The War in Context  
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We bombed Madrid, says al-Qaeda tape
By Giles Tremlett, The Observer, March 14, 2004

The Madrid bombings which killed 200 people were dramatically claimed by the Islamic militant group al Qaeda early on Sunday morning.

The Interior Minister Angel Acebes said police had recovered a videotape. 'It's a claim made by a man in Arabic with a Moroccan accent,' he said. 'He makes the declaration in the name of someone who says he is the military spokesman of al- Qaeda in Europe.'

The man on the tape says: 'We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. This is an answer to the crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. If your injustices do not stop there will be more if god wills it.'

The discovery of the tape followed a phone call to a radio station announcing that it had been left near the main mosque in Madrid. The speaker was identified as Abu Dujan al Afghani. Acebes said he was not known to police in Spain, and they were checking the tape's veracity. He urged caution in accepting it as true. [complete article]

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Fear and death are the only certainties
By Jason Burke, The Observer, March 14, 2004

So it starts again. Men in white suits raking through shards of metal and bone. Analysis of blast patterns and communications records. And, of course, the grieving - which will go on long after the investigation, arrests and convictions have long been forgotten.

But few get away with murder on the scale of the atrocities in Madrid. The perpetrators of almost every major terrorist attack of the past decade have been caught - or at least identified. We know the faces of most of the Palestinian or leftist terrorists of the Seventies, of the Irish republican bombers of the Eighties, of the Islamic militant bombers of the Nineties.

But it can be three to six months before the real details of a single attack become clear. No one wants to wait that long. When massive, deliberate violence shatters our sense of security, the fear provoked demands instant answers and instant certainty. [complete article]

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Aznar accused of cover-up as Spain mourns its dead
By Giles Tremlett, The Observer, March 14, 2004

Spain began burying its dead yesterday as pressure grew for the government to come up with a convincing explanation for a tragedy whose death toll reached 200.

Today's general election has been completely overshadowed by Thursday's horrific terrorist attacks on Madrid commuter trains, as Prime Minister José Maria Aznar and his government were accused of a politically-motivated cover-up.

A growing undercurrent of opinion questioning the official line that the Basque separatist terror group ETA is the main suspect and blaming Aznar for holding back information was circulating through Madrid and other major cities last night.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes was forced yesterday to make a statement on the issue: 'The government has not twisted or hidden the evidence. We have made information clear with all transparency. There has been no covering up.'

Acebes denied that any senior investigator had told him that al-Qaeda was to blame. But Spain's main radio station SER last night quoted intelligence sources claiming they were 99 per cent sure the attack was carried out by between 10 and 15 Islamic extremists who planted the bombs, fled and may already have left Spain. [complete article]

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Homage to the dead
Lead Editorial, The Guardian, March 13, 2004

As evidence continued yesterday to lurch back and forth pointing first to Eta and then to al-Qaida, the outgoing Spanish prime minister, and family friend of George and Jeb Bush, Jose Maria Aznar, sadly began to follow their example. The mass protests took place under the official slogan "With the victims, with the constitution, for the defeat of terrorism". The reference in that list to the constitution was politically motivated. The Spanish constitution recognises several "nationalities" but only one nation, the Spanish one, and both the moderate Basque Nationalist party and Catalan separatists want to rewrite the constitution to gain independence for their regions. Both groups swallowed their pride and participated in last night's nationwide demonstrations.

The crude political calculation being made yesterday was if Eta were found to be responsible it would boost the chances of Mr Aznar's nominated conservative successor Mariano Rajoy in tomorrow's general election. If al-Qaida were definitively found to be behind the bombings, Spaniards, 90% of whom were against the war in Iraq, might be less willing to give the ruling Popular party an absolute majority in parliament. A senior opposition Socialist pleaded in vain that whoever toyed with the truth at a time of so much pain, was doing something very grave. The turnout in Sunday's election is likely to be high in a country where the ghost of General Franco lingers.

The victims of the commuter train bombings in Madrid and the Spaniards who came out of the streets last night surely deserve more than party political responses. Europe too needs to mould a different response to its September 11. Spain has a history which places it at the crossroads of the European and Arab worlds. It understands both traditions. It is a country where once Jew, Muslim and Christian lived together. An international conference, to bridge the divide between Muslim and Christian communities, should be one first step. But there are many others. We need to take the fight against terror out of America's hands. We need to get beyond the them and us, the good guys and the bad guys, and seek a genuinely collective response. Europe should seize the moment that America failed to grasp. [complete article]

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5 charged in connection with Madrid bombing
Associated Press (via Newday), March 13, 2004

Spain's interior ministry announced Saturday that five suspects -- including three Moroccans possibly linked to extremist groups -- were arrested in the Madrid bombings that killed at least 200 people.

The arrests were announced on the eve of national elections and came amid opposition charges that the government, which had blamed Basque separatists for the bombings, was concealing a connection between Islamic militants and Spain's worst terror attack.

"Tell us the truth," read a sign at a mass protest in Madrid that drew 2,000-3,000 people -- many of whom blamed President Jose Maria Aznar for making Spain a target because he supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Other signs read, "Aznar, it is your fault we are being killed" and "Aznar, your national and international policies are irresponsible and dangerous."

The five were arrested in connection with a cell phone inside an explosives-packed gym bag found on one of the bombed commuter trains.

The other two suspects had Indian passports, a ministry spokesman said. Also being questioned were two Spanish citizens of Indian origin. [complete article]

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Listen to the silent crowds
By Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, March 13, 2004

It was not enough for the office workers of Madrid to observe a moment of silence, they had to be seen doing so: they stood in the rain on the street. The stoical, wordless dignity of the Spanish people's solidarity has been profoundly moving and inspiring. Just as terrorism uses modern media - what Jean Baudrillard called the "spectacle of the deed" - to publicise itself through the horrific images of blood, death and twisted metal, so the Spanish people instantaneously found a way to counter that violent visual communication with images of spontaneous, mass public demonstrations of solidarity.

New York discovered something of this public spirit, too, after 9/11, but it took longer; the shock was greater to a city that had no experience of terrorism (unlike, sadly, Spain). There were no instant mass demonstrations; the flowers and candles - now a convention of grief all over the globe - were attached to letters and photographs, and the mourning was personalised. Every country mourns in its own way.

In Spain, the outpouring of sympathy didn't wait for names: it was for somebody's son, somebody's daughter, somebody's wife or mother, husband or father. The very anonymity underlined the simplicity of this kind of human solidarity; it was enough that lives were lost. Whose lives they were will come later. It seemed so quintessentially Spanish; the country of the paseo, the promenade, has an instinctively social culture, and its faith in public solidarity has proved vibrant at the very point of most threat. Fear of more attacks could have forced the Spanish off the streets, could have scared them into their homes. Instead, with a remarkable defiance of the terrorists who deliberately targeted the crowded commuter trains, the crowds refused to be cowed. [complete article]

Al-Qaida's Spanish vendetta
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, March 12, 2004

"The war against Iraq will not eradicate the threat of terror but, perversely, it may bolster it."

That was the comment, on the eve of the United States-led invasion of Iraq, of Spanish left-winger Balthazar Garzon, one of the most tireless campaigners against Al-Qaida.

The crusading judge, who currently serves as Spain's prosecutor general, is now running an investigation into some 40 activists suspected of contacts with Al-Qaida. The last of them was extradited Thursday from Jordan to Spain.

Garzon, unlike Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, objected to Spain's participation in the war on Iraq, and publicly declared that he had found no evidence that Saddam Hussein was in contact with Al-Qaida.

Garzon's prophesy about heightened terror may have come true Thursday, if it indeed turns out that Al-Qaida was behind the series of attacks on Madrid trains. [complete article]

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Pentagon shadow loses some mystique
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, March 13, 2004

In February 2002, Christina Shelton, a career Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, was combing through old intelligence on Iraq when she stumbled upon a small paragraph in a CIA report from the mid-1990s that stopped her.

It recounted a contact between some Iraqis and al Qaeda that she had not seen mentioned in current CIA analysis, according to three defense officials who work with her. She spent the next couple of months digging through 12 years of intelligence reports on Iraq and produced a briefing on alleged contacts Shelton felt had been overlooked or underplayed by the CIA.

Her boss, Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and the point man on Iraq, was so impressed that he set up a briefing for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was so impressed he asked her to brief CIA Director George J. Tenet in August 2002. By summer's end, Shelton had also briefed deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. [complete article]

Comment -- Dana Priest's article provides some new details on the workings of the Pentagon's notorious Office of Special Plans, yet it amounts to a whitewash given that she makes no reference (either in confirmation or denial) on that office's alleged role in channelling intelligence from the Iraqi National Congress' Ahmad Chalabi to the White House. Karen Kwiatkowski, a senior manager working inside the Pentagon's Near East South Asia directorate (NESA), has referred to a lieutenant colonel named Bill Bruner who served as the Iraq desk officer. (It was the "expanded Iraq desk" that became the OSP.) She says that Bruner was described by others as "Chalabi's handler." On this crucial issue, the WP's Priest says precisely nothing.

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White House sends senior official to Iraq
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 13, 2004

The Bush administration has dispatched a senior White House official to Baghdad to rescue its already troubled new attempt to form an interim Iraqi government, the pivotal step in the political transition before the U.S.-led occupation ends on June 30, according to senior U.S. officials.

The mission is, in part, to persuade the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council to quit stalling on inviting the United Nations back, both to mediate a solution to the immediate crisis and to help prepare for elections after the United States leaves. Key Shiite leaders have broken with others on the Governing Council and are frustrating U.S. attempts to get the United Nations to return, U.S. officials and envoys of coalition countries said. [complete article]

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Iraq: Washington spinning out of control
By Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times, March 13, 2004

With political and military setbacks steadily sinking public perception of the Bush administration's Iraq efforts, a marked increase in both slanted and outright erroneous official pronouncements has occurred. Taking advantage of media briefings, congressional testimony, and even the creation of both an Arabic television channel (al-Hurra) and a Pentagon news service (DVIDS), the administration of US President George W Bush has vastly escalated its long-employed efforts to "spin" its way to success. As Iraq civil administrator L Paul Bremer highlighted last week, the message is "triumph over the evildoers".

Yet in a measure of how warmly the administration's al-Hurra channel is welcomed, Saudi clerics issued a fatwa (religious ruling) this week stating that Muslims are forbidden to watch it. The station was explicitly charged with being "an extension of anti-Islamic propaganda". But while TV stations can be tuned out, political figures are more difficult to avoid. [complete article]

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$327M contract killed
By Knut Royce, Newsday, March 12, 2004

The Army has canceled a $327-million contract to supply Iraqi security forces that had been awarded last month to a small Virginia company whose principal is a close associate of Ahmed Chalabi, a Pentagon favorite in Iraq.

The connection between the company, Nour USA, and Chalabi was first revealed by Newsday last month.

Army spokesman Maj. Gary Tallman said yesterday the cancellation was not a reflection on Nour's bid. He said it was being rebid because there had been "too much ambiguity" in the wording of the original solicitation. He said a new proposal would go out in two to three months.

A top U.S. officer expressed frustration in Baghdad this week over the delay and said it was hindering efforts to restore security in Iraq. [complete article]

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Bush's latest missile-defense folly
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 12, 2004

Forces are finally converging for a genuine debate on President Bush's missile-defense program. The Republican-controlled Congress is looking for ways to cut $9 billion from the military budget (which, at $420 billion, is getting unmanageable even for hawkish tastes). It's becoming painfully clear that rogues and terrorists are more likely to attack us with planes and trains than with nuclear missiles. And a recent series of technical studies -- bolstered on Thursday by a high-profile Senate hearing -- has dramatized just how difficult, if not impossible, this project is going to be.

Bush's budget for next year includes $10.7 billion for missile defense -- over twice as much money as for any other single weapons system. This summer, he's planning to start deploying the first components of an MD system -- six anti-missile missiles in Alaska, four in California, and as many as 20 more, in locations not yet chosen, the following year.

Yet, except by sheer luck, these interceptors will not be able to shoot down enemy missiles. Or, to put it more precisely, Bush is starting to deploy very expensive weapons without the slightest bit of evidence that they have any chance of working. [complete article]

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Missile defense still uncertain
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, March 12, 2004

With the Bush administration only several months away from fielding a national antimissile defense, the Pentagon's chief weapons evaluator told Congress yesterday he could not be sure that the system will be able to knock down North Korean missiles launched at the United States, the system's main initial purpose.

Under sharp questioning from Democratic senators troubled by soaring costs and a shortage of realistic testing, Thomas P. Christie said the system is not yet sufficiently developed to validate Pentagon computer models showing it would be effective.

"So at this time, we cannot be sure that the actual system would work against a real North Korean missile threat?" asked Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

"I would say that's true," replied Christie, the Pentagon's director of Operational Test and Evaluation. [complete article]

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Shiite fantasies in Washington
By Tony Karon,, March 11, 2004

A month before the invasion of Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was asked by an interviewer how he imagined the U.S. military would avoid the sort of local hostility there that its presence in Saudi Arabia had generated. Wolfowitz replied: "First of all, the Iraqi population is completely different from the Saudi population. The Iraqis are among the most educated people in the Arab world. They are by and large quite secular. They are overwhelmingly Shia which is different from the Wahabis of the peninsula, and they don't bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory. We're seeing today how much the people of Poland and Central and Eastern Europe appreciate what the United States did to help liberate them from the tyranny of the Soviet Union. I think you're going to see even more of that sentiment in Iraq." [complete article]

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Iraq and U.S. leadership
By Senator Edward M. Kennedy, The Nation, March 11, 2004

A year ago, the United States went to war, although Iraq was not an imminent threat and had no nuclear weapons, no persuasive link to Al Qaeda, no connection to the September 11 terrorist attacks and no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. In the months leading up to war, President George W. Bush failed to keep the fundamental bond of trust between the American people and the President by misusing the facts in the push toward war and depriving citizens of an honest debate on the wisdom of that war. The Bush Administration has broken faith with the American people, who expect their Presidents to give them all the facts--not just the convenient ones--as the nation decides on war. [complete article]

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U.S. muffles sweeping call to democracy in Mideast
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, March 12, 2004

The Bush administration, yielding to protests from European and Arab leaders, has set aside its plan to issue a sweeping call for economic, political and cultural reform in the Middle East at a June conference of major industrial nations, American and Arab officials said Thursday.

Because of Arab objections that such a call would give the appearance that change was being dictated from without, the officials said, the summit conference will instead proclaim its endorsement of reforms under way in the Middle East.

Administration officials said they would work with European leaders to encourage Arab nations to proclaim their own reform measures before the meeting, which is to take place at Sea Island, Ga., with President Bush as host. [complete article]

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Neighbor seemed activist, not agent
By Eric Rich, Washington Post, March 12, 2004

Susan Lindauer was described as mercurial and passionate in her politics, but those who know her said yesterday that she seemed an unlikely operative in Saddam Hussein's spy network.

A self-described "peace activist," she has voiced strongly liberal views in step with those of her community, the "nuclear-free zone" of Takoma Park.

"Like a lot of us, she questioned why it was necessary for the U.S. to be in Iraq," said Thomas Kaufman, who lives across from the Manor Circle home where she lived with her cats, dogs and boarders taken in to help pay the mortgage.

