world that the cabal of neo-conservative, pro-Israeli proselytisers - Messers Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Kristol, et al - helped to propel President Bush and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld into this war with grotesquely inaccurate prophecies of a new Middle East of democratic, pro-Israeli Arab states, we are told that we are racist even to mention their names. So let's just remember what the neo-cons were advocating back in the golden autumn of 2002 when Tony was squaring up with George to destroy the Hitler of Baghdad.

They were going to re-shape the map of the Middle East and bring democracy to the region. The dictators would fall or come onside - thus the importance of persuading the world now that the preposterous Gaddafi is a "statesman" (thank you, Jack Straw) for giving up his own infantile nuclear ambitions - and democracy would blossom from the Nile to the Euphrates. The Arabs wanted democracy. They would seize it. We would be loved, welcomed, praised, embraced for bringing this much sought-after commodity to the region. Of course, the neo-cons got it wrong. [complete article]

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Fallujah's former mayor questioned by U.S. troops
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder Newspapers, February 16, 2004

Machine-gun-toting Iraqi men swarmed the downtown streets of Fallujah on Monday as reports circulated that U.S. forces had detained Mayor Raad Hussein for questioning about an assault on the local police station on Saturday.

"If those questions lead to his innocence, then I suspect he will be released," said Gen. Mark Kimmitt in Baghdad. "If those questions lead coalition forces to suspect he may somehow have been involved in the loss of life of 25 Iraqi police service members inside the town of Fallujah, I would suspect we're going to be holding him for quite some time."

Continuing confusion over who launched Saturday's attack and who is in control of the city offer a foretaste of the messy job that U.S. troops will face in handing over authority to Iraqi security forces. [complete article]

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Iraqi widows expand horizons
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2004

In the midst of daily violence in Iraq, the effort to seed democracy goes on. It is painstaking and incremental work.

On Monday, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, packed his full security detail onto a Black Hawk helicopter and flew 60 miles south of Baghdad to visit 80 scarved women in the city of Karbala.

In the heartland of Shiite Muslim fundamentalism, the women have done something improbable, founding the Karbala Women's Rights Center with $163,000 from the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID has been funding and promoting such centers in several major Iraqi cities, and Bremer came for the official opening in Karbala.

Most of the women are impoverished, having been widowed or left without fathers and brothers to support them after Iraq's wars and Saddam Hussein's killings of thousands of Shiite men. The women came to the center with a single goal: to learn a marketable skill.

For most of them, notions of democracy are secondary. [complete article]

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"The Gaza Strip has since 1948 been little more than a massive refugee camp, dotted since 1967 with Israeli settlements. Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza while consolidating his grip on the West Bank means essentially that the territory will be ceded to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and those among the nationalist Fatah movement willing to continue the 'armed struggle.' The Palestinian Authority has to all intents and purposes collapsed, and won't be resurrected without a comprehensive peace deal that creates a viable Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza (which Sharon has never had any intention of allowing). An Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, under fire and in the absence of a deal, vindicates the positions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah militants in the intra-Palestinian debate. It makes nonsense of the diplomacy-based strategy of the Palestinian Authority, and instead will be interpreted as a victory of arms, in the same way that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon saw Hezbollah being hailed as the first Arab army ever to have forced Israel to retreat. If the Israelis simply withdraw, not only does Hamas assume the mantle of leadership (which it already does on the streets of Gaza), but the territory once again becomes Egypt's problem -- Gaza's border with Israel will be closed; its border with Egypt will have to be opened as the route by which the masses of humanitarian aid necessary to sustain the population will have to be directed. Hamas is the Palestinian wing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and it's not hard to envisage that the impact of having to essentially absorb Gaza could dramatically destabilize the Mubarak regime. (Militant organizations based in the Palestinian refugee population nearly brought down regimes in Jordan in the late 1960s and Lebanon in the 1970s.) Gaza is already a campus of innovation by groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even Hezbollah, with their engineers constantly developing and refining new techniques in deploying remote-detonated shaped charges against heavily armed Merkava tanks, in producing short-range artillery rockets and who knows what else. If the Israelis simply pull out absent a political deal, Gaza will become the new Afghanistan by measure of jihadi training camps-per capita."

Tony Karon is Senior Editor for world coverage at Besides daily analyses of the top international stories such as the conflict in Iraq, the Middle East crisis and the war on terrorism, he writes an occasional column, titled "Undiplomatic Dispatch."

