The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Raid rewards soft line by Bush on smuggling
By Julian Borger, the Guardian, March 20, 2004

The unprecedented Pakistani offensive against al-Qaida in the Hindu Kush mountains has coincided with the Bush administration's decision to ignore long-held suspicions that the government in Islamabad was involved in a nuclear smuggling ring.

The timing of the assault - apparently aimed at capturing al-Qaida's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri - has led to allegations that President George Bush has struck a deal with President Pervez Musharraf.

As part of that deal, the administration's critics argue, General Musharraf would deliver the al-Qaida leadership in time for the US presidential elections in November. In return, Pakistan would avoid the sanctions that would normally be applied against "rogue states" so deeply implicated in nuclear proliferation.

The existence of such a bargain is ferociously denied in Washington and Islamabad, where officials insist that both countries are working to gether to stamp out the twin evils of terrorism and proliferation. To put the stamp on that pact, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, announced this week that Pakistan was to be made a member of America's "major non-Nato ally" club, a vote of confidence that confers advantages in acquiring sophisticated weapons.

Many observers of the Washington-Islamabad relationship suggest the truth may lie in the grey zone between those two opposing claims, in which the US desire to stamp out proliferation and terrorism is balanced by fear that Gen Musharraf might fall, and anxiety over who might replace him. There is no doubt that since the exposure of Abdul Qadeer Khan as the head of a nuclear smuggling ring selling equipment and know-how to Libya, Iran and North Korea, Pakistan has been treated extraordinarily softly. [complete article]

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Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's elusive ideological leader -- a New Yorker profile from 2002

The man behind bin Laden
By Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 9, 2002

In June of 2001, two terrorist organizations, Al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. The name of the new entity -- Qaeda al-Jihad -- reflects the long and interdependent history of these two groups. Although Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda, has become the public face of Islamic terrorism, the members of Islamic Jihad and its guiding figure, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have provided the backbone of the larger organization's leadership. According to officials in the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., Zawahiri has been responsible for much of the planning of the terrorist operations against the United States, from the assault on American soldiers in Somalia in 1993, and the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998 and of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000, to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th.

Bin Laden and Zawahiri were bound to discover each other among the radical Islamists who were drawn to Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. For one thing, both were very much modern men. Bin Laden, who was in his early twenties, was already an international businessman; Zawahiri, six years older, was a surgeon from a notable Egyptian family. They were both members of the educated classes, intensely pious, quiet-spoken, and politically stifled by the regimes in their own countries. Each man filled a need in the other. Bin Laden, an idealist with vague political ideas, sought direction, and Zawahiri, a seasoned propagandist, supplied it. "Bin Laden had followers, but they weren't organized," recalls Essam Deraz, an Egyptian filmmaker who made several documentaries about the mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan war. "The people with Zawahiri had extraordinary capabilities -- doctors, engineers, soldiers. They had experience in secret work. They knew how to organize themselves and create cells. And they became the leaders."

The goal of Islamic Jihad was to overthrow the civil government of Egypt and impose a theocracy that might eventually become a model for the entire Arab world; however, years of guerrilla warfare had left the group shattered and bankrupt. For Zawahiri, bin Laden was a savior -- rich and generous, with nearly limitless resources, but also pliable and politically unformed. "Bin Laden had an Islamic frame of reference, but he didn't have anything against the Arab regimes," Montasser al-Zayat, a lawyer for many of the Islamists, told me recently in Cairo. "When Ayman met bin Laden, he created a revolution inside him." [complete article]

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Rallies around the world protest Iraq war
CNN, March 20, 2004

Antiwar rallies were being held around the world on Saturday, the day after protests in Baghdad marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Demonstrators against the Iraq war gathered in London; Tokyo, Japan; New York, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia.

In the United States, rallies were also scheduled Saturday for Los Angeles, California; Fayetteville, North Carolina and Crawford, Texas.

Thousands of Sunni and Shiite Muslims had come together to rally in Baghdad Friday, one year from the beginning of the war. [complete article]

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Bombing Iraq discussed on 9/12, ex-aide to Bush says
Associated Press (via LA Times), March 20, 2004

The Bush administration considered bombing Iraq in retaliation almost immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a former senior counter-terrorism advisor in the White House said.

Richard Clarke, the president's counter-terrorism coordinator at the time of the attacks, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld complained on Sept. 12 -- after the administration was convinced that the Al Qaeda terrorist network was to blame -- that "there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq."

A spokesman for Rumsfeld said he couldn't comment immediately.

Clarke makes the assertion in a book, "Against All Enemies," which will go on sale Monday. He told CBS News that he believed the administration sought to link Iraq with the attacks because of long-standing interest in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

Richard Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies, is available here.

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Korea scraps plan to send troops to N. Iraq
By Andrew Ward, Financial Times, March 19, 2004

South Korea said it remained committed to sending an additional 3,000 troops to Iraq, despite the collapse of plans for the country's forces to take command of Kirkuk, the strategically important oil city in the north of the Gulf state.

However, the dispatch - which would make South Korea the largest force in Iraq after the US and UK - is almost certain to be delayed as Seoul and Washington seek a new base for the troops.

South Korean forces were expected to start arriving in Kirkuk next month but the plan was cancelled on Friday because of Seoul's reluctance to take part in combat operations in the volatile and ethnically-divided city, 250km north of Baghdad.

The delay of the South Korean dispatch is the latest blow to the beleaguered US-led coalition struggling to control Iraq, following the pledge by Spain's newly-elected leader to withdraw his country's 1,300 troops. [complete article]

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Faulty intelligence continues to plague U.S. efforts in Iraq
By Jonathan S. Landay, Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, March 19, 2004

The U.S.-led war against Iraq began one year ago with an urgent message from a clandestine team of U.S. intelligence officers who'd infiltrated Baghdad: An Iraqi agent who said he had "eyes on" on Saddam Hussein was reporting that Saddam would be spending the night at a compound in southern Baghdad.

The encrypted message arrived at CIA headquarters outside Washington on Wednesday afternoon, March 19. At 7:12 p.m., President Bush ordered an airstrike on the compound. Two hours later, 37 minutes before dawn March 20 in Baghdad, two Air Force F-117 stealth warplanes dropped four 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs on the compound, known as Dora Farms.

The attack reportedly killed one civilian, injured 14 others and obliterated the target, but Saddam and his two sons, Odai and Qusai, survived. Either they weren't there or, as some intelligence officers have since theorized, the agent's information was misunderstood or mistranslated because the Arabic words for "bunker" and "compound" sound somewhat alike, and Saddam was in an outbuilding in the compound, not in a bunker. [complete article]

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100 detained in 'al-Qaeda' siege
BBC News, March 20, 2004

Pakistani forces have detained 100 suspects during an operation against al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters holed up in the north-west of the country.

Up to 500 armed militants are believed to be trapped in mud fortresses close to the Afghan border.

A senior al-Qaeda figure is reported to be among those cornered.

But Pakistani officials have dismissed speculation that it is Osama Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, regarded as the brains behind al-Qaeda. [complete article]

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Bush urges world to fight terror
BBC News, March 19, 2004

US President George W Bush has said there can be "no neutral ground in the fight between civilisation and terror".

Speaking on the first anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, he described the war on terror as "an inescapable calling of our generation". [complete article]

Comment -- If the war on terrorism is not a crusade, why dub it a "calling"? The American Heritage Dictionary defines a calling as "an inner urge or a strong impulse, especially one believed to be divinely inspired to accept the Gospels as truth and Jesus as one's personal savior." George Bush has refrained from describing this war as a crusade ever since it was pointed out to him that his cause would not be well served if it was perceived as a war on Islam. Yet his insistance on treating the issue as a matter of conviction betrays a stubborn unwillingness to exercise reason, to weigh up competing arguments, and to modify both tactics and goals in the light of new experience. The neutral ground that Bush refuses to acknowledge lies not between civilization and terror but between two conflicting convictions whose only method of argument is violence.

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U.S. vs. Europe: two views of terror
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, March 18, 2004

Ever since George W. Bush's first reaction to Sept. 11 was that this is "war," debate has simmered over whether fighting terrorism is best handled as a military operation or as law-enforcement, using intelligence cooperation, police work, and the courts.

Now that controversy is flaring again, both in the US in the context of the presidential election and among America's allies in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings.

With President Bush set to emphasize in a speech Friday that the war in Iraq is a cornerstone of his war on terrorism, the White House is leaving no doubt about its view that the battle against terror, as practiced in this century, is indeed a war. But that view has not caught on with America's European allies - and has only met with more vehement rejection as the Bush administration has equated the terror war with the Iraq war.

After decades of battling terrorism on their own soil, Europeans continue to believe that the best counterterrorism work is done through police intelligence and cooperation. And they believe that characterizing the fight as a "war" only antagonizes the populations that have produced terrorist groups and makes it harder to address the root causes of terrorism. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda, the movement
By Peter Bergen, Los Angeles Times, March 17, 2004

The attacks in Madrid Thursday morning suggest that the Al Qaeda network remains very much in business. Despite the fact that two wars have been fought in the name of winning the "war on terrorism" and untold billions of dollars have been spent in an effort to break the back of Al Qaeda, the attacks came as a total surprise, killing more than 200 people.

Any normal organization that had suffered the loss of its base in Afghanistan and that had lost most of its top leaders in the last 2 1/2 years would have gone out of business. But Al Qaeda, which has emerged as the chief suspect in the Madrid bombings, is not a normal organization. Al Qaeda is not like some Mafia family; if you capture or kill all the members of a Mafia family, it will simply cease to exist.

Since Sept. 11, Al Qaeda the group has been morphing into Al Qaeda the ideological movement, and although it is a relatively simple matter to arrest people, it's altogether another thing to arrest the spread of ideas. [complete article]

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Taken for a ride
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 19, 2004

"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." So George Bush declared on Sept. 20, 2001. But what was he saying? Surely he didn't mean that everyone was obliged to support all of his policies, that if you opposed him on anything you were aiding terrorists.

Now we know that he meant just that.

A year ago, President Bush, who had a global mandate to pursue the terrorists responsible for 9/11, went after someone else instead. Most Americans, I suspect, still don't realize how badly this apparent exploitation of the world's good will -- and the subsequent failure to find weapons of mass destruction -- damaged our credibility. They imagine that only the dastardly French, and now maybe the cowardly Spaniards, doubt our word. But yesterday, according to Agence France-Presse, the president of Poland -- which has roughly 2,500 soldiers in Iraq -- had this to say: "That they deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride."

This is the context for last weekend's election upset in Spain, where the Aznar government had taken the country into Iraq against the wishes of 90 percent of the public. Spanish voters weren't intimidated by the terrorist bombings -- they turned on a ruling party they didn't trust. When the government rushed to blame the wrong people for the attack, tried to suppress growing evidence to the contrary and used its control over state television and radio both to push its false accusation and to play down antigovernment protests, it reminded people of the broader lies about the war. [complete article]

See also, Enemies of the states -- If you're against Bush, you're against America (Slate).

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Afghan offensive: Grand plans hit rugged reality
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, March 20, 2004

The plan to eradicate the Afghan resistance was straightforward: US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction. There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself. The plan's implementation began with the launch of operation "Mountain Storm" around March 15.

But the insurgents have a plan of their own, which they have revealed to Asia Times Online. Conceived by foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Arab origin, it is a classic guerrilla stratagem that involves enmeshing the mighty military forces of the United States and its allies in numerous local conflicts, diverting them from their real goal and dissipating their strength.

The insurgents' plan, too, has been put into effect, and the fierce fighting in Pakistan's tribal agency of South Waziristan last Tuesday, when resistance fighters and their tribal sympathizers took on the Pakistani military and routed it, was an early manifestation. Now Pakistan must quell its own rebel tribespeople before it continues to help the US with Mountain Storm. Indeed, Pakistan is attempting just that, on Thursday launching a "full force" operation in South Waziristan, using artillery and helicopter gunships. At the same time, tribal opposition to the Pakistani military has spread to North Waziristan - all according to plan, it seems. [complete article]

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Waziristan rugged, hostile to outsiders
Associated Press (via Toronto Star), March 19, 2004

Pakistani troops are engaged in a fierce battle deep in a rugged frontier region where conservative tribal culture holds sway and the people have long resisted outside interference.

The North West Frontier Province, and particularly the tribal regions of South and North Waziristan, is also an area with strong sympathies for the strict Islamists of the Taliban regime driven from power in neighbouring Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Its tribes have been accused of harbouring Taliban militiamen as well as Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda fighters.

Until pressured by Washington to move into the tribal areas, Pakistan's army had never patrolled that portion of the Afghan border, which runs 3,300 kilometres through forbidding territory stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the desert of Baluchistan in the south.

