The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Bush to limit interview with 9/11 panel to an hour
Reuters, February 27, 2004

The panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States will get one hour to ask President Bush what he knew about events leading up to the suicide airline hijackings, the White House said on Friday.

"They are looking at an hour as you pointed out," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said when asked by a reporter whether he could confirm reports that Bush was limiting the meeting to an hour.

Rather than sitting down with all 10 members of the so-called 9/11 commission, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have only agreed to meet privately with its chairman, Thomas Kean, and the vice chairman, Lee Hamilton. [complete article]

Comment -- The 9-11 attacks rocked America and America's response still rocks the world. But George Bush has all of ONE HOUR to offer to the commission appointed by Congress to understand what happened that day. ONE HOUR!!!

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Kerry hits foreign policy
By Rene Sanchez and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 28, 2004

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) issued a broad condemnation of President Bush's foreign policy Friday, denouncing his management of military action in Iraq and the nation's fight against terrorism and accusing him of alienating allies and stoking anti-American sentiment around the world. [complete article]

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Handling of terror case probed
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, February 28, 2004

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft took the rare step yesterday of appointing a "special attorney" to investigate prosecutors' handling of the case against members of an alleged al Qaeda terrorist cell in Detroit, which is being reviewed by a federal judge amid allegations of misconduct. [complete article]

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Hastert agrees to extension for Sept. 11 commission
By Jim Abrams, Associated Press (via SF Chronicle), February 27, 2004

House Speaker Dennis Hastert agreed Friday to give the independent panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks more time to finish its work, clearing the way for Congress to formally approve a two-month extension. [complete article]

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Reagan approved plan to sabotage Soviets
By David E. Hoffman, Washington Post, February 27, 2004

In January 1982, President Ronald Reagan approved a CIA plan to sabotage the economy of the Soviet Union through covert transfers of technology that contained hidden malfunctions, including software that later triggered a huge explosion in a Siberian natural gas pipeline, according to a new memoir by a Reagan White House official.

Thomas C. Reed, a former Air Force secretary who was serving in the National Security Council at the time, describes the episode in "At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War," to be published next month by Ballantine Books. Reed writes that the pipeline explosion was just one example of "cold-eyed economic warfare" against the Soviet Union that the CIA carried out under Director William J. Casey during the final years of the Cold War.

At the time, the United States was attempting to block Western Europe from importing Soviet natural gas. There were also signs that the Soviets were trying to steal a wide variety of Western technology. Then, a KGB insider revealed the specific shopping list and the CIA slipped the flawed software to the Soviets in a way they would not detect it.

"In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the West, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines, and valves was programmed to go haywire, after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds," Reed writes.

"The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space," he recalls, adding that U.S. satellites picked up the explosion. Reed said in an interview that the blast occurred in the summer of 1982.

"While there were no physical casualties from the pipeline explosion, there was significant damage to the Soviet economy," he writes. "Its ultimate bankruptcy, not a bloody battle or nuclear exchange, is what brought the Cold War to an end. In time the Soviets came to understand that they had been stealing bogus technology, but now what were they to do? By implication, every cell of the Soviet leviathan might be infected. They had no way of knowing which equipment was sound, which was bogus. All was suspect, which was the intended endgame for the entire operation." [complete article]

Thomas C. Reed's new book, At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War, is available here.

Comment -- The self-righteous moral conviction that drives neoconservatism is the claim made by former Reagan officials such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle that their efforts in the 1980's were successfully aimed at bringing to an end the Soviet application of an inherently flawed political ideology. What Thomas Reed's book indicates is that though the Cold Warriors truly were victorious -- the Soviet system did not simply implode as a result of its own weakness -- the neoconservative victory was not ideological; it was a purely a demonstration of will and might as one global power crushed another.

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Electronic vote faces big test of its security
By John Schwartz, New York Times, February 28, 2004

Millions of voters in 10 states will cast ballots on Tuesday in the single biggest test so far of new touchscreen voting machines that have been billed as one of the best answers to the Florida election debacle of 2000. But many computer security experts worry that the machines could allow democracy to be hacked.

Here in Georgia, along with Maryland and California, an estimated six million people will be using machines from Diebold Election Systems, which has been the focus of the biggest controversy.

Independent studies have found flaws in Diebold's system that researchers say might allow hackers or corrupt insiders to reprogram the touchscreens or computers that tally the votes, without leaving a trace.

Without a paper record of every vote or some other way to verify voters' choices after the fact, these experts warn, elections may lose the public's trust. [complete article]

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A South African journey: Bomb maker to police chief
By Sharon LaFraniere, New York Times, February 28, 2004

One recent afternoon outside the red brick headquarters here, Robert McBride, the new police chief of the huge Ekurhuleni district in eastern Johannesburg, bumped into a white officer who used to throw people like him in jail.

In the topsy-turvy world of post-apartheid South Africa, Mr. McBride, a mixed-race former anti-apartheid guerrilla, is now the officer's boss. "Chief, I have a past, you have a past," Mr. McBride said the officer told him. "I trust you will not hold my past against me." Mr. McBride said he promised not to. He seeks the same tolerance. He needs it, perhaps, more than most.

At the height of the violence over apartheid, Mr. McBride was a legendary bomb maker, whose shrapnel-packed explosives helped shake South Africa's white rulers to the core. His most devastating attack, in June 1986, killed 3 civilians and wounded 73 others at Magoo's Bar on a Durban beach.

To many who fought apartheid, Mr. McBride is a hero who risked his life to defy white supremacy, which ended in 1994. To others, including some blacks who also defied the old government, he is a slayer of innocents. [complete article]

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Britain is pressured on Iraq legal briefs
By Jane Wardell, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 28, 2004

The government faced growing pressure Saturday to reveal legal briefs from its senior lawyer about the justification for war in Iraq.

Greenpeace, the environmental group, said it had demanded access to the advice so that it could defend 14 of its activists, who face charges as a result of anti-war protest last year.

The Greenpeace demands come after the collapse of a criminal trial against a British intelligence agency worker on Wednesday. Katharine Gun admitted she leaked a January 2003 document that disclosed an American request for British help in monitoring phones and e-mail traffic of U.N. Security Council members as the two countries sought council backing for war.

Prosecutors discontinued the case against Gun after her lawyers asked to see the legal briefs of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair. The British leader was the primary U.S. ally in the Iraq war. [complete article]

See also Disputed advice helped Blair quash opposition to war (The Guardian).

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Iraqi women's window of opportunity for political gains is closing
By Neela Banerjee, New York Times, February 27, 2004

Emboldened by the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi women are pushing for political freedoms many of them have never enjoyed. But as they do, a rising tide of religious zeal threatens even the small victories they have won.

Ibtisam Ali and her sister, Raghad, have spearheaded a petition drive demanding a large percentage of seats for women in a new national assembly. But when Raghad, 25, tried to run for local office, the men at the candidate registration office informed her that women could not be candidates.

"I was frightened of the people in my neighborhood," Raghad said. "They looked at me so strangely, like I thought I was equal to men. I'm afraid of everything, from gossip to violence. It just kills the ambitions inside."

Women, secular and religious, from all ethnic groups, now run for office and demand a fair share of representation in a country where they make up 60 percent of the population.

Yet new religious activism in Iraq has aggravated traditional attitudes about women's roles in society. The 18-member committee drafting the new constitution does not include any women, according to members of the Iraqi Governing Council. The council recently passed a nonbinding resolution calling for Shariah, or Islamic law, to govern family issues, which Iraq's justice minister said would damage the rights of Iraqi women. [complete article]

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Shiites walk out of talks on Iraq charter
By Charles Duhigg, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2004

A majority of the Shiite Muslim members of the Iraqi Governing Council walked out of a meeting aimed at drafting an interim constitution Friday night after the council voted to repeal a proposal that would have allowed Sharia, or Islamic law, to govern divorce, inheritance and other family matters.

The walkout occurred as the council worked to finish the interim constitution on the eve of a deadline. The interim constitution will guide Iraq until a permanent one is finalized next year.

Under a Nov. 15 agreement with the U.S.-led coalition ruling Iraq, the council was required to draft an interim constitution by today as part of a timetable for restoring Iraqi sovereignty by June 30. [complete article]

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Sadr threatens revolt over Islam in Iraqi law
Middle East Online, February 27, 2004

A radical Shiite religious leader renewed threats Friday to spark a revolt if Iraq's US overseer Paul Bremer continues to oppose including Islam in a new temporary constitution.

"America has come to harm Iraqis, but it must understand that it can never destroy Islam," said Moqtada Sadr, a young firebrand cleric, at Friday prayers in Kufa, near the holy Shiite city of Najaf south of Baghdad.

"I call on all believers to remain prepared, while awaiting orders from the Hawza (Shiite religious authority), to confront the occupation," he said. [complete article]

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By Terry Tempest Williams, Orion Online, March-April, 2004

Since September 11, 2001, we have witnessed an escalation of rhetoric within the United States that has led us to war twice in two years. We have heard our president, our vice-president, our secretary of defense, and our attorney general cultivate fear and command with lies, suggesting our homeland security and safety must reside in their hands, not ours. Force has trumped debate and diplomacy.

Our language has been taken hostage. Words like patriotism, freedom, and democracy have been bound and gagged, forced to perform indecent acts through the abuse of slogans. Freedom will prevail. We are liberating Iraq. God bless America.

For many of us, the war on terror is not something that has been initiated outside our country, but inside our country as well. We wonder who to trust and what to believe.

I have always believed democracy is best practiced through its construction, not its completion -- a never-ending project where the windows and doors remain open, a reminder to never close ourselves off to the sensory impulses of eyes and ears alert toward justice. Walls are torn down instead of erected in a counter-intuitive process where a monument is not built but a home, in a constant state of renovation.

It was within this context of witnessing America at war and contemplating democracy that I accepted an invitation to deliver the commencement address to graduating seniors at the University of Utah on May 2, 2003. [complete article]

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Bliss and bigotry
By Bob Herbert, New York Times, February 27, 2004

I wanted to see this threat to the very foundation of civilization close up.

"We met over a noodle kugel that I made that she liked," said Deborah Gar Reichman.

I nodded. Ms. Reichman broke into a wide smile and moved forward in her chair, warming to the topic: her engagement to Shelley Curnow.

I had dropped by their third-floor walk-up in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Very frankly, the two women did not look like revolutionaries. "We're worrying about where to register and arguing with our parents over the guests they want to invite," Ms. Reichman said.

President Bush and others are adamant in their contention that allowing two men or two women to wed would imperil the institution of marriage, which Mr. Bush described as "the most fundamental institution of civilization." The hard-liners on this issue seem convinced that something awful will be unleashed if gays are allowed to walk down the aisle and exchange vows of everlasting love. On Tuesday the president said the nation "must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America." [complete article]

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A free-for-all
By Joshua Hammer, Newsweek, March 1, 2004

Salman Shareef Duaffar is proud of his former title as the most wanted man in Iraq. Seven years ago, Duaffar and three accomplices carried out the most brazen assault ever against the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein, shooting his reviled son Uday 17 times as Uday cruised an upscale Baghdad neighborhood in his red Porsche. The attack, which left Uday paralyzed and reportedly impotent, turned the anonymous guerrillas into folk heroes. Saddam's henchmen killed two members of the cell, and though Duaffar escaped to Iran, his father and seven brothers were executed. The guerrilla leader sat out the last years of the dictatorship in the holy city of Qum in Iran, then crossed the border back to Nasiriya two months after Saddam's fall.

Now, with an office in a looted former hotel along the Euphrates River, Duaffar, 35, and his 15th of Shaban Movement are angling for political power. Duaffar recently won a seat on the U.S.-appointed transitional council, holds the province's security portfolio and is preparing to run for office whenever Nasiriya holds a popular vote. "Nasiriya was destroyed by the regime," says Duaffar. "We have an opportunity to set matters right." [complete article]

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Iraqi experts tossed with the water
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, February 27, 2004

With nearly 40 years of civil engineering service under his belt, Sabah Al-Ani is among Iraq's top experts in water treatment. He kept the country's systems up and running through countless floods and droughts, years of economic sanctions and three wars.

After bombings and looting sprees left the water network in worse shape than ever, Al-Ani prepared to help out once again. But a directive from the U.S.-led occupation authority locked him out of the reconstruction process. [complete article]

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With elections on the horizon, some Sunnis search for a place in the new Iraq
By Miriam Fam, Associated Press (via SF Chronicle), February 27, 2004

Battered by their fight against the Americans and upstaged by Shiites and Kurds, some Sunni Arabs are scrambling to find a voice for their community after its fortunes were reversed under the U.S.-led occupation.

