|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Neither silent nor a public witness
By Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank, Washington Post, March 26, 2004
This week's testimony and media blitz by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke has returned unwanted attention to his former boss, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The refusal by President Bush's top security aide to testify publicly before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks elicited rebukes by commission members as they held public hearings without her this week. Thomas H. Kean (R), the former New Jersey governor Bush named to be chairman of the commission, observed: "I think this administration shot itself in the foot by not letting her testify in public."
At the same time, some of Rice's rebuttals of Clarke's broadside against Bush, which she delivered in a flurry of media interviews and statements rather than in testimony, contradicted other administration officials and her own previous statements. [complete article]
September 11 attacks: What did Bush know?
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, March 27, 2004
One of the most tumultuous weeks in recent Washington history ended yesterday with the same over-arching, monumental question with which it began. Could the Bush administration have prevented the attacks of 11 September 2001? Upon the answer hangs a Presidency.
Before that terrible Tuesday in New York and Washington, Mr Bush had faced the threat of al-Qa'ida for eight months, compared to the six years of the Clinton administration, who first formally acknowledged the existence of the organisation in 1995, and designated Osama bin Laden, as a terrorist financier. This President and his closest advisers are being held to account for their actions between January and September 2001. In the aftermath of the attacks, such questions were first swamped by collective grief, then overshadowed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now above all because of the explosive memoirs of Richard Clarke, the White House counter-terrorism chief under both Mr Bush and Mr Clinton they are being asked. And the answers provided by the book and the first findings of the federal commission examining the attacks, are anything but flattering so unflattering that the Bush campaign is leaving no stone unturned to discredit Mr Clarke, denouncing his testimony as "lies". [complete article]
Did the Oklahoma bomber have help from al-Qa'ida's explosives expert?
By Andrew Gumbel, The Independent, March 27, 2004
Richard Clarke's book Against All Enemies has not just pushed the Bush administration deep on to the defensive over its approach to terrorism. It also pokes a stick into another hornet's nest by asking whether the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was not in some way linked to al-Qa'ida.
Nobody, least of all Mr Clarke, is suggesting that al-Qa'ida carried out the bombing, which was pinned primarily on Timothy McVeigh, with help from his old army buddy Terry Nichols. But his book stirs up some troubling unanswered questions about Mr Nichols' many trips to the Philippines in the years preceding the bombing and raises the possibility that he received explosives training from Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993.
Mr Clarke notes that both Yousef and Nichols were in Cebu City, a hotbed of activity by the radical Filipino group Abu Sayyaf, on the same days, and that Nichols continued to make phone calls to Cebu for some time afterwards. [complete article]
Comment -- Those who are not persuaded by the ethical arguments against capital punishment should at least concede that the risks involved in execution are not limited to the risk of killing the innocent. The "closure" provided by terminating a life quickly evaporates when it becomes clear that a convict was never asked questions for which we would now dearly wish to be able to hear his answers -- were he alive.
'Wartime president' MIA
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, March 26, 2004
What would a "wartime president" have done this week, as a bipartisan commission's public hearings on the Sept. 11 tragedy were being engulfed by political bickering?
I like to think that this hypothetical leader would have found a way to rise above the fray and unite the country: He would have embraced the commission's work, forthrightly admitted his own mistakes, sent his national security adviser to testify publicly -- and insisted that the security of the United States was too important to be buried in election-year squabbles.
President Bush and his White House handlers did pretty much the opposite. They fanned the flames of partisan debate; when asked awkward questions, they stonewalled; rather than testify before the cameras, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice spent part of her Wednesday afternoon dishing dirt to reporters about a commission witness who had criticized the president. [complete article]
By Robert Buzzanco, The Guardian, March 27, 2004
Now that John Kerry has secured the Democratic nomination for president, recent attacks on his anti-war activities in the Vietnam era are sure to intensify. His political opponents - Vietnamese emigres and pro-war veterans - have been attacking the former national spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), painting him as an extremist, weak on issues of national security, or even disloyal.
This is more than an assault on Kerry's politics, it is part of a larger, and sustained effort by conservatives to revise the Vietnam war into a righteous cause that was not lost on the battlefield but undermined at home. In trying to make Americans forget how unpopular and divisive the war was, these people are trying to make it easier to justify interventions in Iraq, Haiti, Venezuela or elsewhere.