Lindauer was described yesterday as erratic and prone to perceptions of crisis. She has traversed an unusual path in her 40 years, rejecting the politics of her father, a onetime Republican gubernatorial nominee in Alaska, and moving from job to job until her arrest yesterday on charges that she was paid by Iraqi intelligence agents before the U.S. invasion. [complete article]

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911 days later
By Eric Bovim, Tech Central Station, March 12, 2004

What was once a band of freedom fighters devoted to the ideal of a Basque nation, by the late 1990s had become a heavily armed "gang" of hundreds that recruited poor, urban males to conduct its violence. By 2002, it was not uncommon for ETA to detonate bombs in empty parking garages; or to call before exploding a bomb in a commercial area.

Civilians have rarely been targets, save for ETA's worst attack in Barcelona, when a bomb killed 21 people in a grocery store in 1987. A car bomb almost killed [Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria] Aznar during elections in 1995. But ETA violence has always been very selective and strategic, save for the few instances like Barcelona.

That is why the Madrid massacre was so unusual, considering yesterday's death toll is equivalent to roughly a decade of ETA terrorism.

Spanish media is now characterizing yesterday as Spain's 9-11, although it remains unclear how, in the aftermath, the Spanish psyche will be affected. Coincidentally - or perhaps not -- the attacks came exactly 911 days after September 11 on 3-11. By late last evening, Spain's leading daily, El Pais, was starting to back away from the earlier claim that it was the handiwork of ETA. Arnaldo Otegi, the spokesman for the outlawed Basque political party, Batasuna, denied ETA was behind the attacks, blaming instead "Arab resistance." [complete article]

Who was behind the Madrid massacre?
By Tony Karon,, March 12, 2004

That Basque terrorists would top the list of the Spanish authorities' suspects in Thursday's devastating is hardly surprising: The terror group ETA has grown desperate as it finds itself increasingly marginalized even in Basque politics, and hounded by a sustained police crackdown both in Spain and France that has reduced its active ranks to an estimated 250. Two alleged ETA operatives were arrested in a failed attempt to bomb Spanish trains just last Christmas; it had promised an "action" to coincide with Spain's general election this coming Sunday; and its four decades in the profession, during which time it has killed more than 800 people, have quite simply made ETA the default suspect in Spanish terror attacks. Some of the forensics amplify the case for making the Basque group the prime suspect: The explosive used in Thursday's multiple train bombings was of a type previously used in ETA operations, and the fact that they were remotely triggered using cell phones — rather than by suicide bombers — reinforces the suspicion. [complete article]

Terrorists learn the lessons of al-Qa'eda
By Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph, March 12, 2004

The Madrid bombings show how the September 11 attacks have set a dreadful new standard of violence for terrorists - be they the new breed of Islamists or older European radical movements.

To be noticed in the age of mass terror, it is no longer enough for violent extremists to kill individuals or dozens of people: they must now aim for scores or hundreds of deaths.

The Madrid bombings are the kind of carnage that European police and intelligence agencies had been dreading since September 11: synchronised attacks designed to cause mass casualties.

That the Spanish government blamed Eta, rather than Islamic extremists, will be of scant comfort to security experts elsewhere.

Al-Qa'eda may have failed to export its "jihad" to western Europe but European extremists now appear to be importing its tactics.

"It is a disquieting phenomenon," said Bruce Hoffman, a US terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation. "After September 11, all kinds of terrorist groups, even ones that have more discreet and comprehensible aims, may feel that to make an impact they have to kill en masse as much as jihadists." [complete article]

Spain eyes ETA for Madrid massacre
Australian Associated Press (via The Age), March 12, 2004

Immediately after the bombings - carried out in four trains and three railway stations - Spanish officials blamed ETA.

But later they said they were not ruling out that it may be the work of extremists linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The more cautious approach came after the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi said it had received a statement from al-Qaeda claiming responsibility.

But Palacio pointed to "the arrest of two ETA suspects on Christmas Eve with back-packs filled with the same type of explosives in another station ... and the interception of a small van with 500kg of explosives 10 days ago with a map of the part of Madrid where the attack took place." [complete article]

ETA: A history of terror
Deutsche Welle, March 12, 2004

ETA stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, the Basque words for "Basque country and Freedom," which is what the group claims to be fighting for. The Basque region lies in northern Spain and stretches into southwestern France. While Spain has already granted its Basque population far-reaching autonomy, the group demands independence.

Founded in 1959 during Spain's Franco dictatorship, ETA did not start terrorist activities until a decade later: In 1968, the group killed the police chief of the Basque city of San Sebastian. ETA members have financed their activities through kidnappings, robberies and extortion. [complete article]

Spain's lesson: terror is global
Editorial, Newsday, March 12, 2004

The dreadful carnage from 10 terrorist bombs that tore through commuter trains in Madrid's rush hour yesterday - at least 190 were killed and 600 wounded - is a warning to the world that terrorism is not just a U.S. obsession. Any country, at any time, can become a target for the violent expression of political grievances.

This atrocious act is as traumatic for Spain as the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were for the United States. And it has left its people as hurt, angered and bewildered as Americans were. [complete article]

Comment -- If there are lessons to be learnt from yesterday's bombings they must avoid conflating the known with the unknown. Politicians and editorialists find it difficult to resist the impulse to provide counsel at times when in fact they are no less shocked or bewildered than the average citizen. Terrorists' strikes predictably trigger pompous expressions of authority. Our leaders want to convince us all that they are still in charge even when in truth they cannot control events.

The proponents of a global war on terrorism have not hesitated in pouncing on the Madrid bombings as renewed evidence that terrorism presents a global threat, yet the implications to drawn from yesterday's attacks are surely radically different depending on whether they were the work of an organization dedicated to the political independence of the Basque region of Spain or whether al Qaeda "succeeded in infiltrating the heart of crusader Europe and struck one of the bases of the crusader alliance." Those who claim that they have a solution to terrorism are empowered by widespread horror at the latest acts of violence and will continue to treat attempts to understand the motives behind specific terrorist attacks as the expression of a lack of resolution in combating terrorism. Yet the frontline defense against terrorism is and always will be a vigilant witness who can alert others to a threat that they might have some chance of avoiding. So far, what most western governments have done has been pitifully inadequate in creating what could be called a perceptive level of citizen alertness. Fear of an amorphous global peril whose only distinguishing feature is a vague connection to the Middle East does nothing to increase security but does a lot to promote paranoia and indiscriminate suspicion.

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PLEASE HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE -- For over two years The War in Context has consistently exposed the flawed premises, grandiose ambitions and disastrous consequences of the foreign policies of the Bush administration. But this isn't run-of-the-mill Bush-bashing. Events themselves provide the most damning critique of the war on terrorism and the "forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East," so The War in Context arms its readers with facts. By turning to this source of news, commentary and analysis, every day you can witness and better understand the havoc unleashed by a group of ideologues who remain intent on remaking a world that they otherwise regard with contempt.

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Bait and switch? Human rights and U.S. foreign policy
By Julie A. Mertus, Forein Policy in Focus, March, 2004

In the aftermath of the failure to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, human rights have become the most prominent justification for the Iraq War in statements by President George W. Bush and other administration officials. This represents the latest of what has become a routine pattern for numerous U.S. administrations: invoking human rights to justify a range of foreign policy decisions and military ventures. But this human rights talk has not been supported by a human rights walk. Policymakers consistently apply a double standard to human rights norms: one that the rest of the world must observe but which the U.S. can safely ignore.

Talk of human rights has become the political equivalent of a "bait and switch tactic." Like the car salesman promoting an amazing but bogus deal in order to get people into his showroom and to boost his reputation as a preferred dealer, politicians champion human rights in order to induce desired behaviors in others and to nurture a positive self-image. Then, as soon as the desired behavior occurs, they offer a substitute sentiment unreflective of a genuine concern for rights. Instead of promoting just solutions to contemporary foreign policy dilemmas, rights talk is becoming just another way to dupe otherwise-unwilling allies into supporting U.S. interests. [complete article]

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The life and unexplained death of a Palestinian militant
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, March 11, 2004

When 55-year-old Mohamed Aboul Abbas died mysteriously in a US prison camp in Iraq on Tuesday, nobody bothered to call his family. [...]

"I know nothing about this, nothing," [Abbas' wife] wailed down the telephone to The Independent from Beirut yesterday. "How did he die? Why were we told nothing? When I first heard this terrible news on television I thought it had to be a rumour; this happens a lot out here. But then the Red Cross called at midnight and told me it was true." Mohamed Aboul Abbas is the most prominent prisoner to die in US custody in Iraq ,and joins a growing list of unexplained deaths among the 15,000 Iraqis and Palestinians held by US military forces. The occupation authorities in Iraq would only say yesterday that they were to hold a post-mortem examination on Aboul Abbas's remains.

The "Palestinian Liberation Front" has long had offices in Baghdad, along with Mr Arafat's PLO. The head of the PLF's "political bureau", Mohamed Sobhi, said yesterday that Mohamed Aboul Abbas's arrest by US troops on 14 April last year had "no reason in law other than the need of the American soldiers at that time to look for false victories". He added: "We all knew that Aboul Abbas had been to Palestine in 1995 for the PNC elections in Gaza and that the United States and Israel both allowed this. After that, he travelled to Palestinian areas and to other Arab states many times. We had told all this to the Americans here and demanded that he be released. In his last letter home, he said he hoped to be freed soon. So what happened to him?" [...]

The US occupation authorities initially announced the capture of the "important terrorist Aboul Abbas", making no mention of his return to the occupied territories or that the Israelis themselves - who might have been more anxious than the Americans to see him in prison - had freely allowed the PLF leader to enter their territory as a peace negotiator. [complete article]

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2 American civilians killed by fake Iraqi policemen
By John F. Burns, New York Times, March 11, 2004

Two American civilians and their Iraqi interpreter were killed on Tuesday night in what American officials described as a "targeted killing" by terrorists posing as Iraqi police officers. They were the first American civilians working for the American occupation authority to be killed since American forces toppled Saddam Hussein last April. [...]

The American occupation authority indicated that the killings were of a new sort. At an evening news briefing, Dan Senor, a spokesman for L. Paul Bremer III, the authority's administrator, described the killings as "a targeted act of terrorism." He added that although the F.B.I. would be working with the Iraqi police in the probe, "We believe that this act is under U.S. jurisdiction." That was a reference, American officials said, to United States laws that provide for the extradition of anybody found guilty of a terrorist attack against an American official and that allow for the death penalty. [complete article]

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The real failure in intelligence on Iraq
By George A. Lopez and David Cortright, Boston Globe, March 11, 2004

In the past two weeks, CIA Director George Tenet has testified behind closed doors at the Senate Intelligence Committee and publicly at the Senate Armed Services Committee about his agency's pre-war knowledge of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Tenet was asked why, in the words of former weapons hunter David Kay, US intelligence agencies had "gotten it wrong" about Iraq.

In this and other inquiries, however, the senators should stop asking why Washington saw weapons where there weren't any. Rather, they must ask -- and have answered -- why a plethora of publicly available information on the destruction and deterioration of Iraq's weapons capability was not processed into the equation about the scope of Iraqi firepower.

Without question, verifiable "on the plus side" data about the success of economic sanctions and the destruction of WMD materiel supervised by UN inspectors from 1991 to 1998 was consistently neglected by war planners, the press, and politicians. And classified intelligence should have augmented this data. But the inability or unwillingness to properly debit the 1990 estimates of Iraqi weapons with the discount factor of their degradation due to our own successful policies constitutes an intelligence debacle. [complete article]

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Alarm raised over quality of uranium found in Iran
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, March 12, 2004

United Nations nuclear inspectors have found traces of extremely highly enriched uranium in Iran, of a purity reserved for use in a nuclear bomb, European and American diplomats said Wednesday.

Among traces that inspectors detected last year are some refined to 90 percent of the rare 235 isotope, the diplomats said. While the International Atomic Energy Agency has previously reported finding "weapons grade" traces, it has not revealed that some reached such a high degree of enrichment.

The presence of such traces raises the stakes in the international debate over Iran's nuclear program and increases the urgency of determining the uranium's origin. If the enrichment took place in Iran, it means the country is much further along the road to becoming a nuclear weapons power than even the most aggressive intelligence estimates anticipated. [complete article]

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ETA is blamed, but doubts arise
By John Darnton, International Herald Tribune, March 12, 2004

Only hours after the devastating bomb attacks Thursday, the Spanish government was quick to point the finger of blame at the Basque separatist group known as ETA, but by the day's end it had uncovered a clue pointing in a different direction, toward Muslim terrorists. Confusion arose from the start because initially no group claimed responsibility. And although the authorities continued to insist by nightfall that ETA was still the prime suspect, the attacks did not appear to bear the signature of that militant Basque organization, which has pursued a violent campaign for independence for 35 years. Customarily, ETA plants small bombs to strike selected targets, usually along the coast, phones in warnings to the police ahead of time and takes responsibility for the blasts afterward. But the attacks this time, involving 10 separate bombs detonated more or less simultaneously, were well-coordinated, involved a number of terrorists and led to a huge loss of life. On Thursday evening, a London-based Arabic newspaper, Al Quds al Arabi, said it had received a statement claiming responsibility from a group calling itself "the brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri in the name of Al Qaeda," the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden that brought down the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. But whether that claim was genuine could not be immediately known. The lingering confusion over the authorship of the bombs Thursday pointed to a larger uncertainty haunting Europe these days: with terrorism seemingly on the rise everywhere, there are multiple candidates for anonymous assassinations and massacres, profoundly complicating the problems for governments as they search for quick retaliation and long-term approaches. [complete article]

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PLEASE HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE -- For over two years The War in Context has consistently exposed the flawed premises, grandiose ambitions and disastrous consequences of the foreign policies of the Bush administration. But this isn't run-of-the-mill Bush-bashing. Events themselves provide the most damning critique of the war on terrorism and the "forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East," so The War in Context arms its readers with facts. By turning to this source of news, commentary and analysis, every day you can witness and better understand the havoc unleashed by a group of ideologues who remain intent on remaking a world that they otherwise regard with contempt.

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Middle East studies seen as against American interests
By Rima Merriman, Jordan Times, March 11, 2004

For the past two years, the field of Middle East studies has been under intense attack in the United States through a public relations campaign most outspokenly driven by three prominent neoconservative, staunchly pro-Israel American researchers, journalists and commentators: Daniel Pipes, Stanley Kurtz and Martin Kramer.

The American Jewish Congress has also jumped on this bandwagon, asserting that "federal tax dollars are funding Middle East seminars exclusively promoting one-sided anti-American and anti-Israel view", and aggressively petitioning the secretary of education to amend "this distortion".

Kurtz, Pipes and Kramer claim that the field of Middle East studies in the US is "a tendentious, ideologically driven lefty academic enterprise", (Weekly Standard, 2002) and, in Kurtz's words, an "intellectual failure".