"GUEST COMMENTARY" is a new feature at The War in Context where I'll be soliciting comments from journalists, academics and other specialists whose insights will add depth to our understanding of the news. If you'd like to participate, please contact me at -- Paul Woodward, Editor

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Erasing the 'optics' of Gaza
By Sara Roy, The Daily Star, February 14, 2004

From the time I started researching the Gaza Strip almost two decades ago, I have encountered two recurring themes in Palestinian-Israeli relations: Israel's desire to rid itself of any responsibility for Gaza, while maintaining control over it; and its desire to "exchange" Gaza for full and internationally (read "American") sanctioned Israeli control of the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent proposal to evacuate 17 of the 20 settlements in Gaza ­ but leaving Israel with direct control over all of Gaza's borders, its air space and waters, and the settlement of Gush Katif ­ is simply the latest expression of longstanding Israeli policy that will keep Gaza an imprisoned canton. Sharon's proposal, which is one part of his unilateral separation plan, would effectively complete implementation of Oslo's 1994 "Gaza and Jericho-First" plan, which similarly aimed to create a provisional Palestinian state in Gaza, allowing Israel to pursue, in one form or another, the de facto annexation of the West Bank, which it very successfully did during the seven years of the "peace" process. [complete article]

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Will Sharon leave Gaza - to Hamas?
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, February 17, 2004

It remains to be seen whether Sharon, who evacuated Sinai settlements in 1982 under a peace treaty with Egypt, will or even can undertake a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon made much of his reputation as an army general fighting terrorists in Gaza in 1971, and as a prime advocate of settling the area thereafter.

But if he does leave Gaza, will he then be leaving it to Hamas, the most efficiently lethal of Israel's immediate enemies? [...]

The anxiety has been bolstered by armed infighting between units of the Palestinian Authority security forces, their infrastructure decimated by three years of Israeli military attacks, their influence undermined by a consistent Israeli governmental reluctance to afford the PA victories in the diplomatic arena, their loyalties split between an old guard of veteran Arafat cronies and younger, Gaza-reared commanders like ex-security chief and peace negotiator Mohammed Dahlan.

Hamas, meanwhile, remains blithely disciplined, its leadership remarkably intact despite Israeli air strikes against the very upper rungs of its command ladder.

As if Israelis did not find the point already sensitive enough, Hamas was quoted Tuesday as proposing to that settlements eventually evacuated by Israel be used, in part, to house the families of suicide bombers. [complete article]

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Rajoub: There will be no power vacuum if Israel quits Gaza
By Amos Harel and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 17, 2004

If Israel unilaterally withdraws from the Gaza Strip, no governmental vacuum would be formed, Jibril Rajoub, who is Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's national security advisor, said Tuesday.

"We have a plan to handle the territory. We won't mourn the evacuation of the settlers, but we prefer that the evacuation be done through negotiations, not unilaterally," Rajoub said during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Rajoub said that the United States and Israel have no right to decide who would rule the Palestinian people. He said that Arafat was the only Palestinian leader who could sign a peace agreement with Israel, because he is the elected leader, "whether you like him or not." [complete article]

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Palestinians join nonviolent struggle against Israeli occupation
By Adam Shapiro, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 17, 2004

Ayed Morar, or Abu Abu Ahmed as he is known to all, sat in jail for a week, including the day we celebrated the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. I wonder if he thought of King during his incarceration.

Unlike King, Abu Ahmed is unable to protest his imprisonment by exemplifying the moral injustice done to him and his people, for the world's powers have maintained a deaf ear to the plight of the Palestinian people.

Like King, however, Abu Ahmed is in jail for organizing and participating in nonviolent direct action against unjust, discriminatory and violent policies targeting his people on the basis of their ethnicity. King ultimately left his Birmingham jail cell and went on to lead this country toward racial integration and healing. But Abu Ahmed, though he is released from prison, is still locked up. [complete article]

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A wall across the world
By James Carroll, Boston Globe, February 17, 2004

A fence, by definition, looks different from its opposite sides. [...]

Seen up close, as the [Israeli] barrier is by the [Palestinian] villagers upon whose territory it intrudes, it is a looming monstrosity that offends in numerous ways. First, it is a running monument of destruction, as bulldozers obliterate property, olive groves, farmland, wells, and playing fields. The wall interrupts roads and bisects towns and cities. Members of families are separated, workers are impeded from getting to jobs, pregnant women and other patients find themselves cut off from doctors and hospitals. Because the wall meanders along a serpentine path designed to protect as many Israelis as possible, its loops isolate dozens of Arab villages and create numerous Palestinian enclaves, effective cages.

Most disturbingly, the wall veers far from the original 1967 border in numerous places, and thus represents a unilateral Israeli appropriation of disputed land, a repudiation of the hope for a negotiated resolution to the conflict over territory. The wall can kill the peace process once and for all. [complete article]

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Iraqi panel pivots on U.S. plan
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, February 17, 2004

Most members of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council no longer support the Bush administration's plan to choose an interim government through caucuses and instead want the council to assume sovereignty until elections can be held, several members have said.

The caucus proposal, which the council endorsed in November, is a cornerstone of the administration's plan to end the civil occupation of Iraq this summer. Seeking to lay the foundation for a political system that would shun extremism and keep the country united, the administration had wanted a transitional government selected by carefully vetted local caucuses to run Iraq through the end of 2005.

But with Iraqi religious leaders demanding that voting occur much sooner -- and with a growing expectation here that the United Nations will call for elections by the end of this year or early next year -- a majority of Governing Council members have quietly withdrawn support for the caucus plan. [complete article]

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Kurds return, Arabs flee, as a mass migration redraws the map of northern Iraq
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via SF Gate), February 16, 2004

In a quiet mass migration, Arabs are fleeing their villages in northern Iraq and Kurds are moving back in, reversing Saddam Hussein's campaigns of ethnic cleansing and effectively redrawing the demographic map.