Many Sunni Arab Muslims -- a dominant minority under Saddam Hussein's ousted regime -- complain they are being squeezed out as the U.S.-led coalition prepares to transfer power back to Iraqis and that some of their leaders have been reluctant to try to participate in a political system they feel is stacked against them. [complete article]

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Shiite leader reluctantly backs U.S. transition plan
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2004

In a boost for the Bush administration, Iraq's leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, signaled his reluctant support Thursday for a U.S.-backed blueprint to create an Iraqi caretaker government until direct elections can be held.

But the man considered to be one of the most influential in Iraq also called for a United Nations guarantee of elections by the end of the year and appeared to warn that he would not tolerate further delays. Shiites are the largest group in the country, accounting for more than 60% of the population.

The pointed declaration from a powerful leader who has twice helped scuttle plans for the transfer of power in Iraq helps open the way for Washington to end its official occupation by June 30. [complete article]

Comment -- To portray Sistani's firm deadline as "a boost for the Bush administration" is a curious veneer on a move that could just as easily be characterized as a final demand. Elections by the end of the year gives the CPA and the UN a bit of extra breathing space, but not much. The UN said that elections could be arranged by the end of the year if preparations begin now. Sistani is saying emphatically, "Get started!" And if Bremer thinks that along the way he can slip in a status-of-forces agreement that will provide the US with indefinite military basing rights, he should think again. An interim government, as far as Sistani is concerned should have no more power than that required for preparations for elections. It must have "clear and limited" authority. If this and Sistani's demand for an election date are incorporated in a Security Council resolution (another of his demands), then whatever Iraq's future may hold, it seems reasonable to assume that it will have little to do with the neoconservative ambitions that provided the driving force for war.

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What Iran wants in Iraq
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, February 27, 2004

Iran's crucial role in shaping the future of Iraq was conveyed in a subtle threat made this week by the country's key power broker, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The United States is "stuck in the mud in Iraq, and they know that if Iran wanted to, it could make their problems even worse," Rafsanjani said in an interview with the Tehran daily Kayhan. He coyly opened the door to a Washington-Tehran dialogue about Iraq and other issues, saying, "For me, talking is not a problem."

The hard-line mullahs in Tehran are sitting pretty these days: America has toppled their historical foe, Saddam Hussein, and is struggling with a nasty postwar insurgency. Meanwhile, an Iranian-born Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has emerged as the dominant figure in the new Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- The Iranian and American governments both recognize the political capital that can be acquired by drumming up domestic fear of a foreign menace. But while a nation such as Iran can also draw strength from its golden past, nations such as the United States, forged by colonists, find it easier to bind themselves to images of future glory than ancestral nobility. The past is inevitably murky since it harbors the colonists own foreignness, for the colonist has planted himself in a place where he neither knows or is known by the past. With a tenuous sense of place he perpetually fears that he himself will be exposed as foreign in the very land he has claimed as his own. Hence the American abroad, in a sea of foreigners (who are by and large actually natives) finds it so difficult to see himself as a foreigner also. And hence Americans, now struggling to establish stability in Iraq, reflexively lean towards the notion that their woes are far worse than they would be were it not for destructive influence of malevolent outsiders.

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The best-armed nation in the Middle East continues to portray itself as a victim, Sharon's declared intent to evacuate settlers from Gaza is followed by a new land grab -- in Gaza! -- and as construction of the "security fence" continues apace, Condoleezza Rice predicts an imminent historical shift in the region no less momentous than the fall of the Berlin Wall.

U.S. pitches Sharon plan to Europe, Arabs
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 27, 2004

The U.S. administration is trying to persuade European and Arab states as well as the Palestinian Authority to support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has been telling European officials in recent days that Sharon is serious about his plan and that they should encourage Arab and Palestinian officials to respond in kind.

According to American sources, Rice said small steps could lead to larger processes and just as the fall of the Berlin Wall was the result of a chain of events, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza could lead to a "Middle East parallel" of the fall of the Berlin Wall. [complete article]

Land grab in Gaza casts doubt on pullout
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, February 27, 2004

Israel is seizing Palestinian land in Gaza to expand one of the most controversial Jewish settlements three weeks after Ariel Sharon said he intended to remove all settlers from the territory.

The Israeli army handed orders to Palestinian families on Monday expropriating land "to build a security fence for Netzarim", that increases the territory under Israel's control in Gaza.

The order gave the Palestinians a week to appeal but armoured bulldozers moved in two days later to destroy fruit trees and other crops.

The seizures came as the army was also confiscating large areas of land around a second settlement, Kfar Darom.

The expropriations have reinforced doubts among Palestinians that Mr Sharon is serious about moving the 7,000 settlers who occupy a quarter of Gaza, while 1.1 million Palestinians occupy the remainder. [complete article]

Down and out in The Hague
By Yoel Marcus, Haaretz, February 27, 2004

It's been a long time since I've felt so small, uncomfortable and red-faced as during the show of whining and whimpering organized by Israel at The Hague. Colorful posters displaying photographs of 935 terror victims; Zaka rescue team workers led by Yehuda Meshi Zahav wearing their "work clothes"; memorial candles; parents talking about the pain of bereavement; doctors describing the savage nature of the suicide bombers; the wreckage of a burnt-out bus with a bereaved mother standing next to it, distributing "one-way tickets" - these are just some of the sights.

At the Foreign Ministry, these demonstrations are seen as an appropriate "J'accuse" against those who dare to put us in the guilty seat. In practice, it is a display of wretchedness and woe designed to tug at the heartstrings of international public opinion - like beggars who show off the stump of an arm or leg to make the world feel sorry for them.

These sights create a lingering sense of discomfort, not least because Israel is thought of - not only in the Middle East, but all over the world - as a powerhouse. In keeping with that image, the last thing one would think Israel needed was pity. Just this week, Israel received two snazzy new F-16Is capable of flying to anywhere from Libya to Timbuktu. When the rest of the shipment arrives, Israel, with all its problems, will be bigger and stronger than ever before. To see it playing "poor Samson," as Levi Eshkol liked to say, is just not credible.

At their demonstrations, the Palestinians could pull out photographs of more than 3,000 victims. As for playing on the emotions, they could easily flaunt their suffering. They could dwell on their destroyed homes and the torment they endure at army checkpoints. But instead of harping on their misfortunes, they have focused on Israel's occupation policies and the security fence. They have appealed to the world's sense of justice, while we seek the world's pity. [complete article]

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War president 'loves' new TV show
By Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, February 27, 2004

Some L.A. producers are hyping their new TV show by saying it has the president's endorsement.

Jeffrey Jolson-Colburn of E!Online reports that "George W. Bush is apparently giving the White House seal of approval to a television series, D.H.S.--The Series . . . being introduced Thursday night to prospective networks at an Industry gathering.

"President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge both 'endorse and contribute sound bites to the introductions of the series,' according to the show's producers. . . . 'They love it. They think it is fantastic.' . . .

"The show is billed as a realistic action series following the exploits of Special DHS Agents Andrea Bacall and Jack Callahan, portrayed by actors Alison Heruth Waterbury and Timothy Patrick Cavanaugh. The characters venture from the halls of Washington, D.C., to war-torn locales as they fight fanatical terrorism." [complete article]

Comment -- As a president with scant regard for the difference between fact and fiction, George Bush might want to consider a much more promising way to secure his tenure in the White House after 2004. Word has it that Martin Sheen would not have the slightest hesitation in letting President Barlet depart from NBC's The West Wing if GWB would like to take his place. No term limits, no accountability, no departures from the script, always victorious -- what more could a make-believe president ask for?

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U.N. bugging scandal widens
BBC News, February 27, 2004

The former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Richard Butler, says his phone calls at the United Nations were bugged during his tenure from 1997 to 1999.

He told Australian radio at least four UN Security Council members monitored his calls, and he would leave the UN building if taking a confidential call.

ABC Radio cited Australian intelligence sources as saying Hans Blix, the last weapons inspector, was also bugged.

Ex-UK minister Clare Short says the UK bugged UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Of course I was (bugged)," Richard Butler told ABC radio.

"I was well aware of it. How did I know? Because those who did it would come to me and show me the recordings that they had made on others to help me do my job disarming Iraq." [complete article]

See also U.K. 'spied on U.N.'s Kofi Annan'.

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U.S. eyes terrorism networks, oil in Africa
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press (via WT), February 26, 2004

Top U.S. generals are touching down across Africa in unusual back-to-back trips, part of a change in military planning as U.S. interest grows in African terror links and African oil. [...]

An increased focus on Africa comes amid a push by some in the United States -- conservative think tanks in particular -- to do more to secure alternatives to oil from the volatile Middle East.

West Africa supplies the United States with 15 percent of its oil. The U.S. National Intelligence Council has projected the figure will grow to 25 percent by 2015.

Western security officials also are concerned about terror along Saharan routes linking Arab nations and north and west Africa.

U.S. security think tanks and others have listed Nigeria and Mauritania as being among nations that have al Qaeda cells. [complete article]

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U.S. Senate panel approves 9/11 commission extension
By Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters, February 26, 2004

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday approved a two-month extension for the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but the legislation faced an uphill battle because the leader of the House of Representatives opposes it.

The Senate intelligence panel on a voice vote approved a bill that would give The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9-11 Commission, an additional $1 million and shift its deadline to July 27 to complete its final report about the circumstances surrounding the hijacked plane attacks that killed about 3,000 people. [complete article]

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Another Bush culture war
By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, February 26, 2004

This is the way that Bushes run for president when they fall behind: They plunge us into culture wars.

It was only when Poppy Bush fell behind Michael Dukakis in the summer of '88 that he made an issue of Willie Horton and the Pledge of Allegiance. It was only when George W. fell behind John McCain in the winter of 2000 that he went to Bob Jones University to align himself with the old white South.

And now the president has fallen behind John Kerry. Abruptly, it is the season of doctored photos showing Kerry alongside Jane Fonda, of Internet and Murdoch-media rumor campaigns about affairs that never were. Like father, like son; like Atwater, like Rove; no one spreads sewage quite like the Bushes.

But the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage, which our current Bush endorsed on Tuesday, is more than just wedge politics as usual. It would actually create within the Constitution a permanent secondary caste in American life. Not untouchables, certainly; we're beyond that. Just unmarriageables. [complete article]

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The 9/11 truth movement: Widows lead growing effort to expose what the government knew
By Sander Hicks, Long Island Press, February 19, 2004

When former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean took the helm of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, more popularly known as the 9/11 Commission, the moderate Republican made a vow: He would not let his investigation become another Warren Commission, the 1964 federal inquiry criticized for failing to adequately probe the possibility of conspiracy in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The 9/11 Commission would look into every aspect of the attacks, and try to illustrate why the United States was so ill-prepared.

But as the original May 27 deadline for the commission's report fast approaches, eyebrows are already being raised. On Jan. 27, the commissioners asked for 60 more days. The White House repeatedly said "no way" until Feb. 4, when President George W. Bush reversed himself and gave the commission two more months.

Part of the delay has been caused by the Bush administration itself, which has withheld key documents, angering commission members, victims' families and skeptical citizens all the more. "We're coming down to the final [months] of the commission and we're still messing around with access issues," said former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who served as one of the commission's five Democrats until resigning late last year. Cleland, too, sees parallels to the JFK investigation. [complete article]

See also House Speaker firm on 9/11 panel's deadline (LA Times).

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A legacy of lies
By Seth Ackerman, Mother Jones, February 20, 2004

It was a devastating blow to the White House. David Kay, the man hand-picked by the Bush administration to lead the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, confirmed to a Senate committee in late January that the intelligence supporting Washington's case for war against Saddam Hussein was baseless.

"It turns out we were all wrong… and that is most disturbing," Kay declared.

But who exactly got it wrong? Intelligence agencies obviously exaggerated Iraq's WMD potential, and it's well known that they were egged on by their political masters in the Bush administration. But that's not the whole story. In fact, Bush's manipulation of Iraq intelligence was built on a foundation established during the late 1990's, when Bill Clinton was in the White House. [complete article]

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Oil-rich U.S. ally Kazakhstan looks to China
By Sergei Blagov, Asia Times, February 27, 2004

While Kazakhstan is keen to maintain its "important military-to-military relationship" with the United States, when it comes to business, Astana is not afraid to look to its eastern neighbor and US rival, China. Especially when it comes to a major new oil pipeline from western Kazakhstan to China.

On Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held talks with Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev and Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev about expanding military relations. "We talked about the US support for Kazakhstan's sovereignty and independence and our important military-to-military relationship," Rumsfeld said after the meeting, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Earlier in the week, Kazakhstan's top oil company, KazMunaiGaz, said that it would build a new oil pipeline from western Kazakhstan to neighboring China. The construction of the 1,300-kilometer, US$700 million Atasu-Alashankow oil pipeline was due to start in August, and would take two years to complete, Kazakhstan's official Khabar news agency quoted Uzakbai Karabalin, head of KazMunaiGaz, as saying. [complete article]

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State Department reports paint dismal human rights picture
By Jim Lobe,, February 26, 2004

Releasing its annual "Country Reports" on human rights practices around the world Wednesday, the U.S. State Department claimed Afghanistan and Iraq as two major breakthroughs in an otherwise bleak human rights picture.

In an introductory overview, the report singled out several countries for poorer performances during 2003, including China, North Korea, Burma, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Russia.

Rights groups praised the report as generally fair and comprehensive, but stressed that the administration of President George W. Bush was failing to take it seriously in formulating policy.

"The content of this report has little correspondence with the administration's foreign policy," said William Schulz, executive director of the US chapter of Amnesty International (AIUSA). [complete article]

See the US State Department's full report here. (Follow regional links in lefthand sidebar to reach reports on specific countries.)

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New revelations on Iran heighten pressure on Bush
By Robert Collier, San Francisco Chronicle, February 25, 2004

A new report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency suggesting that Iran's secret nuclear programs are more extensive than had been earlier believed adds new pressure on the Bush administration to either increase attempts to overthrow the regime or recognize the power of the country's Shiite ayatollahs.

Coming after the Iranian clerics' bare-knuckled grab of power in widely criticized parliamentary elections Friday, the revelations left Washington policymakers at a crossroads in their attempts to promote democracy and stop nuclear weapons development, analysts say.

Along with European nations -- which share the American distaste for Iran's Shiite Islamic extremism but have taken a more conciliatory line -- conservatives in Washington are pushing hard for a change in policy, saying they will insist that Iran, one of the two remaining members of the administration's "axis of evil," be put in the American crosshairs. There is even pressure to support the Mujahedeen Khalq, an anti-Tehran guerrilla group that has had off-again-on-again relations with the United States over many years and now is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. [complete article]

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'Armed robbery' Israeli troops raid Palestinian banks, take $9-million
By Matthew Kalman, Globe and Mail, February 26, 2004

In scenes reminiscent of a Wild West holdup, Israeli troops raided Palestinian banks in the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday and seized at least $9-million in cash from the vaults, money Israel said was being used to fund terrorism.

"The first thought that struck me was that it was an armed robbery," said Emil Barham, a manager at one of the banks. "Then we realized it really was an armed robbery."

Troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinian youths who pelted them with rocks and Molotov cocktails as the Israeli forces also raided the offices of several charities in downtown Ramallah, including the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Palestinian Prisoners' Club. Thousands of documents were taken away in armoured jeeps. [complete article]

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Washington conceals U.S. casualties in Iraq
By David Walsh, Coastal Post Online, March 1, 2004

The Bush administration is deliberately concealing from the American people the number and condition of US military personnel who have been wounded in Iraq. The efforts by those few politicians and media figures who have pursued the issue make this clear.

Estimates on the number of US soldiers, sailors and Marines medically evacuated from Iraq by the end of 2003 because of battlefield wounds, illness or other reasons range from 11,000 to 22,000, a staggering figure by any standard. Thousands of these young men and women have been physically or psychologically damaged for life, in turn affecting the lives of tens of thousands of family members and others. And the war in Iraq is less than one year old.

A recent piece by Daniel Zwerdling on National Public Radio (January 7) highlighted some of the difficulties in establishing the truth about US casualties. Zwerdling began by noting that few Americans seemed aware of the large number of US wounded in Iraq. He questioned a few dozen people on the street about the total number of American soldiers who had died in Iraq, and most answered more or less correctly. However, when the NPR correspondent asked about the number of US military personnel who have had to be evacuated with wounds, no one was close to the actual figure. The answers ranged from a few hundred to a thousand. [complete article]

See also Haunted by a soldier's face (Newsday).

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Fresh U.S. troops in Iraq mean adjustments to violence, trust for both sides
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder (via Sun Herald), February 25, 2004

Shaha Saleh and four of her daughters were planting peas when they heard the explosion last week near a U.S. military convoy that was passing through their speck of a village in remote northern farmlands.

Saleh grabbed her daughters by the hands and the hair, dragging them out of range of American soldiers firing back at faceless attackers. But they didn't run fast enough, Saleh said Wednesday from her bed at a hospital in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad.

The soldiers left one daughter dead, another unable to walk and their mother with a leg so mangled it had to be severed at the knee. This was the village's introduction to the 25th Infantry Division, based in Hawaii, which arrived in northern Iraq just weeks ago as part of the largest troop rotation in U.S. military history.

In minutes, the good will that previous soldiers had worked a year to earn was destroyed. The freshly arrived troops must start from scratch in the tiny community a few miles from Hawijah, a stronghold for the northern insurgency. [complete article]

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Ansar, Al Qaeda seen as working more closely
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2004

The grainy photographs depict a tall, expressionless man in his 20s, standing head and shoulders above the other well-wishers in a reception line at a Kurdistan Democratic Party office.

With each consecutive picture -- taken from video footage of the event -- the man inches closer to party dignitaries, waiting patiently for his turn to shake their hands.

Seconds later, he reaches into his black jacket and detonates a bomb vest stuffed with 9 pounds of C-4 explosives and tiny metal shards, sending a ball of flame and shrapnel into the crowd. The blast killed 57 people, including high-ranking party leaders.

The bombing -- one of two nearly simultaneous suicide attacks here that claimed nearly 110 lives on a major Muslim holiday this month -- bore the hallmarks of Ansar al Islam, an Islamic terrorist group with a history of using bomb vests and striking at holiday celebrations. Investigators believe that the suicide bomber was a Yemeni who was probably dispatched by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Long suspected of working together to train and hide each other's militants, Ansar and Al Qaeda in recent months have been taking their cooperation to a deadly new level, coordinating attacks, fanning out across the country and raising new challenges for U.S. and Iraqi security forces, according to interviews with Kurdish and U.S. intelligence officials in Iraq. [complete article]

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'Huge risk' of Iraq funds' misuse
BBC News, February 25, 2004

The World Bank has expressed fears for the future of Iraq's economy, saying there is a "huge danger" donor funds will be mis-spent.

Iraq is set to receive $500m (£265m) of World Bank money in the next six months and billions more in donor funds has been pledged by individual countries.

John Speakman, a senior Bank official, told French news agency AFP that the risk of funds being misspent could undermine future reforms in Iraq.

Mr Speakman was speaking ahead of a World Bank-sponsored conference in Dubai. [complete article]

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Iraq debt levels 'cannot be sustained'
By Alex Skorecki, Financial Times, February 25 2004

Iraq's $120bn external debt is "clearly unsustainable" and creditors will need to grant reductions of almost 90 per cent, says Fitch Ratings, the rating agency, in a report published on Thursday.

Fitch said if the debt were being serviced, interest payments alone would be equivalent to about 37 per cent of Iraq's GDP. Creditors in the Paris Club, an informal group that helps to resolve payment difficulties of debtor nations, are owed about $42bn. Iraq's creditors include the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

James McCormack, senior director of sovereigns at Fitch, said: "Iraq's debt stock would need to fall by about 90 per cent to $14bn for its interest service burden to compare with the median for sovereigns rated B+ or lower by Fitch."

Iraq finances are highly dependent on oil revenues. Over the next three years oil export revenue is projected to be about $50bn.

However, Fitch says even taking this revenue into account, substantial debt forgiveness will still be needed. [complete article]

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After Iraq, America needs U.N. even more
By Mark Malloch Brown, Boston Globe, February 26, 2004

In the aftermath of the war in Iraq, much has been written about the role of the United Nations in a unipolar world. Many on the right are predicting it is the end of the road for the UN. Moreover, in the presidential campaign, international issues, including US relations with the UN and other multilateral organizations, are a fierce item of debate both between and within the political parties.

While there were deep divisions in the international community about Iraq, this situation was anomalous in many ways.

Indeed, there was international consensus about the urgent need for peace-building and reconstruction in Liberia with UN leadership guided by a united Security Council. Colin Powell and Kofi Annan stood together in calling for swift and substantial financial support for Liberia, an appeal that generated more than $500 million in reconstruction aid to that war-torn country. This was far more in line with global responses to peace accords in many other national and regional conflicts, from East Timor, Cambodia, and Mozambique to Liberia's neighbors Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

Rather than consign multilateralism to the dustbin of international relations, as some suggest now in the aftermath of Iraq, events there demonstrate why the United Nations is more, not less relevant if we are to effectively respond to the increasingly complex security and development challenges that affect both the United States and the rest of the world. [complete article]

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The U.N.: Much maligned, but much needed
By Jonathan Power, International Herald Tribune, February 26, 2004

The United Nations is everybody's whipping boy, but it is revealing how in a crisis - and Iraq is but the latest example - the big powers can run to it and find a solution short of war or revolution.

When the antagonists have talked or fought themselves into a corner they often tend to crawl back to the body that they were not long ago denouncing, to find an exit from the horrors that confront them. But then a few years later they seem to have forgotten the experience. [complete article]

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Iraq standoff may give U.N. the lead role
By Tony Karon,, February 26, 2004

... indications from Shiite leaders are that Sistani and his supporters will accept interim rule by some version of the Iraqi Governing Council, precisely because they envisage its sovereignty and mandate as strictly limited. The primary function of the authority that takes the keys from Bremer on July 1, according to Sistani, is to organize elections by a specified date. It will, in his view, have no business privatizing state industries, doling out oil contracts, concluding treaties or taking any other decisions with long-term consequences. And the Shiite leadership wants the terms of the provisional government's mandate, and a strict timetable for elections, spelled out in a UN Security Council resolution. The Shiite Ayatollah wants the UN to play the leading role in Iraq's transition to sovereignty, he told a German magazine last weekend, and he expects it to oversee and supervise the election process.

If the U.S. is determined to cede political control by June 30 and the Iraqis are not prepared to allow an unelected body to assume full political control, a bridge is required -- and given the willingness of the Shiite leadership to accept the UN as an honest broker, there may be growing pressure to use the Security Council as the vehicle to mandate a transition process that also creates a legal framework mandating the coalition to continue in its role as guarantor of security. [complete article]

Comment -- If there is one lesson that the neoconservatives might learn from Iraq it is of America's destructive power and its constructive impotence.

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Sistani demands elections by end of 2004
By Khaled Farhan, Reuters, February 26, 2004

Iraq's most revered Shi'ite Muslim cleric said Thursday he would agree to a longer delay before elections are held in the country, but demanded a United Nations guarantee that polls would be held by the end of 2004.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who wields immense influence over Iraq's 60 percent Shi'ite majority, had previously insisted that elections be held by June 30 to pick the Iraqi government due to take over sovereignty from the occupying powers on that date.

But he eased his position after a United Nations mission that visited Iraq this month concluded it would take at least eight months to prepare the volatile country for polls.

In a written statement issued from his office in the holy city of Najaf, Sistani noted the U.N. had said elections could be held by the end of 2004 if preparations began immediately.

"The religious authority demands clear guarantees like a resolution from the U.N. Security Council that elections will be held by that time, to assure the Iraqi people that elections will not be subjected to more procrastination and delays," the statement said. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld advisor who vocally endorsed Saddam's ouster resigns
By Jonathan S. Landay, John Walcott and Joseph L. Galloway, Knight Ridder, February 26, 2004

Richard Perle, one of the most outspoken advocates for invading Iraq, has quietly resigned from the Defense Policy Board, an influential bipartisan Pentagon advisory group.

Perle informed Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld that he was quitting the board in a letter dated Feb. 18, although a week later a Pentagon list of board members still included him. A copy of the letter was obtained by Knight Ridder. [complete article]

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Kurds demand vote on independence
By Barbara Plett, BBC News, February 25, 2004

Kurdish activists have collected 1.7 million signatures on a petition demanding a referendum on the future of northern Iraq's Kurdish region.
For the past decade, Kurds have ruled their own affairs, out of the reach of former strongman Saddam Hussein.

Their status in the new Iraq has been one of the most contentious issues for negotiators as they try to finalise an interim constitution.

The petition was handed to Iraqi and American officials. [complete article]

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Anti-U.S. Kurdish militants rebounding, officials say
By Jeffrey Gettleman, February 25, 2004

Ali Hamaamin said he had been whipped with electrical cords, hung by his arms and kicked in the face. Because he was accused of not being religious, he was repeatedly tortured by men from the militant Islamic group Ansar al-Islam.

"They used to come to me at night, wearing masks, and do the most horrible things," said Mr. Hamaamin, who lives in Beyara, a village near the Iranian border.