It is contaminated by fancy rationales for America and Israel bashing, according to Kramer, and by scholars "whitewashing Jihad", according to Pipes, who also says wildly that Middle East studies provide a "refuge to what might be called intellectual terrorists -- scholars known for their extremism, intolerance, and dishonesty" and for their connections to Islamist terrorism. [complete article]

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Why seeking justice for the Palestinians is the Jewish cause
By Shifra Eva Stern, Electronic Intifada, March 10, 2004

I was recently asked a question I've been asked many times before, mostly by fellow Jews: Why do I spend so much time seeking justice for the Palestinians instead of directing my efforts and passions toward fighting for some noble "Jewish" cause. Surely, my questioner said, and I fully agree, there are Jewish causes worth fighting for. By the same token, I agree that anyone can easily draw up a virtually endless list of worthy humanitarian causes that everyone, Jewish or not, should devote time and energies to assisting, such as finding a cure for AIDS, halting the repression of women throughout the world, and ending the wretched poverty that afflicts so much of the Third World.

Since it is impossible to be involved in every humanitarian cause, I choose to channel my efforts into fighting for a just solution of the Israel/Palestine conflict because I think that is where I can be the most useful. As a Jew, my opposition to Israeli policies carries more weight, for better or worse, simply because I am Jewish, just like the reportage of Gideon Levy or Amira Hass in Israel's daily Ha'aretz again, for better or worse, carries more weight than the dispatches and analysis of non-Jewish reporters writing for Britain's The Guardian. So both as a Jew and as an American whose tax dollars finance Israel's illegal and brutal occupation, I bear greater moral responsibility in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Furthermore, given my own personal and family background, I cannot but be deeply concerned by and opposed to Israeli policies. [complete article]

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McBusted: McDonald's manager admits speaking Arabic led to firing
By Jonathan Cook, Electronic Intifada, March 10, 2004

Abeer Zinaty, the 20-year-old McDonald's employee in Israel who says she was fired by the world's biggest fastfood chain for breaking a ban on speaking Arabic in the workplace, has spoken to the Electronic Intifada of the circumstances surrounding her dismissal. Her account flatly contradicts claims by McDonald's head office in the United States that Zinaty's dismissal had nothing to do with her speaking Arabic. Considerable weight is added to her version of events by documents in the hands of the Electronic Intifada.

Senior McDonald's managers, both in America and Israel, who separately responded to protests over Zinaty's dismissal, offered starkly differing interpretations of the company's policy on the speaking of Arabic in the workplace. And the firm's subsequent claims - in the face of mounting bad publicity - that Zinaty was fired instead for a poor work record are apparently not supported by evidence that McDonald's ever initiated a disciplinary procedure against her or sent her letters of warning. They also fly in the face of the company's decision six months earlier to award her "Excellent Worker 2003". [complete article]

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A grotesque choice
By Max Hastings, The Guardian, March 11, 2004

Jewish genius through the centuries has been reflected in the highest intellectual standards. Attempts to equate anti-Zionism, or even criticism of Israeli policy, with anti-semitism reflect a pitiful intellectual sloth, an abandonment of reasoned attempts to justify Israeli actions in favour of moral blackmail. In the short run, such intimidation is not unsuccessful, especially in America. Yet in the long term, grave consequences may ensue. In much of the world, including Europe, a huge head of steam is building against Israeli behaviour.

More than a few governments are cooperating less than wholeheartedly with America's war on terror because they are unwilling to be associated with what they see as an unholy alliance of the Sharon and Bush governments. One of Germany's most distinguished postwar leaders expressed to me a few months ago his frustration that, as a German, he is unable to vent his feelings about the wickedness of what is being done in Israel's name.

I feel a commitment to the Jewish people, founded on awareness partly of their history, partly of their genius. Yet I see no reason why this should prevent me from asserting that the policies of Sharon and Netanyahu bring shame upon Israel. [complete article]

Twenty percent of Israelis could seek E.U. citizenship
By Ilil Shahar, Maariv, March 11, 2004

On May 1, with the addition of 10 east European states to the European Union, 1.1 million Israelis will be eligible for a European passport.

This will make them eligible for several rights and benefits in European Union states, including residence and work privileges, lower tuition fees and more convenient travel conditions.

A study conducted by the European Union embassy in Israel indicates that one out of every five Jewish Israelis will be eligible for a European passport from the day 10 east European states – Poland, Hungary, Cyprus, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – join the European Union.

EU regulations stipulate that persons, who were born in member states, as well as their children and grandchildren, may apply for respective citizenship in them. [complete article]

Survey: 85% of Israelis wish to join "anti-Semitic" E.U.
By Ilil Shahar, Maariv, March 10, 2004

In a variation on Groucho Marx's dictum, Israelis would love to join a club that -- they think -- doesn't want them.

A poll conducted by Dr. Mina Tzemach's "Dahaf" institute found that 85% of Israelis believe the government should submit a request to join the European Union (EU). The poll was ordered by the European Commission Delegation to Israel.

The poll also shows that 80% of Israelis consider the emergence of the EU as a positive development for the world. 90% believe that Israel's relationship with Europe is important, but 61% believe that Israel is not doing enough to cultivate its relations with the EU. [complete article]

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Squandering the trauma of September 11
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, March 11, 2004

"Lucky me, I hit the trifecta," said George Bush in the immediate aftermath of September 11, according to his budget director. War, recession and national emergency liberated him to soar in the political stratosphere. But after several faltering starts this year, he felt compelled to relaunch his campaign with $4.5m (£2.5m) of television advertising in 16 key states. In 60-second commercials he would lock the sequence of recent history into the American mind, his narrative of his presidency as he wished it to be understood. Images of September 11 cascaded across the screen, firemen carrying a flag-draped coffin at Ground Zero juxtaposed against another firefighter raising the flag. Bush's slogan: "Steady leadership in times of change".

"Where the hell did they get those guys?" responded the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. It turned out that the firefighters in the ads were hired actors - "cheaper and quicker", as a Republican party spokesman explained. Enraged members of the 9/11 Widows and Victims' Families Association described them as "disgraceful" and "hypocritical". While he used the flag-draped 9/11 coffin, he refused to allow the press to photograph coffins of US soldiers returned from Iraq. What's more, he was "stonewalling" the official 9/11 commission, as Senator John Kerry put it, holding back documents, refusing to allow the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to testify in public, and limiting his own testimony to an hour.

A few weeks earlier, Bush had remarked: "I have no ambition whatsoever to use [the 9/11 attacks] as a political issue". Now an administration spokesman defended his ads as "tasteful". After Bush's ads ran, an Oklahoma Republican congressman, Tom Cole, stated the rank-and-file's political conventional wisdom: "I promise you this, if George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election. It's that simple." [complete article]

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Bush alienating some military voters who helped him win in 2000
By William Douglas, Knight Ridder, March 11, 2004

When the Bush campaign asked James McKinnon to co-chair its veterans steering committee in New Hampshire - a job he held in 2000 - the 56-year-old Vietnam veteran respectfully, but firmly, said no.

"I basically told them I was disappointed in his support of veterans," said McKinnon, who served two tours in Vietnam with the Coast Guard. "He's killing the active-duty military. ... Look at the reserves call-ups for Iraq, the hardships. The National Guard - the state militia - is being used improperly. I took the president at his word on Iraq, and now you can't find a single report to back up or substantiate weapons of mass destruction."

President Bush is seeking re-election as a "war president" whose decisive leadership steered the military to victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. But as guerrilla warfare drags on in both countries, casualties mount and the Army is stretched ever thinner, many voters in or affiliated with the military are no longer saluting the commander in chief. [complete article]

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Military families vs. the war
By Paula Span, Washington Post, March 11, 2004

On the night last month he learned that his son had died in Iraq, Richard Dvorin couldn't sleep. He lay in bed, "thinking and thinking and thinking," got up at 4 a.m., made a pot of coffee. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a letter to the president.

When the invasion of Iraq began, Dvorin -- a 61-year-old Air Force veteran and a retired cop -- thought the commander in chief deserved his support. "I believed we were destroying part of the axis of evil," he says. "I truly believed that Saddam Hussein was a madman and that he possessed weapons of mass destruction and wouldn't hesitate to use them."

By the time Army 2nd Lt. Seth Dvorin was sent to Iraq last September, however, his father was having doubts. And now that Seth had been killed, at 24, by an "improvised explosive device" south of Baghdad, doubt had turned to anger. [complete article]

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The skeptical spy
Ray McGovern interviewed by Michael W. Robbins, Mother Jones, March 10, 2004

When David Kay, the CIA's former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, announced earlier this year that his team had found no stockpiled weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he touched off an explosion of blame, finger-pointing, denial, and hasty "clarifications" about the extent and accuracy of the intelligence that the Bush Administration used to buttress its decision to invade Iraq. Kay's startling conclusion, though, came as no surprise to many analysts in the U.S. intelligence community -- particularly the members of a self-described "movement" of some 35 retired and resigned high-level U.S. intelligence operatives.

The group, "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity," has produced some of the most credible, and critical, analyses of the Bush Administration's handling of intelligence data in the run-up to the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq. Starting with a next-day analysis of Colin Powell's February 5, 2003 speech to the Security Council of the United Nations, the group's steering committee of a half-dozen intelligence veterans has published eleven detailed analytical memoranda directed to President Bush, Colin Powell, and Kofi Annan, among others, assessing what the Bush Administration knew about Iraq before, during, and after the war, and how that intelligence has been used--and misused. spoke with Ray McGovern, a member of the VIPS steering committee and a 27-year veteran of the CIA who prepared and delivered daily presidential briefings during the Reagan years. McGovern participated in the drafting of all but one of the group's 11 memoranda, and has written over 20 op-ed pieces in the past two years for such venues as the Miami Herald and [complete article]

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CIA chief clueless on neocon intelligence channel
By Jim Lobe,, March 11, 2004

Was Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet really the last person in Washington to find out that both the president and vice president were being fed phony or "sexed up" intelligence about prewar Iraq by a Pentagon office staffed by ideologically driven neoconservatives?

It is highly doubtful, but in his desperate attempt to walk a tightrope between his increasingly irreconcilable loyalties to the administration of President George W. Bush and to his own intelligence professionals, Tenet is suggesting that he really was in the dark about what was going on just a few miles down the Potomac River from CIA headquarters.

Just a month ago, in a rousing defense of the intelligence community's professionalism, Tenet boasted to students at Georgetown University that he and only he was the sole purveyor of intelligence information to the president.

But on Tuesday he admitted to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was unaware until just last week that officials based in the Pentagon's policy office had given intelligence briefings directly to the White House. [complete article]

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Pentagon pays Iraq group, supplier of incorrect spy data
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, March 11, 2004

The Pentagon is paying $340,000 a month to the Iraqi political organization led by Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the interim Iraqi government who has close ties to the Bush administration, for "intelligence collection" about Iraq, according to Defense Department officials.

The classified program, run by the Defense Intelligence Agency since summer 2002, continues a longstanding partnership between the Pentagon and the organization, the Iraqi National Congress, even as the group jockeys for power in a future government. Internal government reviews have found that much of the information generated by the program before the American invasion last year was useless, misleading or even fabricated.

Under the unusual arrangement, the Central Intelligence Agency is required to get permission from the Pentagon before interviewing informants from the Iraqi National Congress, according to government officials who have been briefed on the procedures. [complete article]

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U.S. to retain Iraq security role
BBC News, March 11, 2004

A US general will be in charge of all military forces in Iraq even after the end of the occupation, a senior British official said on Wednesday.

American and British forces will remain in Iraq "for at least two years", the official said.

Backed by the interim-government they will be part of a multinational force, for which a UN Security Council mandate will be sought in May.

Power is due to be handed to Iraq's interim government on 30 June.

However the members of the new government are likely to have been selected by the end of April, in time for a new UN Security Council resolution approving the plan, the official said. [complete article]

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Vigilantes take on the resistance
By Abd al-Karem al-Hashemy, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, March 8, 2004

Twenty men slinging Kalashnikovs, Sterling sub-machineguns, and an assortment of pistols saunter down a main street in the Baghdad neighbourhood of al-Adhamiya one Friday afternoon.

As locals watch anxiously, the men tear down pro-Baathist and anti-Coalition posters, which are a common sight in this predominantly Sunni district.

They replace the posters by sticking up leaflets of their own, which vow attacks on "terrorists" and their allies in the name of a militia called the "Black Flag".

Group members say they will act against suspected insurgents in place of the United States-led Coalition and the Iraqi police, who they say lack the street-level intelligence to deal with their enemies effectively.

The militia's chosen symbol – a black banner combined with the double-bladed sword called Zulfikar which belonged to the seventh-century Imam Ali – is one that is otherwise associated with Shia demonstrations. But the group claims to have Sunni Arabs and Kurds as well as Shia in its ranks.

Although the Black Flag movement is still relatively obscure compared with Iraq's more established parties, its statements echo a general lack of confidence in the Coalition to provide security. [complete article]

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What the British learned in 1920 by not leaving Iraq
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2004

It's one of the loneliest places in Baghdad - the British military cemetery, where hundreds of forlorn gravestones attest to the price of imperialism in Iraq.

In 1920, a Shiite revolt erupted against British occupiers, who had arrived in Mesopotamia at the start of World War I. Britain pushed out Ottoman forces, but didn't move fast enough to create a promised new nation state. The uprising surprised the British, left more than 2,200 occupation troops and an estimated 8,450 Iraqis dead or wounded - and cost, by one account, three times as much as British financing of the entire Arab revolt against the Ottomans.

Today the US faces the same dilemma that dogged the British: How to grant self-rule to Iraqis as promised, while keeping overall control. Despite rhetoric from Washington that it will transform Iraq into a democratic beacon in the Mideast, few Iraqis believe the US is sincere. [complete article]

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Rush hour blasts kill 131 in Madrid three days before elections
Agence France Presse, March 11, 2004

More than 130 people were killed and hundreds injured in rush hour blasts which ripped through four Madrid trains just days before elections here, in what Spanish officials said was the worst attack ever by the separatist Basque group ETA.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar called crisis cabinet talks after the worst attacks to hit Spain since the restoration of democracy in 1975 at the end of the military dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. [complete article]

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U.S. says raid killing Afghan children was legitimate
By David Brunnstrom, Reuters, March 10, 2004

American forces have been absolved of all blame following an investigation into the killing of nine Afghan children in a U.S. airstrike last December, but their rules of engagement have since been changed.

"The investigating officer said we used appropriate rules of engagement and did follow the law of conflict," U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty told a news briefing in Kabul.

But he declined to give details of the report, saying the investigation into the Dec. 6 incident in Ghazni province remained "top secret" despite U.N. calls for it to be made public. [complete article]

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Al-Qaida 'not to blame' for Istanbul bombing
Associated Press (via The Guardian), March 10, 2004

The suicide bomb attack carried out by two suspected Islamic militants in Istanbul yesterday, which killed one person and wounded five others, was not believed to be the work of al-Qaida, the Turkish authorities said today.