The frontier is largely undeveloped, with poverty and illiteracy the norm. Waziristan residents follow tribal law enforced by elders. Its people have not conceded control to outside military forces in hundreds of years, not by the former British rulers and not by the Pakistani government. [complete article]

Comment -- Though the media is currently abuzz with speculation about the imminent capture of Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, the only evidence cited in support of the belief in his presense near the town of Wana is the fierceness of the ongoing battle. Just as likely as members of al Qaeda having now been cornered, fiercely independent tribesman may simply be attempting to repel a foreign invasion. As anyone who has travelled in this region knows, this is part of Pakistan only in the minds of cartographers. Even before this region witnessed regime changes, invasions and civil war in neighboring Afghanistan, its residents afforded Pakistani government officials nothing more than a nominal presense. What is being characterized in the western media as a valiant strike on an al Qaeda stronghold, is being viewed by many people in Pakistan as an assault on the tribesmen of Waziristan. The leader of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (the coalition of Islamic parties), Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, warns that the current operation may bring Pakistan to the brink of civil war.

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Spanish Al-Qaeda cell linked to training camps in Indonesia
AFP-AP (via Straits Times), March 19, 2004

The Spanish Al-Qaeda cell which is a suspect in the Madrid bombings had links with militant training camps in Indonesia, according to an expert here.

'There is a clear link between Spanish Al-Qaeda and training camps in Poso,' said Ms Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group (ICG) of political analysts.

An ICG report last month said the head of Spain's Al-Qaeda cell, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, visited the Poso district in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province in May 2001. He reportedly agreed to arrange funding for an international training camp there.

The report said Yarkas was accompanied by an Indonesian called Parlindungan Siregar, who had ties with Al-Qaeda in Spain and was still at large.

Yarkas has since been jailed in Spain for suspected involvement in the Sept 11 attacks on the US. [complete article]

See the ICG report (PDF format).

Comment -- During a week in which the Spanish people and their new prime minister have been accused of appeasement because they want to pull their troops out of Iraq, it's worth noting the evidence that connects the Spanish al-Qaeda cell to Indonesia and not Iraq. That American troops manage to find themselves where the action is says more about their magnetic appeal than the discerning choices of the Pentagon. Much as America's allies might want to tag along out of a sense of camaraderie, no one should begrudge them the right to use the intelligence that the US obviously lacks.

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Off the mark on cost of war, reception by Iraqis
By Dana Milbank and Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 19, 2004

A year ago tonight, President Bush took the nation to war in Iraq with a grand vision for change in the Middle East and beyond.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq, his administration predicted, would come at little financial cost and would materially improve the lives of Iraqis. Americans would be greeted as liberators, Bush officials predicted, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein would spread peace and democracy throughout the Middle East.

Things have not worked out that way, for the most part. There is evidence that the economic lives of Iraqis are improving, thanks to an infusion of U.S. and foreign capital. But the administration badly underestimated the financial cost of the occupation and seriously overstated the ease of pacifying Iraq and the warmth of the reception Iraqis would give the U.S. invaders. And while peace and democracy may yet spread through the region, some early signs are that the U.S. action has had the opposite effect. [complete article]

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The peace movement one year later
By Mark Engler, Foreign Policy in Focus, March, 2004

Since the end of combat operations, peace activists have struggled to present a unified message, structured campaign goals, or a plan for escalating dissent. The call to "Bring the Troops Home Now" is not universally accepted even amongst those who oppose the U.S. occupation, and it often muddies the waters by focusing on technical discussion of if and how the international community should play a greater role in furthering Iraqi sovereignty. The slogan for the March 20 protests, "The World Still Says No to War," is not fashioned to provide a new alternative or to convey a sense of fresh demands.

Some prominent writers have proposed campaigns that might inaugurate a new phase of the peace movement. Tariq Ali has proposed an international movement to close some of the 702 U.S. military bases abroad. Arundhati Roy has suggested a targeted campaign against two selected corporations profiting from Iraq, and the organization Direct Action to Stop the War has continued its focus on corporate profiteers. Naomi Klein has argued for a focus on stopping the privatization of the Iraqi economy.

Each of these proposals merits consideration, especially on the international level. But in the U.S., they must be put in the context of the one dominant strategy to which organizations and activists have actually committed themselves already: The drive to achieve "regime change at home." [complete article]

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The price of freedom? Iraq suicide bombs killed 660
By Tarek al-Issawi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), March 18, 2004

Thousands of people in Iraq have suffered from suicide bombings -- a phenomenon unknown here until after the U.S.-led war toppled Saddam Hussein's regime nearly a year ago.

The cycle began nine days after fighting erupted, and has claimed at least 660 lives -- far more than in 3 1/2 years of Israel-Palestinian suicide attacks -- according to U.S. military officials.

The majority of victims are Iraqis, the U.S. military said. Iraqi officials and police put the death toll higher by at least 100.

In the past year, there have been at least 24 suicide bombings, including four where more than one attacker struck at the same target, according to an Associated Press tally and interviews with officials.

In comparison, since September 2000, 474 people -- the majority Israelis -- have been killed in 112 Palestinian suicide bombings. [complete article]

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Arabs will blame U.S. 'forever' if Iraq falls apart, critic says
By Laura Kurtzman, Mercury News, March 18, 2004

Joseph Wilson, the former diplomat who clashed with the Bush administration over its use of faulty intelligence to justify the war in Iraq, said Wednesday that the United States would be blamed "forever'' by the Arab world if it failed to create a functioning democracy in Iraq.

"The mess that's left over is our mess,'' Wilson said in a speech at the University of California-Berkeley. "We own it.'' [complete article]

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Spain's next prime minister says U.S. should dump Bush
By Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, March 18, 2004

Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Wednesday described the U.S. occupation of Iraq as "a fiasco" and suggested American voters should follow the example set by Spain and change their leadership by supporting Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts for president in November. [complete article]

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Iraq on the record
Presented by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, US House of Representatives, March 18, 2004

The Iraq on the Record report, prepared at the request of Rep. Henry A. Waxman, is a comprehensive examination of the statements made by the five Administration officials most responsible for providing public information and shaping public opinion on Iraq: President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

The Iraq on the Record database identifies 237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq made by these five officials in 125 public appearances in the time leading up to and after the commencement of hostilities in Iraq. The search options on the left can be used to find statements by any combination of speaker, subject, keyword, or date. [complete article]

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One year later: It wasn't us
By Joseph Cirincione and Alexis Orton, Carnegie Endowement for International Peace, March 18, 2004

The Bush administration, in the face of increasing criticism that it misled the public and Congress about the threat posed by Iraq's weapon programs and the ease of the occupation, last week began a broad defense of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Below we present key excerpts and commentary on the administration's major points. They are: 1) the war was a continuation of Clinton policy; 2) everyone thought Saddam had illicit weapons; 3) officials just repeated what the intelligence agencies told them; 4) they never said the threat was imminent; and 5) they never asserted an operational link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. [complete article]

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The evangelical roots of American unilateralism: The Christian right's influence and how to counter it
By Duane Oldfield, Foreign Policy in Focus, March, 2004

While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defense by acting preemptively...

Today humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to further freedom's triumph over all these foes. The United States welcomes our responsibility to lead in this great mission
(emphasis mine).

But our responsibility to history is clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.

--The National Security Strategy of the United States (2002), p. 6, preface, and p. 5.

That the administration of George W. Bush is pursuing a unilateralist foreign policy on issues ranging from the Iraq War to global warming to the International Criminal Court is obvious to observers at home and abroad. Also clear is the fact that the Bush policy, at least in its broad outlines, is very much in keeping with the preferences of the Christian right. As the second two quotes above indicate, the president, himself a born-again Christian, does not hesitate to use a moralistic, implicitly religious language in defense of his policies.

What, exactly, is the relationship between the Christian right and the unilateralist foreign policy of the present administration? For the last quarter century, the Christian right has been a key player regarding domestic social issues such as abortion, gay rights, and prayer in schools. While journalists, politicians, and academics continue to analyze and debate the Christian right's effectiveness in these areas, less attention has been paid to the religious right's influence on American foreign policy. However, that influence is becoming difficult to ignore and is in need of further analysis. [complete article]

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Iraq's holy warriors draw inspiration from Arab puritan of another century
By Nicolas Pelham, Financial Times, March 18, 2004

The strict "Wahabi" interpretation of Islam swept out of the Arabian peninsula 200 years ago and has since taken root in many parts of the Middle East, including Iraq. It preaches against worship of "false idols" which, in its interpretation, include Sufism, Islamic mystics noted for saint worship, and the Shia, who revere the descendants of Ali, the prophet Mohammed's son-in-law.

Mr Hellou [editor of al Qadissiya, a pre-war daily newspaper] and other academics trace the movement's recent popularity to the aftermath of the Afghan resitance to Soviet invaders. From the 1990s, hundreds of victorious "Mujahideen" redirected their holy war from Central Asia to the Arab world's tyrants.

Even before the US campaign in Iraq last year, anti-Shia diatribes could be heard from many a Friday prayer pulpit from Mosul to Baghdad, warning that a successful US invasion would result in Sunni submission to the Rafida or rejectionists, as Wahabis term Shias. "If we do not resist the invaders, the Rafida will kill anyone called Omar [a Sunni name]," clamoured a Baghdad preacher at the last Friday prayers before the outbreak of the 2003 war. [complete article]

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The emergence of hyperterrorism
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 17, 2004

The "al-Qaedization" of terrorism in Europe is a political "big bang". According to intelligence estimates in Brussels, there may be an invisible army of up to 30,000 holy warriors spread around the world, which begs the question: how will Western democracies be able to fight them?

The Madrid bombings have already produced the terrorists' desired effect: fear. Cities all across Europe fear they may be targeted for the next massacre of the innocents. On his October 18, 2003 tape, Osama bin Laden warned that Italy, Britain and Poland, as well as Spain - all staunch Washington allies in the invasion and occupation of Iraq - would be struck. Sheikh Omar Bakri, spiritual leader of the Islamist group al-Mouhajiroun, said in London he "wouldn't be surprised if Italy is the next target".

Social paranoia inevitably will be on the rise - and the main victims are bound to be millions of European Muslims. Racist political parties like Jean Marie le Pen's National Front in France and Umberto Bossi's Northern League in Italy will pump up the volume of their extremely vicious anti-Islamic xenophobia. For scores of moderate European politicians, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain their support for a solution to the Palestinian tragedy - as the Sharon government in Israel spins the line that both Israel and Europe are "victims of terrorism". [complete article]

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Bin Laden's deputy surrounded?
Tony Karon interview's TIME Islamabad Bureau Chief Tim McGirk, March 18, 2004

Reports out of Islamabad suggest that the Pakistani military has cornered a top al-Qaeda leader in the rugged northwestern province of Waziristan...

McGirk: President Musharraf is taking a huge risk here. These tribes are well-armed and they could make common cause with the Taliban and other anti-coalition elements in Afghanistan. Also, many of the soldiers in the Pakistani military are Pashtuns from the tribal areas, and they're deeply upset about being sent in against their own people. Even in the cities, there's a lot of support for al-Qaeda. One newspaper today published a poll that found 65 percent of Pakistanis said they sympathized with Osama bin Laden. I don't know how accurate that is, but bin Laden is certainly a lot more popular in Pakistan than President Bush. [complete article]

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Pakistani troops launch fresh assault on militants
By Hafiz Wazir, Reuters, March 18, 2004

Pakistani forces sent in heavy guns and helicopters on Thursday in a fresh offensive to flush out suspected al Qaeda fighters and their Pakistani tribesmen allies near the Afghan border.

Early in the morning authorities moved into the area, where paramilitary troops and militants on Tuesday fought their bloodiest battle in Pakistan's new drive against militants, and used loudspeakers to urge villagers to leave.

Three hours later the offensive began.

"Paramilitary troops backed by army and helicopter gunships are taking part in the operation. We are using heavy weapons because they are also using heavy weapons against our forces," said Mehmood Shah, a top civilian official in the area.

In all, several thousand Pakistani troops were involved, a security official said. [complete article]

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Pakistani tribes await 'full force' offensive
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, March 19, 2004

The fighting between Pakistani forces and tribespeople in the country's South Waziristan agency may have come to an end, but the silence isn't expected to last long, with Pakistani troops set to launch a "full force" offensive in the area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to flush out supporters of the Afghan resistance. But the failure of the present operation in the tribal areas has not only destroyed the writ of the Pakistani security forces and the state of Pakistan there, but also the proxy network of the United States.

South Waziristan is a natural hotbed and a focal point of the Afghan resistance. Asia Times Online was the first publication to point this out, in January 2003 (A bloody destiny for South Waziristan Jan 10, 2003), recognizing that South Waziristan would play the most significant role in the future of the Afghan resistance. South Waziristan is one of seven federally administered tribal agencies where fiercely independent tribes have been allowed to govern their own affairs.