At the same time, politicians in Baghdad are trying to negotiate a formula for the future of Iraq, ahead of the July 1 planned transfer of power to Iraqis and the end to the U.S.-led occupation.

The United States and some Iraqi leaders are pushing for a federal system they hope will maintain the country's unity while satisfying Kurds, who want to preserve the autonomy they have held for years in the north.

That would mean eventually defining the frontiers of a Kurdish federation. And with more Kurds moving back into their ancestral lands, Kurdish leaders' claim over a larger area in a future federal division is strengthened -- raising tensions with Arabs. [complete article]

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U.S. may block Islamic law in Iraq
By Robert H. Reid, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), February 17, 2004

Iraq's US administrator suggested yesterday that he would block any move by Iraqi leaders to make Islamic law the backbone of an interim constitution. And in new violence, roadside bombs killed three more American soldiers.

The US military also said yesterday that gunmen killed an American Baptist minister from Rhode Island, and wounded two other New England pastors and one from New York in a weekend ambush south of the capital.

A grenade exploded yesterday in an elementary school playground in Baghdad, killing a child and wounding four others. The children apparently triggered the explosive while playing, Iraqi police said.

During a visit to a women's center in Karbala, administrator L. Paul Bremer III said the current draft of the interim constitution, due to take effect at the end of this month, would make Islam the state religion and "a source of inspiration for the law," but not the main source for that law. [complete article]

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The truth and reconciliation process - restorative justice
By Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Independent, February 16, 2004

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair would recover considerable credibility and respect if they were able to say "Yes, we made a mistake". I hold no brief for Saddam Hussein - if now the reason being trumpeted for the war is regime change, why there and not, for example, Burma or North Korea and who makes the decision about which regimes should be changed and what authority do they have to do whatever they may think is right or is it a matter of might is right and to hell with the rule of international law?

In the South African experience it was decided that we would have justice yes, but not retributive justice. No, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process was an example of restorative justice. In our case it was based on an African concept very difficult to render into English as there is no precise equivalent. I refer to Ubuntu/botho.

Ubuntu is the essence of being human. We say a person is a person through other persons. We are made for togetherness, to live in a delicate network of interdependence. The totally self-sufficient person is subhuman for none of us comes fully formed into the world. I need other human beings in order to be human myself. I would not know how to walk, talk, think, behave as a human person except by learning it all from other human beings. [complete article]

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As U.S. draws down, doubt over Iraqis
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, February 17, 2004

A bold daylight attack on a police station here Saturday has underscored a growing concern: Can Iraq's fledgling security forces maintain order after the planned June 30 US transfer of power to Iraqi authorities?

Ready or not, the process is beginning. US forces are already adopting a lower profile, moving their bases to the periphery of Baghdad and other urban centers. While the new Iraqi police, the civil defense corps, and Army will still receive backup from American-led coalition troops, Iraqi and US officials are voicing doubts about Iraq's ability to handle such hot spots as the volatile Sunni triangle west and north of Baghdad. [complete article]

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Psst... Let's talk (foreign) affairs
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, February 23, 2004

Once we've worked through the various scandals, rumors and gossip surrounding the American presidential election, could we please have a substantive discussion? In nine months the United States will elect the most powerful individual in the world. Conventional wisdom is that all elections are mainly about economics, and that might well be true. But for the first time in decades we have a chance at having a serious national conversation about foreign policy. In the last two-and-a-half years the United States has been attacked by terrorists, has waged a global war on terror in response, has overthrown two governments and is still fighting guerrillas in Iraq and Afghanistan, while trying to rebuild these societies at the cost of tens of billions of dollars. If this doesn't get us talking about foreign affairs, nothing will. [complete article]

Comment -- Fareed Zakaria is right. We do need a serious national conversation about foreign policy. But if that was to actually happen, most Americans would first need to take a crash course in geography. In this matter, like so many others, democracy is a fine thing in principle but doesn't amount to much in practice if it does not involve an informed and engaged citizenry. Citizens of the "greatest nation on earth" would profit from knowing that this country is only slightly larger than Brazil, but smaller than Canada, China, and Russia. In population size it is dwarfed by India and China. More than 95% of people are not Americans. If one was to know nothing else about the world, this fact alone -- that Americans are outnumbered by more than twenty to one -- ought to provide sufficient reason for anyone to believe that America needs to get along with the rest of the world.

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A democratic world
By George Packer, The New Yorker, February 9, 2004

In December, 2001, after the fall of the Taliban, President Bush asked Senator Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat who was then the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to draft a legislative proposal for winning the minds of young people around the Muslim world. The following month, Biden went to Kabul, where he toured a new school -- one that was bitterly cold, with plastic sheeting over the windows and a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. When the visit was over and Biden started to leave, a young girl stood ramrod straight at her desk and said, "You cannot leave. You cannot leave."

"I promise I'll come back," Biden told her.