His ordeal ended with the United States-led invasion of Iraq last year, when American Special Forces and Kurdish militias routed Ansar al-Islam, which once tried to set up a Taliban-like state in the jagged mountains along the border with Iran.

But Ansar is making a resurgence, Kurdish and American officials say.

According to interviews with captured Ansar members, the group is branching out from its former mountain strongholds to cities across Iraq. Its mission, too, has expanded, they say, from terrorizing local villagers to planning suicide bombings against the American-led occupation. [complete article]

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How a GCHQ translator uncovered an American dirty tricks campaign
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, February 26, 2004

Under any other circumstances Katharine Gun would at least have been tried for breaching the Official Secrets Act. She has never denied that as an employee of the GCHQ [British Government Communications Headquarters] she leaked secret information which ended up in a Sunday newspaper.

But there was one festering fact which made it impossible for the Government to allow the case to continue - Iraq.

From the advice of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, about the legality of the war, to tales of dirty tricks involving British intelligence, a trial in the full glare of publicity would have led to highly embarrassing revelations for Tony Blair. [complete article]

Whistleblower: Cleared
British Government: Accused of cover-up
Case for war: An official secret

By Paul Waugh and Kim Sengupta, The Independent, February 26, 2004

Tony Blair faced fresh questions about the legality of the war on Iraq last night after prosecutors dropped charges against a whistleblower who had threatened to expose secrets in court.

Katharine Gun, a former employee at GCHQ, the top-secret electronic eavesdropping centre, was charged with leaking secrets about preparations for the conflict but walked free from the Old Bailey when the case against her collapsed.

The Crown Prosecution Service triggered accusations of a cover-up when it refused to go into the reasons why, after nearly a year, it had decided to offer no evidence against Ms Gun. [complete article]

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The junk science of George W. Bush
By Robert F. Kennedy Jr., The Nation, March 8, 2004

As Jesuit schoolboys studying world history we learned that Copernicus and Galileo self-censored for many decades their proofs that the earth revolved around the sun and that a less restrained heliocentrist, Giordano Bruno, was burned alive in 1600 for the crime of sound science. With the encouragement of our professor, Father Joyce, we marveled at the capacity of human leaders to corrupt noble institutions. Lust for power had caused the Catholic hierarchy to subvert the church's most central purpose--the search for existential truths.

Today, flat-earthers within the Bush Administration--aided by right-wing allies who have produced assorted hired guns and conservative think tanks to further their goals--are engaged in a campaign to suppress science that is arguably unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition. Sometimes, rather than suppress good science, they simply order up their own. Meanwhile, the Bush White House is purging, censoring and blacklisting scientists and engineers whose work threatens the profits of the Administration's corporate paymasters or challenges the ideological underpinnings of their radical anti-environmental agenda. Indeed, so extreme is this campaign that more than sixty scientists, including Nobel laureates and medical experts, released a statement on February 18 that accuses the Bush Administration of deliberately distorting scientific fact "for partisan political ends." [complete article]

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Making the 'greater Middle East'... greatest
By Hasan Abu Nimah, Jordan Times, February 25, 2004

Richard Knolles, a 17th century English historian, described the Turks, in 1603, as the "present terror of the world". Europeans at the time used the term "Turk" or "Ottoman" to describe all Muslim peoples, especially those under Ottoman rule.

Two centuries later, the "terror of the world" was reduced to the "sick man of Europe", and the European powers' quarrels on how to divide the inheritance, following the anticipated dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, created the Eastern Question. Most of the modern Middle East was part of this dying empire.

Another century on and it seems that Islam and the Islamic world, are still the "terror of the world", together with its "sick man". The West is dealing with a new version of the "Eastern Question". [complete article]

See also Reform and reformulating, by Gamal Essam El-Din (Al-Ahram).

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Israel's deputy defense minister, Ze'ev Boim, this week posed the question, is "Arab terrorism" the result of "a genetic defect"? Though his spokeswoman, Ronit Schwartz, attempted to describe the minister's controversial remarks as "rhetorical questions," she now needs to make clear whether she actually understands what a rhetorical question is. If minister Boim's implied answer to his own question is an emphatic no, it would be irresponsible for him to raise the question without refuting the implication. If, as seems much more likely, Boim was giving voice to an attitude that other public figures might be more cautious about expressing -- even behind the facade of a question -- not only should he answer a charge of racism, but more importantly his remarks should be considered within the wider context of expressions of ethnic contempt prevalent not only in Israel but throughout the West.

Several day's earlier, HBO's satirical commentator, Bill Maher, joked that fellow Muslims must have been disappointed to witness 200 Iranians being ripped apart by an exploding freight train without the death of a single Jew. Though the response from his audience indicated that many (perhaps most) people found his remark to be in bad taste, Maher would surely have been swiftly lambasted by editorialists and others had the catalyst for his joke been the accidental deaths of 200 Americans or 200 Israelis. The fact that hostility directed at Arabs, or Muslims, or Iranians, cannot be conveniently labeled with a term as effectively charged as "anti-Semitism" both reflects and reinforces a form of cultural branding that should concern us all no less than anti-Semitism itself.

And for those who might want to dismiss Ze'ev Boim's remarks as a reflection of nothing more than his own foolishness, it's worth remembering that less than six years ago, reports first emerged (see below) that Israel had embarked on the development of an "ethnic bomb" -- a biological weapon capable of killing Arabs without harming Jews.

Boim blames Arab genes for violence
By Arieh O'Sullivan and Nina Gilbert, Jerusalem Post, February 24, 2004

What Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim claimed was a simple rhetorical questioning of links between Palestinian genetics and terrorism backfired into charges of racism and calls for his resignation Tuesday.

Speaking at a Herzliya memorial ceremony on the 26th anniversary of the Coastal Road Massacre -- when Fatah terrorists from Lebanon hijacked a bus and which ended in the deaths of 32 Israelis -- Boim pondered the recent wave of Arab terrorism.

"What is it with Islam in general and the Palestinians in particular? Is it some sort of cultural deficiency? Is it a genetic defect? There is something incomprehensible in their continuing murderousness," Boim said.
Boim's remarks sparked a plethora of reaction by Israeli lawmakers. [complete article]

1998 - Israel planning 'ethnic' bomb
By Uzi Mahnaimi and Marie Colvin, The Sunday Times, November 15, 1998

Israel is working on a biological weapon that would harm Arabs but not Jews, according to Israeli military and western intelligence sources. The weapon, targeting victims by ethnic origin, is seen as Israel's response to Iraq's threat of chemical and biological attacks. [complete article]

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Insurgent and soldier: Two views on Iraq fight
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, February 25, 2004

When a conventional army is forced to fight an antiguerrilla warfare campaign, it can be "messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife." So said T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, the British Army officer who led the Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I.

For Maj. John Nagl, never was a truer word spoken. He even adapted the quote as the subtitle for his doctoral thesis, "Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam," published two years ago.

The 37-year-old guerrilla warfare specialist serves with the 82nd Airborne Division in this former Iraqi Air Force base in the Sunni triangle. Since deploying to Iraq in September last year, Major Nagl has grappled with the challenges posed by the cells of insurgents operating in his area.

"It's a constant struggle of one-upmanship," he says. "We adapt, they adapt. It's a constant competition to gain the upper hand."

That view is shared by "Ahmad," a member of a local resistance cell.

In separate interviews, the two of them paint a picture of a classic guerrilla war in which semi-autonomous groups of lightly armed fighters fired up with religious and nationalist zeal compete against the world's most advanced military machine in a constantly evolving struggle. [complete article]

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Suicides among soldiers who served in Iraq
By Wayne Smith, Editor & Publisher, February 24, 2004

Any reporters researching the increasingly critical story of suicides among American troops who have served in Iraq are likely to suffer from a near-crippling bout of cognitive dissonance, a kind of temporal disconnect between the tragedy unfolding for some of our soldiers and the business-as-usual tempo of a nation largely unaware.

You may also find yourself inhabiting a very sad place where a young soldier strolls away from a telephone booth in Baghdad, pulls out a gun and fires a bullet into his own head; a world where, for one Iraq vet, a motel room in Tennessee becomes a place not for celebrating his safe homecoming but the perfect secret venue for swallowing drain-clearing chemicals. [complete article]

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Cheney's unprecedented power
By Robert Kuttner, The Boston Globe, February 25, 2004

Dick Cheney is the most powerful vice president in US history. Indeed, there is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that Cheney, not Bush, is the real power at the White House and Bush the figurehead.

The true role of the shadowy Cheney is finally becoming an issue in the election, and it deserves to be. A recent piece in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer lays out in devastating detail how Cheney, while CEO of Halliburton, created the blueprint for shifting much of the military's support role from the armed services to private contractors. The leading contractor, of course, is Halliburton. When Cheney became vice president, Halliburton was perfectly positioned to make out like a bandit.

Cheney, whose prior career was in politics, became a very rich man as Halliburton's chief executive, earning $45 million in just five years, with $18 million still available in stock options. Cheney also went to extraordinary lengths to keep secret the meetings of the Bush energy task force, which included primarily private companies positioned to profit from public decisions. The press treated all this as newsworthy for a time but then backed off.

What is significant about Mayer's New Yorker piece is that it was pieced together mainly from the public record. Cheney's unprecedented role and dubious history are mostly hidden in plain view, just like Bush's. The press needs only to decide that it's a story.[complete article]

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Hans Blix says Iraq war was unfounded
By Associated Press (via Newsday), February 24, 2004

Former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix argued Tuesday Saddam Hussein had not been an immediate threat, making the justification for the war against Iraq unfounded.

The U.S.-led invasion nearly a year ago damaged the authority of the United Nations Security Council and the credibility of the nations that went to war, Blix told an audience of 1,000 at the University of Edinburgh.

"The justification for the war -- the existence of weapons of mass destruction -- was without foundation," Blix said. "The military operation was successful, but the diagnosis was wrong.

"Saddam was dangerous to his own people but not a great, and certainly not an immediate, danger to his neighbors and the world," he added. [complete article]

Comment -- In recent weeks, the White House press corps has been its usual obliging self in allowing Press Secretary Scott McClellan to help President Bush weasel out of the charge that he exaggerated the threat from Saddam, by not challenging the assertion that he only described Saddam as posing a "grave and gathering threat" and not an imminent threat. True, "imminent threat" was not Bush's choice of words, but his Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, asserted on Sept. 19, 2002, speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that: "No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people than the regime of Saddam Hussein and Iraq." Is an immediate threat not an even greater threat than an imminent threat?

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Bush 'wanted war in 2002'
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, February 24, 2004

US President George W. Bush set the US on the path to war in Iraq with a formal order signed in February 2002, more than a year before the invasion, according to a book published on Monday.

The revelation casts doubt on the public insistence by US and British officials throughout 2002 that no decision had been taken to go to war, pending negotiations at the UN.

Rumsfeld's War is by Rowan Scarborough, the Pentagon correspondent for the conservative Washington Times newspaper, which is known for its contacts in the defense department's civilian leadership.

"On February 16, 2002, Bush signed a secret national security council directive establishing the goals and objectives for going to war with Iraq, according to classified documents I obtained," Scarborough wrote, in an account of the "global war on terrorism" as seen from the office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. [complete article]

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U.N. leader wary of returning to Iraq
By Joseph Coleman, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 24, 2004

The United Nations will not risk a repeat of last year's attack on its offices in Iraq by establishing a full presence in the country unless security there is improved, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday.

In comments before the Japanese Parliament and to reporters, Annan said the U.N. was ready to assist Iraqi authorities set up an interim government, arrange elections and draft a constitution.

But the U.N. presence will remain light until the country becomes safer for his staff, said Annan, who pulled all non-Iraqi U.N. workers out of the country last year after devastating suicide bombings at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

"Security must be improved. Otherwise I risk repeating the experience of 19 August," Annan told the Japan Press Club, referring to the date when a truck bomb against the U.N. in Baghdad killed 22, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. [complete article]

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Official: Iraq Council may miss deadline
By Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press (via The Guardian), February 25, 2004

The Iraqi Governing Council may not meet the Feb. 28 deadline to draft a temporary law that would help govern Iraq until a formal constitution is adopted, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Tuesday.

Under an agreement with the U.S.-led coalition now running Iraq, the council was to complete the drafting the temporary measure by the end of February as part of a timetable for restoring Iraqi sovereignty by June 30.

But Negroponte told the U.N. Security Council that the drafting is nearing completion, but it may not be finished on time.

"The Iraqis have made significant progress towards the completion of the law and continue to work hard toward the achievement of the Feb. 28 deadline, although it is not certain that that deadline will be met exactly,'' he said. [complete article]

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Shiite cleric warns of civil war if elections delayed
Associated Press (via CNN), February 23, 2004

One of Iraq's four Shiite grand ayatollahs warned Monday that delaying national elections for a sovereign Iraqi government could lead to civil war among the country's rival ethnic and religious groups.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi predicted that the Iraqi insurgency would decrease and "maybe disappear" after Iraqis regain control of their own country when the U.S.-run coalition transfers sovereignty June 30.