Two bombers blew themselves up at the entrance of a masonic lodge in the Kartal district of the city late yesterday after firing automatic weapons at diners in the lodge's restaurant. [complete article]

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Iran and America
Watching each other warily

By Dilip Hiro, The Nation, March 9, 2004

Of the more than 1 million Shiites assembled in Karbala on March 2 to commemorate the death of their revered Imam Hussein (d. AD 681), an estimated 100,000 had come from Iran, and of some 185 pilgrims killed by the terrorist blasts that day, more than forty-nine were Iranian. These figures underline the affinity that exists among the Shiites of Iran and Iraq--a crucial factor in the shaping of post-Saddam Iraq. Bush officials find this religio-political fact so unpalatable that they refuse to acknowledge it publicly. At the same time, it is this factor that explains their present approach toward Tehran.
[complete article]

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PLEASE HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE -- For over two years The War in Context has consistently exposed the flawed premises, grandiose ambitions and disastrous consequences of the foreign policies of the Bush administration. But this isn't run-of-the-mill Bush-bashing. Events themselves provide the most damning critique of the war on terrorism and the "forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East," so The War in Context arms its readers with facts. By turning to this source of news, commentary and analysis, every day you can witness and better understand the havoc unleashed by a group of ideologues who remain intent on remaking a world that they otherwise regard with contempt.

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The new Pentagon papers
By Karen Kwiatkowski, Salon (via ICH), March 10, 2004

From May 2002 until February 2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. This seizure of the reins of U.S. Middle East policy was directly visible to many of us working in the Near East South Asia policy office, and yet there seemed to be little any of us could do about it.

I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.

I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president. [complete article]

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If this war has a victor, it is the Kurds
By Stepahnie Nolen, Globe and Mail, March 10, 2004

In the Masbah neighbourhood of Baghdad, there is a very fine house that looms behind a high stone wall. The house is guarded, these days, by soldiers carrying new automatic rifles. Until recently, the house belonged to Tariq Aziz, the urbane Iraqi vice-president who spoke for Saddam Hussein. Now it is occupied by Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The soldiers out front are Kurds from the peshmerga militia.

"Jalal Talabani lives here now," one of them said. "He sleeps in Tariq Aziz's bed." The soldier smiled. "And we guard the house. The peshmerga are all over Baghdad," he added, and grinned a little wider.

This new house represents a dramatic improvement in the fortunes of Mr. Talabani, who a year ago ruled a small patch of northern Iraq and now sits on the Iraqi Governing Council and entertains in the former vice-president's lounge. It is symbolic of the overall fate of the Kurds: If the war in Iraq can be said to have a victor, one year later, the long-persecuted Kurdish minority has best claim to the title. [complete article]

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As Kurds claim former city, Arabs and Turkmen ready to fight back
By Aamer Madhani, Chicago Tribune (via The State), March 10, 2004

The grousing of a young member of the Iraqi Turkmen Front over prices at a Kurd-owned grocery last week nearly triggered an ethnically charged street fight on Kirkuk's main drag.

The shopkeeper snapped back with an ethnic slur, and the Turkmen Front member retreated across the street to ITF headquarters to retrieve his Kalashnikov, according to Iraqi police and witnesses. He then climbed up to the building's balcony and reportedly fired two rounds in the general direction of the shop.

Within minutes, police and U.S. soldiers were at the scene, but not before dozens of Kurds poured into the street screaming obscenities at the Turkmen as he and his compatriots pointed weapons at the crowd.

Such is life in the tinderbox that is Kirkuk, where ethnic conflict has smoldered for months, complicating the delicate task of forging democracy in Iraq.

"Kirkuk is a flash point," said Mahmoud Mahmoud, a political adviser for the Iraqi Turkmen Front. "If things don't change soon, I fear this will end in a civil war. We will have to build walls to divide the city. It will be worse than Palestine." [complete article]

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Iraq: The civil war bogy
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 11, 2004

On September 7 last year, President George W Bush proclaimed on global television that Iraq was the new frontline in the "war on terror". Before the US invasion and occupation, it had never been.

For the past few months, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, born Ahmad Fadeel Nazzal al-Khalayleh in the Jordanian city of Zarqa, has been sold by the Pentagon and the White House as the missing link between the extinct Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda may constitute only the military vanguard of terrorism worldwide still funded by private and business capital from Saudi Arabia. But Washington won't dare interfere with the internal affairs of its solid oil ally, the House of Saud. It's much easier to promote Zarqawi - with a US$10 million bounty on his head - as the new Osama bin Laden of international terror.

But what is the Iraqi resistance saying about all this? [complete article]

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U.S. should do the honorable thing in Iraq, admit defeat
By Mustafa Alrawi, Daily Star, March 10, 2004

It has almost become mind numbing. The attacks on Shiites in Iraq last week, killing dozens, were horrific and truly painful to hear about. Yet how many more of these avoidable acts of violence must Iraqis endure?

Is it any wonder Shiites blame the US for what has happened to them in Iraq? Already the right of political representation they have so long craved has been unreasonably delayed, and now the lack of coalition control on the situation in Iraq has left more Shiites dead. Their frustration is palpable and justified. Despite their past cooperation, patience and desire to see the coalition succeed, the Shiites have seen very little in return.

The truth is that since the insurgency gathered pace last summer, the coalition's response has been two-fold. First, Iraqis suspected of being involved in the attacks had their homes raided and were arrested (which also served to create more insurgents). Second, all coalition compounds and bases were turned into fortresses. [complete article]

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Kerry reaches out to a world where support for Bush is ebbing away
By Ewen MacAskill and Luke Harding, The Guardian, March 10, 2004

Shortly before Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, flew to Washington for talks with George Bush last month, a journalist asked if he was going to say goodbye to the president ahead of the US elections in November. Mr Schröder's adviser grinned broadly before composing his face into a frown. "I won't speculate on that," he said.

Although Mr Schröder deliberately avoided the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, during his two-day trip to the US, there is little doubt that a Kerry victory would provoke rejoicing inside Germany's government, as it would in many other parts of Europe, as well as Asia, Africa and Latin America.

This week Mr Kerry claimed that foreign leaders had told him they could not publicly offer him their support but added: "You've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy."

Hostility towards a second Bush term is generally assumed to be widespread throughout the world because of the Iraq war, the concept of pre-emptive strikes and bullying of small countries. On issues from the Kyoto agreement and the international criminal court to antipathy towards the UN, President Bush has alienated countries Washington would normally classify as allies. [complete article]

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Mud tossed at Kerry might stick to Bush
By Robert Kuttner, Boston Globe, March 10, 2004

The Bush campaign has a problem. Almost any unflattering issue they bring up about John Kerry tends to reflect worse on President Bush. One thinks of the old proverb, "Never mention a rope in the house of a man who was hanged."

On Monday, speaking at a fund-raiser in Houston, the president tried out what will doubtless be a Republican mantra: "Senator Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, for NAFTA, for No Child Left Behind, and for the use of force in Iraq. Now he opposes the Patriot Act, NAFTA, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the liberation of Iraq. My opponent clearly has strong convictions -- they just don't last very long."

There are two very persuasive rejoinders. For starters, most senators and congressmen also voted for No Child Left Behind and for force in Iraq, but quickly turned into critics because Bush pulled a bait-and-switch.

Similarly, most legislators were stampeded into supporting the so-called Patriot Act, which increases permissible spying on Americans, and now have regrets. Today, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Sensenbrenner, says the Patriot Act will be extended "over my dead body." So Kerry is in very good company.

The second rejoinder is even more potent: Compared with whom? If Kerry occasionally modifies his positions as events change, his inconstancy is pretty mild compared with Bush's. This, after all, is a president who ran as a "uniter, not a divider," as a "compassionate conservative," and as a steward of budgetary prudence. The rest is history, and the history does not flatter the president. [complete article]

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Remember Suez?
By Clare Dyer, The Guardian, March 9, 2004

A year ago, as 60,000 troops were poised to go into battle in Iraq, [British] defence chief of staff Sir Michael (now Lord) Boyce demanded an assurance that the war would be legal under international law. [Attorney general] Goldsmith is said to have been "sitting on the fence" up to that point. With a background as a careful commercial lawyer, it would be surprising if he weren't equivocating. His advice would no doubt have looked at both sides of the case, and the balance of opinion among international lawyers was that use of force would be unlawful without another UN resolution. Sixteen experts signed a letter to the Guardian to that effect. The question marks hanging over the legal position were presumably at least part of the reason Britain was making such huge - ultimately doomed - efforts to secure another resolution.

The Labour peer Helena Kennedy says the Americans were told of Goldsmith's less than bullish advice and advised him to get some new lawyers. Just days before the troops went in, Goldsmith produced a summary of his opinions justifying the war by reference to earlier UN resolutions.

Calls are mounting for the attorney general to release every bit of advice he gave in the weeks leading up to war. This was a war that more than a million people marched against, for the stated purpose of destroying weapons of mass destruction that now seem not to have been there. [complete article]

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Hope crumbles in Rafah as homes are ground to dust
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, March 10, 2004

The first homes were crushed by the monster armoured bulldozers in a wave of destruction in October when the military wrecked about 200 homes in Rafah in what was ostensibly an "anti-terrorist" operation in search of tunnels used for smuggling weapons across the border.

Nearly 2,000 people were driven from their homes, according to the UN. Many were forced into tents just as their parents and grandparents had been when they first fled to Rafah during the brutal upheaval of Israel's birth 56 years ago.

There was a murmur of criticism from the west at the scale of the destruction, but it evaporated amid Israeli insistence that it was part of the "war on terrorism" and because Rafah, isolated on the southern tip of the Gaza strip, was far beyond the world's gaze.

Nothing has been heard since, even though the bulldozers have ground on and the Israeli army continues to kill Palestinians at a higher rate in Rafah than anywhere else in the occupied territories. [complete article]

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Israeli courts fail to deliver justice
By Jonathan Cook, Al Jazeera, March 9, 2004

Israel's army is continuing to use Palestinians as human shields, despite repeated attempts through the courts to ban the practice.

But Israel's justice system is now coming under unprecedented international scrutiny, a fact that might afford Palestinians some hard-won legal victories.

The Supreme Court in Jerusalem has been presented with a series of legal petitions from Palestinian farmers and residents regarding the separation barrier in the past month.

They are claiming financial losses or separation from family members and emergency services caused by the route of the wall, which in many places cuts deep inside the Green Line, the border until 1967 between Israel and the West Bank.

The petitions came days before the International Court of Justice, sitting in The Hague, began its own deliberations on the legality of the wall on behalf of the United Nations General Assembly. [complete article]

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Israelis, Palestinians fight for final victory in Gaza before pullback
By Ravi Nessman, Associated Press (via SF Chronicle), March 8, 2004

Palestinian militants use fake Israeli jeeps in an elaborate bombing attack. Israeli snipers hide on rooftops, picking off armed men. It's all part of a bloody game of one-upmanship over a proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Palestinian militants try to show they are forcing Israel out. Israel pounds them to dispel any impression it is fleeing. In the violent back and forth, 20 Palestinians have been killed since Saturday.

Hovering over the violence is the memory of Israel's hasty withdrawal four years ago from southern Lebanon. The move boosted the status of Hezbollah guerrillas who declared they had driven out the Israeli forces, a claim that embarrassed Israel's military. [complete article]

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PLEASE HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE -- For over two years The War in Context has consistently exposed the flawed premises, grandiose ambitions and disastrous consequences of the foreign policies of the Bush administration. But this isn't run-of-the-mill Bush-bashing. Events themselves provide the most damning critique of the war on terrorism and the "forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East," so The War in Context arms its readers with facts. By turning to this source of news, commentary and analysis, every day you can witness and better understand the havoc unleashed by a group of ideologues who remain intent on remaking a world that they otherwise regard with contempt.

If this site provides you with a valuable service that you haven't found anywhere else, please offer a token of your appreciation and help keep the site running by making a donation. It's easy if you have a credit card. To donate, just hit the PayPal "donate" button below!
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A sharp point in Iraq's 'pointless' violence
By Graham E. Fuller, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2004

As Iraq descends into ever greater bloodletting -- mostly now visited by Iraqis and outsiders upon other Iraqis -- it is tempting to describe all this violence as "mindless," a spasm of senseless nihilism. Yet, sadly, there is a fairly coherent rationale behind these ugly events and their ruthless perpetrators. And even though, fortunately, fewer Americans are dying these days, there can be no doubt that Washington itself is the sole focus of the campaign, regardless of how many Iraqis die.

From day one of the American occupation, radicals -- both secular/nationalist and Islamist -- had two strategic choices. The first was to limit their targets to U.S. forces and facilities in Iraq, making it abundantly clear that the United States is the sole overwhelming threat to Iraq and the Muslim world. The second was to attack anyone and anything that facilitated any aspect of the U.S. operation, even if it was providing benefits to the Iraqi public. Thus the United Nations and the Red Cross became valid targets, not for their services but because they furthered the broader American game plan for power in the region. In the same vein, Iraqi-staffed police and security officials became part of the American infrastructure of power and control and now are being targeted. Clearly, this second strategy has prevailed -- an astonishingly bloody-minded vision that says a lot about the current defensive state of mind of the region as a whole. But regardless of who the actual targets are, it's clearly a message being directed at the United States.

The bolder the scope of the U.S. master plan -- quite bluntly described by top U.S. policymakers as a bid to "remake the face of the Middle East" -- the harsher the response from the radicals. It makes no difference to them whether innocent Iraqi civilians pay the ultimate price for associating with the U.S. The whole point is to make sure that the U.S. learns that such interventionist projects are flights of dangerous folly. Radicals seek to drive home the point that Americans should never contemplate for even a moment the ambition of visiting American military force against the Muslim world ever again. If Iraq has to twist in the wind in tortured chaos for a year, so be it if that is what it takes to ensure that the U.S. will be permanently traumatized by messing with Islam. [complete article]

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Karbala shrine blasts blamed on suicide bombers
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2004

Investigators probing the bombings that struck this city last week during a Shiite Muslim religious festival, killing more than 100 people, have determined that the blasts were set off by nine suicide attackers wearing belts rigged with explosives, Iraqi police said Tuesday.

Iraqi and U.S. officials previously attributed the March 2 blasts to a combination of suicide bombers, mortar rounds, bombs placed in pushcarts and a land mine. But witnesses' descriptions of suspected bombers and analysis of the scenes -- including the discovery of detonating devices and shrapnel -- point to suicide attackers, police said.

"All of the executors of this operation were suicide attackers," Col. Karim Hachim Sultan, Karbala's deputy police chief, said in an interview outside the heavily fortified police station.

The conclusion that nine suicide bombers struck in Karbala -- along with three who blew themselves up almost simultaneously at a Shiite shrine in Baghdad, about 55 miles north -- underscored the coordination and organization that went into the plot.

Law enforcement authorities agree that the synchronized assaults in the two cities were jointly planned. That meant that plotters were able to enlist a dozen suicide bombers and equip, train and send them on their missions without being detected by U.S. or Iraqi forces. [complete article]

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Premature rejoicing in Kirkuk
By Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, March 9, 2004

The Kurdish population of Kirkuk took to the streets yesterday to declare the city had been in effect returned to Kurdistan, after decades of ravages by Saddam Hussein's regime, by the signing of the new interim constitution.

In an apparently spontaneous demonstration tens of thousands marched wrapped in the Kurdish flag or banging drums, or blocked the streets as they waved flags and fired in the air from cars and buses.

On the main road beneath the castle, overcrowded trucks with young men hanging from the back and sides sped by, many bearing pictures of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani, whose stronghold is an hour away in Sulaimaniya.