"You cannot leave," the girl insisted. "They will not deny me learning to read. I will read, and I will be a doctor like my mother. I will. America must stay."

As Biden put it in a recent interview, the Afghan girl was telling him, "Don't fuck with me, Jack. You got me in here. You said you were going to help me. You better not leave me now."

Biden described the encounter as "a catalytic event for me." Its lesson was one that he had already begun to absorb in the Balkans, where he had travelled extensively during the nineteen-nineties. There is a worldwide struggle, he explained, between the values of liberal democracy and the destructive ideologies that fester with dictatorship, misery, and humiliation; in this struggle, America needs to expand the conditions for democracy in the most concrete ways, with serious commitments of energy and resources, or risk greater instability. [complete article]

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Iraq may be slipping into civil war
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 16, 2004

Sunni politicians speak angrily of U.S. bias toward their Shiite rivals. Kurds are more outspoken in demanding self rule -- if not independence. And someone -- perhaps al-Qaida, perhaps Saddam Hussein loyalists -- killed more than 100 people in recent suicide bombings.

Rivalry and resentment among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups have become much more pronounced since Saddam's ouster in April. And those tensions are rising as various groups jockey for position with the approaching June 30 deadline for Iraqis to retake power

The fault lines are emerging for a possible civil war. [complete article]

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Kurds seek to turn back clock in push for independence
By James Drummond, Financial Times, February 16, 2004

Many carried Kurdish flags, others held bunches of flowers in remembrance of the victims of Saddam Hussein's brutal Anfal campaign against the Kurds. In all, perhaps 10,000 students, teachers, engineers and activists marched on Saturday through Suleimaniya, one of the twin capitals of Kurdish northern Iraq.

Unusually, there was no obvious sign of the region's dominant political movements, the Kurdistan Democratic party or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, among the marchers. But there was no mistaking their main demand.

"We are asking for independence," said Nawroza al-Khaffaf, chairman of the Kurdistan Contractors' Union. "We thank the US and the coalition for freeing us from the dictator and ask those people to aid us and to give us that hope [of independence]," he said. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld eager to turn Iraq mess over to Powell
By Joseph L. Galloway, Knight Ridder, February 15, 2004

What a difference a year can make. If you don't believe it, ask Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

A year ago, testifying before Congress, Wolfowitz predicted that securing postwar Iraq would be an easier job than the United States and its allies faced in Bosnia or Afghanistan. After all, the deputy secretary said, there is no ethnic tension in Iraq.

The immediate reaction of virtually everyone who knew even a little bit about Iraq and its long-simmering tensions, repression, bloodshed and just plain bad blood among Kurds and Turkomen in the north, Sunni Arabs in the middle and Shiite Muslims in the south, was: Say what?

Not since President Ford prematurely declared Soviet-dominated Poland a free country has a public official stuck his foot so deeply and so publicly in his mouth. [complete article]

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Iraqi teen tells how he came to join terrorist group Ansar al Islam
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder Newspapers, February 13, 2004

Young, broke and living in a speck of a town where moss grows on the roofs of mud huts, Rebeen Ali decided to look for his way in the world.

After a few nights of arguing, his father, a local schoolteacher, forbade him to leave the house. But the 14-year-old Ali, tired of his hometown of Halabja, where graveyards are filled with the victims of Saddam Hussein's 1988 chemical attack, started out for the Iranian border, with plans to get construction work in Tehran.

Ali was stopped in Biyara by a checkpoint set up by members of Ansar al Islam, a radical Islamic group that had taken hold in the high reaches of the mountains of northern Iraq. They told him he was in big trouble. Before long, he had joined the group. [complete article]

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U.S. provoked insurgency in Iraq - former U.N. official
By Bassma Al Jandaly and Tanya Goudsouzian, Gulf News, February 16, 2004

The message to neo-conservative policy-makers in Washington, DC, is clear: Security cannot be achieved by attacking the symptoms of global discontent over American foreign policy, according to a former UN official.

"If you limit your intervention to (attacking the symptoms), you will never put an end to what we are now seeing - a rise in protest over the fact that we are increasingly dominated by a small group of people who want to tell us how to run our lives," said Hans Von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq, in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

In order to make a significant contribution to a stable global community, it would make more sense to "talk about human security, education, health and good services in our respective countries", he said.

Von Sponeck resigned from his UN post in 2000 because he felt "the programme I was directing could not do justice to the needs of the Iraqi people", who were crippled by the economic sanctions and "exploited for somebody else's political interest". [complete article]

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After attacks, Iraqi security looks unready
By Neela Banerjee, New York Times, February 16, 2004

Iraqi security forces will be unable to guarantee safety after the planned transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30, a range of Iraqi and Western specialists concluded Sunday, one day after an audacious raid in Falluja that killed at least 25 people.

A series of bold attacks on military and police forces in Iraq last week culminated in the overrunning on Saturday of a police station in Falluja, about 35 miles west of Baghdad.