However, the risk of civil conflict will increase if elections continue to delayed, he told reporters at a press conference in this Shiite holy city south of Baghdad.

"Without elections, our national institutions will remain shaken, unrecognized and distrusted by the people," al-Modaresi said. "We fear that putting off or delaying the elections would be a timebomb that might explode at any minute ... which makes us fear for the future of Iraq, internal struggles or civil war." [complete article]

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Iraq leaders want to start election plans
By Lee Keath, Associated Press (via The Guardian), February 24, 2004

Iraqi leaders said Tuesday they want to start immediately on planning elections, after the United Nations estimated that it would take eight months to organize a nationwide ballot.

In the meantime, U.N. officials must offer a new method for choosing the provisional government due to take power from the U.S.-led coalition on June 30, a prominent Shiite Muslim party said. Shiites led the push for elections before the handover date, but the U.N. report issued Monday said the country couldn't hold elections until at least January 2005.

"If there is no election ... then who is going to take over sovereignty from the Coalition Authority? The Iraqi people need to know,'' said Hamed al-Bayati, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which holds a seat in the current, temporary Iraq administration.

But the United Nations believes it's up to the Iraqis to come up with a formula for establishing a provisional government. [complete article]

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Sistani wants vital U.N. role in Iraq: report
Deutsche Presse Agentur (via Khaleej Times), February 23, 2004

Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for a "vital" UN role in Iraq which would pave the way for finding the "ideal formula to determine its political future," the Iraqi al-Sabah newspaper said on Monday.

The newspaper, quoting a statement by al-Sistani distributed in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, said the UN should play a central role in the transfer of power to the Iraqis.

Al-Sistani also said he wanted the UN to "completely supervise the political process until Iraq reaches a continuous established situation." [complete article]

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Shi'ite leader demands limits on Iraqi govt
By Michael Georgy, Reuters (via Yahoo), February 24, 2004

Any Iraqi government that takes over sovereignty from occupying forces before elections are held must have strictly limited powers and focus on holding polls as soon as possible, a leading Shi'ite politician says.

Iraqi Shi'ites have led demands that any sovereign Iraqi government should be directly elected. But a report by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday said it would take at least eight months to organise polls -- much later than the planned handover of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.

Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, a leading Shi'ite member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, told Reuters on Tuesday that an unelected caretaker government would be acceptable while preparations were made for elections.

"The provisional government which takes authority on July 1 is going to have limited and specific authority," said Rubaie, a medical doctor seen as close to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential cleric in Shi'ite Islam in Iraq. [complete article]

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Clout of Iraq's Shiite clergy growing
By Mariam Fam, Associated Press (via IHT), February 25, 2004

After a two-hour meeting, the provincial council finally came to a solution to resolve a dispute over whether it is a legitimate political institution - ask the ayatollah.

The saga of the Karbala provincial council, whose legitimacy was challenged by local Shiite clerics, is an example of the growing clout of the Shiite Muslim clergy after the collapse of Saddam Hussein.

It raises questions whether any government institution that lacks clerical endorsement can win support among Iraq's Shiite majority.

The dispute erupted last week when local Shiite Muslim religious figures urged the faithful not to accept the council as a legitimate governing body because its members were appointed by the U.S.-led occupation rather than elected by the people. [complete article]

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In Baghdad Shi'ite slum, anger at occupation mounts
By Suleiman al-Khalidi, Reuters, February 24, 2004

Sewage floods the alleys of Baghdad's largest slum, power cuts are frequent and jobless youths loiter in the streets -- all signs, say Sadr City's Shi'ite residents, that the U.S. occupation has failed them.

"What have the Americans done for me? People now say the Americans are people who give false promises," said plumber Saleh Shweiki, 28, in the bustling slum district where almost half of the capital's five million population live. [complete article]

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Women trying to improve their lot in Iraq
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via The Mercury News), February 24, 2004

For more than seven hours, speaker after speaker went up to the podium at a huge women's gathering and repeated demands for freedom, democracy and equal representation.

But no one explained how they should go about achieving those goals in an ultra-conservative society where even the most educated and liberal women dare not break taboos and question some of the more strict Islamic laws that render women half of men.

The conference was a reflection of the state of disarray that women find themselves in postwar Iraq. Dozens of women's groups have sprung up since Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed in April, but few appear to know how to seize the opportunity and make a clear set of demands as politicians draw up an interim constitution. [complete article]

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Small terrorist units now the biggest threat, Tenet warns
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2004

CIA Director George J. Tenet warned Tuesday that a wave of smaller, scattered terrorist organizations was eclipsing Al Qaeda as the most serious threat to the United States and its allies, and that Iraq was increasingly seen as a "golden opportunity" for jihadist groups to rally their cause.

Tenet told a Senate panel that Al Qaeda had been badly damaged by military and intelligence operations after the Sept. 11 attacks, but that the network had splintered into a collection of smaller franchises -- and inspired the proliferation of others -- that see the United States as their main enemy and prime target.

Describing the rise of such organizations as "the next wave of the terrorist threat," Tenet said Al Qaeda's message and methods have spread so swiftly that "a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future, with or without Al Qaeda in the picture." [complete article]

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Bring me the head of Osama bin Laden
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, February 26, 2004

The war in eastern Afghanistan and the tribal areas in Pakistan is barely on, but the Pentagon's spinning machine is in high gear. Who will prevail: al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman "The Surgeon" al-Zawahiri, or Commando 121?

The Pentagon's creative directors ruled that Commando 121, or Task Force 121, of General William Boykin - a self-described Islamophobe and a known Christian fanatic - was responsible for the capture of Saddam Hussein, when in fact the former dictator was arrested by Kurdish peshmerga (paramilitary) forces acting on a tip by one of his cousins and then sold to the Americans, according to Asia Times Online sources in the Sunni triangle. This week, without a blip in many a strategic radar screen, Commando 121 transferred from Iraq to Pakistan. On October 25 of last year, Asia Times Online reported that Boykin had been appointed in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda to Bush: Prepare for more attacks on U.S.
By Andrew Hammond, Reuters (via The Washington Post), February 24, 2004

A top al Qaeda leader warned President Bush in an audiotape broadcast Tuesday to prepare for more attacks on the United States.

In the tape aired by Al Jazeera television, Ayman al-Zawahri said: "Bush, strengthen your defenses and your security measures for the Muslim nation which sent you the legion of New York and Washington has determined to send you legion after legion seeking death and paradise."

Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, also appeared on Tuesday to single out France in its league of enemies, accusing Paris of displaying "Crusader hatred" toward Islam by banning Muslim headscarves from state classrooms.

By turning on France in an audiotape broadcast on Dubai-based Al Arabiya television, Zawahri -- identifiable by his voice and rhetorical style -- went beyond now familiar tirades against the United States, Britain, Gulf Arab states and other supporters of last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. [complete article]

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CIA was given data on hijacker long before 9/11
By James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, February 24, 2004

American investigators were given the first name and telephone number of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers two and a half years before the attacks on New York and Washington, but the United States appears to have failed to pursue the lead aggressively, American and German officials say.

The information -- the earliest known signal that the United States received about any of the hijackers -- has now become an important element of an independent commission's investigation into the events of Sept. 11, 2001, officials said Monday. It is considered particularly significant because it may have represented a missed opportunity for American officials to penetrate the Qaeda terror cell in Germany that was at the heart of the plot. And it came roughly 16 months before the hijacker showed up at flight schools in the United States. [complete article]

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Climate change could threaten U.S. security
By Seth Borenstein, Knight Ridder, February 24, 2004

A dramatic climate change could suddenly become a global security nightmare, warns a worst-case scenario assembled by professional futurists at the behest of the Pentagon.

In a report released to Knight Ridder on Monday, they write that while a drastic climate change is unlikely, it "would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately." The "plausible" consequences include famine in Europe and nuclear showdowns over who controls what's left of the world's water, the futurists concluded.

The report, commissioned by the Department of Defense's Office of Net Assessment, its internal think tank, reflects the Pentagon's policy of planning for the worst, said author and longtime Pentagon consultant Peter Schwartz. [complete article]

Read the complete report An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security

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70,000 Pakistani soldiers search border
By Liz Sly, Chicago Tribune (via Yahoo), February 23, 2004

As the U.S.-led hunt for Osama bin Laden intensifies, Pakistan is stepping up pressure on fugitive Al Qaeda fighters and the tribesmen suspected of harboring them in the frontier region bordering Afghanistan, military officials said Sunday.

Pakistan has massed more than 70,000 soldiers in the tribal area, and they are escalating their search for local Al Qaeda sympathizers before a major new assault against the terrorist network in the mountainous region, the officials said.

The latest operation offers an example of what U.S. officials have described as a dramatic improvement in the level of cooperation from Pakistan in the hunt for Al Qaeda fugitives. [complete article]

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Military justice system a self-inflicted casualty in terror war
By Juliette Kayyem, Christian Science Monitor, February 23 2004

Has our traditional system of military justice become the latest casualty in the war on terror? One gauge of that question is the handling of the case against a former Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, US Army Capt. James Yee.

Last week, for the fifth time in three months, Captain Yee's military court preliminary hearing was postponed to give the Army more time to review classified documents it alleges Yee took from Guantanamo Bay. Last year, Yee spent 76 days in prison while military prosecutors tried to build a much-publicized espionage charge against him. Failing that, the government charged the West Point graduate with mishandling classified material (material apparently still being assessed by the government). And just in case those charges don't stick, Yee was also accused of adultery and downloading pornography on his government laptop computer, both punishable in a military court. Somehow, he's got to be guilty of something. [complete article]

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U.S. pressing for high-tech spy tools
By Michael J. Sniffen, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 22, 2004

Despite an outcry over privacy implications, the government is pressing ahead with research to create powerful tools to mine millions of public and private records for information about terrorists.

Congress eliminated a Pentagon office that had been developing this terrorist-tracking technology because of fears it might ensnare innocent Americans.

Still, some projects from retired Adm. John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness effort were transferred to U.S. intelligence offices, congressional, federal and research officials told The Associated Press.

In addition, Congress left undisturbed a separate but similar $64 million research program run by a little-known office called the Advanced Research and Development Activity, or ARDA, that has used some of the same researchers as Poindexter's program. [complete article]

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The language of U.N. resolution 1441
By John Gershman, Interhemispheric Resource Center, February 23 2004

On an otherwise nondescript Wednesday in mid-February – February 11, to be exact – President George W. Bush delivered a nationally televised speech from the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington on the topic of nuclear counter-proliferation. Boiled down, the message was the urgent need for all "civilized" countries to band together to enhance counter-proliferation and control the diffusion of unconventional weapons by any and all means.

February's speech was not the President’s first at NDU or his first on nuclear counter-proliferation. On May 1, 2001, he spoke to NDU faculty and students about the need, in a post-Cold War world, for "a broad strategy of active nonproliferation, counter-proliferation and defenses." He distinguished between Cold War-era nuclear armed "responsible allies" and post-Cold War countries with nuclear weapons or nuclear aspirations that are also among "the world's least-responsible states…for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life." The President's solution in May 2001 was heavily weighed toward military action: retaining nuclear weapons because these play a"vital role" in the nation's security; and deploying missile defenses, which he declared would reinforce deterrence by dissuading other countries from trying to acquire weapons.

In this month's speech, missile defense rated one sentence. This may be due, in part, because that program, the single most expensive item in the Fiscal Year 2005 request for the Pentagon, is scheduled for initial deployment this year even though it is unproven. The "new" threat is actually a very old one – the proliferation of unconventional weapons. [complete article]

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Administration favors nuclear free-for-all
By Glen Milner, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 23, 2004

The Bush administration favors a nuclear free-for-all, confident that it will be able to intimidate or destroy all adversaries with a varied arsenal of increasingly sophisticated weapons. Numerous international arms-control treaties, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, have been abandoned or ignored by the United States.

In November, Congress approved an administration request for continued research on nuclear earth-penetrators and a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons for possible use against terrorists or so-called rogue states such as Iran or North Korea. By doing so, Congress and the administration repealed a 10-year-old ban on research for the development of new nuclear weapons with yields less than five kilotons, often referred to as bunker-busters or "mininukes."