Fighting erupted on Tuesday in South Waziristan as US-led forces began a spring offensive to eradicate Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants in Afganistan. Under intense US pressure, the Pakistani military is supposed to be doing its bit on the Pakistan side of the border. At least 15 Pakistani military personnel and 24 "suspects" were reported killed in Tuesday's battle, most of the latter said to be tribespeople suspected of sheltering militants. Well-placed sources in South Waziristan agency's headquarters in Wana tell Asia Times Online that at the fighting has stopped, but there is a large mobilization of Pakistani troops underway, an indication that another big operation is looming. [complete article]

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U.S.'s foes set to pounce
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, March 17, 2004

While the United States-led coalition makes its latest attempt to round up Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters on the Pakistan-Afghan border, new evidence is reinforcing the certainty that the Afghan resistance isn't just sitting around waiting to get caught, and nor is the International Islamic Front going to relent in its determination to wreak havoc on the US and its allies elsewhere.

High-level sources tell Asia Times Online the Afghan resistance movement and the International Islamic Front - a loose umbrella for a network of cells dedicated to jihad against America - have finalized plans to enter a decisive phase of their offensive, aimed at forcing the US-led coalition out of Afghanistan by inflicting injuries on the interests of the US and its allies both on and off the battlefield.

Pakistan was informed quite some time ago that US forces will be launching operations that will result in a major clashes with Afghan guerrillas, who are expected to try to melt into the Pakistani mountains. However, this is not the complete story. According to sources, different groups of trained jihadis left Karachi for Pakistan's tribal areas of South and North Waziristan about two weeks ago, where they have now taken up position for their own attacks on the US-led forces. These jihadis are said to have been trained for suicide attacks in Kashmir against Indian troops. Now their targets will be both Pakistani and US troops. Pakistan has already mobilized 70,000 troops in those same tribal areas - especially in South Waziristan, Bajur Agency and Mohmand Agency. [complete article]

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U.S. boosts Pakistan military ties
BBC News, March 18, 2004

The US Secretary of State Colin Powell says Washington will elevate its military ties with Pakistan, making it a major ally outside of Nato.

He was talking in Islamabad ahead of talks with President Pervez Musharraf.

His visit coincides with renewed military action by Pakistan's army against al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects and their supporters.

Troops and helicopter gun ships backed by fighter jets have been taking part in the operation. [complete article]

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Musharraf's Bin Laden headache
By Ahmed Rashid, BBC News, March 17, 2004

The early capture of Osama Bin Laden and Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar would provide an enormous boost to President George W Bush as he sets out to win re-election in November.

That is the view I was hearing from US officials in Washington during a recent lecture tour of the US - and it's a view shared by US officials in Islamabad.

So President Musharraf is facing intense pressure from Washington to help US forces in Afghanistan to capture or kill Bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda and Taleban leaders hiding in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border tribal region.

However, Pakistan's increased military role in the volatile tribal belt poses enormous political and military risks for General Musharraf. [complete article]

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Saudis round up reformers
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Christian Science Monitor, March 18, 2004

Saudi authorities continued with a third day of detentions Wednesday with the arrest of lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, as defiant activists called for the release of all those arrested.

The sudden and sweeping detention of democratic activists comes at a time when Saudi Arabia has taken steps towards political reforms, allowing a freer and more critical press, announcing the first municipal elections in October, and setting up a human rights organization earlier this month.

"It's an extraordinary step backward in respect to the several moves forward they've taken," says a senior US government official.

"This is a surprise. These men [who were detained] had met with Crown Prince Abdullah and [Interior Minister] Prince Nayef and had open and pleasant discussions about reforms," says writer and activist Turki al-Hamad.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Saudi Arabia has come under pressure from the United States to implement democratic reforms, which Washington sees as a deterrent to extremism and intolerance. The first widespread detentions since political freedoms became a pressing topic in Saudi Arabia following the Sept. 11 attacks are a blow to the country's reform movement, analysts say. [complete article]

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Poland 'misled' on Iraq, president says
By Monika Scislowska, Associated Press (via Yahoo), March 18, 2004

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a key Washington ally, said Thursday he may withdraw troops early from Iraq and that Poland was "misled" about the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

His remarks to a small group of European reporters were his first hint of criticism about war in Iraq, where Poland currently has 2,400 troops and with the United States and Britain commands one of three sectors of the U.S.-led occupation.

"Naturally, one may protest the reasons for the war action in Iraq. I personally think that today, Iraq without Saddam Hussein is a truly better Iraq than with Saddam Hussein," Kwasniewski told the European reporters.

"But naturally I also feel uncomfortable due to the fact that we were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction," he said, according to a transcript released by the presidential press office.

President Bush, in the chow line with troops at Fort Campbell, Ky., after delivering a speech, was asked about Kwasniewski's remarks but shook his head and said, "I'm here to eat." [complete article]

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In Iraq, shock and deja vu
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, March 18, 2004

Just three days shy of the one-year anniversary, the enemies of occupation hit a hotel housing foreigners in the center of Baghdad. It was so close to Firdaus Square (where a statue of Saddam Hussein provided one of the war's happier, now superseded, images) that it was tempting to believe that the prosecutors of this resistance know full well the power of keeping one eye on death and the other on symbolism. The Bush administration was spending the week talking up the success of war, the distance we've come, the promise we've offered. Again we saw that statue, groaning from its plinth, offering the hope of a simple war.

Shock and awe was about the control of our magisterial military. The blast at the hotel near Firdaus Square was about that same military on the defensive, reacting to, rather than orchestrating, the special effects. Shock and awe was caught at a distance, cameras on rooftops, registering war as if it were a distant thunderstorm. The Mount Lebanon Hotel was near other hotels housing Western journalists, so it was caught in closer, finer, more horrifying detail. People (dead or alive?) were carried out of the wreckage, dressed in the sort of bedclothes none of us ever hopes to wear to an appointment with the world's media. [complete article]

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Iraqis rue U.S. presence, tally instability, danger, hopelessness
By Ken Dilanian, Knight Ridder, March 17, 2004

At least one very good thing has happened to the Saad family since the war changed their country forever last year. Thanks to the American policy of raising government salaries, their household income has increased by tenfold.

For that reason alone, one might think the couple - Alla Saad is an Agriculture Ministry engineer and his wife, Iyman Mohammed, is a high school physics teacher - would be pleased with the way things have turned out. But that's not the case.

"Now I will list the bad things," said Saad as he entertained two visiting Americans in his living room and served them cans of Pepsi. "There is no stability, there is no security, there is no clear future. Along with a feeling of humiliation."

One year after American forces invaded Iraq and overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Saads' fears and complaints are one way to understand why many Iraqis haven't embraced the American-led occupation. [complete article]

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More private forces eyed for Iraq
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 18, 2004

The U.S.-led authority in Iraq plans to spend as much as $100 million over 14 months to hire private security forces to protect the Green Zone, the four-square-mile area in Baghdad that houses most U.S. government employees and some of the private contractors working there.

The Green Zone is now guarded primarily by U.S. military forces, but the Coalition Provisional Authority wants to turn much of that work over to contractors to free more U.S. forces to confront a violent insurgency. The companies would employ former military personnel and be responsible for safeguarding the area for the first year after political authority is transferred to an interim Iraqi government on June 30. [complete article]

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Why the Qaeda threat is growing
By Tony Karon,, March 17, 2004

Terrorists reminded us last week in Madrid that the specter of al-Qaeda haunts the Western world today as much as it did on September 12, 2001 -- if not more so. Even as Spain appears to have arrested those responsible, security analysts on both sides of the Atlantic are already focused on one question: Where next? Italy, France, Australia, Japan and others are tightening up security procedures; the New York City Police Department, mindful of the vulnerability of the city's mass transit system, has sent experts to Madrid to study the mechanics of the train bombings that killed more than 200 commuters there. "Attack on London is Inevitable," screamed one British headline on Wednesday, quoting British security officials.

And yet, even as Western cities gird for more carnage, reports from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border zone suggest the noose is tightening around al-Qaeda's leadership. The head of France's military announced on Monday that Osama bin Laden had more than once in recent weeks narrowly escaped from French troops fighting in a new U.S.-led offensive aimed at snaring the al-Qaeda leader. U.S. military officials have expressed confidence they'll get their man by year's end. And, as President Bush reports, up to two-thirds of the known al-Qaeda leadership is already either dead or in custody.

How then to reconcile the apparent contradiction of bin Laden and his lieutenants being on the ropes in western Pakistan, while the deadly shadow cast over the West by his movement grows longer? The answer lies in the nature of al-Qaeda itself, and how it has evolved in response to the U.S. war on terror. [complete article]

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By any means necessary
By Ghada Karmi, The Guardian, March 18, 2004

Israel's deputy defence minister, Ze'ev Boim, recently wondered whether there was a genetic defect that made Arabs terrorists. "What is it with Islam in general and the Palestinians in particular?" he asked on Israel army radio. "Is it some sort of cultural deficiency? Is it a genetic defect?"

The dismay this arouses will be discounted by some of Israel's friends simply as evidence of the extreme nature of its present government, with its barrier wall and its "transfer" enthusiasts. If only Sharon and his hardliners were replaced by moderates, they say, we could return to a halcyon pre-Likud past that promised peace and coexistence. But to believe this is to misunderstand the nature of Israel's dominant ideology - of which Ariel Sharon and his minister are nothing more than devoted servants. It is not he that is the problem, but the Zionism he espouses.

For those who have forgotten or never understood what Zionism meant in practice, the Israeli historian, Benny Morris's latest revelations and comments - published first in the Israeli daily Haaretz and then in the Guardian - make salutary reading. They have raised a storm of controversy that is still raging two months later, perhaps because they were too honest about an ideology that some would rather keep hidden. Morris, who first exposed the dark circumstances of Israel's creation in his groundbreaking 1988 book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, explains the Israeli project with a brutal candour few Zionists have been prepared to display. [complete article]

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Scalia refuses to recuse himself from Cheney case
By Fred Barbash, Washington Post, March 18, 2004

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in an unusual 21-page memorandum, today rejected a request that he disqualify himself from a case involving Vice President Cheney because of a duck hunting trip that Scalia took with the vice president. [...]

In the statement, unique in the history of the modern court, Scalia denounced the press for its coverage of Washington generally and for its coverage of him specifically. Recusal, he said, would only encourage "so-called investigative journalists to suggest improprieties, and demand recusals, for other inappropriate (and increasingly silly) reasons."

And he attacked the litigant filing the request, the Sierra Club, for what he called the "staggering" implications of its argument.

"While the political branches can perhaps survive the constant baseless allegations of impropriety that have become the staple of Washington reportage, this Court cannot," Scalia wrote. "The people must have confidence in the integrity of the Justices, and that cannot exist in a system that assumes them to be corruptible by the slightest friendship or favor." [complete article]

See Scalia's memorandum.

Comment -- The US constitution not only created a quasi-monarchy by giving the US chief executive some regal authority; it also offered god-like power to Justices in the Supreme Court who have become free agents in ways to which no ordinary citizen can even aspire. Justice Scalia's unwillingness to recuse himself from the case involving Cheney comes in part from his argument that a free flight down to Louisiana on Air Force Two did not constitute a gift:

The recusal motion claims that "the fact that Justice Scalia and his daughter [sic] were the Vice President's guest on Air Force Two on the flight down to Louisiana" means that I "accepted a sizable gift from a party in a pending case," a gift "measured in the thousands of dollars." Motion to Recuse 6.
Let me speak first to the value, though that is not the principal point. Our flight down cost the Government nothing, since space-available was the condition of our invitation.

One would imagine that exceptional powers of reasoning would be a basic job requirement for anyone occupying this lifetime position, yet Justice Scalia's reasoning seems to be exceptional if only for the reason that anyone but a Supreme Court Justice would be derided were they to attempt such a lame argument. Otherwise I would be tempted myself to apply Justice Scalia's line of reasoning next time I want to fly somewhere. If I go to an airline check-in desk at the last minute, ask if a flight has any empty seats, and if they have, suggest that they let me ride free and remind them that Justice Scalia would surely agree with the strength of my argument, can I expect a free flight or a polite rebuttal?

Since the flight on which Justice Scalia claimed a free seat would not have even been made had Vice President Cheney not been travelling at Scalia's relayed invitation, the Sierra Club, rather than implying that Scalia should have paid for his seat, could reasonably have argued that he be expected to pay for the flight!

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Iraqi Kurds dig trenches to foil bombers
By Shamal Aqrawi, Reuters, March 17, 2004

Kurds are digging a huge trench around Arbil to help prevent attacks like last month's twin suicide bombings that killed 117 people in the northern Iraqi city, a Kurdish official said on Wednesday.

"We have the right to do what we think is suitable to defend our cities from terrorists," Tariq Ghardi, an official at the Kurdish regional government's interior ministry, told Reuters.

He said 1,000 newly trained border guards would patrol the security belt initially. More could be added later.

The trench, three metres (yards) wide and two metres deep, will run the length of the city's 40-km (25-mile) perimeter. Kurds plan to dig similar trenches around other big cities. [complete article]

Comment -- The Kurds appear to be using the "terrorist threat" as a convenient cover as they make serious preparations for civil war. As world leaders in the use of "terrorism/terrorists/terror" as terms to justify dubious policies, the US government finds it difficult to challenge whoever else makes use of its own methods. As the Kurds dig in, US officials are likely clinging to the hope that these trenches will not be put to use before November 2.