There were also many Stars and Stripes, a flag not often seen now even in the most enthusiastic of Iraqi hands.

As night fell and tracer fire and flares periodically flashed across the sky the intensity of the celebrations showed no signs of abating.

The huge outpouring of Kurdish emotion disregarded the fact that the interim constitution does not rule definitively on the future of the contested city, the surrounding areas, and its vast oil wealth. [complete article]

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Shiites may demand lifting of limits on their power
By John F. Burns, New York Times, March 10, 2004

Iraq's most powerful Shiite leaders kept up the pressure on Tuesday for changes in the interim constitution they signed on Monday, hinting that they may entangle the next phase of the American political timetable here, choosing a transitional government, by continuing their push for fewer constraints on the powers of the country's Shiite majority.

One of several Shiite leaders who voiced his discontent on Tuesday was Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, widely regarded as the most powerful of the contending Shiite clerical groups. Mr. Hakim is backed by a powerful militia known as the Badr Brigade, which was an Iran-based insurgency group during Saddam Hussein's years in power. He is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iranian-born cleric who has emerged as the Shiites' behind-the-scenes kingmaker.

At a news conference in a mansion beside the Tigris River that was formerly the home of Tariq Aziz, a Hussein aide who surrendered to the Americans last year, Mr. Hakim spoke of the interim constitution as a watershed for Iraq in moving beyond the "dictatorship" of Mr. Hussein. But the undercurrent of much else he said was that the new charter must be changed to remove impediments to the powers of the Shiite majority, and that the push for this may be renewed in the negotiations over a transitional government. [complete article]

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CIA director disputes Cheney assertions on Iraq
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, March 9, 2004

CIA Director George Tenet on Tuesday rejected recent assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq cooperated with the al-Qaida terrorist network and that the administration had proof of an illicit Iraqi biological warfare program.

Tenet's comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee are likely to fuel friction between the White House and intelligence agencies over the failure so far to find any of the banned weapons stockpiles that President Bush, in justifying his case for war, charged Saddam Hussein with concealing.

Tenet at first appeared to defend the administration, saying that he didn't believe the White House misrepresented intelligence provided by the CIA.

The administration's statements, he said, reflected a prewar intelligence consensus that Saddam had stockpiled chemical and biological weapons and was pursuing nuclear bombs.

But under sharp questioning by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Tenet reversed himself, saying there had been instances when he had warned administration officials that they were misstating the threat posed by Iraq. [complete article]

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PLEASE HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE -- For over two years The War in Context has consistently exposed the flawed premises, grandiose ambitions and disastrous consequences of the foreign policies of the Bush administration. But this isn't run-of-the-mill Bush-bashing. Events themselves provide the most damning critique of the war on terrorism and the "forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East," so The War in Context arms its readers with facts. By turning to this source of news, commentary and analysis, every day you can witness and better understand the havoc unleashed by a group of ideologues who remain intent on remaking a world that they otherwise regard with contempt.

If this site provides you with a valuable service that you haven't found anywhere else, please offer a token of your appreciation and help keep the site running by making a donation. It's easy if you have a credit card. To donate, just hit the PayPal "donate" button below!
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War minus the shooting
By Mike Marqusee, The Guardian, March 10, 2004

India's superstar cricketers - among the country's most famous faces - will today visit Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his Delhi residence, to receive his official blessing before boarding a chartered flight for Lahore. It's a short hop, but a momentous journey - the start of India's first full cricket tour of Pakistan since 1989.

This is world sport's fiercest local derby. It arouses the greatest passions among the greatest number of people, and is over-stuffed with political, cultural and religious connotations. Its absence has been the hole in the heart of the world game, as well as a standing reminder of the near state-of-war prevailing between the south Asian neighbours. Its resumption is a welcome by-product of the current tenuous thaw.

There are dangers here as well as opportunities. Cricket, like other mass spectator sports, is a magnet for meanings, a malleable metaphor. And in the past, cricket between India and Pakistan has served as both a symbol of south Asian harmony and a prime example of what George Orwell called "war minus the shooting". [complete article]

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Spy unit skirted CIA on Iraq
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2004

A special intelligence unit at the Pentagon [, the so-called Policy Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, created after 9/11 by Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of Defense for policy,] privately briefed senior officials at the White House on alleged ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda without the knowledge of CIA Director George J. Tenet, according to new information presented at a Senate hearing Tuesday.

The disclosure suggests that the controversial Pentagon office played a greater role than previously understood in shaping the administration's views on Iraq's alleged ties to the terrorist network behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and bypassed usual channels to make a case that conflicted with the conclusions of CIA analysts.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Tenet said he was unaware until recently that the Pentagon unit had presented its findings to the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. It is not clear whether Cheney or Rice were present for the briefing, which was mentioned in a Defense Department letter released by the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. [complete article]

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Tribes recruited in bin Laden hunt
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, March 10, 2004

Hundreds of colorful turbans dot the vista as tribesmen dance to the beat of drums, heralding an agreement to form a 600-strong tribal force to hunt "foreign terrorists" in this remote corner of Pakistan.

The semiautonomous region of Waziristan is the focus of a push by Pakistani forces, in coordination with US troops across the border in Afghanistan, to round up or kill suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas, including Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be in the area.

The new tribal posse represents a last ditch effort by local chiefs to save face and preserve their long-held autonomy by preempting further Pakistani military and paramilitary operations in the region. If successful, the strategy could diffuse the potentially explosive resentment among tribesmen unused to the government's deployments. But giving the lead to a tribal force may subject the increasingly urgent US and Pakistani dragnet to new delays. [complete article]

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Are the Taliban really "gone"?
By Mark Sedra, Foreign Policy in Focus, March, 2004

"America's got the watches, but the Taliban has the time" (BBC, January 16, 2004). This telling statement, attributed to a Taliban spokesperson in early 2004, illustrates a fundamental truth about the present situation in Afghanistan: The longer it takes to consolidate the peace and deliver a peace dividend to the beleaguered population, the greater the likelihood that antigovernment spoiler groups, whether they are the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami, or al Qaeda, will be able to unravel the nascent state-building process. The Taliban are acutely aware that sustained donor interest and military support will not last forever; donor fatigue, shifting budgetary priorities, and waning donor attention are inevitable. With the world's eyes firmly fixed on Baghdad--not Kabul--maintaining high levels of donor support for Afghanistan is an arduous task. An historic window of opportunity exists to stabilize and reconstruct this war-torn country, but with each passing day that window closes ever more slightly. Once that window is closed, there is no guarantee that a similar opportunity will arise again, for the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups will be waiting to take advantage. [complete article]

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Conquering the divide
By Juan Cole, The Guardian, March 9, 2004

The delay over the signing of the "basic law" or interim constitution, finally enacted on Monday, signals continued conflict between the Shia majority and the Sunni minorities in Iraq. The elaborate signing ceremony of March 5 collapsed when five Shia members of the Interim Governing Council refused to participate. They cited Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's reservations about provisions giving a veto over the permanent constitution to any set of three provinces. The Shia majority, excluded from power for centuries, is skittish about allowing Sunni to hold the constitutional process hostage. [complete article]

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Fearing a bloodbath, Iraq's Sunnis warn against a rush to democracy
By Mark MacKinnon, Globe and Mail, March 9, 2004

Drumming his hands violently on the dashboard as Nirvana's In Bloom pumps out of the car stereo, Faisal Hamdani says he wants to play in a band, not fight in a war.

He has little in common with the hard-line clerics who have emerged as this country's leaders over the past 12 months, and pays little attention to their increasingly strict dictates. Like many young Iraqis, he spends many of his nights drinking in underground bars or looking for faraway love on the Internet.

It riles him, then, to think that more fighting may lie ahead. The 21-year-old interior-design student shares the concerns of many fellow Sunni Muslims: That even with a national election being delayed until at least later this year, the move to democracy is happening too fast and will produce a result unacceptable to many -- perhaps a government led by Shia clergy. [complete article]

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PLEASE HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE -- For over two years, The War in Context has consistently exposed the flawed premises, grandiose ambitions and disastrous consequences of the foreign policies of the Bush administration. But this isn't run-of-the-mill Bush-bashing. Events themselves provide the most damning critique of the war on terrorism and the "forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East," so The War in Context arms its readers with facts. By turning to this source of news, commentary and analysis, every day you can witness and better understand the havoc unleashed by a group of ideologues who remain intent on remaking a world that they otherwise regard with contempt.

If this site provides you with a valuable service that you haven't found anywhere else, please offer a token of your appreciation and help keep the site running by making a donation. It's easy if you have a credit card. To donate, just hit the PayPal "donate" button below!
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Suspicious Shiites are ready to raise hell
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, March 10, 2004

The ink was hardly dry on Iraq's wobbly interim constitution when the spiritual leader of the country's majority Shiites made it clear that the document falls short of their cherished ambition to run a country in which they have been oppressed for centuries.

Brandishing ceremonial gold pens, US occupation officials and members of Washington's hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council beamed with relief when the constitution was finally signed on Monday, after the cancellation last week of the first two attempts to get all signatures on the one piece of paper.

But the Shiite leadership cast doubt on the document's viability, immediately diminishing hopes that Iraq's parallel politics - the Americans and their predominantly exile-run administration on one hand, and the sheer weight of Shiite numbers over Sunnis and Kurds on the other - might be steered away from descent into civil war.

The spiritual leader of the Shiites, the old and white-bearded Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, wiped the official smile from faces in Baghdad by using the internet to issue a decree from his monastic cell in the holy city of Karbala, in which he declared the interim constitution an obstacle to a lasting settlement. [complete article]

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Egomania, INC
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 8, 2004

What is going on with Ahmad Chalabi? The Iraqi exile, MIT-trained mathematician, and wealthy businessman who plotted with high-level U.S. officials to return to Baghdad and grab the reins in a post-Saddam government -- to bring to his homeland the virtues of modernization and Western-style democracy -- has now joined forces with Iraq's most prominent anti-American theocrats.

His is a mysterious saga and an instructive one to any future American politicians who might feel tempted to believe that overthrowing a rogue regime is easy, as long as an eager expat rides along to do our bidding in the aftermath. Even the most compliant quislings sometimes go native. [complete article]

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Most suspects in Iraq bombing released
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via Yahoo), March 9, 2004

All but nine of 24 suspects in last week's deadly blasts targeting Shiite Muslim pilgrims have been released, a top U.S. military official said Tuesday. Those still in U.S. custody are Arabic speakers believed to be Iraqis.

Within hours of the bombings, U.S. and Iraqi officials had blamed foreign fighters and said several foreign suspects were captured. Members of Iraq's Governing Council accused Jordanian terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of organizing the simultaneous blasts.

However, five of the foreigners arrested who spoke either Farsi, the language of Iran, or Dari, which is common in Afghanistan, have been freed, according to Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, spokesman for the U.S. military command in Baghdad. [...]

Five other suspects arrested near Karbala a few hours before the attacks were originally said to have been foreign fighters but are now believed to be Iraqis, Kimmitt said. That group, said to have been planning an attack on Shiite pilgrims, remains in U.S. custody. [complete article]

Comment -- This has become an utterly predictable pattern. First comes a devastating suicide bombing, then the fingers point at al Qaeda and foreign suspects are swiftly arrested. (This time around a solemn Ambassador Bremer promised that additional security forces would patrol Iraq's borders.) But then, several days after the media's attention has moved on to fresher news, the much smaller story comes out. The detainees all turned out to be Iraqis or those that were foreigners have been released.

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Bush insults Kerry's intelligence
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 9, 2004

There he goes again.

Yesterday, President Bush told a crowd of supporters in Houston that, back in 1995, two years after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Sen. John Kerry introduced legislation to cut the intelligence budget by $1.5 billion. "Once again, Sen. Kerry is trying to have it both ways," the president said. "He's for good intelligence; yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services. And that is no way to lead a nation in a time of war." Bush further charged that Kerry's bill was "so deeply irresponsible that he didn't have a single-co-sponsor in the United States Senate."

Bush and his operatives are making a practice of mischaracterizing the voting record of the presumptive Democratic nominee. Two weeks ago, the Republican National Committee put out a "Research Brief" that flagrantly distorted Kerry's votes on weapons systems. (Click here for the real facts.) Bush's remarks yesterday are more dishonest still. [complete article]

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The next Nader effect
By Charlie Cook, New York Times, March 9, 2004

After the initial stir, Ralph Nader's entry into the presidential campaign has been widely dismissed as the folly of an over-the-hill egomaniac. While Mr. Nader's critics might be right about his character, a look at the current polls and the election results from 2000 show that his independent candidacy cannot be ignored. And while I agree with the conventional wisdom that he will get far fewer votes than the 2.7 percent of the electorate he received four years ago, the race between President Bush and John Kerry may very well be so close that even a declawed Ralph Nader could tip the election to the incumbent.

Remember that Mr. Nader, running as the Green Party nominee, cost Al Gore two states, Florida and New Hampshire, either of which would have given the vice president a victory in 2000. In Florida, which George W. Bush carried by 537 votes, Mr. Nader received nearly 100,000 votes. In New Hampshire, which Mr. Bush won by 7,211 votes, Mr. Nader pulled in more than 22,000. National exit polls by the Voter News Service showed that had Mr. Nader not run, 47 percent of his supporters would have voted for Al Gore, while only 21 percent would have voted for Mr. Bush.

Recent national polls suggest that a similar dynamic may play out this time around. While surveys that test a two-way contest between President Bush and Senator Kerry generally show the senator ahead by a few points, those that add Mr. Nader to the mix put the race at a dead heat -- or they give the president a narrow edge. A national survey last week by The Associated Press and Ipsos Public Affairs showed the president garnering 46 percent, Senator Kerry 45 percent and Mr. Nader 6 percent. [complete article]

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The 9/11 factor in election
By Linda Feldmann and Liz Marlantes, Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 2004

When the Bush reelection team rolled out its first TV ads last Thursday, chances are no one imagined that the firestorm over the use of 9/11 imagery would still be raging five days later.

At first blush, the controversy seemed to benefit George W. Bush. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are the defining moment of his presidency, and any discussion - good, bad, or ugly - brings the public back to his days of 90-plus percent approval ratings for his leadership.

But with nearly eight months to go before the Nov. 2 election - promising an odyssey of endless debate on a vast array of issues - some of those early assumptions are in question. Can the president overdo his use of one of the most shocking events in American history? And how, in this inevitably political season, can his presumed opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, overcome the inherent disadvantage he faces in challenging a self-described war president? [complete article]

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Bush hindering probes, Kerry says
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, March 8, 2004

Sen. John F. Kerry, intensifying the election fight over terrorism and national security, accused President Bush on Sunday of "stonewalling" for political reasons separate investigations into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and prewar intelligence on Iraq.

The Massachusetts Democrat echoed Bush's promise to make Sept. 11 a top election issue and, for the second time in the young general election campaign, portrayed the president as playing politics with the deadliest attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor.