A Dec. 5 memo from Linton F. Brooks, of the National Nuclear Security Administration, to the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories, stated, "We are now free to explore a range of technical options that could strengthen our ability to deter, or respond to new or emerging threats without any concern that some ideas could inadvertently violate a vague and arbitrary limitation." Addressing new endorsements by Congress and the repeal of the ban on low-yield nuclear weapons development, Brooks stated, "We should not fail to take advantage of this opportunity." [complete article]

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U.N. chief says Iraq elections could be held within a year
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, February 24, 2004

Secretary General Kofi Annan said Monday that credible national elections could be held in Iraq by the end of this year or early in 2005, but only if planning a framework for them began immediately.

In a report to the Security Council that portrayed Iraq as a country in deepening crisis, Mr. Annan said his special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and a team of United Nations elections experts had determined during a one-week trip there that it would take until May to set up that framework and then at least eight months from that point to organize the elections.

His report, written by Mr. Brahimi, said it was urgent that the Iraqis establish an independent election commission to come up with the technical and legal rules and structure for a national vote. The current American plan had envisioned full elections by the end of 2005.

While Mr. Annan said it was important to hold to the agreed June 30 deadline for the occupying powers to hand over power to Iraq, he pointedly did not make any recommendation on what form of caretaker government ought to be created by that date. He said defining the mechanism for transferring sovereignty would be up to the Iraqis themselves. [complete article]

The complete UN report may be found here (PDF file).

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Bombing leaves a northern Iraqi city feeling vulnerable
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, February 24, 2004

Aziza Eizadin was sitting in biology class on Monday, learning about the digestive system, when her world suddenly exploded into a blur of glass.

Her hands were sliced open, her friends fell at her feet, and she ran screaming outside to see the police station next door on fire from a suicide car bombing. It killed at least 10 people, including a student, and wounded 50, including many civilians.

"Everyone in the classroom was cut," said Ms. Eizadin, a 19-year-old high school student, who had dried drops of blood on her neatly ironed oxford shirt.

In the smoking aftermath, many Iraqis were talking brave, insisting that they would not bow to terrorist attacks. But Kirkuk sits on a fault line between the Kurds and the Arabs, and deadly attacks like these are sharpening tensions precisely at a time when Iraqi leaders are deliberating over the future of this northern city. [complete article]

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Endangered Iraqi police weigh careers
By Charles Duhigg, Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2004

As his mother sat by his side in the hospital, crying and wiping the bloodstains on his uniform, Abass Jasim explained that he would like to leave the police force after a suicide blast here Monday. But he was not sure he could.

"This may be the only way to earn my living," said Jasim, 20, who suffered what doctors said are life-threatening injuries. "I want to leave, but I am not sure I can. I may have to die as a police officer."

After this northern city was rocked by a suicide car bomb that killed at least nine police officers and injured 40 other Iraqis, most of them also police, an increasingly familiar ritual began. In a nearby hospital, weeping families gathered, some officers died from their wounds, and many surviving victims pledged they would return to the force.

Medical personnel said 18 officers were critically injured in the blast, and the death toll is expected to rise.

The determination of Iraqi police to serve in the face of such attacks has been cited by U.S. officials as proof that the insurgency is not undermining this nation's morale. That resolve is important, says the military, because Iraqi forces will provide security when American troops withdraw.

But as reactions to Monday's attack demonstrated, police officers' dedication to their jobs is a more confusing jumble of emotions than simple patriotism, and not all their motivations are supportive of a united Iraq. Particularly in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq, the semiautonomous area known as Kurdistan, loyalties are mixed. [complete article]

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Iraqi police deaths seen sign of insurgents' plan
By John J. Lumpkin, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), February 24, 2004

The number of Iraqi police killed in guerrilla attacks is approaching the number of US soldiers killed during the occupation, evidence of both the Iraqis' increased role and the insurgents' strategy of targeting them, military officials said yesterday.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld noted the losses on a visit to Baghdad to review security in the occupied nation. "There have been a lot of Iraqi policemen and women killed in the last six to eight months," he said.

As of Friday, 263 US soldiers had died from hostile action since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat operations over. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the deputy operations director for coalition forces in Iraq, said the number of Iraqi police killed approaches and may have exceeded that figure. He had no precise figure. [complete article]

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'No jobs, no hope, no life, no freedom': Palestinians and the 'security' barrier
By Maxine Frith, The Independent, 24 February 2004

The young paramedic picked up a blood-soaked school homework sheet from the remains of the latest bus bomb and said: "This is why we need this wall. There were children on that bus doing their homework on the way to school and then they are blown up. How can I see the Palestinians as human beings when they do things like this? The wall will save lives. How can anyone argue against something that could save a child's life?"

A few miles away, Nebal Mara'beh, 10, sat quietly on her father's knee. She had fallen seriously ill with a fever last week. Her parents had wanted to take her to a doctor but they could not. They live in the Palestinian village of Ras Tira; virtual prisoners because they have been left on the Israeli side of the fence; cut off from their relatives, jobs, farmland, schools and doctors on the West Bank; denied permission to travel and work in Israel.

Nebal's father, Tawfiq, said: "We went to the soldiers on the wall and asked them to open the gate so we could take our daughter to a doctor. They refused. In the end, the doctor had to come to the wall at night and try to diagnose our daughter from the other side of the gate. Last month, a woman had to give birth by the wall because the soldiers wouldn't let her through the gate. Her baby died.[complete article]

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Israel's wall of shame will create poor Palestinian bantustans
By Ronnie Kasrils, Sunday Times (SA), February 22, 2004

Ancient Jerusalem is an inspirational city of holy places and historic walls.

The Israeli government is constructing a new wall that mocks the gods as it snakes like a monster, not only through the eastern suburbs of the city, but throughout the West Bank of Palestine.

Eight metres high - twice the height of the Berlin Wall - its hideous image is a shock to the system.

It will be 730km in length, reduce the territory by nearly half its present size, and enclose the population within numerous isolated and virtually disconnected areas. Opponents have called it an "apartheid wall". It is certainly a wall of shame. [complete article]

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Iraq: Shiites unbound
By Christopher Dickey and Rod Nordland, Newsweek, March 1, 2004

[A] mix of fatalism and resolve is typical of Iraqi Shiites, who never deserved the fanatical label imposed on them by Saddam. But collectively, this underclass unleashed and empowered by the U.S. occupation is also the single most revolutionary new force in the region. Guided by their ayatollahs, they can show enormous discipline, whether marching in protest, fighting in the streets -- or voting. If they remain grateful to the United States and friendly to its interests, they will be potent allies. If not, the whole adventure in Iraq could come to a disastrous end.

Indeed, fear of Shiite power was one of the reasons the first President George Bush decided in 1991 that he wouldn't occupy Iraq, wouldn't bring down Saddam and wouldn't even interfere when the dictator slaughtered tens of thousands of Shiites who rebelled. Administration officials concluded then that giving power to Iraqi Shiites would bolster Shiite ayatollahs in neighboring Iran, who'd declared the United States the Great Satan. Shiite strength in Iraq would threaten America's key ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, by encouraging dissent among Shiites in the oil-rich eastern province. Iraqi Shiites might also support the Shiite organization Hizbullah, which was waging a war of attrition against Israel in South Lebanon, and was still holding American hostages in 1991.

Now, clearly, that calculus has changed, and it's left some old allies puzzled. "We do not understand this American business of having friends, then calling them enemies and [calling] the enemies friends," says one influential Saudi prince. [complete article]

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Intimate enemies
By Michael Scott Doran, Washington Post, February 18, 2004

Many Sunnis, especially religious extremists, hate Shiites more than they hate Israel. Al Qaeda's basic credo puts the matter bluntly: "We believe that the Shiites are . . . the most evil creatures under the heavens." Sectarian tension is woven into day-to-day life in a number of Gulf societies. It's a well-known fact that in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the Shiites, though a numerical majority, were second-class citizens. But few Americans know that a similar imbalance exists in Bahrain, where the Sunni-dominated state rules a society that is 75 percent Shiite. Next door in Saudi Arabia, the Shiites make up a much smaller percentage of the total population (10 to 15 percent), but they are concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province. This sectarian geography has prompted at least one prominent Saudi cleric to call for the "ethnic cleansing" of the Shiites.

Optimists in Washington have argued that the establishment of representative government in Iraq will have a kind of democratic domino effect. Zarqawi's war plan, however, forces us to recognize another possibility: a successful U.S. policy could also lead to sectarian conflict. Democracy in Baghdad would spell Shiite domination over the Iraqi system. This prospect is a bitter one for some Sunnis in surrounding countries, and al Qaeda is working to exploit the resentment. We can already read the writing on the wall in Saudi Arabia, which must be considered -- after Iraq itself -- as al Qaeda's primary target. [complete article]

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Propaganda TV won't help the U.S.
By Marwan Bishara International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2004

Washington's aggressive public diplomacy campaign to improve America's image in the Middle East is failing to win Arab hearts and minds. No matter how slick the product, actions speak louder than words. The latest U.S. public relations drive, the Arabic satellite televisiondrive, the Arabic satellite television channel Al Hurra, will prove no exception to this rule. People will not trust the message if they don't trust the messenger.[complete article]

Al-Qaeda 'joins headscarf row'
BBC News, February 24, 2004

Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has reportedly criticised a French law that includes the banning of Islamic headscarves in state schools.

The decision shows "the grudge the western crusaders have against Islam," Mr Zawahiri said in a tape broadcast on Arabic satellite station al-Arabiya.

The tape said the decision by French President Jacques Chirac was part of an ongoing campaign against Islam. [complete article]

Welcome, unless you're a Muslim
By Charles V. Peña, The Cato Institute, February 23,2004

Thanks to the new US-VISIT (Visa and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) program, foreign visitors will now be welcomed to the United States by being fingerprinted and photographed. At its unveiling at Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at the beginning of January, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge proclaimed that US-VISIT was "part of a comprehensive program to ensure that our borders remain open to visitors but closed to terrorists." It's not clear, however, that reality matches the director's rhetoric.

To start, US-VISIT exempts visitors from 28 countries. This is a gaping loophole that you can literally fly an airplane through. Britain is one of the exempt countries. But the fact that several British Airways flights to the United States were canceled during the recent end-of-year holidays was an indication that Al-Qaeda operatives could be UK-based. Thus, they could enter the US unchecked.

France is also on the exempt list, though it is a country with some 5 million Muslims. While a majority of French Muslims are law-abiding and peaceful, prudence dictates that we assume Al-Qaeda operatives may try to assimilate with the French Muslim population to evade detection. We must also assume that Al-Qaeda may attempt to recruit sympathizers from among Muslims living in France. Thus, again, US-VISIT opens the door to potential terrorists from France. Finally, Germany is another country exempted by US-VISIT. Yet recall that Hamburg was the home of an Al-Qaeda cell alleged to have been involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. So does it make sense to exclude Germans from security scrutiny? [complete article]

Video games attract young to Hizbollah
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, February21, 2004

Perching on the edge of a chair in a darkened room in Beirut, seven-year-old Hassan el Zein takes aim with his pistol and pumps three bullets into the forehead of Ariel Sharon.

He leaves the Israeli prime minister for dead and moves into the next room, swiftly dispatching Shaul Mofaz, the defence minister of "the Zionist enemy", with a commando knife. Twenty more points.

"May Allah's blessings and peace be upon you," flashes across the screen in Arabic as stirring martial music urges Hassan on. An Israeli special forces soldier is blown up by a hand grenade.

Welcome to Champions computer arcade in Beirut's southern suburbs, the urban stronghold of Hizbollah, Lebanon's self-styled "Islamic resistance fighters" and the heroes of young Shi'ite Muslims such as Hassan. [complete article]

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Killings of vendors in Iraqi City drive alcohol sales off streets
By Edward Wong, New York Times, February 19, 2004

In the old part of this city, on the block where people come to quench their thirst for beer and spirits, Ahmed Mahmoud pointed to the spot where blood flows more freely than alcohol.

There, masked men leaped out of two pickup trucks last Sunday evening and unloaded their Kalashnikov rifles at a group of sidewalk alcohol vendors, he and other witnesses said.

"I heard a lot of gunfire, a huge barrage of bullets," said Mr. Mahmoud, 20, a wiry man who runs a soda stand. "It sounded like a gun battle between the alcohol sellers and the attackers."

"I found the dead bodies," he added. "There were bullet holes in their bodies, about five bullets in each body."

Basra is becoming as dry as the endless desert around it. Nowhere in Iraq are attacks on vendors of alcoholic beverages as common as in the country's second-largest city, 60 miles from the Persian Gulf. [complete article]

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Islamic conference opens with attacks on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan
Agence France Presse (via Channel News Asia), February 23, 2004

An international conference of Islamic scholars has opened in Indonesia with bitter attacks from President Megawati Sukarnoputri and a Muslim leader on the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Megawati, in a speech opening the conference, described the war in Iraq as "exceptional injustice" against a Muslim country.