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Bush tries to steel allies
Netherlands and Honduras may also be leaving Iraq

By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times (via SF Chronicle), March 17, 2004

President Bush urged wavering members of the U.S. led-coalition Tuesday to keep their troops in Iraq, but his plea did not win over at least two nations that are considering joining Spain in plans to withdraw their forces by early summer.

As the White House downplayed suggestions that its coalition was beginning to fray, Bush lobbied the Dutch prime minister on the issue, but won no commitment that 1,300 troops from the Netherlands would remain in Iraq beyond June. At the same time, Honduran officials said Tuesday they would pull their 370 troops out of Iraq during the summer, and diplomats speculated El Salvador and Guatemala could follow suit. [complete article]

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Killing Iraq with kindness
By Ian Buruma, New York Times, March 18, 2004

One year later, most of the stated reasons for invading Iraq have been discredited. But advocates of the war still have one compelling argument: our troops are not there to impose American values or even Western values, but "universal" ones. The underlying assumption is that the United States itself represents these universal values, and that freedom to pursue happiness, to elect our own leaders and to trade in open markets, should be shared by all, regardless of creed, history, race or culture.

Some might question whether America is as shining an example of these good things as is often claimed. Nonetheless, spreading them around is certainly a more appealing policy than propping up "our" dictators in the name of realpolitik. Still, history shows that the forceful imposition of even decent ideas in the claim of universalism tends to backfire -- creating not converts but enemies who will do anything to defend their blood and soil. [complete article]

Comment -- The humongous hole in Buruma's argument is his failure to address the issue of American-Israeli relations and the perception of those relations across the Middle East. The "universalist" cause of promoting democracy has very little credibility while the US government does so little to promote the democratic interests of Palestinians whose freedom of movement is under the control of Israeli defense forces in the occupied territories, nor condemns Israel's systematic discrimination against its own Arab citizens who amount to 20% of the population of Israel. Add on to this the activities of American Christian evangelicals in Iraq and it becomes clear that much of the antipathy towards the American enterprise of promoting democracy in the Middle East derives from it being perceived as being anti-Islamic in nature and undemocratic in practice.

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Evangelicals flock into Iraq on a mission of faith
By Charles Duhigg, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2004

An American missionary proudly watches as a sea of Iraqi arms rise in witness to Jesus Christ and choruses of "Amen" compete with distant rattles of gunfire. The faithful sing familiar Christian hymns in Arabic, their voices bouncing off the shipping containers that protect the church from car bombs.

Every Sunday, more than 400 Iraqis travel to this well-to-do neighborhood far from the protection of an American base to worship in the National Biblical Christian Federation Church. Converted from Islam and from other branches of Christianity, they are the first ripple of a tidal wave that evangelical leaders pray will inundate the Middle East.

"I learned about Jesus and eternal life from a friend, and came to this church to see," said Rana Atass, who has attended weekly services at another church for the last month. Her mother, bearing facial tattoos as some Iraqi women do, stood in a line of congregants to ask church leaders for help in buying food.

"The music is very enthusiastic here," Atass said. "They promise Jesus will solve many problems." [complete article]

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Baghdad stunned by hotel attack
BBC News, March 18, 2004

Rescuers in Baghdad have given up the search for survivors in the rubble left by a massive blast which killed at least 17 people, most of them Iraqis.

The explosion on Wednesday night wrecked the small Mount Lebanon hotel and nearby houses in the city centre.

The US military says a 450kg car bomb packed with artillery ordnance killed at least 17 people and injured 45. [complete article]

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Why catching bin Laden is difficult
By Scott Baldauf and Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, March 18, 2004

Still flushed with their success in capturing Saddam Hussein, a joint CIA-military commando unit called Task Force 121 has been dispatched to Afghanistan with a new mission to get Osama bin Laden.

The elite unit is part of a growing host of intelligence resources joining the hunt along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. The momemtum prompted US military officials here in January to predict confidently that America's most wanted man would be taken this year.

But interviews with top Afghan and US intelligence officials reveal a number of reasons the US has failed so far to catch Mr. bin Laden and his coterie of fighters. [complete article]

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Purported al Qaeda letter calls truce in Spain
By Opheera McDoom, Reuters (via Yahoo), March 17, 2004

A group claiming to have links with al Qaeda said on Wednesday it was calling a truce in its Spanish operations to see if the new Madrid government would withdraw its troops from Iraq, a pan-Arab newspaper said.

In a statement sent to the Arabic language daily al-Hayat, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombings that killed 201 people, also urged its European units to stop all operations. [...]

The statement said it supported President Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom."

In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected." [complete article]

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For Iraqis in harm's way, $5,000 and 'I'm sorry'
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, March 17, 2004

Nearly a year ago, Ali Kadem Hashem watched his wife burn to death and his three children die after an American missile hit his house.

Last week, he got $5,000 from the United States government and an "I'm sorry" from a young captain.

Mr. Hashem sat for a few moments staring at the stack of bills, crisp $100's.

"Part of me didn't want to take it," he said. "It was an insult."

But the captain, Jonathan Tracy, insisted. "A few thousand dollars isn't going to bring anybody back," he explained later. "But right now, it's all we can do." [complete article]

Comment -- Human life might be priceless, but in the eyes of the U.S. government the life of anyone outside this country is worth a fraction of the value of an American life. Compensation for deceased victims of the 9-11 attacks has ranged from $250,000 up to $7 million. Meanwhile, Iraqi lives lost apparently don't even merit being recorded.

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Spain tests Bush war doctrine
By Robert Steinback, Miami Herald, March 17, 2004

Spain's support of the Iraq War didn't protect it from international terrorism. Why should anyone believe that regime change in Baghdad has made any other nation safer?

The March 11 attack is the starkest proof yet that the so-called Bush Doctrine -- concocted to justify the invasion of Iraq -- has precious little to do with the worldwide campaign against organized terrorism.

The Madrid attack was stunning not only because of its scale but for its meticulous planning and coordination, and its ominous timing: three days before a general election. The attack struck at the ultimate Achilles' heel of almost every major city in the modern world: Mass transit. One need only consider that 3.1 million people ride New York City's subway system every day to comprehend the havoc a Madrid-style attack there could cause.

It forces one to question America's priorities since Sept. 11, 2001. What has the Bush Doctrine -- by which America reserves the right to attack any sovereign nation if doing so is perceived to be in our national-security interest -- done to address the threat of terrorism? [complete article]

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Europe and the U.S. are now adrift
By Martin Jacques, The Guardian, March 17, 2004

The US and Britain now find themselves that bit more isolated. Spain's exit from the ranks of supporters of the Iraq war may have been surprising, but hardly unexpected. Its government, in its support of the invasion, defied not simply half the population, as in the case of Britain, but the overwhelming majority. Clearly there was a price to pay, which has been paid by the Aznar government, though only following a horrific and tragic event. Inevitably, it poses the question as to whether other governments which have defied the will of the people in such a flagrant manner might pay a similar price. There was barely a democratic country in the world where, at the time of the invasion, the majority of the people supported it - barring the obvious exception of the US.

It is hardly novel for governments to disregard public opinion. Democratic governments ignore the will of the people on major issues all the time: that is the difference between government by election and government by referendum. But if the issue is big enough, persistent enough, extraordinary enough, then one day the government may have to pick up the tab for its defiance. Iraq is just that kind of issue. It is one of those rare historical moments that change the world and leave nothing quite the same afterwards. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda's web: The upgraded networks of global terrorism
By Scott Atran, New York Times (via IHT), March 17, 2004

The coordinated train bombings in Madrid have altered Europe's political structure, shaken global financial markets and unsettled the American-led coalition in Iraq. Although we still do not know for sure who committed the atrocity, the only groups to have claimed responsibility so far say they represent Al Qaeda.

In any event, the attacks are clearly consistent with jihadist doctrine and aims. Osama bin Laden, specifically mentioning the loss of southern Spain to Christianity in 1492, has made it clear that any land once in Muslim hands was fair game for global jihad.

For the last year the Israeli historian Reuven Paz has monitored jihadist writings about Spain, which focused on the Spanish government's participation in Iraq. "In order to force the Spanish government to withdraw from Iraq," one online tract read, "it is a must to exploit the coming general elections in Spain." It added that two to three attacks would ensure "the victory of the Socialist Party and the withdrawal of Spanish forces," the first domino in the collapse of the American-led coalition. [complete article]

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Sistani wants help of U.N., envoy says
By Colum Lynch and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, March 17, 2004

Iraq's most influential Shiite religious leader has formally assured the United Nations that he wants the organization to help guide Iraq through its transition to self-rule, a senior U.N. official said Tuesday.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani told U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in a written message several days ago that there was no basis for recent news reports saying that Sistani opposed a continuing role for the United Nations, said Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations' special envoy for Iraq. Sistani told Annan that "he wants the U.N. to play a role, to continue to play a role in Iraq," Brahimi said.

Sistani appears to be distancing himself from the Shiites on the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council -- including Ahmed Chalabi, a former Iraqi exile -- who have objected to U.N. oversight of the political transition. [complete article]

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Syrian regime faces biggest challenge as reformers call for change
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, March 16, 2004

A year after Saddam Hussein's Baath Party regime was toppled next door in Iraq, Syria's Baathist regime is facing the greatest challenge to its power since it took over 41 years ago this month.

Economic reform has stalled. Reformers are pressing for democracy. Washington is applying new pressure. And conservative Islam is making a comeback - outside of politics - in this once staunchly secular Arab nation.

In interviews, more than a dozen professionals and activists, some of them with close ties to the government of President Bashar Assad, said Assad and his ruling Baath Party must make fundamental changes to Syria's ossified economy and politics or risk losing power in the years ahead. [complete article]

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Neocons at work: Israel gets its 1st slice of Iraqi pie
By Ed Blanche, Daily Star, March 17, 2004

Long before the American neoconservatives led by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney and others became the ideological soul of the Bush administration, their intention was to make Israel unassailable. The cataclysm of Sept. 11, 2001, allowed them to put that plan into action. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein and eliminating one of Israel's most implacable foes was a key objective. Once that was achieved, the new, US-controlled Iraq could be used to help Israel penetrate the Arab world, if not by diplomatic recognition then by other means.

So it did not come as a surprise last week when the Israeli media reported that Israel's Sonol fuel company is supplying US forces in Iraq with 25 million liters of refined fuel a month under a $70 million-$80 million contract. The contract was awarded by Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, whose dealings in Iraq under the Bush administration have stirred great controversy, not least because Cheney is its former CEO.

Iraq has the world's second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, but occupation forces have to import refined fuel because of the constant sabotage of oil installations and pipelines and because of poor maintenance of refineries over the years, particularly during the 12 years of UN sanctions that ended once Saddam was overthrown.

The deal with Sonol, one of Israel's largest oil-product marketing firms, is the first known commercial link between Israel and Iraq since US-led forces toppled Saddam in April 2003. But there may well be others, because Israeli companies have been trying to find a way around political roadblocks that prevent them from operating in Iraq under US cover. [complete article]

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Israeli forces kill 44 Palestinians since beginning of March
By Arjan El Fassed, Electronic Intifada, March 14, 2004

Since the beginning of this month, Israeli forces have killed 44 Palestinians, including women and children. According to data from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the Ministry of Health, 30 Palestinians were killed in Gaza and 14 in the West Bank. Among those killed are 18 minors. More than 197 Palestinians, mostly children, were wounded in the same period. In February 2004, Israeli forces killed 52 Palestinians. Since the beginning of 2004, Israeli forces killed 128 Palestinians.

In his recent report, John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, who visited the region in February, noted that the situation is characterized by serious violations of general international law, of human rights law and of international humanitarian law. "It is not helpful to suggest that a solution can be found to the conflict in the region by ignoring norms of international law", he wrote. Dugard's report, which is an addendum to the Special Rapporteur's report of 8 September 2003, stated that Israeli forces have "inflicted a reign of terror upon innocent Palestinians in the course of their assassination of militants in densely populated towns, their destruction of homes, and their random firing in built-up areas - not to mention the methodical intimidation and humiliation of civilians at checkpoints." [complete article]

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Muqtada's powerful push for prominence
By Nir Rosen, Asia Times, March 18, 2004

"Our god prays for Muhamad and Muhamad's family," the crowd of Shi'ite faithful in Baghdad's Kadhim Mosque began in traditional chorus. But then they continued with a strange innovation, "and speed the appearance of the Mahdi [Shi'ite messiah], and damn his enemies and make victorious his son Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!"

This had never been heard before, but Turkmen Shi'ites were shouting it in demonstrations in front of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters, as well as in Kirkuk during a February 27 show of force that included thousands of Muqtada's followers, as well as 2,000 members of his militia. Followers of popular cleric Muqtada Sadr now repeat it in their daily prayers.