"I think one of the most critical questions in front of the country is with respect to 9/11, why is this administration stonewalling and resisting the investigation into why we had the greatest security failure in the history of our country and why is he also resisting having an immediate investigation into the security failure with respect to the intelligence in Iraq," Kerry told reporters at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss. [complete article]

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Plugging leaks
By Murray S. Waas, The American Prospect, March 8, 2004

President Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, told the FBI in an interview last October that he circulated and discussed damaging information regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame with others in the White House, outside political consultants, and journalists, according to a government official and an attorney familiar with the ongoing special counsel's investigation of the matter.

But Rove also adamantly insisted to the FBI that he was not the administration official who leaked the information that Plame was a covert CIA operative to conservative columnist Robert Novak last July. Rather, Rove insisted, he had only circulated information about Plame after it had appeared in Novak's column. He also told the FBI, the same sources said, that circulating the information was a legitimate means to counter what he claimed was politically motivated criticism of the Bush administration by Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Rove and other White House officials described to the FBI what sources characterized as an aggressive campaign to discredit Wilson through the leaking and disseminating of derogatory information regarding him and his wife to the press, utilizing proxies such as conservative interest groups and the Republican National Committee to achieve those ends, and distributing talking points to allies of the administration on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Rove is said to have named at least six other administration officials who were involved in the effort to discredit Wilson. [complete article]

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Support for Bush falls on economy and Iraq
By Richard Morin and Dana Milbank, Washington Post, March 9, 2004

President Bush, the target of months of criticism during the Democratic primary season, has seen public support fall to the lowest level of his presidency for his performance on the economy and the situation in Iraq, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll has found.

A majority of Americans -- 57 percent -- say they want their next president to steer the country away from the course set by Bush, according to the survey. Bush's standing hit new lows in crucial areas such as the economy (39 percent support him), Iraq (46 percent) and the budget deficit (30 percent).

Bush's overall support, 50 percent, was unchanged from February and equal to the lowest of his presidency; only the war on terrorism continues to garner him the support of more than six in 10 Americans. [complete article]

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Military spending sparks warnings
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, March 8, 2004

A sharp jump in military spending under President Bush has lifted defense budgets to levels not seen since the height of the Reagan buildup of the early 1980s, prompting warnings by lawmakers and defense analysts that the surge may no longer be sustainable in a time of deepening deficits. [...]

The looming political battle bore a striking parallel with conditions 19 years ago when congressional alarm over a soaring federal deficit led to the end of President Ronald Reagan's defense buildup.

"This feels to me the way it did back in 1985," said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary and comptroller under President Bill Clinton and now president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "I believe the tide has begun to turn. These deficit and defense budget numbers are so shockingly big now that, politically, they're untenable." [complete article]

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Guantanamo Britons fly home today
By Robert Verkaik and Kim Sengupta, The Independent, March 9, 2004

The fate of the five British terror suspects who are flying home from Guantanamo Bay today will be decided by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Police files on the men are to be passed to Ken Macdonald QC, for advice on whether any of the cases should proceed to court. Sources at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that he would consider whether prosecution was in the public interest. It is unusual for the DPP to become personally involved in such a decision.

Mr Macdonald was a leading defence barrister who specialised in representing alleged terrorists. The cases will be his first real test in the job. [complete article]

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Hamas founder says group may play role in Gaza government
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, March 9, 2004

The spiritual leader and founder of Hamas said Monday that his militant organization might seek to be part of any government ruling the Gaza Strip if Israel follows through with its proposal to remove its settlements and military outposts there.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin told Knight Ridder in an exclusive interview that his group might lay down its arms and participate in elections. The statements were unusual because Hamas has rejected any role in a Palestinian government that negotiates with Israel, given its charter to annihilate the Jewish nation. [complete article]

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The bombers from Britain
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, March 9, 2004

Two British suicide bombers are shown rejoicing at the prospect of killing Israelis in a videotape made before their deaths last year and released yesterday by the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

Asif Hanif, from Hounslow, south-west London, and Omar Khan Sharif, from Derby, are seen wearing military fatigues as they seek to justify in Arabic and English the lethal attack which they were about to make on a Tel Aviv club last year. [...]

The video is believed to be the first of its kind showing suicide bombers talking about their motivation in English. The men, who entered Israel as tourists and had contacts with pro-Palestinian foreign activists in Gaza before the attack, are shown wearing headbands emblazoned with the words "Qassam Brigades" in Arabic.

Hamas said it was issuing the tape in honour of the Hamas leader Ibraham al-Maqadma, who was killed along with two bodyguards in an Israeli air strike on Gaza a year ago. A poster of Maqadma is in the background in the video, apparently to signify that the attack was to avenge his death. [complete article]

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Arabs cry foul as America borrows their reform agenda
By Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, March 9, 2004

Nader Fergani, a professor of political economy at Cairo University, contributed to something of a revolution in the Arab world two years ago. He was the lead author of the UN-backed Arab Human Development Report, a powerful act of self-criticism in which 30 intellectuals from the region outlined the dismal failures of the Arab world.

Proud of a work "prepared for Arabs by Arabs", Mr Fergani and his colleagues challenged the region to overcome three "cardinal obstacles" to human development: widening deficits in freedom, women's empowerment and knowledge.

The study fuelled a much-needed debate in the Arab world. But it has also proved useful in the US, where the transformation of the Middle East is now high on the foreign policy agenda. [...]

From Washington to European capitals, official speeches routinely point to the report published by the United Nations Development Programme to support international action to promote reforms in Arab states. [...]

But those involved in the study complain that the US has so little credibility in the Arab world that the more it associates itself with the report, the more it undermines the authority of the work. They insist that Washington has been selective with the report, failing to take into account its criticism of US policies.

While the 2002 analysis cited the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as another impediment to development, a follow-up report last year criticised the US war on terrorism as giving ruling regimes justification for curbing freedom.

"Because the US is trying to create a narrative for its policy in the Middle East it seeks to use the report in a very selective way . .. that does a great disservice to authentic reformers in the Arab world," says Clovis Maksoud, a former Arab League ambassador to Washington who was closely involved in the work. [complete article]

See the U.N.'s follow-up report, Arab Human Development Report 2003: Building a Knowledge Society

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In interviews, Iraqis profess ignorance about law's details
By Sewell Chan, Washington Post, March 9, 2004

They knew that a national constitution was being drafted. They had heard vaguely about disagreements among the officials writing it. But for many ordinary Iraqis, the details and the significance of the document, which was signed Monday and billed as a framework for self-rule, remained largely a mystery.

In several interviews in Karrada, a crowded commercial district in the Iraqi capital, the dominant theme was ignorance of the interim constitution's basic features, even among those who said they watch and read the news regularly. Those who were familiar with the outline of the new law said they doubted it would produce political stability and democracy after the U.S. civil occupation officially ends on June 30. [complete article]

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Where brave constitutions are often window dressing
By Susan Sachs, New York Times, March 9, 2004

Egypt's Constitution says the state may not detain people unless they are charged with a crime. Syria's Constitution declares that no citizen shall be tortured. Jordan's Constitution guarantees freedom of expression in speech and writing.

But Egypt has been under emergency law for decades, and tens of thousands of people have been kept in jail without charge. The use of torture has been routine in Syria's prisons for years, according to the State Department and rights groups. And journalists have been arrested for expressing views that the Jordanian government considered "harmful to national unity."

While members of the Bush administration have described the rights enshrined in the new Iraqi document as an unprecedented accomplishment for the region, in fact most Arab constitutions, among them Iraq's constitutions during the rule of Saddam Hussein, have long included similar guarantees. [complete article]

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Top Iraq nuke scientist seeks U.N. probe
By Sam F. Ghattas, Associated Press (via Yahoo), March 8, 2004

The father of Iraq's nuclear bomb program denied Monday that Saddam Hussein tried to restart his atomic activities, but acknowledged Iraq tried to conceal its banned weapons operations before destroying them 13 years ago.

Jafar Dhia Jafar, speaking publicly for the first time since U.S. forces occupied Baghdad, also called for a U.N. probe of what its inspectors knew before the U.S.-led invasion. Inspectors "reached total conviction" that Iraq was free of nuclear weapons yet failed to convey that to the Security Council because of U.S. pressure, he said.

"Reports of the United Nations to the Security Council should have been clear and courageous," Jafar said. [complete article]

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U.S. mission in Iraq may be vulnerable at home
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2004

Public support for a large, sustained U.S. involvement in Iraq has grown fragile, and leaders of both political parties should help shore it up to prevent a foreign policy catastrophe, according to a report released today by an influential think tank.

Citing polling data and anticipating future difficulties, the Council on Foreign Relations said President Bush, Democratic presidential challenger Sen. John F. Kerry and other political leaders should counter an erosion in support by committing themselves to a multibillion-dollar effort lasting at least several more years.

"We encourage all parties -- the president, Sen. Kerry, congressional leaders -- to recognize that this is a continuing American commitment," said James R. Schlesinger, secretary of Defense in the Nixon and Ford administrations and co-chairman of the bipartisan task force of foreign policy experts who wrote the report.

"They need to sustain it because the effect of not sustaining it and failing in Iraq would be a substantial blow, if not catastrophic, for American foreign policy," Schlesinger said in a telephone interview Monday. [complete article]

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Killing of Sunni cleric fuels tensions in Iraq
By Suleiman al-Khalidi, Reuters, March 8, 2004

Sunni Muslim cleric Shiekh Ali Zahabi was walking to evening prayers in Baghdad when gunmen in a car shot him dead -- the latest in a string of attacks which some Iraqis say are aimed at igniting a sectarian war.

"We were walking and a BMW stopped and fired at least five shots at Sheikh Ali's chest. They targeted him. They didn't say a word," said Mohammad Obedi, a Sunni worshipper who was walking with the cleric on Sunday evening when he was killed.

The killing, which comes less than a week after bomb attacks on Shi'ites in Baghdad and Kerbala killed at least 181 people, has fuelled concerns that religious extremists are targeting clerics in a bid to destabilise Iraq.

At least two dozen senior Sunni and Shi'ite clerics have been killed in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Iraq's top Shiite cleric denounces new interim constitution
Agence France Presse (via Arab Times), March 8, 2004

The spiritual guide of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Monday called the country's freshly signed transitional law an obstacle to a permanent constitution. "It sets obstacles in the way of reaching a permanent constitution for the country that preserves its unity and the rights of the different religious communities and members of different ethnic groups," Sistani said in a statement.

"Any law drafted for the transitional period will lack legitimacy unless it is ratified by an elected national assembly." Sistani, whose opinion carries great weight with Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority, released his statement hours after the country's 25-member Governing Council seemingly overcame ethnic and religious differences to endorse an interim law expected to pave the way for democracy. [complete article]

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Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period
Coalition Provisional Authority, March 8, 2004

The people of Iraq, striving to reclaim their freedom, which was usurped by the previous tyrannical regime, rejecting violence and coercion in all their forms, and particularly when used as instruments of governance, have determined that they shall hereafter remain a free people governed under the rule of law.

These people, affirming today their respect for international law, especially having been amongst the founders of the United Nations, working to reclaim their legitimate place among nations, have endeavored at the same time to preserve the unity of their homeland in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity in order to draw the features of the future new Iraq, and to establish the mechanisms aiming, amongst other aims, to erase the effects of racist and sectarian policies and practices.

This Law is now established to govern the affairs of Iraq during the transitional period until a duly elected government, operating under a permanent and legitimate constitution achieving full democracy, shall come into being. [complete text]

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Evangelism -- whether religious, political, or commercial -- is rooted in naive contempt. The giver neither questions the value of his gift nor doubts the poverty of his chosen client. Whatever is on offer, be it democracy, salvation, or the latest design of footwear is guaranteed to improve life even though the only clear interest being expressed by the eager seller is that he closes his sale. The doubtful buyer rightly asks, why should I believe this will improve my life if you know so little about, have such a lack of interest in, and demonstrate no appreciation for, the actual life I am living?

The wrong way to sell democracy to the Arab world
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, New York Times, March 8, 2004

The notion that America, with Europe's support and Israel's endorsement, will teach the Arab world how to become modern and democratic elicits, at the very least, ambivalent reactions. (This, after all, is a region where memory of French and British control is still fresh.) Though the program is meant to be voluntary, some fear that compulsion is not far behind.

There are other reasons to be wary of the administration's plan. Democracy, impatiently imposed, can lead to unintended consequences. If the Palestinians were able to choose a leader in truly free elections, might they not opt for the head of Hamas? If free elections were soon held in Saudi Arabia, would Crown Prince Abdullah, a reformer, prevail over Osama bin Laden or another militant Islamic leader? If not genuinely accepted and reinforced by traditions of constitutionalism, democracy can degenerate into plebiscites that only add legitimacy to extremism and authoritarianism.

Compounding the problem is the suspicion -- not only among the Arabs but also among the Europeans whose support the United States is seeking -- that the sudden focus on democracy has been promoted by administration officials who wish to delay any serious American effort to push the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a genuine peace settlement. That suspicion was fueled by Vice President Dick Cheney's recent remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The spread of democracy, Mr. Cheney said, was "the precondition for peace and prosperity in Western Europe" after World War II. He went on to assert that democratic reform "is also essential to a peaceful resolution of the longstanding Arab-Israeli dispute."

Mr. Cheney's argument that democracy is the precondition for peace appeared to many to be a rationalization for postponing any effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, it ignored the historical reality that democracy can flourish only in an atmosphere of political dignity. As long as the Palestinians live under Israeli control and are humiliated daily, they won't be attracted by the virtues of democracy. The same is largely true of the Iraqis under the American occupation. [complete article]

Saudi clerics forbid Muslims to watch U.S. Arabic channel
Associated Press (via Straits Times), March 7, 2004

Clerics in Saudi Arabia are venting their anger at a new United States-funded television channel for Arab viewers, saying it was founded to fight Islam and Muslims are religiously forbidden to watch it.

Sheikh Ibrahim al-Khudairi, a cleric and judge in Riyadh, and Sheikh Mansour bin Ahmed al-Hussein, another government-appointed cleric in the Saudi capital, both slammed Al-Hurra. They said no one should work for the station, watch it or support it with advertising.

During his Friday sermon before thousands of worshippers, Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, prayer leader of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, said that Western satellite channels directed at Arab viewers were part of a 'war of ideas' against the Muslim world.

Al-Hurra, or The Free One, made its broadcast debut on Feb 14 with footage of windows being opened, symbolising freedom, and comments by US President George W. Bush praising Iraq's determination for democracy. [complete article]

The U.S. public diplomacy hoax: Why do they keep insulting us?
By Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star (via Lebanon Wire), February 1, 2004

The serious controversy over Washington's use or misuse of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program is not an isolated phenomenon. It reflects a much deeper weakness in how the United States interacts with cultures such as those of the Middle East. We can watch this clash of cultures taking place before our eyes in other fields, such as the US government's use of broadcasting and print media to influence attitudes to the US in the Arab-Islamic world.