"I think it's quite clear the Iraqi security forces, brave as they are, and beaten and attacked as they are, are not going to be ready by July 1," said L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, in an interview Sunday on CNN. "So there will have to be an international presence here after the sovereign government comes into power the first of July." [complete article]

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The Iraqi people's dream of stability starts with free and fair elections
By Hussain al-Shahristani, The Scotsman, February 14, 2004

Since the fall of the regime, I have led numerous humanitarian and developmental projects in different regions of Iraq. Village elders, community leaders and professionals tell me of their dreams for a new Iraq. I am struck by the deep-rooted concern and fear felt by these people that the occupying forces will impose a new dictatorship on them that may cost them further hundreds of thousands of lives.

Fair and free elections, they insist, are their only guarantee of living as free people. It was this very pulse of the nation that the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani touched when he first advised the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), in June 2003, to prepare for elections where all Iraqis - irrespective of gender, religion, sect or ethnicity - could vote to elect their representatives to a national assembly. Ever since, he has continuously reminded the United States that it occupied Iraq to bring democracy, which means free elections, and that it must deliver on that promise. [complete article]

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'Liberty or death' is a grim option for local councils
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 15, 2004

A single week in this restive town illuminated the triumphs and setbacks in Iraq's journey toward democracy.

Under threat by anti-American insurgents, the mayor resigned. Another man suspected of cooperating with the Americans was gunned down in front of his home. A sheik elected to the new provincial council was attacked by a suicide bomber. The American adviser survived a bomb attack on his car. And on Saturday, attackers stormed a police station, freeing dozens of prisoners in a raid that left more than 20 people dead and at least 40 others wounded.

Yet for all of that, when the Americans held a caucus here to choose a new provincial council, more than 1,000 people turned out to vote, crowding into a youth center and debating well into the night. [complete article]

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How Israel is founding a Hamas state
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, February 15, 2004

Four years ago, when Ariel Sharon agreed to support the withdrawal from Lebanon, he proposed a prior condition: to deliver a powerful strike against the country, so the might of the Israel Defense Forces would be engraved on the collective memory and no one would try to operate against Israel after the IDF pullout. The recent spate of IDF actions in the Gaza Strip, and the large number of Palestinian casualties they have caused, are liable to create the impression that this is the realization of Sharon's "Lebanese" proposal: When withdrawal from Gaza is announced, accompany it by burning into the Palestinian consciousness the terrifying power of the IDF. [complete article]

The IDF's shooting range
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, February 15, 2004

It sometimes seems the Gaza Strip has become the central shooting range of the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF's firing zone and training field. The weapons in use there are of dubious legality, the rules of engagement lack the element of restraint, and punitive measures that Israel would not conceive of inflicting in the West Bank are par for the course, in a region that produces far less terrorism than the West Bank. [complete article]

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Straight outta Tel Aviv
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, February 15, 2004

In nightclubs, on radio stations and on Israel's infant MTV knockoff, hip-hop is turning into one of Israel's most caustic political media. Embracing a musical genre and culture born in the African American streets of New York, Israeli rappers are emerging as a voice for a generation disenchanted with what they see as endless violence, economic hopelessness and ineffectual leaders.

"It's a new way for Israelis to be political," said Gal Uchovskey, an Israeli music critic and film producer who has been chronicling the music scene for two decades. "Rap is the vehicle of the moment."

"For me, music is only a tool to deliver my message," said Shimoni, 22, one of the first Israeli rappers and one of the most successful. "There is one truth: Both sides are suffering. People want peace. The leaders don't know how to make it happen." [complete article]

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Fallen soldier's mother says her son 'died for absolutely nothing'
By John Tredrea, Hopewell Valley News, February 12, 2004

Generous, compassionate, warm, piercingly intelligent and insightful, frank and open about his feelings, and fun loving.

That is how Army 1st Lt. Seth Dvorin, 24, who was killed in Iskandariyah, Iraq on Feb. 3, is remembered by his grieving family. But their tumultuous emotional mix is replete with stinging anger and frustration, as well as overwhelming sorrow.

"My son died for absolutely nothing," Lt. Dvorin's mother, Sue Niederer, declared with quiet, forceful bluntness in her Hopewell Township home on Lake Baldwin Drive Friday. Ms. Niederer blames President George W. Bush personally for her son's death. [complete article]

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Never-ending search for the sons of Iraq
By Nicholas Riccardi, Los AngelesTimes, February 16, 2004

Every few weeks, Najeeba Jaafar defies logic and braves the eight-hour round-trip bus ride to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where her youngest son was stationed when the U.S. invaded last year. She makes the trip even though villagers told her that American bombs had "minced" all the soldiers, and the remains were hastily buried.

If he had survived, her son would have called by now, but Jaafar keeps looking, even after holding his funeral. "I've lost hope," she said, "but I can't help it. I have to go, in case I find something."

This is Jaafar's second missing son. She is one of thousands of Iraqis tormented by the fading hopes that their vanished loved ones survived the catastrophes that have plagued this country. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were taken by Saddam Hussein's government. Thousands more served as soldiers and disappeared during his wars. [complete article]

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President Bush's new Iraq commission won't be investigating the key WMD issue:
How the Executive Order fatally limits their agenda

By John Dean, FindLaw, February 16, 2004

George W. Bush has been nothing short of a magician when it comes to making unpleasant matters confronting his presidency disappear. And on February 6, Bush once again did a bit of conjuring.