For the past year, Muqtada has been changing all the rules while confronting the US occupation and rival clerics he sees as weak. The United States and Muqtada have been engaged in a game of brinkmanship, with US forces occasionally leaking threats that they will arrest him. Muqtada, meanwhile, warns US forces that his people's armed rebellion will soon begin. So far, Muqtada has been winning in this game, gaining experience as a leader as well as admirers of his defiance and followers of his father's office. Muqtada is the only living son of assassinated grand ayatollah Muhamad Sadiq Sadr. [complete article]

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U.S. stalls on Iranian offer of reform deal
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, March 16, 2004

The US has for 10 months been stalling over an Iranian offer of landmark talks that would see the Islamic republic address Washington's concerns on nuclear weapons, terrorism and Israel - because of divisions within the Bush administration.

US officials and go-betweens say the talks, which could in return establish normal diplomatic relations between the countries, have been resisted by hawks in Washington who adamantly oppose opening a dialogue with the clerical regime in Iran, which George W. Bush, the US president, branded part of the "axis of evil".

However, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, recently told an internal meeting that Mr Bush was looking for an "opening" with Iran, raising the possibility of a positive reply. The recent example of Libya has shown how some countries that Washington has labelled "rogue nations" can begin to rehabilitate themselves in US eyes. [complete article]

Washington hardliners wary of engaging with Iran
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, March 16, 2004

Iran's proposal of a road map leading to the restoration of relations with the US did not come as a complete surprise to the Bush administration, but it has intensified a fierce internal debate between "realists" and "neo-conservatives" over ambitious plans to remake the wider Middle East.

Signs of an overture from Tehran had been picked up by Washington a year before the invasion of Iraq, as Iran's faction-riven clerical rulers struggled to reach a consensus over how to respond to the threat inherent in the "Axis of Evil" speech by President George W. Bush in January 2002.

Even before May last year when the road map proposal arrived from Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador representing US interests in Iran, a suggestion had been aired by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president.

Mr Rafsanjani, a powerful figure central to several abortive bids over the past 18 years to strike deals with the US, suggested the question of Iran-US relations could be put to a referendum, a move almost sure to secure approval for rapprochement. [complete article]

An opening seen for dialogue
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, March 14, 2004

Ironically, the victory by conservatives in last month's widely criticized parliamentary elections could create an opening for better relations between Iran and the United States. The new majority in parliament could be in a better position to pursue detente with the West than President Mohammad Khatami and his reformist allies because the clerical establishment would trust the conservatives more readily.

"The strategy of rapprochement in foreign relations will be continued, perhaps even faster than before, because the system has more trust in the new people in parliament," said Amir Mohebian, political editor of the conservative newspaper Resalat and an adviser to some of Iran's top clerics. "Relations that are based on mutual interests can be stronger than any other relations."

Mohebian argued that Tehran and Washington share an interest in creating stable governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, both Iran's neighbors. Some Western officials also believe that the conservatives may be better placed to deliver a deal on other issues being pressed by Washington, such as Iran's nuclear program, its support for groups hostile to Israel and its refusal to hand over detained al-Qaida militants to the United States or Europe. [complete article]

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Zapatero firm on Spanish withdrawal from Iraq
BBC News, March 17, 2004

Spain's prime minister-elect says his position on withdrawing troops from Iraq is unchanged despite an appeal from US President George Bush.

Mr Bush urged America's allies to stick together in the "war on terrorism", saying al-Qaeda wanted to defeat "freedom and democracy" in Iraq.

But Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says he will pull out Spain's 1,300 troops unless the UN intervenes in Iraq.

"My position is the same," he told Spanish radio station Onda Cero. "The occupation is a fiasco. There have been almost more deaths after the war than during the war. The occupying forces have not allowed the United Nations to take control of the situation." [complete article]

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U.S. turns on Spanish 'appeasement'
By David Rennie, The Telegraph, March 17, 2004

Spain would be sending out a "terrible message" if it let terrorists influence its policies, the White House said yesterday as President George W Bush urged his European allies not to abandon the Iraqi people.

The blunt comments were softened by hints that Washington might propose a fresh United Nations mandate on Iraq, answering a major demand of the new Spanish leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

"It is essential that we remain side by side with the Iraqi people," Mr Bush said.

The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said: "Terrorists must not be allowed to think that they influence elections or that they influence policy. That would be a terrible message to send." [complete article]

Comment -- The "terrible message" that terrorists can influence a government's policies came straight from George Bush's mouth the day he declared his war on terrorism. The really terrible message coming from Spain is not a message to terrorists but one for the White House: voters punish liars!

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The answer to terror is plain
By James Pinkerton, Newsday, March 16, 2004

... Spain's intervention [in Iraq] had "war of civilizations" written all over it. Many Spanish troops serving in Iraq, for example, wore an arm patch depicting the Cross of St. James of Compostela. That insignia commemorates the Battle of Clavijo in 844. According to legend, the Apostle St. James the Elder came down from the sky and killed every Moor - as Muslims were then called - in his path. Ever since, St. James has been called "Santiago Matamoros," St. James the Moor Killer.

In July, the Madrid newspaper El Mundo warned: "To put the Cross of St. James of Compostela on the uniforms of Spanish soldiers demonstrates an absolute ignorance of the psychology of the society in which they will have to carry out their mission."

Happily for Spain, casualties inside Iraq have been light - just 11 dead. But the Madrid bombings demonstrated yet again that the real danger to the West was never inside Iraq. [complete article]

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The world's view of US
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 2004

A new survey of global attitudes finds the world more in tune with Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the new leader of Spain, than with George W. Bush: Across Europe and in key Muslim countries allied with the US, publics continue to hold negative views of the US, its handling of its leadership position in the world, and the war in Iraq.

Just as Mr. Zapatero causes waves in transatlantic relations - by calling the war in Iraq an "error" and insisting Spain will alter its recent close relations with the US to emphasize closer ties with the rest of Europe - the new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press promises to feed new debate about America's relations with the world. "The divide between the US and Europe is only getting wider," says Carroll Doherty, editor of the Pew Research Center. "It's beyond a question of America's image, it's now to the point where people want action based on their opposition to the US."

On the anniversary of the war in Iraq, world opinion of the US and its policies is in many countries worse than its already low levels of a year ago. Opinion of the US in France and Germany is at least as negative as at the war's conclusion, the survey finds. More marked is the plummet registered in British views. Last year 61 percent of Britons supported joining the US in the war in Iraq - today 43 percent support the war. [complete article]

See the complete report, A year after Iraq war -- Mistrust of America in Europe ever higher, Muslim anger persists (PDF format).

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Koizumi's Japan in Bush's world
By Gavan McCormack, TomDispatch, March 16, 2004

Japan in 2003-4 made a series of historic choices. Casting its lot with the Bush administration, it sent its armed forces to support American operations in an explosive part of the world in whose historic disputes it hitherto had no role and where it faced no enemies. Watching the Japanese scramble to comply with various cascading American demands, Deputy Secretary Armitage remarked that his government was "thrilled" Japan was not "sitting in the stands any more" but had come out as "a player on the playing field."

The American pressures are relentless. Proconsuls from Washington regularly fly into Tokyo with new instructions. Japan is called upon (in the words of the "Armitage Report" of October 2000) to revise its constitution, to expand its defense horizon in order to support "coalition" operations as a fully-fledged NATO-style partner, and to become the "Britain of the Far East." While the relationship is conventionally represented simply as one of U.S. "protection" for Japan, from Washington's perspective the emphasis is actually somewhat different. For the Bush administration, what remains fundamental and vital is that Japan "continue to rely on US protection." Any attempt to substitute for that "protection" an entente with China and a degree of independence would, in the words of a RAND corporation report, "deal a fatal blow to U.S. political and military influence in East Asia." The thought that Japan might one day begin to "walk its own walk," intent on becoming not the Britain but the Japan of the Far East is an inside-the-Beltway nightmare comparable to, if not worse than, the assaults of September 11. [complete article]

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Kurdish hopes rise, spark riots
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 2004

It's the worst domestic unrest in Syria in two decades. Over the weekend and into Monday, Kurds rioted in several Syrian towns adjacent to Iraq and Turkey, prompting swift intervention by Syrian troops.

At least 14 Kurds died in riots which began Friday in Qamishli during a brawl between Kurdish and Arab soccer fans. The violence reportedly began when Arab fans began chanting support for Saddam Hussein. According to diplomats in Damascus, Syrian security forces fired on the crowd, killing six people. Three children were trampled to death in the ensuing panic. Rioting the next day killed five people in Hasake, a town of Arabs and Kurds 50 miles south of Qamishli.

Violent outbursts by Syria's Kurdish minority reinforces concerns that recent political gains by Kurds in Iraq will embolden Kurds in neighboring lands to seek greater recognition. Some analysts see Kurdish ambitions for independence as a regional powder keg. Kurds have been a significant minority in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran since the early 1900s, when Kurdish lands were divided as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated. [complete article]

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Beware instant democracy
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, March 15, 2004

Amid all the talk about bringing democracy to the Middle East, it is worth recalling that the first multi-party elections in the Arabian peninsula were held in Yemen almost 11 years ago. The elections took place in April 1993 amid great celebrations but in May 1994, just over a year later, the country plunged into civil war.

Yemen's experience provides a useful reminder that mix-and-drink democracy, just like instant coffee, can turn out rather different from the real thing. Fresh supplies of instant democracy powder will shortly be heading towards the Middle East, courtesy of President Bush and his "Greater Middle East Partnership Initiative", though we shall have to wait a while to see if they are drinkable.

The basic plan is set out in a working paper circulated by the United States to the G-8 group of industrialised countries. The Arab countries and other supposed beneficiaries have not been officially informed or consulted, though a leaked copy of the working paper has appeared in the Arabic press.

The fact that it's an American plan, coupled with Washington's patronising attitude towards those affected by it, has already stirred up suspicion in the Arab world, with good reason. [complete article]

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Is U.S. Air Force lost in space?
By Theresa Hitchens, San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2004

At last, Congress may be waking up to one of the most critical strategic blunders the administration of President Bush is preparing to make: the weaponization of outer space. Late last month, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D- Walnut Creek, became one of the first members of Congress to actively challenge the U.S. Air Force on its new strategic plan to turn space into the next battlefield, bristling with orbiting weapons designed to attack satellites, ballistic missiles and even targets on Earth.

Tauscher's pointed questions to Air Force Undersecretary Peter Teets and Air Force Space Command Chief Gen. Lance Lord at a Feb. 25 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee confirmed that the service already has started down this dangerous pathway. Since the inauguration of Bush and the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, the question of space weapons has been lingering in the administration's in-box. There is a high- powered faction within the administration that sees space as the next "high frontier" to be dominated by the U.S. military, and a critical future enabler of the pre-emptive strike strategy articulated by the White House in the wake of Sept. 11. [complete article]

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Pakistani's nuclear earnings: $100 million
By David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, New York Times, March 16, 2004

The Bush administration said Monday that the clandestine network created by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, netted $100 million for the technology it sold to Libya alone, and for the first time officials displayed a carefully selected sample of the type of equipment that the network sold to arm Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Under extraordinary security -- guards with automatic weapons stationed every few yards -- officials showed reporters the most basic of the high-speed centrifuges that Dr. Khan marketed to countries seeking to enrich uranium for bomb fuel. Many of the centrifuges, flown out of Libya and stored here at one of America's first nuclear weapons laboratories, were still in their original packing crates.

But the most critical components shipped out of Tripoli -- including 4,000 more advanced centrifuges and the drawings Dr. Khan sold showing how to turn the uranium into crude warheads -- were kept out of view. So were labels and other evidence that would link specific products to Pakistan, Germany, Malaysia and a dozen other countries where Dr. Khan's network of suppliers and manufacturers operated over the past decade. [complete article]

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The Iraq war did not force Gadaffi's hand
By Martin S. Indyk, Financial Times (via Brookings), March 9, 2004

Embarrassed by the failure to find Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush is trying to find another WMD-related justification for his pre-emptive war on Iraq. Bush administration spokesmen have been quick to portray Libya's December decision to abandon WMD programmes as the direct result of the US invasion of Iraq or, as Mr. Bush himself put it in his State of the Union address: "Nine months of intense negotiations succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not." In diplomacy, noted the president, "words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America" (applause).

The implication is clear. Get rid of one dictator because of his supposed WMD programmes and others will be so afraid that they will voluntarily abandon their weapons programmes. Therefore, even if no WMDs were found in Iraq, we still made the world a safer place. The perfect comeback.

In Muammer Gadaffi's case, this proposition is questionable. In fact, Libyan representatives offered to surrender WMD programmes more than four years ago, at the outset of secret negotiations with US officials. [complete article]

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Weak on terror
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 16, 2004

"My most immediate priority," Spain's new leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, declared yesterday, "will be to fight terrorism." But he and the voters who gave his party a stunning upset victory last Sunday don't believe the war in Iraq is part of that fight. And the Spanish public was also outraged by what it perceived as the Aznar government's attempt to spin last week's terrorist attack for political purposes.