The basic problem is that the American penchant for clarity and neat, explicit, black-and-white classification of people's identities and intentions clashes badly with the Middle East's traditions of multiple identities and sometimes hidden aims, as well as the frequent imprecision in stated intentions. I do not claim that either tradition is better or worse, just that each offers very different ways of dealing with the world. Arabs and Americans are like ships passing in the night, sounding their horns, firing their guns, making known their views, but having no impact on the other. [complete article]

Angry Arabs and American media...
By Riverbend, February 25, 2004

I get really tired of the emails deriding Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya for their news coverage, telling me they're too biased towards Arabs, etc. Why is it ok for CNN to be completely biased towards Americans and BBC to be biased towards the British but Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have to objective and unprejudiced and, preferably, pander to American public opinion? They are Arab news networks- they SHOULD be biased towards Arabs. I agree that there is quite a bit of anti-America propaganda in some Arabic media, but there is an equal, if not more potent, amount of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim propaganda in American media. The annoying thing is that your average Arab knows much more about American culture and history than the average American knows about Arabs and Islam. [complete article]

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Israeli forces kill 14 Palestinians and leave 80 wounded in refugee camps in Gaza
Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Electronic Intifada, March 7, 2004

An Israeli military attack in a Palestinian residential area in the central Gaza Strip conducted today, Sunday 7 March 2004, left dead 14 Palestinians, including four children, and more than 80 others, including 26 children, wounded.

According to preliminary investigations conducted by PCHR, at around 03:00 this morning, Israeli forces, including heavy military vehicles and aircraft, moved from the Netzarim settlement, southwards along Salah al Din Street to a point between Al-Nusseirat and Al-Bureij refugee camps. Troops then moved from Salah Al Din Street west into Al-Nusseirat camp.

Israeli forces raided three civilian residential buildings owned by the Quweider, Aaliyan and Ghazal families. Soldiers detained the residents inside the buildings. One resident, Majed Ibrahim Aaliyan, 30, was forced to walk in front of soldiers as they searched the three buildings. Soldiers set up sniper positions on the top floors of the properties. At approximately 6am, more Israeli troops entered the camp. During the incursion, Israeli troops opened fire randomly into the streets of the camp, including from the positions taken in the three houses. Eyewitnesses reported that Israeli helicopters flying overhead also opened fire in the area.

Four children were killed by Israeli gunfire and more than 80 civilians were injured, 26 of them children. Ten of the injured remain in a serious condition. [complete article]

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Hope, out of Ramallah: The rise of the Palestinian alternative
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi interviewed by Samah Sabawi , Electronic Intifada, March 6, 2004

Dr. Barghouthi, how would you describe the current situation in Palestine?

I would say it's a very, very dangerous situation. There is an element of urgency. We're witnessing Israel practically destroying the last hope of building a Palestinian independent state. It is destroying the two-state-solution, and it's doing so while the world is watching. We have a situation where Israel is allowed to be above international law. Of course the Palestinians are not planning to give up, and they will not give up. There is a great amount of resilience and steadfastness and that's why you see the rise of popular mass struggle against the wall. At the same time, the daily life is terrible. On average we have now about 72% of Palestinians living below the line of poverty, with $2 per capita. Around 60% of the labor force is unemployed. The wall has become a major obstacle to education and to health services. Israel has put 734 checkpoints across the Occupied Territories. I'm talking about imprisonment of a nation. A whole nation is being imprisoned behind bars. [complete article]

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The true rationale? It's a decade old
By James Mann, Washington Post, March 7, 2004

Some of the most important and bitterly debated aspects of the war in Iraq -- including the administration's willingness to engage in preemptive military action -- can be traced to discussions and documents from the early 1990s, when Pentagon officials, under then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and then-Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, led the way in forging a new, post-Cold War military strategy for the United States. [...]

An early draft of the document [the Defense Planning Guidance] was leaked to reporters, and has been the stuff of legend ever since. A mostly fictional version of that event has been passed down over the years, and it goes like this: Wolfowitz, the undersecretary of defense, had drafted a version of American military strategy in which the United States would move to block any rival power in Europe, Asia or the Middle East. After the leaked document caused a furor, the first Bush administration retreated. The document was toned down and its key ideas were abandoned.

But interviews with participants show that this version is wrong in several important respects. Wolfowitz didn't write the original draft. While the draft was rewritten, it was not really toned down. Indeed, in subtle ways, using careful terminology and euphemisms, the vision of an American superpower was actually made more sweeping. And although Wolfowitz and his staff played key roles, the ultimate sponsor of the new strategy was Cheney. [complete article]

James Mann's new book, The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, is available here.

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Iraq power grab
By Arnaud de Borchgrave, Washington Times, March 8, 2004

Not trusted by the CIA and with only a 30 percent approval rating among his 24 colleagues on the Iraqi Governing Council, Ahmad Chalabi is rapidly emerging as the most powerful Iraqi since Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Chalabi already is the dominant power broker. And for himself, he has quietly accumulated an impressive number of powerful positions. In addition to running Iraq's postwar intelligence service, known as the Information Collection Program, he now heads the Governing Council's economic and finance committee.

From this potentially lucrative perch, he controlled and supervised the appointment of no fewer than six key players, including three ministers -- the oil minister, the finance minister, the trade minister, the central bank governor, the head of the trade bank and the managing director of Iraq's largest commercial bank.

With this kind of power base, Mr. Chalabi's next steps were predictably familiar. They are deja vu ad nauseam in other parts of the developing world. He has placed relatives and cronies in key slots in the new bureaucracy. Promissory contracts totaling some $400 million for Iraqi reconstruction projects have been allocated to Middle Eastern and American business friends. [complete article]

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As U.S. detains Iraqis, families plead for news
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, March 8, 2004

Iraq has a new generation of missing men. But instead of ending up in mass graves or at the bottom of the Tigris River, as they often did during the rule of Saddam Hussein, they are detained somewhere in American jails.

Although the insurgency has cooled, with suicide attacks against civilians now eclipsing armed clashes with American troops, American forces are still conducting daily raids, bursting into homes and sweeping up families. More than 10,000 men and boys are in custody. According to a detainee database maintained by the military, the oldest prisoner is 75, the youngest 11.

Military officials say some of the detainees have been accused of serious offenses, including shooting down helicopters and planting roadside bombs.

But the officials acknowledge that most of the people captured are probably not dangerous. Of a recent batch of cases reviewed by military judges, they recommended that 963 of 1,166 detainees be released. [complete article]

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Veil of anxiety over women's rights
By Shahin Cole and Juan Cole, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2004

The fate of women in Iraq remains fraught with unknowns. The Fundamental Law just approved by the Iraqi Governing Council, which may serve as a model for the Iraqi constitution, contains important contradictions on matters affecting women. Quite apart from laws on paper, Iraqi women suffer from the devastated condition of the country's economy, from the stupefying unemployment rate and from an alarming crime wave that includes the kidnapping of girls for ransom. Armed fundamentalist movements on the ground, often hostile to women's rights, care little for secular laws and constitutions.

Iraqi civil law has been among the more favorable to women's rights in the Arab world, though social reality often diverges from the ideal. Contrary to many statements by Bush administration officials, it's not at all clear that women are better off since the Iraq war. The United States appointed few women to the Governing Council and those who were chosen were quickly marginalized by powerful male expatriates, including several U.S.-backed clerics. The U.S. could not even prevent Aqila Hashimi the most experienced of the women, from being gunned down last fall. American attempts to appoint women judges were blocked in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. There are only seven women judges in Iraq. [complete article]

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In uncivilized times, a civil union blossoms
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 8, 2004

The story of the Union of the Unemployed, led by formerly underground activists loyal to Iraq's still vibrant communist groups, is a tale of achievement in blighted times.

By its leaders' account, the group has succeeded by denouncing the failures of the U.S.-led reconstruction. But that same success in organizing from the ground up -- among the homeless squatting in government buildings and the jobless idle in Baghdad and elsewhere -- has come only through the fall of Hussein, who brutally repressed independent activism.

The union represents the nascent, unexpected shape of Iraq's new civil society, where religious revival and economic demands are shaping the discourse of a country struggling to redefine its identity.

"In any society, it's necessary to have organizations that are demanding the rights of the people," said Qassim Hadi, a gaunt, goateed 37-year-old who was elected secretary general when the group was founded in May.

Hadi, the driving force in the organization, worked as a tailor and -- in secret -- as a communist in between four stints in jail under Hussein. [complete article]

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Pentagon to oversee most U.S. spending in Iraq, after dispute with State Department
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), March 8, 2004

After a power struggle with the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon has won control over most of a $18.4 billion aid package for Iraq, and rebuilding delayed for a month will start this week, U.S. officials in Baghdad said Sunday.

Much of the enormous aid package funded by U.S. taxpayers will go toward 2,300 construction projects over the next four years. Of these, the State Department will oversee as little as 10 percent. But $4 billion of the aid package has been set aside, and spending authority for those funds is still in discussion.

Congress approved the aid in November, but the bickering delayed contracts expected to be approved Feb. 2. The State Department had pushed for control, because it will become the top U.S. agency here after Iraqis are handed sovereignty June 30.

Officials were so frustrated by the delay that the U.S. head of reconstruction in Iraq, retired Rear Admiral David J. Nash, reportedly threatened to resign in December.

Now, the resolution means the U.S. military will have chief control over rebuilding in Iraq, even after its command of the U.S.-led occupation ends, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. [complete article]

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An old team to catch Osama
By Kamran Khan, Straits Times, March 8, 2004

The hunt for Osama bin Laden has intensified after the captured son of his deputy revealed key details about where the world's most wanted man may be hiding.

US and Pakistani forces have been focusing their search for Osama in mountains straddling the Afghan-Pakistan border and appear to be inching closer to their target after raids last month netted the son of his adviser.

Islamabad intelligence officials told London's Telegraph newspaper that Ayman al-Zawahiri's son, Khalid, was seized along with 20 other suspected foreign militants in Pakistan's remote South Waziristan area 11 days ago.

The Telegraph said the Pakistani government does not want to announce the capture of the younger al-Zawahiri, but officials have privately confirmed he is being questioned jointly in Pakistan by its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). [complete article]

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'U.S. using terrorist methods against Guantanamo prisoners'
Agence France Presse (via Bahrain Tribune), March 8, 2004

Former British hostage Terry Waite, who was held in captivity by extremists for almost five years in Lebanon, said yesterday that the United States was using terrorist methods in its treatment of detainees at a prison camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

"You do not defeat terrorism by adopting methods of terrorists," said Waite speaking alongside the families of British and French prisoners at the launch of a campaign for Guantanamo prisoners to be treated in accordance with international law.

"I know what it’s like to have no rights," Waite told a London press conference the day before he and other representatives of the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission take their campaign to New York and then Washington.

"My family know what it is like to have no information about me, even whether I am alive or dead," Waite said.

"There are many families around the world who are in this same position now because of Guantanamo Bay," he said. [complete article]

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The Pentagon's secret scream
By William M. Arkin, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2004

Marines arriving in Iraq this month as part of a massive troop rotation will bring with them a high-tech weapon never before used in combat ? or in peacekeeping. The device is a powerful megaphone the size of a satellite dish that can deliver recorded warnings in Arabic and, on command, emit a piercing tone so excruciating to humans, its boosters say, that it causes crowds to disperse, clears buildings and repels intruders.

"[For] most people, even if they plug their ears, [the device] will produce the equivalent of an instant migraine," says Woody Norris, chairman of American Technology Corp., the San Diego firm that produces the weapon. "It will knock [some people] on their knees."

American Technology says its new product "is designed to determine intent, change behavior and support various rules of engagement." The company is careful in its public relations not to refer to the megaphone as a weapon, or to dwell on the debilitating pain American forces will be able to deliver with it. The military has been equally reticent on the subject.

And that's a problem. The new sound weapon might, in some scenarios, save lives. It might provide a good alternative to lethal force in riot situations, as its proponents assert. But the U.S. is making a huge mistake by trying to quietly deploy a new pain-inducing weapon without first airing all of the legal, policy and human rights issues associated with it. [complete article]

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American troops are killing and abusing Afghans, rights body says
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, March 8, 2004

US troops in Afghanistan are operating outside the rule of law, using excessive force to make arrests, mistreating detainees and holding them indefinitely in a "legal black hole" without any legal safeguards, a report published today says.

Having gone to war to combat terrorism and remove the oppressive Taliban regime, the United States is now undermining efforts to restore the rule of law and endangering the lives of civilians, Human Rights Watch says.

Its military forces have repeatedly used deadly force from helicopter gunships and small and heavy arms fire during "what are essentially law-enforcement operations" to arrest suspected criminals in residential areas where there is no military conflict, the report says.

"The use of these tactics has resulted in avoidable civilian deaths and injuries, and in individual cases may amount to violations of international humanitarian law." [complete article]

See Human Rights Watch's 59-page report, Enduring Freedom: Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan

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An empty sort of freedom
By Houzan Mahmoud, The Guardian, March 8, 2004

Women in Iraq endured untold hardships and difficulties during the past three decades of the Ba'ath regime. Although some basic rights for women, such as the right to education, employment, divorce in civil courts and custody over kids, were endorsed in the Personal Status Code, some of these legal rights were routinely violated.

The Ba'ath regime's "faithfulness campaign", an act of terrorism against women that included the summary beheading of scores of those accused of prostitution, is just one example of its brutality against women.

However, it is now almost a year after the war, which was supposed to bring "liberation" to Iraqis. Rather than an improvement in the quality of women's lives, what we have seen is widespread violence, and an escalation of violence against women. [complete article]

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Ethnic divide deepens in new Iraq
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 2004

Once united in opposition to Saddam Hussein's brutal oppression against them, Iraq's Shiites and Kurds appear increasingly divided over how to share the spoils of the new Iraq.

Nowhere is that tension more evident than in [Kirkuk,]this oil-rich city in northern Iraq, which many residents fear is about to explode into violence between Kurds and the mainly Shiite Turkmen.

"We are sitting on a barrel of TNT and it will take only one small flame to blow up the whole place," says Yehyia Abdullah, whose shop was looted by a Kurdish mob last week.

The long-simmering friction between Kurds and Turkmens here is taking a sectarian turn, with thousands of Shiite militiamen recently arriving to protect the Turkmens and Arab coreligionists against Kurdish hopes to incorporate Kirkuk into their sphere of influence in the north. [complete article]

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Hans Blix: Bush and Blair behaved as if they were on a 'witch hunt' over Iraqi weapons
By Anne Penketh, The Independent, March 8, 2004

"Listen to this," [retired chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix] says. "This is Blair speaking, 'I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt'." Mr Blix is mocking Mr Blair's uncritical view of intelligence, which prevented the Prime Minister backing down even when the UN inspectors returned from Iraq unable to report that they had the "smoking gun" which would demonstrate "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein had rebuilt his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Today he is angry at the lack of attention paid by the British and American governments to the inspectors' findings in the rush to topple Saddam. "Why the hell didn't they pay more attention to us?" he asks. [complete article]

Hans Blix's new book, Disarming Iraq: the search for weapons of mass destruction, is available here.

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Forging their own vision of empire
By Jacob Heilbrunn, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2004

When George W. Bush campaigned for the presidency against Al Gore, he couldn't name the president of Pakistan. But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, no one has done more than Bush to create the most contentious U.S. foreign policy debate since the Vietnam War. Three camps have emerged.