That day, he announced that he was creating an "independent commission, chaired by Governor and former [Virginia] Senator Chuck Robb, and Judge Laurence Silberman, to look at American intelligence capabilities, especially our intelligence about weapons of mass destruction." In doing so, Bush sought to head off what potentially could be an aggressive Congressional inquiry, or a Congressionally created independent commission, on the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) justification for the Iraq war.

Such an inquiry would doubtless focus on a set of questions that is bound to make Bush very uncomfortable: the central issue of whether Bush, and his Vice President Dick Cheney, accurately represented the pre-Iraq war intelligence (or lack thereof) when claiming that Saddam had WMD and that Iraqi had ties with al Qeada.

Bush's magic appears to have worked again. His commission is a sham, and simply ignores the very reason he was pressured to create it. Yet it seems no one is complaining -- or at least, no one who could force the commencement of an legitimate investigation. [complete article]

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Have the neocons killed a presidency?
By Patrick J. Buchanan,, February 16, 2004

George W. Bush "betrayed us," howled Al Gore.

"He played on our fear. He took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure, dangerous to our troops, an adventure that was preordained and planned before 9-11 ever happened."

Hearing it, Gore's rant seemed slanderous and demagogic. For though U.S. policy since Clinton had called for regime change in Iraq, there is no evidence, none, that Bush planned to invade prior to 9-11.

Yet, the president has a grave problem, and it is this: Burrowed inside his foreign policy team are men guilty of exactly what Gore accuses Bush of, men who did exploit our fears to stampede us into a war they had plotted for years. [complete article]

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Bush to limit 9/11 panel session
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, February 15, 2004

The White House said yesterday that President Bush plans to meet only with a limited number of representatives from the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, despite a statement issued Friday that suggested he would meet with the whole panel.

The new details surprised some commission officials and members -- who believed they had secured a promise from Bush for a private meeting with all 10 members -- and could add to the tensions that have strained relations between the two sides. [complete article]

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Losing the peace
By Ian Mather, The Scotsman, February 15, 2004

Earazan Abu Issa was standing outside the police station when the guerrillas hit. "Their weapons were more powerful than our Kalashnikovs," said the officer yesterday, adding that the "unknown men fired mortars, explosives and light machine guns from four directions".

Issa was one of the lucky ones - he survived. By the time the audacious raid on the station in the volatile town of Falluja was over, at least 22 people were dead, 35 were wounded and an unknown number of prisoners had been freed.

The attack ended a week in which the anti-Coalition forces in Iraq have given grim warning that they are growing in confidence, by upping the intensity of their campaign. Falluja police chief Aboud al-Dulaimi said about 70 guerrillas launched the closely coordinated attack on the police headquarters as well as on a compound for the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC) and the mayor’s office.

The raid followed two suicide bombings in two days, and took the tally of deaths in Iraq in February alone to at least 237. It follows a black January when attacks more than doubled, after tailing off in the autumn.

Upbeat official statements in Washington, such as US Secretary of State Colin Powell's report to Congress last week, claiming "real progress in Iraq" are becoming increasingly hard to reconcile with events on the ground. [complete article]

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U.S. has murky picture of Iraq resistance
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via The Guardian), February 15, 2004

The capture of dozens of guerrilla leaders has left the U.S. military with a murky picture of a shadowy resistance here, with American and Iraqi officials divided about whether Iraqis or foreign fighters are responsible for recent attacks.

A spate of arrests - including the capture of Saddam Hussein - have broken rebel command networks and forced fighters underground, a top U.S. military official told The Associated Press. Yet attacks persist, crowned by a bold daylight assault this weekend on security compounds in Fallujah that freed 87 prisoners and killed 25 people, mostly police. [complete article]

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In Iraqi towns, electoral experiment finds some success
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, February 16, 2004

With a knack for improvisation and little help from Baghdad, [Tobin] Bradley, the political adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Nasiriyah, has carried out what may stand as one of the most ambitious democratic experiments in Iraq's history, a project that goes to the heart of the debate about how Iraq's next government should be chosen. In the province of Dhi Qar, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad and a backwater even by Iraq's standards, residents voting as families will have elected city councils in 16 of the 20 biggest cities by next month. Bradley will have organized 11, more than half of them this month.

At every turn, the elections have set precedents, some of them unanticipated. Voters have typically elected professionals rather than tribal or religious leaders, although the process has energized Islamic parties. Activists have gone door to door to organize women, who turned out in their largest numbers this past week in some of Iraq's most conservative towns. Most important is the way residents qualify to cast ballots -- cards issued by Hussein's government to distribute monthly rations. [complete article]

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Iraqi Shiites prepare for compromise on elections
Agence France Presse, February 16, 2004

Iraq's powerful Shiite elite has drawn up compromise proposals to rescue the community from a heated political standoff with the Americans over its demand for snap elections.