The Bush administration, which baffled the world when it used an attack by Islamic fundamentalists to justify the overthrow of a brutal but secular regime, and which has been utterly ruthless in its political exploitation of 9/11, must be very, very afraid.

Polls suggest that a reputation for being tough on terror is just about the only remaining political strength George Bush has. Yet this reputation is based on image, not reality. The truth is that Mr. Bush, while eager to invoke 9/11 on behalf of an unrelated war, has shown consistent reluctance to focus on the terrorists who actually attacked America, or their backers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. [complete article]

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The Bushes' new world disorder
By James Carroll, Boston Globe, March 16, 2004

"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things." This warning is from Niccolo Machiavelli, yet it has never had sharper resonance.

More than a decade ago, after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, President George H. W. Bush explicitly sought to initiate, as he put it to Congress, a "new world order." He made that momentous declaration on Sept. 11, 1990. Eleven years later, the suddenly mystical date of 9/11 motivated his son to finish what the father began. A year ago this week, Bush the younger launched a war against the man who tried to kill his dad, initiating the opposite of order.

The situation hardly needs rehearsing. In Iraq, many thousands are dead, including 564 Americans. Civil war threatens. Afghanistan, meanwhile, is choked by drug-running warlords. Islamic jihadists have been empowered. The nuclear profiteering of Pakistan has been exposed but not necessarily stopped. Al Qaeda's elusiveness has reinforced its mythic malevolence. The Atlantic Alliance is in ruins. The United States has never been more isolated. A pattern of deception has destroyed its credibility abroad and at home. Disorder spreads from Washington to Israel to Haiti to Spain. Whether the concern is subduing resistance fighters far away or making Americans feel safer, the Pentagon's unprecedented military dominance, the costs of which stifle the US economy, is shown to be essentially impotent. [complete article]

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Spanish flu
Paying the price for America's mistake

By Doug Bandow, Reason, March 15, 2004

When the U.S. assembled its international coalition, ranging from Great Britain to Micronesia, to topple Iraq's Saddam Hussein, it relied on governments willing to override their people's wishes. America's war received popular support in no countries other than Kuwait and Israel.

Now Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party may have paid the ultimate political price for backing the Bush administration, losing an election that it long was expected to win. Other American allies, most notably John Howard in Australia, Tony Blair in Great Britain, and Junichiro Koizumi in Japan, might eventually meet the same end.

Only Britain and Australia offered serious military aid in the war; Poland provided 300 soldiers but begged Washington not to mention its contribution publicly. Most nations -- Slovakia, Norway, and scores of others -- simply wrote letters of support.

Millions of people around the world marched against the war, but few seemed inclined to punish their governments for backing the U.S. After all, the official letters cost little more than the postage necessary to mail them.

Allied casualties were few even for Britain. And there the opposition supported Prime Minister Blair's pro-American policy. With the war over, Washington promised bountiful goodwill and generous reconstruction contracts for its friends. It looked like a win-win game after all.

No longer. [complete article]

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Spanish leader accuses Bush and Blair
By Giles Tremlett, The Guardian, March 16, 2004

Spain's new prime minister, the Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, yesterday followed his dramatic election triumph with a pledge to bring troops home from Iraq and accusations that Tony Blair and George Bush lied about the war.

"Mr Blair and Mr Bush must do some reflection --you can't organise a war with lies," he said in his first radio interview after ousting the ruling conservative People's party in a Sunday election dominated by the terror attacks on trains that killed 200 Madrid commuters last week.

"The Spanish troops will come back," he added.

His stinging comments caused political shockwaves across Europe and in the US. Sunday would go down in history as "the day when Islamist fundamentalism was seen as dictating the outcome of a European election", said Wilfried Martens, the head of the European People's party, an umbrella group for European conservative parties.

Jonathan Eyal, the director of studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said if al-Qaida were responsible for last week's bombs, Spain had become the first country "to have a prime minister owing his position to Bin Laden". [complete article]

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Iraqi exile group fed false information to news media
By Jonathan S. Landay and Tish Wells, Knight Ridder, March 15, 2004

The former Iraqi exile group that gave the Bush administration exaggerated and fabricated intelligence on Iraq also fed much of the same information to leading newspapers, news agencies and magazines in the United States, Britain and Australia.

A June 26, 2002, letter from the Iraqi National Congress to the Senate Appropriations Committee listed 108 articles based on information provided by the INC's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.

The assertions in the articles reinforced President Bush's claims that Saddam Hussein should be ousted because he was in league with Osama bin Laden, was developing nuclear weapons and was hiding biological and chemical weapons.

Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden. [complete article]

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Why nation-building fails in mid-course
By Minxin Pei, Samia Amin and Seth Garz, International Herald Tribune, March 16, 2004

Despite the recent passage of an interim constitution for Iraq, America's democracy project in Iraq is likely to encounter even more difficult tests in the medium term.

The history of past American attempts at nation-building in developing countries shows that the most lethal threat to Washington's undertaking tends to rise about four to six years after the end of American military intervention. The U.S.-sponsored political institutions begin to unravel when the United States, distracted or discouraged, allows political elites in the target countries to change the rules of the game to gain electoral dominance. [complete article]

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Police 'identify' Madrid bombers
BBC News, March 16, 2004

Spanish police are reported to have identified six Moroccans who they believe carried out the Madrid bomb attacks that killed 200 people.

Five of the suspects are still at large but one is in custody, the Spanish newspaper El Pais quotes security sources as saying.

The man, named as Jamal Zougam, is reported to have been recognised by people who survived Thursday's blasts.

Mr Zougam was arrested on Saturday with two other Moroccans and two Indians. [complete article]

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The courage of Spain
Voters hate liars more than they fear terrorists

By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, March 16, 2004

In the aftermath of the Madrid bombings and the subsequent Socialist Party success in the Spanish elections, conservative commentators have suggested that Spanish voters handed a huge victory to al Qaeda. But the notion that fear drove support towards the antiwar party is hard to square with the fact that while the bomb wreckage still smoldered almost a third of Spain's population took to the streets in defiance of terrorism. Clearly this was not a populace cowed by terror. The apolitical truth is that a stoical and steely vigor compels ordinary people to pursue their ordinary lives even in the most extreme circumstances. Vulnerable leaders protected by labyrinths of security fool only themselves when they claim to be at the vanguard of any popular movement to resist intimidation. That American observers who were not following events in Spain very closely would assume that Jose Maria Aznar's defeat was an expression of Spanish fear, perhaps says more about America than it says about Spain. After all, Spain is long familiar with political violence; the threat of Islamic terrorism was already evident in neighboring Casablanca and Tunisia, and in spite of Spain's involvement in the occupation of Iraq and the war on terrorism, Aznar's party had a clear lead in pre-March 11 polling.

The victory handed to al Qaeda came not through the Spanish ballot box but from those largely non-Spanish observers who are now promoting the idea that victory for the Socialist Party came from votes cast in fear. Ironically, it is those who are now renewing their appeals that we must remain resolute in the face of terrorism, who have themselves capitulated to their own fear by exaggerating the influence that terrorism exerted in the choices made by Spanish voters.

Although March 11 and the defeat of the People's Party will likely have a lasting impact on the war on terrorism, the election result itself had more to do with Aznar's fear of defeat than it did with Spain's fear of terrorism. While his own security services were telling him that they were 99% certain that the bombings had been carried out by Islamist terrorists, Aznar publicly insisted that Basque separatists were responsible. His efforts to control media coverage even went so far that on the eve of the election, Television Espanola, the state television station, gave no prominence to anti-government demonstrations. For many people, the only way they could learn about what was taking place in their own capital was by relying on the foreign media.

While the international political implications of Aznar's defeat are still being considered, it would be interesting to know whether during the post-bombing pre-election interval Jose Maria Aznar sought or received any advice from his friends in the White House. Aznar's advisors clearly believed that it was in his interests that ETA be emphatically blamed for the bombings, but did those advisors include any members of the Bush administration or the Bush presidential campaign?

In recent days, the Bush campaign has been attempting to tarnish their opponent, John Kerry, by implying that he might be aligned to foreign interests. On Monday, Vice President Cheney said that "it is our business when a candidate for President claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy."

Assuming that Kerry has more integrity than Cheney it seems apparent that Kerry would want to respect the confidentiality of those foreign leaders whose distaste for Bush does not preclude their need for cordial US relations in the event that Bush gets re-elected. George Bush, however, shares no parallel need to protect the confidentiality of his or his representatives' communications with Prime Minister Aznar.

Before the election, Spain's prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, had already expressed his hope that George Bush be defeated in the US presidential election. Out of personal friendship and with a vested interest in the continuation of Aznar's government (and along with that Spain's ongoing participation in the occupation of Iraq), Bush clearly had a strong interest in the outcome of the Spanish election. In Aznar's hour of need how did his loyal friend respond? On March 11 President Bush helped promote the idea that the Madrid bombings were the work of ETA when, in his brief comments from the White House South Lawn, he said, "I appreciate so very much the Spanish government's fight against terror, their resolute stand against terrorist organizations like the ETA." Was he simply echoing the opinions expressed by Jose Maria Aznar, or had their prior conversations led them to agree that in the run-up to the election, irrespective of evidence to the contrary, it was in their mutual interest to blame ETA?

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Did al-Qaeda change Spain's regime?
By Tony Karon,, March 16, 2004

The Socialist Party's dramatic upset victory in Spain's election on Sunday may be counted by al-Qaeda as its first success in the business of regime-change. It's certainly true that before last Thursday's horrific train bombings in Madrid that killed 201 people and wounded more than 1,000, the conservative Popular Party -- whose outgoing leader, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar had been the Bush administration's closest Iraq-war ally in Europe -- had looked set to coast home by a 5 to 8 percent margin. But once it became clear that bombers came from al-Qaeda rather than the Basque separatists blamed by the government, voters showed up in record numbers to defeat Aznar's party. But even if the catalyst came from al-Qaeda, the election turned into a referendum on Spain's involvement in the Iraq invasion, and the result was a sharp rebuke of a government that had defied its electorate to march in lockstep with the U.S. [complete article]

Comment -- Tony Karon concludes this analysis by saying, "It doesn't take a soothsayer to predict that new terror attacks in Britain or the U.S. would be more likely to stampede the voters behind Blair and Bush than to bolster any antiwar challengers. But that's unlikely to stop the terrorists from trying." But the question is, to what end? I have argued and will continue to argue that George Bush is al Qaeda's enemy-of-choice. There's no question that Bush would use the event of another attack as an opportunity to rally support for his command in the war against terrorism, but if enough American voters recognized that this would serve al Qaeda's purposes, there's just a possibility that al Qaeda might conclude that further attacks will not in fact serve their ends.

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Some see victory for Al Qaeda
By John Vinocur, International Herald Tribune, March 16, 2004

Spain's great electoral upheaval, however fair and open its ground rules and procedure, is being called by some in Europe a victory for terrorism, a precedent that offers Al Qaeda or groups like it the notion that they can alter the democratic process with bombs and murder.

The argument of those who see what they call appeasement gaining the upper hand point to the Socialists' victory as being based on their campaign warning that Islamic terrorists would take revenge on Spain for the support given by the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to the United States in Iraq.

In this view, after the attack Thursday that killed more than 200 people in Madrid, the Socialist Party's appeal was in its argument that Spain could have insulated itself with a foreign policy in opposition to the Americans and its conditional pledge to pull the Spanish troop contingent of 1,300 men out of Iraq, a compliant gesture that could guarantee the country's future safety. [complete article]

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Government lies on Iraq, bombings, led to defeat at the polls
By Diana Cariboni, Inter Press Service (via, March 16, 2004

Within just four days, terrorism radically changed the direction of the general elections that took place Sunday in Spain, and tested the public's tolerance of concealment and manipulation of information in the investigation effort.

On Sunday, the governing Popular Party (PP) lost 35 seats in Congress and its absolute majority. To judge by the opinion polls conducted prior to the elections, the center-right party would not have suffered defeat without Thursday's rail blasts and carnage in Madrid.

Whether or not it is confirmed that the perpetrators were Islamic extremists, many believe the tragedy would not have occurred if the Spanish government had not gotten involved in U.S. President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism". [complete article]

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Angry voters demand to know the truth behind carnage
By Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, March 15, 2004

At El Pozo, the polling station overlooked the tracks where the last bomb exploded. A train carriage with its middle blown out, steel guts still dangling, sat marooned in a car park metres from the door. It was guarded by a lone policeman drawing on a cigarette.

But as voters filed in, it was clear that the grim reminders of Thursday's bombing would cause an angry electorate to punish the People's party (PP) in spectacular fashion.

Some voters hobbled in on crutches, with burns on their faces or carrying flowers. They felt the government had treated them like idiots after the terrorist attacks.

This neighbourhood in mourning had always been a working class area in favour of the Socialist party (PSOE).