"It may be due to coincidence or intention, but an exceptional injustice is apparent in the attitude and actions of big countries toward countries whose majority populations are Muslims," said the president of the world's largest Muslim-populated nation. [complete article]

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Tomorrow the world
By Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books, March 11, 2004

The invasion of Iraq and the planting of an American army in the heart of the Middle East have encouraged one of the war's intellectual architects, Richard Perle, to think that the United States may be pulling up its socks at last. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein, following the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, is the fruit, in Perle's view, of a bracing new clear-eyed toughness in dealing with the enemies of democracy. But the job is far from over and Perle, in the new book he has written with David Frum, worries that "many in the American political and media elite are losing their nerve for the fight." The enemies are many, friends are few, and summertime soldiers on the left, as Perle sees it, want to call a truce in the war on terror in "the hope that...somehow the threat will disappear on its own."

About the source of the threat Perle expresses no doubt. It comes from "a radical strain within Islam" driven by "murderous hatred of the United States" to carry out terrorist attacks against America and its friends. Despite a vigorous worldwide counter-terror campaign, "Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas still plot murder"; and the willingness of state sponsors to arm them with weapons of mass destruction threatens "even our survival as a nation." But where might the terrorists get these weapons, now that Iraq has been occupied? "North Korea claims already to possess some bombs," Perle argues. "Iran is very close -- perhaps three years away, in the optimistic view of US intelligence, maybe twelve to eighteen months, by the less sanguine Israeli estimate." [complete article]

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Ghosts of 1973 still haunt Israel as its spies face Iraq probe, too
By Ed Blanche, Daily Star, February 21, 2004

While the United States and Britain launch investigations into their intelligence services' failures on Iraq, a special committee of Israel's Parliament is putting the finishing touches to a seven-month probe of the Jewish state's vaunted intelligence services which, on the face of it at least, were just as wrong as the American and British allies about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

But the Israeli lawmakers have an added wrinkle to worry about: allegations that Israel's intelligence services provided the US with false information that Saddam possessed WMD because they wanted to encourage the Americans to attack Iraq and eliminate one of the Jewish state's staunchest enemies without having to involve Israel. [complete article]

Improve the CIA? Better to abolish it
By Chalmers Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, February 22, 2004

Adm. Stansfield Turner, former director of central intelligence from 1977 to 1981, recommended in a New York Times op-ed earlier this month that U. S. intelligence operations could be improved by adding another layer of bureaucracy to what he admits is a flawed system of overlapping spy agencies, interagency rivalries and vested interests.

I have a better idea: Why don't we abolish the CIA and make public, as the Constitution requires, the billions spent by the intelligence agencies under the control of the Department of Defense so that Congress might have a fighting chance in doing oversight?

A few years ago, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., suggested that we dismantle the agency that has so often produced catastrophically wrong national intelligence estimates. He was outraged by CIA calculations throughout the Reagan and elder Bush years that overstated the size of the Soviet economy by 50 percent and led our government into a weapons-spending spree that left us the world's largest debtor nation. According to President George W. Bush and his chief weapons inspector, David Kay, the agency has done it again, misleading the nation about the alleged menace posed by the ousted president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

Iraq war product of neocon philosophy of intelligence
By Tom Barry, Right Web, February 12, 2004

The deepening quagmire in Iraq and the failure of the Bush administration to produce evidence to back its arguments for invading Iraq have stymied the neocons' agenda for preventive war and regime change around the world. But the right's assault on what it regards as the "liberal establishment" in foreign policy has not completely stalled.

Neocon groups such as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and the Center for Security Policy (CSP) have seized on the report by U.S. weapons inspector David Kay to advance their decades-old campaign to reform U.S. intelligence operations. They have adroitly brushed aside critiques that Kay's statement that "we were all wrong, probably." They have attempted to focus the deepening concerns about faulty U.S. intelligence on the CIA alone. [complete article]

Intelligence failures
By Richard L. Russell, Policy Review, February-March, 2004

The controversy surrounding the American pre-war intelligence assessment of Iraq?s weapons of mass destruction programs dominates the airwaves and print media. Behind-the-scenes investigations spawned by the Iraq performance as well as the tragedies of September 11, 2001 offer a fleeting window of opportunity to chart and implement much-needed reforms of a beleaguered intelligence community.

The intelligence community?s failure to warn with the clarity needed to disrupt the conspiracy of September 11 and its less-than-stellar performance in assessing Iraqi wmd programs highlight both the dangers to security and the demands for strategic intelligence in the twenty-first century. The community can hardly be trusted to do an honest and balanced critique of its performance in the wake of these events. [complete article]

Soldier for the truth
Exposing Bush's talking-points war

By Marc Cooper, LA Weekly, February 20, 2004

After two decades in the U.S. Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, now 43, knew her career as a regional analyst was coming to an end when -- in the months leading up to the war in Iraq -- she felt she was being "propagandized" by her own bosses.

With master's degrees from Harvard in government and zoology and two books on Saharan Africa to her credit, she found herself transferred in the spring of 2002 to a post as a political/military desk officer at the Defense Department?s office for Near East South Asia (NESA), a policy arm of the Pentagon.

Kwiatkowski got there just as war fever was spreading, or being spread as she would later argue, through the halls of Washington. Indeed, shortly after her arrival, a piece of NESA was broken off, expanded and re-dubbed with the Orwellian name of the Office of Special Plans. The OSP?s task was, ostensibly, to help the Pentagon develop policy around the Iraq crisis.

She would soon conclude that the OSP -- a pet project of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld -- was more akin to a nerve center for what she now calls a "neoconservative coup, a hijacking of the Pentagon." [complete article]

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Pentagon preparations for war in space
By Noah Shachtman, Wired News, February 20, 2004

An Air Force report is giving what analysts call the most detailed picture since the end of the Cold War of the Pentagon's efforts to turn outer space into a battlefield.

For years, the American military has spoken in hints and whispers, if at all, about its plans to develop weapons in space. But the U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight Plan (PDF) changes all that. Released in November, the report makes U.S. dominance of the heavens a top Pentagon priority in the new century. And it runs through dozens of research programs designed to ensure that America can never be challenged in orbit -- from anti-satellite lasers to weapons that "would provide the capability to strike ground targets anywhere in the world from space."

Space has become an increasingly important part of U.S. military efforts. Satellites are used more and more to talk to troops, keep tabs on foes and guide smart bombs. There's also long been recognition that satellites may need some sort of protection against attack.

But the Air Force report goes far beyond these defensive capabilities, calling for weapons that can cripple other countries' orbiters.

That prospect worries some analysts that the U.S. may spark a worldwide arms race in orbit. [complete article]

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Hidden defense costs add up to double trouble
By David R. Francis, Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2004

To measure actual spending by the United States on defense, take the federal budget number for the Pentagon and double it.

That's the "rule of thumb" advocated by economic historian Robert Higgs.

Early this month, President Bush requested $401.7 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) for fiscal 2005. So doubling that would make total defense/security spending close to $800 billion out of a total federal budget of $2.4 trillion.

In his budget message, Mr. Bush repeatedly notes the "war on terror" in referring to defense, though most of those outlays have little to do with that, according to Mr. Higgs, editor of the Independent Institute's quarterly review.

Like other defense analysts, he adds to the Pentagon cost number the nuclear-weapons activities of the Department of Energy, including cleanup of radiation-contaminated sites. Bush wants Energy Department scientists to develop nuclear "bunker busters" and other new weapons. Energy's total defense spending: at least $18.5 billion, reckons Higgs.

An oft-noted omission from the DoD's 2005 budget is the extra costs for activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. For fiscal 2004, a supplemental appropriation last November provided $58.8 billion for that purpose. The Defense Department hasn't yet put a number on 2005 costs, arguing before Congress that it was unknown. [complete article]

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U.S., U.N. play 'after you' game on Iraq
By Robin Wright and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, February 23, 2004

The United States and the United Nations are struggling to come up with a new plan to hand over power in Iraq -- and each would now like the other to take the lead in designing it.

Formulating a new plan is proving to be much harder than it was 10 months ago immediately after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled -- and before new Iraqi leaders and power blocs emerged. As a result of the changing political dynamics, virtually every option on the table is now vulnerable to opposition or failure to unite a disparate society, leaving Iraq susceptible to internal strife after the occupation ends on June 30, U.S. officials concede.

The Bush administration is reluctant to make the choice for fear another proposal will be rejected -- if simply because the United States designed it -- after Iraqi criticism doomed two earlier plans, U.S. officials say. In Baghdad and Washington, U.S. officials are now deferring to the United Nations, even though the administration is unsure how much control it ultimately wants to give the world body in implementing the plan.

But the United Nations would prefer that Iraqis and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority try again. Secretary General Kofi Annan wants to send out his chief envoy, former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi, only when that process is already well underway or if the coalition authority and the Iraqis reach an impasse, U.N. and U.S. officials say.[complete article]

In Iraq, it's time for some smarts
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, March 1, 2004

As the war in Iraq was coming to a close, many people -- from Tony Blair to Joseph Biden (and even this writer) -- urged Washington to give the United Nations a central role in postwar politics. This had been a well-worked formula for at least a decade: in Kosovo, East Timor and most recently in Afghanistan, where it produced a legitimate government and a constitutional process with remarkably little conflict. But the Bush administration was adamantly opposed -- even though sidelining the U.N. would mean fewer troops and less money from other countries. "We fought the war," administration officials explained to me at the time, "and besides, the U.N. is not competent to handle a complex undertaking like Iraq." Six months later, with Washington facing a political train wreck in Iraq, whom did it call? The United Nations. [complete article]

Comment -- While the UN clearly has a vital role to play in Iraq, it should insist on exacting the highest price from the United States if the UN is to assume responsibility for a task from which America is now only too eager to disengage. The price for assuming responsibility for crafting a plan for a transfer of sovereignty from the CPA to a new Iraqi government should be that the United States cannot negotiate a status-of-forces agreement in Iraq until Iraq has a democratically elected government.

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Apartheid enforcers guard Iraq for the U.S.
By Marc Perelman, Forward (via ICH), February 23, 2004

In its effort to relieve overstretched U.S. troops in Iraq, the Bush administration has hired a private security company staffed with former henchmen of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

The reliance on apartheid enforcers was highlighted by an attack in Iraq last month that killed one South African security officer and wounded another who worked for the subsidiary of a firm called Erinys International. Both men once served in South African paramilitary units dedicated to the violent repression of apartheid opponents.

François Strydom, who was killed in the January 28 bombing of a hotel in Baghdad, was a former member of the Koevoet, a notoriously brutal counterinsurgency arm of the South African military that operated in Namibia during the neighboring state’s fight for independence in the 1980s. His colleague Deon Gouws, who was injured in the attack, is a former officer of the Vlakplaas, a secret police unit in South Africa.

"It is just a horrible thought that such people are working for the Americans in Iraq," said Richard Goldstone, a recently retired justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. [complete article]

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WHO 'suppressed' scientific study into depleted uranium cancer fears in Iraq
By Rob Edwards, Sunday Herald, February 22, 2004

An expert report warning that the long-term health of Iraq's civilian population would be endangered by British and US depleted uranium (DU) weapons has been kept secret.

The study by three leading radiation scientists cautioned that children and adults could contract cancer after breathing in dust containing DU, which is radioactive and chemically toxic. But it was blocked from publication by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which employed the main author, Dr Keith Baverstock, as a senior radiation advisor. He alleges that it was deliberately suppressed, though this is denied by WHO.

Baverstock also believes that if the study had been published when it was completed in 2001, there would have been more pressure on the US and UK to limit their use of DU weapons in last year’s war, and to clean up afterwards.

Hundreds of thousands of DU shells were fired by coalition tanks and planes during the conflict, and there has been no comprehensive decontamination. Experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have so far not been allowed into Iraq to assess the pollution.

"Our study suggests that the widespread use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq could pose a unique health hazard to the civilian population," Baverstock told the Sunday Herald. [complete article]

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Vehicle bomb explodes outside of Kirkuk police station
Associated Press (via WP), February 23, 2004

A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed vehicle Monday outside an Iraqi police station in a Kurdish neighborhood of this ethnically divided northern city, killing at least 10 people and wounding 45 others, police and hospital officials said.

The attack was the latest in a string of vehicle and suicide bombings against Iraqi security forces and others seen as cooperating with the U.S.-led occupation that have killed more than 300 people this year, most of them Iraqis.

It was also the third blast since late January to target Kurds, who are pressing to maintain their self-rule region in northern Iraq, as well as the independent militias they say they need to protect ensure their autonomy from Baghdad.