The Marjaiya, the top clerical body for the country's Shiite majority, has established a series of alternatives as it awaits the findings of a UN mission tapped to render a verdict on whether polls are possible before the US-led occupation ends on June 30. [complete article]

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The permanent scars of Iraq
By Sara Corbett, New York Times, February 15, 2004

The soldiers -- usually anywhere between 5 and 15 of them -- sit in a circle of couches and chairs in the cramped linoleum-floored waiting room of the [Fort Campbell] mental-health building, looking almost like a roomful of unusually clean-cut college kids gathering for a study group. Except that one walks with a cane. Several others have burn sleeves covering their arms. A woman with a bobbed haircut wears an arm splint. There's a guy -- an Apache helicopter pilot -- who has balance problems. His neighbor, a muscled young corporal, winces as he takes a seat. When they make chitchat, it tends to be about skin grafts and medication and how there aren't enough handicapped parking spaces on base. Occasionally, some will compare scars, hiking up pants and shirts and inspecting the wreckage of someone else's limb or torso. ''Hey, yours is growing hair back!'' one soldier says to another. ''That's pretty good.''

For every broken body in this room, there are hundreds more confined to hospital beds across the country and hundreds more again who, by choice or by circumstance, are gutting out the effects of their injuries without the help of peers or mental-health counselors. It has been suggested that the wounded are the hidden casualties of the Iraq war, stranded somewhere between our grief for the dead and a wartime patriotism best stirred by the belief that our troops are both productive and healthy. Thanks to the lifesaving properties of body armor and largely impenetrable Kevlar helmets, combined with highly advanced battlefield medicine, more soldiers are surviving explosions and gunfire than in previous wars. The downside of this is that the injury rate in Iraq is high: an average of nine soldiers have been injured per day. The pace shows little sign of slowing, which means it's possible we will bring home another 1,500 wounded before the start of summer. Some military experts worry that in the next four months -- as the U.S. rotates roughly 110,000 new troops into Iraq, many of them reservists and National Guardsmen with less combat training than the full-time soldiers they are replacing -- injury rates could climb even higher. [complete article]

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The thief of Baghdad
By Maureen Dowd, New York Times, February 15, 2004

In the Ford White House, Dick Cheney's Secret Service name was Backseat, because he was the model of an unobtrusive staffer, the perfect unflashy deputy chief of staff for that lord of the bureaucratic dance, Donald Rumsfeld.

As James Mann writes in his new book, "The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet," Mr. Cheney started out supervising such lowly matters as fixing a stopped-up drain in a White House bathroom sink; getting a headrest for Betty Ford's helicopter seat; and sorting out which salt shakers -- the regular ones or, as he put it, the "little dishes of salt with funny little spoons" -- would be best for stag dinners in the president's private quarters.

Rummy's alter ego rose quickly, though, because he seemed to have no ego. Good old Dick could be counted on to be the man behind the man, a butler to power. The new President Bush, a tabula rasa in foreign affairs, put himself in Mr. Cheney's hands. [complete article]

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British-U.S. spy op wrecked peace move
By Martin Bright, Peter Beaumont and Jo Tuckman, The Observer, February 15, 2004

A joint British and American spying operation at the United Nations scuppered a last-ditch initiative to avert the invasion of Iraq, The Observer can reveal.

Senior UN diplomats from Mexico and Chile provided new evidence last week that their missions were spied on, in direct contravention of international law.

The former Mexican ambassador to the UN, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, told The Observer that US officials intervened last March, just days before the war against Saddam was launched, to halt secret negotiations for a compromise resolution to give weapons inspectors more time to complete their work. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The militarization of U.S. foreign policy
By Mel Goodman, Foreign Policy in Focus, February, 2004
The fall of the Soviet Union handed the U.S. a unique opportunity, as the surviving superpower, to lead the world toward a period of greater cooperation and conflict resolution through the use of diplomacy, global organization, and international law. This great opportunity is being squandered, as the world becomes a more dangerous place. Military force is now looming larger than ever as the main instrument and organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy. In our new national security doctrine, in the shape of our federal budget, and in the missions of the agencies the budget funds, our government is being reshaped to weaken controls on its use of force and further incline our country toward war.

Bad sourcing
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, February 11, 2004
Broadening an internal review of prewar intelligence on Iraq, the CIA is reexamining the credibility of four Iraq defectors whose claims were cited by Secretary of State Colin Powell last year as crucial evidence that Saddam Hussein had developed a system of mobile laboratories and factories to produce biological-warfare agents, Newsweek has learned. The four defectors were mentioned by Powell in his Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the United Nations Security Council, which made the case for war against Iraq. The defectors also were cited by the CIA as sources in a paper the agency published in May claiming that three large tractor-trailers found in Iraq after the war were proof of the mobile bio-warfare facilities' existence -- a claim now much in dispute.