But across Madrid, the same conversation was happening outside polling stations: the prime minister, José María Aznar, had duped the voters, held back information on the bombings and - worst of all - he seemed to have manipulated state TV. [complete article]

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How U.S. is sowing gridlock in Iraq
By Juan Cole, Mercury News, March 14, 2004

A year ago this weekend, the Bush administration was making its final plans for its March 20 "shock and awe'' bombing blitz.

Publicly, the administration continued to pitch the main reason for war as the need to wipe out Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction before terrorists could get their hands on them.

But another key, if less highlighted, goal was to transform the Middle East's dictatorships -- a fertile breeding ground for terrorists -- into democracies. Iraq was going to be the demonstration project for democracy, as well as America's new best friend in the region now that the Saudis were suspect in certain circles.

Among the rewards of friendship: The United States would be able to move the troops that guard U.S. interests in the region -- including oil -- from Saudi Arabia to Iraq.

As the other justifications for the war, such as Iraq's weapons of mass destruction stockpiles, evaporated like mirages in the desert, the goal of establishing democracy took on even more importance as a justification for the venture. But a year later -- and just months before the United States plans to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis -- we are left with a muddle. [complete article]

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Tensions grow between Iraqi Shiites and U.S.
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, March 16, 2004

The eagerness of post-Saddam Iraq to embrace its Shiite neighbours in Iran has become a new pressure point as Iraq's Shiite majority stonewalls US attempts to dictate the shape of a new government in Baghdad.

Rising tension was apparent at the weekend, as the Iraqi Shiites and US officials vied with each other under the cover of tending the day-to-day needs of their business in the region.

The Iraqis sent a delegation to Tehran, which is high on Washington's "enemy list", presenting it as just a neighbourly visit. But the Americans would have been stunned by the inclusion in the team of their hand-picked candidate as the likely next leader of Iraq - returned exile and former banker Ahmed Chalabi.

US retaliation was swift. It closed all but three of the crossing points on the Iraq-Iran border. This was presented by the chief of the US occupation, Paul Bremer, as just another security measure, but observers saw the border tightening as a rebuke to the Iraqi Shiites who depend on the spending of thousands of Iranian pilgrims who cross daily to visit the Shiite shrine cities in Iraq - Karbala and Najaf. [complete article]

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FBI pushes for broadband wiretap powers
By Ben Charny, CNet News (via MSNBC), March 12, 2004

A far-reaching proposal from the FBI, made public Friday, would require all broadband Internet providers, including cable modem and DSL companies, to rewire their networks to support easy wiretapping by police.

The FBI's request to the Federal Communications Commission aims to give police ready access to any form of Internet-based communications. If approved as drafted, the proposal could dramatically expand the scope of the agency's wiretap powers, raise costs for cable broadband companies and complicate Internet product development.

Legal experts said the 85-page filing includes language that could be interpreted as forcing companies to build backdoors into everything from instant messaging and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) programs to Microsoft's Xbox Live gaming service. The introduction of new services that did not support a back door for police would be outlawed, and companies would be given 15 months to make sure existing services comply. [complete article]

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Al-Qaida recruiting made web of militants
By Salah Nasrawi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), March 15, 2004

Al-Qaida connections have emerged from terror attacks in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and now Spain, fueled by a recruiting drive by radical Muslims who fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan, security officials told The Associated Press.

For months, especially in Iraq where attacks on coalition forces and Iraqis who work with them are near-daily events, little-known groups have been claiming responsibility.

The veracity of the claims remains unknown, but the attacks bear the hallmarks of this new al-Qaida -- a loose-knit cluster of small groups not controlled by a mother organization but well aware of what is expected of them and sometimes even recruited by bin Laden's trainees.

At this point, experts say, there is no practical difference.

"If you believe in their ideas, then you are one of them. You are al-Qaida," said Abdel Rahim Ali, an Egyptian expert on radical Islamic groups and author of "Alliance of Terror, Al Qaida Organization."

Al-Qaida, he said, is now "separate and loose groups bound only by an ideology, but working independently. They know the general guidelines and they know what is required to do," he told the AP. "It is (al-Qaida) recruiting by remote control."

The individuals or small groups that act under al-Qaida's umbrella are believed to draw on their own resources or do their own simple fund-raising, such as collecting donations in mosques. However, bin Laden -- who is not thought to be issuing direct orders for attacks -- clearly remains their inspiration and al-Qaida what they aspire to be. [complete article]

Comment -- As this article indicates, the core of al-Qaida's infrastructure is its ideology. The Bush administration claims to have dismantled more than two thirds of al-Qaida's infrastructure, yet if its ideological core has become even more virulent we have every reason to wonder whether after two and a half years, the war on terrorism has not in fact done more to reinforce al-Qaida's infrastructure than bring about its destruction.

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Families of slain troops join antiwar protest outside Dover air base
By William Douglas, Knight Ridder, March 14, 2004

Sue Niederer sought her son's permission before taking part in a protest against the war in Iraq.

Her son, Seth Dvorin, was an Army soldier killed last month about 30 miles south of Baghdad. But Niederer can't quite believe that her 24-year-old boy is gone. She still talks to him.

"I asked his permission to do this," said Niederer, a Pennington, N.J., resident, as she stood outside Dover Air Force Base clutching a poster-sized picture of her son in his dress uniform.

"I said 'If you don't want me to do this, flatten my tires.' He wants me to do this."

Niederer was one of about 600 demonstrators Sunday who marched to the gates of the base to protest the war and complain about restricted access to installations, like Dover, where the bodies of those killed in Iraq are returned. [complete article]

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Pride and preconceptions
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 15, 2004

Huddled in their homes, isolated but patient, while the bombs fell last March, the two patriarchs -- a former Sunni diplomat and a retired Shiite doctor -- viewed the approach of U.S. troops and American ambitions for Iraq from opposing camps. For the doctor, it was a liberation; for the diplomat, a conquest, with the hope of a new start.

But the journey of the last year has led each man, today, to a similar destination.

"We were expecting so much from America, and we haven't got anything," said Fuad Musa Mohammed, the 67-year-old Shiite doctor, who lives in the upscale neighborhood of Mansour. "Only fear." [complete article]

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Some Iraqi leaders now balk at giving U.N. a big role
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, March 15, 2004

In a surprising turnabout, several Iraqi leaders are balking at allowing the United Nations to return to the country to help it prepare for the return of sovereignty on June 30.

Several members of the Iraqi Governing Council, which clamored for United Nations help on elections weeks ago, now say they are reluctant to give the organization a big role either in helping to prepare the Iraqi government to stand on its own or in readying the country for nationwide elections — to take place as early as December.

Those council members, whose skepticism about the United Nations dates from the time of Saddam Hussein, said they had been disappointed by the failure of a team of United Nations experts who visited the country recently to help schedule early elections. [complete article]

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Spain's Muslims brace for backlash
By Lizette Alvarez, New York Times (via IHT), March 15, 2004

Ali Mrazl, a Moroccan who has built a tranquil, solid life in Spain over the course of 16 years, wishes he could turn back time.

"People think less of you here now if you are Moroccan," said Mrazl, a store worker who lives in Madrid's immigrant quarter of Lavapies, where the police arrested three Moroccans with possible terrorist ties on Saturday.

"They criticize us because of who we are and it hurts," Mrazl, 32, said. "After Sept. 11, it got much worse. If this is Al Qaeda now, it will be so much worse - much, much worse. We are afraid that the Spanish will always be looking at us with the eye of a hurricane."

The arrest of the three Moroccans in connection with the Madrid train bombings that killed 200 people last week and the release of a video late Saturday by a man calling himself an Al Qaeda military spokesman and claiming responsibility for the deadly attacks have left Spain's Muslim community in a state of profound unease. [complete article]

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Don't flinch in fight against terror, warns White House
By Alec Russell, The Telegraph, March 15, 2004

Washington gave a thinly-veiled warning to Spain and other European countries yesterday that to waver in the fight against global terrorism would lead to catastrophe.

With anxiety growing that Spain's victorious Socialists might deal a wounding blow to America's coalition by withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, the White House launched a co-ordinated offensive clearly tailored to pre-empt calls for a new approach to the fight against terrorism. [complete article]

Were attacks a bid to hijack democracy?
By David Blair, The Telegraph, March 15, 2004

If al-Qa'eda was responsible for the Madrid bomb attacks, it would mark the first time that Osama bin Laden's followers have sought to hijack a democratic election.

Their belief in the decadence supposedly afflicting western society will have escalated into a shameless attempt to terrify voters into favouring their ends.

The videotaped message that allegedly conveys al-Qa'eda's claim of responsibility can be read as an open threat to the Spanish electorate. The bombings were a "response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies", said Abu Dujan al-Afghani, who claims to be al-Qa'eda's "military spokesman" in Europe.

"This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If you don't stop your injustices, more and more blood will flow and these attacks will seem very small compared to what can occur in what you call terrorism."

This message, timed for release on election day, appears to carry a simple demand: reject the politicians who have allied Spain with America and sent troops to Iraq, or more attacks will follow.

It will not be lost on Spaniards that the ruling Popular Party has consistently supported President George W Bush's war on terrorism, while the opposition Socialists have a manifesto pledge to withdraw all troops from Iraq.

If the message is genuine - and there is no proof of its authenticity yet - the timing and content show al-Qa'eda is trying to bend a European electorate to its will. Free societies have always been acutely vulnerable to terrorism. [complete article]

Comment -- The suggestion that Spanish voters cowed under pressure from terrorists should not be dismissed since terrorism, whatever else it might be, almost invariably has political objectives. Yet Spaniards were manifestly fearlessness when they took to the streets in their millions the day after the bombings. Then, two days later they refused to be manipulated by a government that was willing to blame ETA as a matter of political convenience even when the finger of suspicion pointed much more plausibly at al Qaeda. Far from showing weakness in the face of terrorism, the Spanish have repudiated a flawed strategy for defeating terrorism. Al Qaeda may have been successful in driving a wedge between America and one of its allies, but that alliance was always tenuous at best, in that it did nothing more than unify two administrations who showed little interest in the will of the people.

Americans would do well to contemplate al Qaeda's likely objectives if there is a similar pre-election attack in the United States. But rather than suppose that the intent would be to see George Bush thrown out of office, the calculation in this case may well be that al Qaeda prefers four more years of the enemy of their choice, rather than the alternative of a less polarizing administration that would not serve as easily as fuel for jihad. The question is, in this event, will American voters be savvy enough to understand how they are being manipulated and to what end?

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From 9/11 to 3/11
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 22, 2004

Cell phones were vital components in the mass destruction that hit Spain last week, and they were symbols, too, of the horror that lingered afterward. Since 9/11, terrorists have known that the most ordinary things in modern life can be turned to apocalyptic purposes: box cutters, laptops, commercial airliners. All that's required is planning and discipline, secrecy and the will to slaughter innocents.

In Madrid, the terrorists showed they'd learned those lessons well. They used a very simple delivery system: 13 backpacks and gym bags left lying around in commuter trains as they pulled into three crowded stations. Each held about 25 pounds of a high explosive. The detonators were wired to the phones. When they rang, 10 of the bombs went off. In the carnage afterward, as 200 people lay dead or dying, and an additional 1,500 of the injured screamed and staggered beside the tracks, witnesses remember that other phones, the personal ones on the mangled corpses, started to ring, too, in a horrible cacophony. Friends and relatives were trying to reach the people they loved. [complete article]

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Spain's new leader promises Iraq withdrawal
By Simon Jeffrey, The Guardian, March 15, 2004

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose socialist party yesterday won a sensational election victory, today vowed to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.

The prime minister elect used his first full media interview since last night to affirm that he intended to follow through on what had become a key election promise.

"The Spanish troops in Iraq will come home," he told Cadena Ser radio.

Mr Zapatero's campaign pledge was to keep troops in Iraq until June 30 - as Madrid had previously pledged - and withdraw them if the US had not handed over power to an interim administration by that date.

He today said that no decision on the 1,300 Spanish troops in Iraq would be taken until he was in power and without wide political consultation, but insisted he did not intend for them to stay. He told Cadena Ser: "The war has been a disaster, the occupation continues to be a disaster, it has only generated violence." [complete article]

Comment -- Look at today's editorial pages in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. Not a single lead editorial on the result of Spain's general election! Peter Popham and Tim Gaynor write in Britain's The Independent that, "The sudden loss of power for Spain's ruling Popular Party, which joined Tony Blair in steadfastly supporting George Bush's "war on terror", is nothing short of a political earthquake." Whether, as The Independent suggests, this has sent shockwaves through the British and American administrations, it seems clear it did not create a jolt strong enough to wake up America.

Should Americans care about the results of an election in Spain? In general, yes. As Western Europe's youngest parliamentary democracy of less than thirty years, there are few countries that better reveal the complexities of the "Old World." But right now, nothing more graphically demonstrates America's need to pay attention to the rest of the world than its response to events of the last five days. March 11 may come to be seen as the day that America lost its war on terrorism. The notion that Iraq is the main front in the war on terrorism and that Americans are dying over there so that we won't have to fight the terrorists here was an idea that exploded in Madrid -- unless of course "over there" is now meant to include Europe.