The blast occurred as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad for a brief visit. Rumsfeld met Monday with four young members of Iraq's new security forces and told them he was impressed with the progress they were making. [complete article]

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New U.S. weapon: jobs for Iraqi men
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, February 22, 2004

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Hector Mirabile is in charge of troops in one of Iraq's most dangerous areas. Each day, he must sort through a mass of intelligence reports and plan raids and other missions, all while dodging mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. But what takes up most of his brainpower is thinking about creating jobs.

When he spies a broken toilet, he thinks, one job; a downed power line, 15 jobs; a long stretch of littered highway, 200 jobs.

Like commanders in other danger spots, Mirabile says he believes the best weapon for fighting the insurgency that on average claims the life of one U.S. soldier each day is employment. Putting legions of angry, jobless men to work, he and others maintain, lessens the chance that they'll join the insurgents.

"There's a direct correlation in unemployment rates to attacks," said Mirabile, 46, of the Florida National Guard's 124th Infantry Regiment, which is under the command of the 82nd Airborne Division. [complete article]

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Where are Iraq's Pentagon papers?
By Daniel Ellsberg, Boston Globe, February 23, 2004

As more and more of our young men and women come home from Iraq crippled or in body bags this election season, Americans ask, with increasing urgency, "Why did we send our children to die in Iraq? Was this war necessary?" Indeed, Tim Russert asked the president precisely that on "Meet the Press" a few weeks ago: "In light of not finding the weapons of mass destruction, do you believe the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?"

President Bush replied "It's a war of necessity. . . . the man was a threat. . . . the evidence we have uncovered so far says we had no choice."

To the contrary. The evidence uncovered so far says that Saddam was not a threat, to us or his neighbors. Nor -- lacking any evidence of complicity in 9/11 or links to Al Qaeda -- was there a persuasive case that he would have been a significant threat even if he had possessed WMDs. [complete article]

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Largest rotation of U.S. forces begins
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via Newsday), February 22, 2004, 9:51 PM EST

Nearly a quarter-million U.S. soldiers are within weeks of passing through this desert kingdom on their way to or from the war in neighboring Iraq, the largest such rotation of American forces in history, according to military planners overseeing the project.

"This is a breathtaking, history-making operation," said Army Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, who runs the rotation from this sand-blown base south of Kuwait City.

Explaining the troop rotation is simple: About 130,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq will go home and 110,000 will take their places for about a year, in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2.

Getting it done is another matter. [complete article]

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Ex-Iraq inspector remains divisive
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, February 22, 2004

This could have been Scott Ritter's season of vindication.

Before the Iraq war, the former United Nations weapons inspector argued relentlessly that an invasion to disarm Saddam Hussein was not justified because there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

In one speech at Clarkson University in upstate New York, he said his nearly eight years as a top weapons hunter in Iraq convinced him that the Bush administration was selling "a whole bunch of oversimplified horse manure. None of what you are being told remotely resembles the truth."

For that and other comments, Ritter became a virtual outcast in the international circles in which he worked, condemned by colleagues in government, the military, and even among some UN inspectors.

Now, in the absence of any weapons discoveries, growing numbers of people are agreeing with what Ritter was saying before the invasion. [complete article]

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A wall as a weapon
By Noam Chomsky, New York Times, February 23, 2004

It is a virtual reflex for governments to plead security concerns when they undertake any controversial action, often as a pretext for something else. Careful scrutiny is always in order. Israel's so-called security fence, which is the subject of hearings starting today at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, is a case in point.

Few would question Israel's right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks like the one yesterday, even to build a security wall if that were an appropriate means. It is also clear where such a wall would be built if security were the guiding concern: inside Israel, within the internationally recognized border, the Green Line established after the 1948-49 war. The wall could then be as forbidding as the authorities chose: patrolled by the army on both sides, heavily mined, impenetrable. Such a wall would maximize security, and there would be no international protest or violation of international law.

This observation is well understood. While Britain supports America's opposition to the Hague hearings, its foreign minister, Jack Straw, has written that the wall is "unlawful." Another ministry official, who inspected the "security fence," said it should be on the Green Line or "indeed on the Israeli side of the line." A British parliamentary investigative commission also called for the wall to be built on Israeli land, condemning the barrier as part of a "deliberate" Israeli "strategy of bringing the population to heel."

What this wall is really doing is taking Palestinian lands. It is also -- as the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has described Israel's war of "politicide" against the Palestinians -- helping turn Palestinian communities into dungeons, next to which the bantustans of South Africa look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty and self-determination. [complete article]

Two sides of the fence
By Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, February 22, 2004

Like a giant slab of geopolitical Lego, the last piece of concrete was slipped gingerly into position by crane at exactly 3:46 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.

Eight metres high and 18 tonnes heavy, Israel's final, steel-reinforced response to suicide bombs landed without a sound.

But its reverberations were felt immediately in the anguished Arab faces watching from both sides of the divide that now separates the tiny twin cities of Baka al-Gharbiyah, in Israel proper, and Baka al-Sharqiyah, in the Palestinian West Bank.

All afternoon, crowds in these conjoined towns that straddle the fateful Green Line, the pre-1967 border established on the 1948 armistice line, shared baleful glances with their soon-to-be-severed neighbours across the way.

And then, suddenly, the last narrow sliver of direct eye contact was gone, leaving a blank expanse of fresh-cast gray concrete.

Some wept, some shook their heads in disbelief and some simply walked away in brooding silence. [complete article]

In the shadow of Sharon's wall
By Marouf Zahran, The Guardian, February 23, 2004

My town and its people are slowly suffocating. The government of the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is building a grotesque wall. He is building it on land that belongs to Palestinians: land occupied by Israel and held in violation of international law. He is building it, like a tightening noose, around my town, Qalqilya.

Qalqilya is a lovely town, an ancient Canaanite town, home to approximately 45,000 Palestinian men, women and children. We are a town of farmers and, as is traditional in Palestinian society, our farmland surrounds the town centre. For centuries, Qalqilya's citizens have risen each morning to work their fields, returning in the evening to their families, friends and neighbours. Qalqilya is on the Green Line, the border between what became Israeli in 1948 and the Palestinian territory Israel occupied in 1967. In 1948, Israel took nearly 80% of our farmland. Since then, we have made do with the rest.

We had a decent life, we prospered. We were a rare oasis of coexistence where Israelis came to buy our fruit, eat in our restaurants and visit our zoo. More than 40 Palestinian-Israeli business ventures were based in our town. Almost all of us speak Hebrew and see Israelis as our neighbours, not our enemies. [complete article]

A wall that cages justice
By Saeb Erekat, International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2004

The wall results not only in the de facto annexation of Palestinian land, but also in the coerced migration and displacement of more than 13,000 of the Palestinians living in what Israel calls the "closed zone" - the portion of the occupied West Bank between the wall and the Green Line. Recent military orders require Palestinians living in the closed zone to obtain permission from the Israeli occupation army in order to stay in their homes. Nothing guarantees that such permits will be issued or that they will be honored or renewed.

By contrast, Israeli settlers living in the closed zone in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention need no such permits. Indeed, the Israeli military orders permit any Israeli to settle in occupied Palestinian territory while the resident Palestinians require Israeli permission to live on and farm their own land.

Israel's strategy of stealing Palestinian land while denying rights to the Palestinian people is nothing new. What is new is that the International Court of Justice hearing represents the first time in recent history that Israel's violations of international law are subject to the scrutiny and rulings of an independent judicial body. [complete article]

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Now the Pentagon tells Bush: Climate change will destroy us
By Mark Townsend and Paul Harris, The Observer, February 22, 2004

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'

The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority. [complete article]

Key findings of the report may be found here.

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Senator assails Tenet on Iraq
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 22, 2004

Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the second-ranking Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has renewed his longtime claim that CIA Director George J. Tenet misled Congress last year when Tenet said the CIA had given U.N. inspectors all the top suspect weapons sites in Iraq prior to the war.

Levin said Friday that after more than 10 months of letters back and forth and staff briefings, the agency declassified the number of the priority top suspect weapons of mass destruction sites given the United Nations, showing that "21 of the 105 high and medium priority top suspect sites on the CIA list were not shared."

In its Jan. 20 letter to Levin disclosing the numbers, the CIA repeated what it had told Levin last July: that the agency had provided the U.N. inspectors "with the intelligence that we judged would be fruitful in their search for prohibited material and activities in Iraq."

Of the 21 suspect sites not provided the United Nations, four were listed as high priority and 17 were of medium priority. None of those 21 nor any of the 33 high-priority and 68 medium-priority sites that were provided to the U.N. inspectors had prohibited weapons. [complete article]

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Officials: U.S. still paying millions to group that provided false Iraqi intelligence
By Jonathan S. Landay, Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, February 21, 2004

The Department of Defense is continuing to pay millions of dollars for information from the former Iraqi opposition group that produced some of the exaggerated and fabricated intelligence President Bush used to argue his case for war.

The Pentagon has set aside between $3 million and $4 million this year for the Information Collection Program of the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, led by Ahmed Chalabi, said two senior U.S. officials and a U.S. defense official.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because intelligence programs are classified.

The continuing support for the INC comes amid seven separate investigations into pre-war intelligence that Iraq was hiding illicit weapons and had links to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. A probe by the Senate Intelligence Committee is now examining the INC's role.

The decision not to shut off funding for the INC's information gathering effort could become another liability for Bush as the presidential campaign heats up and, furthermore suggests that some within the administration are intent on securing a key role for Chalabi in Iraq's political future. [complete article]

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U.S. sees obstacles, but Shiite cleric sees stalling in Iraq
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2004

The U.S. civil administrator for Iraq suggested Saturday that it could take as long as 15 months for elections to be held, a timetable squarely at odds with that of the nation's leading Shiite Muslim cleric.

Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer III, in an interview with an Arab television channel, said Iraq needs to build up the proper infrastructure to support elections. "These technical problems will take time to fix," he told Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in written remarks released Saturday, said the U.S. has been "stalling" and failing to take the necessary steps to prepare for elections before its scheduled June 30 transfer of power to an Iraqi transitional government.

Sistani, who had pushed for spring elections, said that he would agree to a brief delay, but only with "clear assurances" that there would be no additional postponements. In written responses to questions from the German magazine Der Spiegel, he also called for a new United Nations resolution to set a firm election date. [complete article]

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Early vote may not be Iraq's best medicine
By Charles Duhigg and Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2004

They preceded a decade of bloodshed in Algeria. In 1997, Albania teetered under their strain. They even threw Iraqi Kurdistan, often touted as a model for the future of this country, into years of armed clashes.

Far too often, history has shown that democratic elections -- when pushed too hard or too soon in troubled regions -- do not forestall violence. Rather, they may help incite it.

As Iraq lurches toward democracy, the country's Shiite Muslim majority has pushed hard for early elections. But there is a growing unease that a hasty vote may only deepen the divides between Iraq's ethnic and religious sects, possibly providing the spark for a civil war. [complete article]

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The ultimate betrayal
By Howard Zinn, The Progressive, April 2004

I cannot get out of my mind the photo that appeared on the front page of The New York Times on December 30, alongside a story by Jeffrey Gettleman. It showed a young man sitting on a chair facing a class of sixth graders in Blairsville, Pennsylvania. Next to him was a woman. Not the teacher of the class, but the young fellow's mother. She was there to help him because he is blind.

That was Jeremy Feldbusch, twenty-four years old, a sergeant in the Army Rangers, who was guarding a dam along the Euphrates River on April 3 when a shell exploded 100 feet away, and shrapnel tore into his face. When he came out of a coma in an Army Medical Center five weeks later, he could not see. Two weeks later, he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, but he still could not see. His father, sitting at his bedside, said: "Maybe God thought you had seen enough killing."

The newspapers on December 30 reported that 477 American GIs had died in the war. But what is not usually reported is that for every death there are four or five men and women seriously wounded.

The term "seriously wounded" does not begin to convey the horror. Sergeant Feldbusch's mother, Charlene Feldbusch, who, along with his father, virtually lived at his bedside for two months, one day saw a young woman soldier crawling past her in the corridor. She had no legs, and her three-year-old son was trailing behind.[complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

By Tony Karon,, February 18, 2004
What do you do when you've rolled up most of your 52-card deck of Iraqi bad guys but the bad stuff keeps on happening? Why, mint a 53rd card, of course. The Coalition Provisional Authority announced last week that it was doing just that, adding a "wild card" bearing the visage of a Jordanian terrorist who goes by the name of Musab al-Zarqawi to its deck of former regime figures. The decision is hardly surprising: Most of the original deck are now dead or in U.S. custody; only seven are still at large. Yet, the insurgency continues to kill Americans and Iraqis every day, and shows no sign of abating. Perhaps because of a deeply ingrained Hollywood convention, Americans need to put a face on the enemy. Finding the "evil one" ends the game, at least in the movies.

'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.

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.

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.

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