The first is made up of traditional Republican realists such as former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft and Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria. It sees Bush as squandering U.S. power and needlessly antagonizing allies. The second camp goes further: Where financier George Soros, a Holocaust survivor, discerns a "supremacist ideology" redolent of the Nazi era, novelist Arundhati Roy warns that for the "first time in history, a single empire with an arsenal of weapons that could obliterate the world in an afternoon has complete, unipolar, economic and military hegemony."

The third camp of neoconservatives couldn't agree more -- and thinks it's a good thing. Only American hegemony, argue Weekly Standard editors William Kristol and Robert Kagan, can safeguard the world. It's America's duty to follow in the footsteps of the British empire to remake Afghanistan and the Middle East. In Bush they see a visionary, a leader on the order of Winston Churchill staring down the forces of totalitarianism and Democratic appeasers. "There is no middle way for Americans," announce David Frum and Richard Perle in their new neocon manifesto "An End to Evil." "It is victory or holocaust."

In his new book, "The Rise of the Vulcans," James Mann trains a practiced eye on these debates. ("Vulcans" is the term Bush advisors used to describe themselves during the 2000 campaign.) Mann, a former Los Angeles Times correspondent and a foreign affairs expert, has conducted numerous interviews with former and current administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, and has delved into the archives. The result is the most detailed and comprehensive account of the Bush foreign policy team to date. [complete article]

James Mann's new book, The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, is available here.

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Envoy had been a target
By Tom Brune, Newsday, March 6, 2004

A transcript subpoenaed in the CIA leak probe reveals the White House press operation began efforts to personally discredit former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV days before a columnist blew the cover of his CIA-officer wife.

As Newsday reported Friday, a federal grand jury served three subpoenas on the White House in January for Air Force One telephone records and a transcript of a press briefing during the presidential trip to Africa the week before Robert Novak's July 14 column identifying CIA officer Valerie Plame.

The grand jury also subpoenaed White House records of staff contacts with an expanded list of more than two dozen reporters who wrote or broadcast about administration concerns over Plame, Wilson and his CIA report that rejected rumors Iraq tried to buy uranium in Niger. [complete article]

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Iraqi secret policeman 'was paid by al-Qa'eda to bomb civilians'
By Inigo Gilmore, The Telegraph, March 7, 2004

A former Iraqi intelligence officer captured by police after last week's bombings in Baghdad and Karbala has revealed that he was paid by al-Qa'eda to carry out attacks on civilians.

Mohammed Hanoun Hamoud al-Mozani was detained with two associates on Wednesday, a day after almost 200 people were killed in simultaneous explosions at shrines packed with Shias.

After interrogating al-Mozani for 24 hours, Najaf police revealed that he had given important information on the network behind the attacks in Iraq.

"We think that this is a big breakthrough," said Major Mohammed Dayekh of the Najaf police. "Al-Mozani admitted that he was part of a terrorist cell that answered to a middle-man who works for al-Qa'eda and he gave us the names of the four other men in the cell, two from Baghdad and two from Najaf." [complete article]

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Embracing the great Satan
By Ian Mather, Scotland on Sunday, March 7, 2004

The aim of the terrorists [who struck this week in Kerbala and Baghdad] appears to be to wreck this burgeoning alliance between the US and Iraq’s Shia population on which the rocky road to a stable future for Iraq depends.

It is an alliance that no one would have thought possible until recently. For decades the Shia sent shudders through the West as they marched in their thousands, lashing themselves with chains until their blood ran or chanting anti-American slogans.

And the popular image of the Shia, the dominant Islamic sect in both Iraq and

Iran, is of a sect obsessed with martyrdom who demonstrated through the Iranian Revolution their total rejection of the Western values.

It's a case of necessity making strange bedfellows. What has thrown the US and the Shia together is that both have a vested interest in a smooth transition to a democratic Iraq: America could bring its troops home and the Shia would win a genuine one person, one vote contest. [complete article]

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The Jihadi who kept asking why
By Elizabeth Rubin, New York Times, March 7, 2004

On a recent three-week journey through the kingdom, I heard the word ''reform'' everywhere I went, though no one seemed to agree on exactly what it meant. Much of Saudi society still clings to its conservative ways, fearfully glancing at change as a euphemism for an American cultural invasion. Many of the elderly princes -- the oldest brothers of King Fahd who for more than a quarter century have controlled the Ministries of the Interior and Defense, the National Guard and the Governorships -- are divided about how to change their kingdom to rid it of the extremism that leads to terrorism, without upsetting the powerful Wahhabi clerics who regard reform as apostasy and who legitimize the royal family's power as divine will.

An unlikely group of onetime religious jihadists have recently stepped into the midst of this debate. They belong to a larger circle of liberals, intellectuals, professors, former Wahhabi scholars, judges and even women who are discussing subjects in the media that were taboo before 9/11 -- questions about terrorism, about Wahhabi discrimination toward Muslims of the Shiite and Sufi sects (whom they consider apostates), about alcohol, about AIDS, about the rights of women to drive and work.

The ex-jihadists are fluent in Islam and, more important, in the lingo of the underground terrorists, and they've surfaced from the extremist subculture with a message for the Wahhabi official clerics, the royal family and even their complicit American allies: Wake up. It's you who created us. We are not an aberration. [complete article]

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War chief reveals legal crisis
By Antony Barnett and Martin Bright, The Observer, March 7, 2004

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, who led Britain's forces to war in Iraq last year, has dramatically broken his silence about the legal crisis which engulfed the Government on the eve of battle.

In an extraordinary interview which will reignite the controversy over the run-up to the conflict, the former Chief of Defence Staff has revealed how Britain went to the brink of a constitutional crisis after he demanded 'unequivocal... legal top cover' before agreeing to allow British troops to fight.

His demand for a formal assurance that a war would be legal came on 10 March 2003, even as British forces massed on the Iraq border, and the advice finally giving the all-clear came on 15 March, only five days before fighting began.

Speaking to The Observer, Boyce, who was made a life peer after he retired last May, refused to rule out the possibility that he might have resigned over the issue, which he described as a 'crunch point'.

He said his concerns were 'transmitted' to the Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith through the Prime Minister. This disclosure adds weight to a suggestion that Tony Blair pressed Goldsmith to change the legal advice at the last minute.
[complete article]

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2 Muslim sites attacked in France, and reaction rankles
By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, March 6, 2004

A Muslim prayer center in the Alpine town of Seynod was destroyed, and the annex of a mosque in nearby Annecy was damaged in arson attacks before dawn on Friday.

The local police said the two fires were purposely set but declined to label them hate crimes. There were no injuries.

The Interior Ministry made no public statement about the attacks, and Frank Louvrier, the ministry spokesman, said one was not planned. A spokeswoman at the prime minister's office referred all inquiries to the Interior Ministry.

In November, after a Jewish school annex in a Paris suburb was badly damaged by a predawn firebomb, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy visited the site within hours and said it was "more than strongly suspected" to be an anti-Semitic and "obviously" racist act. He vowed that those who set the fire would be caught and punished "with the greatest severity."

The next day, President Jacques Chirac declared that "an attack on a Jew is an attack against France" and approved a plan for tougher policing and prosecution of hate crimes and sweeping urban renewal investments of almost $8 billion to clean up neighborhoods thought to breed Islamic extremism.

Mr. Sarkozy has no plan at the moment to visit the Muslim sites, Mr. Louvrier said.

The stark difference in the government's reactions has infuriated many Muslims here. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The rise of Shi'ite 'Petrolistan'
By Mai Yamani, Strait Times, March 6, 2004
The hideous bombings of the Shi'ite shrines in Karbala will neither change nor obscure a powerful new fact of life in the Middle East. Now that the dust of the Iraq war has settled, it is clear the Shi'ites have emerged, blinking in the sunlight, as the unexpected winners. Governments that have oppressed the Shi'ites for decades may still be in denial about this, but the terrorists who planted those bombs are not. They recognise, as the Shi'ites now do, that across the Gulf, Shi'ite Muslims are gaining massively in political power, and have awakened to their ability both to organise themselves and to the gift that lies under their feet: oil. After years of repression at the hands of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Shi'ites are tasting freedom - and spurring their religious counterparts throughout the Gulf to become more assertive. They've also woken up to the accident of geography that has placed the world's major oil supplies in areas where they form the majority: Iran, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and southern Iraq. Welcome to the new commonwealth of 'Petrolistan'.

Shiites: The partisans of Ali insist on a divine choice for succession
By Tamim al-Barghouti, Daily Star, March 6, 2004
Anyone who is exposed to American media will find many references to Shiites and Sunnis almost on a daily basis. Nevertheless, nowhere in such media, and one is inclined to say, almost nowhere in American academia, are the two sects really understood. Many of those who deal with Islam in the United States think of it as a redundant imitation of Christianity, therefore the differences between Islamic sects are, either consciously or subconsciously, believed to correspond to the differences between Christian sects.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani: The real face of power in Iraq
By Paul Vallely, The Independent, March 6, 2004
He is seldom seen in public. He does not do TV interviews. He communicates only through written edicts or through lower-ranking members of the network of scholars who study the Koran and Islamic law in the provincial town of Najaf. And yet the 75-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani is undoubtedly now the most powerful man in Iraq. Revealingly it has taken almost a year for George Bush to wake up to that fact.

House of Saud - to fall or not?
By Ashraf Fahim, Asia Times, March 5, 2004
The vilification of Saudi Arabia by many in Washington after September 11, 2001, led to rash speculation that the United States might eventually turn on its longtime ally. But the sound and fury of ongoing neo-conservative polemics against the al-Saud dynasty have not signified a change in policy. The Saudi-US partnership is too profitable to risk throwing the baby out with the bath water, and it seems destined to endure, at least until the long-predicted fall of the House of Saud.

The Ugly Israeli affair - Sharon's downfall?
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, March 4, 2004
[Reserve Israeli Defense Force colonel, Elhanan] Tennenbaum was an anonymous businessman until Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced three years ago that the pro-Iranian, Syrian backed Lebanese organization had taken captive an "Israeli colonel." Originally pictured as a dashing, gravely ill, critically endangered victim of Hezbollah terror and blackmail, Tennenbaum was to become the cornerstone of a prisoner exchange deal that, in retrospect, has grown more peculiar by the day. More than 400 Arab prisoners were handed over in the deal with Hezbollah in exchange for Tennenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers kidnapped and killed in October, 2000. "For several weeks now, the citizens of Israel have been trying to understand why Ariel Sharon worked so hard for the release of Elhanan Tennenbaum," Maariv wrote. "Why he agreed to release hundreds of terrorists in exchange for a drug dealer. Why he went from cabinet minister to cabinet minister to gain a majority to approve the deal. Why he asked Shin Bet investigators to 'be gentle with Tennenbaum.'"

Photo essay: The damage done
By Verlyn Klinkenborg, Mother Jones, March 3, 2004
The men in these photographs are soldiers who were wounded in Iraq. Two of them were wounded in firefights. One was delivering ice. Another walked off into the desert on a bathroom break and stepped on a mine. One was wounded while blowing up a munitions dump. Two of the soldiers who look the least damaged are blind, far more damaged than the camera can record. Whatever they may feel about their condition now, these men tend to sum up our involvement in Iraq in simple, blunt phrases. Like this, from a double amputee: "The reasons for going to war were bogus, but we were right to go in there. Saddam was a bad guy."

Doubts cast on efforts to link Saddam, al-Qaida
By Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, March 2, 2004
The Bush administration's claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaida - one of the administration's central arguments for a pre-emptive war - appears to have been based on even less solid intelligence than the administration's claims that Iraq had hidden stocks of chemical and biological weapons. Nearly a year after U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq, no evidence has turned up to verify allegations of Saddam's links with al-Qaida, and several key parts of the administration's case have either proved false or seem increasingly doubtful.

Iron John
By Joe Klein, The Guardian, March 2, 2004
Kerry's criticism of the Bush foreign policy is meticulous and comprehensive. It begins with the administration's gratuitously ideological diplomatic actions in the year before the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001. On Bush's decision to simply walk away from the Kyoto global-warming treaty, for example, he told me, "One hundred and sixty nations spent 10 years working to get to a certain place and the United States just stands up and dismisses it out of hand. The administration doesn't say we're going to try to fix it, doesn't say we respect your work, doesn't say we're going to try to find the common ground where we do have some differences. It just declares it dead. Now, what do we think those presidents of those countries, those prime ministers and those finance ministers, those environmental ministers are? Are they all dumb? Are we telling them they are absolutely incapable of making judgments about science, that the 10 years of work that they've invested in conference after conference, many of which I attended, was absolutely for naught? That makes us friends in the world?"

Treat the cause, not the symptoms
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, March 2, 2004
A judge in the high court of Yemen, [Hamoud Abdulhamid al-Hitar] had been invited to London by the British government because the Foreign Office, the attorney general and the Metropolitan police, not to mention several Muslim organisations, all wanted to know about his unusual method of fighting terrorism - by theological dialogue. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the Yemeni authorities, under considerable pressure from the United States, rounded up several hundred suspected troublemakers and kept them in jail without trial. Many, the authorities readily admit, had not committed any crime but were known as sympathisers - if not active supporters - of Osama bin Laden. The approach pioneered by Judge Hitar, who is also chairman of the Yemeni Human Rights Organisation, is to "re-educate" and release them, subject to guarantees of good behaviour. The success rate in re-education is about 90%, according to Judge Hitar, and more than 100 have been freed so far. The basic idea is very simple: that Islamic militants are not fundamentally bad people but have mistaken views of Islam that can be corrected through religious argument based on the Koran and the teachings of the prophet (the Sunna). If they can be genuinely convinced of their error, they will not commit criminal acts and - perhaps more importantly - will not encourage others to do so either.

Anointed Iraq group now probed
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 28, 2004
The Iraqi National Congress, long championed by officials at the White House, Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, is facing a growing number of investigations into the inaccurate - and possibly bogus - intelligence it provided on Iraq. The investigations are also looking into whether some INC members may have tried to cash in on the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The deal
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, March 1, 2004
... Washington's support for the pardon of [the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, Dr. Abdul Qadeer] Khan was predicated on what Musharraf has agreed to do next: look the other way as the U.S. hunts for Osama bin Laden in a tribal area of northwest Pakistan dominated by the forbidding Hindu Kush mountain range, where he is believed to be operating. American commanders have been eager for permission to conduct major sweeps in the Hindu Kush for some time, and Musharraf has repeatedly refused them. Now, with Musharraf's agreement, the Administration has authorized a major spring offensive that will involve the movement of thousands of American troops.

Making bombers in Iraq
By Patrick J. Mcdonnell and Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, February 29, 2004
Less than a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, militant recruiters -- be they foreigners or Iraqis -- are grooming disaffected young Iraqis to become human missiles targeting occupation forces and Iraqis seen as collaborators, officials say. "In the beginning, we were pretty sure that it could not be Iraqis," said Lt. Susan M. Greig of the California National Guard, who oversees law enforcement in Diyala province from her headquarters in nearby Baqubah. But "after the war, you have a lot of farmers, a lot of unemployed people…. They don't understand why we are here. All they can see is that their life has gotten worse. So what we are seeing is that those are a lot of the people being used as foot soldiers." It seems clear that foreign suicide attackers operate in Iraq. But the more complex picture that is emerging indicates that various factions have embraced the most devastating weapon in the insurgency's arsenal.

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