Now, with a Spanish government committed to withdrawing its troops from Iraq, the feeble coalition that George Bush rallied for the purpose of eradicating international terrorism is irrevocably fractured -- at least that is if America insists on maintaining its role as an overbearing leader. The Bush administration's other closest allies, Britain and Italy, are fully aware that they are now al Qaeda's prime targets in what is proving to be a successful strategy of dividing America from its allies. America stands at a crossroads where historical propensities will likely drive it into a position of proud isolation, yet practical imperatives ought to steer it towards real dialogue and partnership. The Bush administration has thus far only had a liking for partners it thinks it can control, but at a time when "united we stand" should stop being an appeal for sycophantic support it is hard to envisage that this country or its leaders can muster the humility that would actually deliver strength through a common cause in which America's interests are no longer placed above those of the world. America better wake up before it's too late!

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New Spanish leader promises realignment in Europe
By Giles Tremlett, The Guardian, March 15, 2004

When he ordered the crowd of flag-waving supporters at his headquarters to stop their celebrations and stand silent for a minute's homage to Madrid's dead and injured last night Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was starting what he pledged would be a new style of government.

Where the past four heavy-handed years of Jose Maria Aznar's People's party had seen increasingly bitter and divisive splits between Spaniards, be they left or right, Madrileno or Basque and Catalan, the 43-year-old lawyer who will now lead Spain has promised dialogue, debate and healing.

The first people to be cared for, he said, were the families of the dead, those still missing relatives and those still battling for their lives or recovering from ghastly, life-changing injuries in hospital. But the main task, he said, was to fight terrorism wherever it raises its ugly head.

This will necessarily mean forging relationships with other world leaders, though Spain's place in the world may be about to change dramatically with Mr Zapatero at the helm. He has already said he wants George Bush to lose the presidential elections, so he will have no friend there. [...]

The big question on foreign policy remains whether Mr Zapatero sticks to his guns and withdraws Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq if the UN does not take control by June 30. The crowds outside his party headquarters shouting "No to war!" last night will certainly expect that. [complete article]

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Spanish government admits defeat
BBC News, March 14, 2004

Spain's ruling Popular Party has suffered an unexpected defeat in the country's general election with almost all the votes counted.
The poll was overshadowed by claims that al-Qaeda carried out the Madrid bomb attacks that killed 200 people.

The Socialist party's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is now set to become Spain's new prime minister, ending eight years of conservative rule.

"My immediate priority will be to fight all forms of terrorism," he said. [complete article]

Comment from Tony Karon,
"Al-Qaeda on Sunday appears to have recorded its first success in changing a regime -- and that in the most European part of the old Islamic caliphate, Spain. That may sound alarmist, but its worth remembering the reason why last Thursday's bombing in Madrid -- for which al-Qaeda appears to be responsible -- brought Spanish voters out in droves to hand an unexpected victory to the Socialist Party: Their misgivings over their government's alliance with the Bush administration over Iraq. As much as 90 percent of the Spanish electorate opposed Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's support for the U.S. invasion, and correctly or incorrectly, many voters read the Madrid bombings as a consequence of Spain's support for what they perceive as an illegitimate aggression. That, together with the impression that the Spanish government was trying to ignore or avoid evidence pointing to an al-Qaeda type perpetrator in the days that followed the bombing, appears to have sunk Aznar's party. It's a stunning repudiation by a European electorate of the Bush administration's idea of a "war on terrorism." Unfortunately, al-Qaeda may be hoping to make a similar intervention into the U.S. election. But here, unlike in Spain, it's safe to presume that a new terrorist outrage would rally the electorate behind the Bush administration's hawkish policies."

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Across a great divide
By Peter Schneider, New York Times, March 13, 2004

The war in Iraq has made the Atlantic seem wider. But really it has had the effect of a magnifying glass, bringing older and more fundamental differences between Europe and the United States into focus.

These growing divisions -- over war, peace, religion, sex, life and death -- amount to a philosophical dispute about the common origins of European and American civilization. Both children of the Enlightenment, the United States and Europe clearly differ about the nature of this inheritance and about who is its better custodian.

Start with religion. The United States is experiencing a revival of the Christian faith in many areas of civic and political life, while in Europe the process of secularization continues unabated. Today the United States is the most religious-minded society of the Western democracies. In a 2003 Harris poll 79 percent of Americans said they believed in God, and more than a third said they attended a religious service once a month or more. Numerous polls have shown that these figures are much lower in Western Europe. In the United States a majority of respondents in recent years told pollsters that they believed in angels, while in Europe the issue was apparently considered so preposterous that no one even asked the question. [complete article]

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Strengths, limits of U.S. foreign policy evident
By Doyle McManus and Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2004

When the United States invaded Iraq a year ago this week, the action transformed American foreign policy in the Middle East and around the world -- but not always as its strategists intended.

The fall of Baghdad after only 21 days of combat gave the world a vivid lesson in the scope of U.S. military might. But the difficulties that followed in Iraq -- a year of uphill battles against political chaos, economic collapse and a stubborn insurgency -- provided an equally striking lesson in the boundaries of American power when it comes to waging peace.

"Iraq is about our limits rather than our reach," said Lee Feinstein of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The burden of building a new Iraq, said Graham Allison of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, has sapped U.S. resources from other foreign policy priorities -- including the pursuit of terrorists elsewhere. [complete article]

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Real Arab reform
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, March 12, 2004

The Bush administration's new initiative to encourage democracy and reform in the Arab world has all the solidity of a hot-air balloon. It's floating grandly toward Planet Arabia, while down below the people who would be affected by it are variously taking potshots, running for cover or scratching their heads in confusion.

Are we really going to make this mistake again? To state what should be obvious after the reversals of the past year in Iraq: The idea of Arab democracy is meaningless unless it begins at home, driven by an Arab agenda for change, rather than by outsiders. If it's seen as another attempt to impose the West's agenda, then the planned U.S.-European Greater Middle East Initiative will fail -- and deservedly so.

Rather than preaching from their dirigibles overhead, Americans and Europeans should try listening more carefully to what the Arabs themselves have to say -- not to the leaders, whose main agenda is holding on to power, but to the millions of people who are desperate for reform. [complete article]

Comment -- David Ignatius is correct in arguing that effective democratic reform in the Middle East must be driven from within, but while the concept of self-determination is implicit in his argument this is an element that needs to be made more explicit if the current discourse on democracy is to have any meaning. Beyond the fact that an American endeavor to impose democracy on the Middle East will fail for the simple reason that its proponents reside outside the region, it is also flawed in that its advocates, rather than having a genuine desire to empower ordinary people, have a much greater interest in freeing commerce. The democratic cause that they further is one in which business can operate with minimal regulation and taxation and in which political freedom serves as little more than a balm for soothing the political frustrations of populations that can otherwise serve as productive yet politically passive workforces. If, however, real democratic reform was to sweep the Middle East, there is no telling where it might lead. The desire for self-determination in those populations that now straddle borders erected by the British and French when they carved up the Ottoman empire inevitably place ethnic interests at odds with those of existing states. Kurdistan is currently the most volatile testing ground in which ethnic mobility wrestles with territorial inflexibility, yet for most western advocates of Middle Eastern democracy the desire to further Kurdish democracy comes with the caveat that the Kurds must temper their demands for self-determination. Democracy is a good thing, it would seem, so long as the people who are being offered freedom don't ask for too much.

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Arabs see danger, not hope, in Iraq
By Shibley Telhami, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2004

On the eve of the Iraq war a year ago, I conducted a public opinion survey in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. It was no surprise that the vast majority of Arabs, like many around the world, opposed the war. Most striking was their profound mistrust of American foreign policy and of the stated U.S. objectives in Iraq. Unlike American predictions, the large majority of people in the region anticipated that the Middle East would be less democratic, that terrorism would increase and that the prospects of Arab-Israeli peace would diminish as a result of the war. One year later, this view has grown stronger. [complete article]

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White House marks invasion anniversary
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, March 14, 2004

The White House will mark this Friday's first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with a week-long media blitz arguing that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was essential to combating global terrorism and making the United States safer.

The message is crucial to President Bush's reelection campaign, which has tried to shift the focus of the race from troublesome issues such as the economy to his biggest strength in polls -- his handling of the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. [complete article]

Comment -- The Faustian bargain inherent in advertising-funded journalism is no more evident than on this page of the Washington Post. Alongside an article describing an upcoming "media blitz" promoting US "success" in the war on terrorism, the WP has no qualms in placing an advertisement for Lockheed Martin. A series of ads portraying Lockheed Martin's role in everything from homeland security to smart bombs to missile defense, each end with the slogan, "We never forget who we're working for." Lockheed Martin is working for its shareholders in the service of the US government and every other government with whom they are willing to do business. (This page uses a rolling ad feed, so you may need to refresh the page to see the Lockheed Martin ads.)

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Iraq: A land of splintered loyalties
By Phil Smucker, Scotland on Sunday, March 14, 2004

The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, a modest, soft-spoken cleric, who entertains American diplomats in his modest chambers in Najaf over tea and crumpets, appears far more powerful in Iraq these days than the man in the Oval office back in Washington, who on March 20 last year launched a grand plan to re-make the Middle East.

But then, ever since the successful conquest of Baghdad last spring, developments in Iraq have made fools of Western planning experts, whose stated intentions still include providing peace, prosperity and democracy.

Last week, the Grand Ayatollah threatened to use his influence to stonewall the signing of a new interim constitution designed to steer the country down a democratic path towards independence. "Any law prepared for the transitional period will not gain legitimacy except after it is endorsed by an elected national assembly," announced al-Sistani in a fatwa.

Like many other Iraqis opposed to foreign influence, al-Sistani was expressing worries that the framework for a new state was being created by forces other than the country’s majority, which for Shiites is viewed in terms of the 60% Shia population’s interests.

Arab Shiite and Arab Sunni leaders both worry about the ambitions of a small, influential Kurdish minority in the north that sits in control of vast oil reserves. The constitution, finally signed by all parties early this week, allows both the Kurds and Sunni Arabs to opt out of a unified Iraq upon their own choosing.

Yet even the squabbling over a new constitution - which can be viewed in a positive light by democracy advocates - seems a paltry concern compared to several growing threats to long-term stability in Iraq. [complete article]

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Iraqi family teeters atop uncertainty
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 14, 2004

Nearly a year ago, at the start of the U.S.-led invasion, Karima's family almost fell apart. On the war's first day in March, she escorted 21-year-old Ali, shy and gaunt, to a bus station and sent him off to man an Iraqi antiaircraft battery in the north. "There is no god but God," Karima told Ali at their parting, uttering the first phrase of the shahada, the central creed of Islam. As he bought a 30-cent ticket and boarded a red bus, Ali completed the couplet. "Muhammad is the messenger of God," he said.

"God willing, the war won't last long," Karima said a few days later to a reporter, who spent time with her during the invasion and has visited the family often in the months since. "I wish it wouldn't have lasted one day."

A year on, the war has yet to end for Karima and her children. [complete article]

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Israel's eastward march: Arming India and stirring the Asian pot
By Ed Blanche, Daily Star, March 13 2004

Israel is selling its Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), one of the most advanced such aircraft in service, to India in a $1.1 billion deal that underlines the growing connectivity between two of the most explosive regions in the world and which could exacerbate tensions in both.

The sale is going ahead with the approval of the Bush administration and it is clear that, as has often happened in the past, Israel is helping the US as well as boosting its own position. India wants the Phalcon not just to boost its military capabilities ­ offensive and defensive ­ against its old rival Pakistan, but against an increasingly powerful China which one day in the not-too-distant future will seriously challenge US military and economic power.

Washington wants to use India as a counterweight to the rising Chinese behemoth and would seem to be actively striving toward a new force that bestrides the new Middle East, the US-Israel-India axis. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

Shiite fantasies in Washington
By Tony Karon,, March 11, 2004
Osama bin Laden is not a cleric, and his movement's policies and strategies have been formulated on a political basis. As former CIA operative Reuel Marc Gerecht noted three years ago, "Bin Laden's vision was designed to appeal to the larger Muslim world. His primary target is the enemy without, the United States, not the enemy within, the 'impious' Muslims. The goal is to unify Muslims, not to divide them by doctrine or even by the intensity of their faith." Gerecht cites passages from key policy documents of al-Qaeda stressing the need for bin Laden's supporters to focus on rallying any available support against the primary enemy, and avoid allowing divisions to strengthen the hand of that enemy. That logic suggests bin Laden and his leadership circle would see a call for war against Shiites as inherently dangerous to al-Qaeda's wider objectives. Which means the dynamic confronting the U.S. both in Iraq and the wider Arab world seldom conforms to the binary Sunni vs. Shiite simplicities of which some in Washington appear to be rather fond.

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.

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.

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]

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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, the] oil-rich city in northern Iraq, which many residents fear is about to explode into violence between Kurds and the mainly Shiite Turkmen.

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