What did the Vice-President do for Halliburton?
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, February 9, 2004
Vice-President Dick Cheney is well known for his discretion, but his official White House biography, as posted on his Web site, may exceed even his own stringent standards. It traces the sixty-three years from his birth, in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1941, through college and graduate school, and describes his increasingly powerful jobs in Washington. Yet one chapter of Cheney's life is missing. The record notes that he has been a "businessman" but fails to mention the five extraordinarily lucrative years that he spent, immediately before becoming Vice-President, as chief executive of Halliburton, the world's largest oil-and-gas-services company. The conglomerate, which is based in Houston, is now the biggest private contractor for American forces in Iraq; it has received contracts worth some eleven billion dollars for its work there.

Israel hems in a sacred city
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, February 10, 2004
Israel is close to finishing a decades-long effort to surround Jerusalem with Jewish settlements, walls, fences and roads that will severely restrict Palestinian access to the city and could reduce the chance of its becoming the capital of a Palestinian state, according to documents, maps and interviews with Israelis, Palestinians and foreign diplomats. The status of Jerusalem -- a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians -- is one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim Jerusalem as their religious and political capital, but most countries do not officially recognize it as such, and the United States and others keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. Under past Israeli-Palestinian accords, neither side is supposed to take any action to change the city's status, which is to be resolved through negotiation.

Democracy and robbery
By Naomi Klein, The Guardian, February 10, 2004
If you believe the White House, the future government of Iraq is being designed in Iraq. If you believe the Iraqi people, however, it is being designed in the White House. Technically, neither is true; Iraq's future government is being engineered in an anonymous research park in suburban North Carolina.

The wars of the Texas succession
By Paul Krugman, New York Review of Books, February 26, 2004
Here's a true story that came too late to make it into Kevin Phillips's American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, but it fits perfectly with its thesis. As all the world knows, Halliburton, the company that made Dick Cheney rich, has been given multibillion-dollar contracts, without competitive bidding, in occupied Iraq. Suspicions of profiteering are widespread; critics think they have found a smoking gun in the case of gasoline imports. For Halliburton has been charging the US authorities in Iraq remarkably high prices for fuel -- far above local spot prices.

The company denies wrongdoing, saying that its prices in Baghdad reflect the prices it has to pay its Kuwaiti supplier. That's not quite true; Halliburton's reported expenses for transporting gasoline are, for some reason, much higher than anyone else's. But the real question is why Halliburton chose that particular supplier -- a company with little experience in the oil business, mysteriously selected as the sole source of gasoline after what appears to have been a highly improper bidding procedure. Why did it get the job? We don't know. But it's interesting to note that the company appears to be closely connected with the al-Sabahs, Kuwait's royal family. And the al-Sabahs, in turn, have in the past had close business ties with the Bush family, in particular the President's brother Marvin.

In any previous administration -- at least any administration of the past seventy years -- this sort of incestuous relationship among foreign governments, private businesses, and the personal fortunes of people in or close to the US government would have been considered unusual and prima facie scandalous. What we learn from Kevin Phillips's new book, however, is that this kind of intertwining of public policy and personal self-interest has been standard operating procedure not just for George W. Bush, but for his entire family.

Kevin Phillips' new book, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush is available here.

Now they tell us
By Michael Massing, New York Review of Books, February 26, 2004
In recent months, US news organizations have rushed to expose the Bush administration's pre-war failings on Iraq. "Iraq's Arsenal Was Only on Paper," declared a recent headline in The Washington Post. "Pressure Rises for Probe of Prewar-Intelligence," said The Wall Street Journal. "So, What Went Wrong?" asked Time. In The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh described how the Pentagon set up its own intelligence unit, the Office of Special Plans, to sift for data to support the administration's claims about Iraq. And on "Truth, War and Consequences," a Frontline documentary that aired last October, a procession of intelligence analysts testified to the administration's use of what one of them called "faith-based intelligence." Watching and reading all this, one is tempted to ask, where were you all before the war?

The terrible human cost of Bush and Blair's military adventure: 10,000 civilian deaths
By David Randall, The Independent, February 8, 2004
More than 10,000 civilians, many of them women and children, have been killed so far in the Iraqi conflict, The Independent on Sunday has learnt, making the continuing conflict the most deadly war for non-combatants waged by the West since the Vietnam war more than 30 years ago.

The lie factory
By Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest, Mother Jones, January/February, 2004
Until now, the story of how the Bush administration produced its wildly exaggerated estimates of the threat posed by Iraq has never been revealed in full. But, for the first time, a detailed investigation by Mother Jones, based on dozens of interviews‚ -- some on the record, some with officials who insisted on anonymity‚ -- exposes the workings of a secret Pentagon intelligence unit and of the Defense Department's war-planning task force, the Office of Special Plans. It's the story of a close-knit team of ideologues who spent a decade or more hammering out plans for an attack on Iraq and who used the events of September 11, 2001, to set it into motion.

How spies chose the intelligence that justified war
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, February 8, 2004
As inquiries get under way on both sides of the Atlantic into the failures of intelligence over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, inquiry members may want to read a little purple book. Published in 1999 by the CIA's Centre for the Study of Intelligence, The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, by Richards Heuer is a crib sheet for how spooks and politicians get it wrong.

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