In truth, however, Kerry's views on the war reflected the mindset of a large majority of Americans and, crucially, were widely shared within the military establishment. Indeed, military leaders were never optimistic about their prospects in Vietnam, were realistic about the problems there, and often openly opposed the war. That same dynamic is at play today: a significant number of high-ranking US military officials warned against war in Iraq and have continued to criticise the Bush administration's efforts there, putting the president in the anomalous position of offering pro-military rhetoric while ignoring the counsel of his armed forces. [complete article]
U.S. will tell Iraqi council to pick a prime minister
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, March 27, 2004
The United States will transfer power in Iraq to a hand-picked prime minister, abandoning plans for an expansion of the current 25-member governing council, according to coalition officials in Baghdad.
With fewer than 100 days before the US occupation authorities are due to transfer sovereignty, fear of wrangling among Iraqi politicians has forced Washington to make its third switch of strategy in six months.
The search is now on for an Iraqi to serve as chief executive. He will almost certainly be from the Shia Muslim majority, and probably a secular technocrat.
"There will be no [Paul] Bremer and there will be a prime minister," a coalition official told the Guardian yesterday. "That will be the biggest change with the transfer of sovereignty." [complete article]
The path to friendship goes via the oil and gas fields
By Michael Meacher, The Guardian, March 27, 2004
So "brave" Muammar Gadafy has agreed on the importance of combating terrorism. A handshake with Tony Blair has sealed his re-entry into the international community, with contracts worth several hundred million pounds for Shell and BAE to follow. His compliance in opening up Libya to nuclear weapons inspectors has been spun as a major triumph in the "war on terror". The motives, however, are rather more cynical.
Negotiations for a rehabilitated public image for Colonel Gadafy, linked to improved western access to Libyan oil, began to surface in August 2002 with the visit by the Foreign Office minister, Mike O'Brien, to Sirte, near Tripoli. As the BBC said at the time, Libya was keen to re-enter the world economy, and the UK did not want to lose out on potentially lucrative oil contracts.
For both the UK and US, an energy crisis is looming. The latest BP statistical review of world energy predicted that UK proven oil and gas reserves will last, respectively, only 5.4 and 6.8 years at present rates of use. It has been estimated that by 2020 the UK could be dependent on imported energy for 80% of its needs. The US energy department has calculated that net imports of oil, already at 54%, will rise to 70% by 2025 because of growing demand and declining domestic supply.
Libya produces high-quality, low-sulphur crude oil at very low cost (as low as $1 per barrel in some fields), and holds 3% of world oil reserves. It also has vast proven natural gas reserves of 46 trillion cubic feet, but actual gas reserves are largely unexplored and estimated to total up to 70 trillion cubic feet. [complete article]
Federal auditors on the trail of wasteful spending in Iraq
By Seth Borenstein, Knight Ridder, March 26, 2004
Uncle Sam's "cost detectives" are following the billions of taxpayers' dollars the Bush administration is spending to rebuild Iraq, and that makes some people nervous.
Federal auditors are on the trail of wasteful spending and padded bills. They work in the offices of the politically connected defense contractors they're investigating. What they've dug up so far is big news. Who they are remains mostly a secret.
They've found that Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's old firm, has charged $67.3 million for soldiers' meals that were never served, billed Uncle Sam $2.64 per gallon for gas in oil-rich Iraq and had cost estimates that were inflated by $700 million at one point. They faulted contractor Science Applications International Corp. for billing the government for flying a Hummer and a pickup into Iraq on a chartered jet.
And the Defense Contract Audit Agency is just getting started. [complete article]
Retired top brass say no to 'missile shield'
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, March 27, 2004
Forty-nine retired generals and admirals yesterday urged President Bush to suspend plans for a national missile shield and instead use the money to secure nuclear materials abroad and ports and borders at home.
The Bush administration plans to field a nationwide defense system in September to shoot down missiles armed with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, and has budgeted $3.7 billion this year for the project.
Lexington, Mass.-based Raytheon is one of the main government contractors and is developing the missile interceptor and most of the radar technology.
But the 49 former senior military leaders contend that the system remains unproven. They also said it is more likely that terrorists would smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the United States than a country would launch a missile at the United States, risking a devastating retaliatory strike. [complete article]
The Armageddon plan
By James Mann, The Atlantic Monthly, March, 2004
At least once a year during the 1980s Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld vanished. Cheney was working diligently on Capitol Hill, as a congressman rising through the ranks of the Republican leadership. Rumsfeld, who had served as Gerald Ford's Secretary of Defense, was a hard-driving business executive in the Chicago area -- where, as the head of G. D. Searle & Co., he dedicated time and energy to the success of such commercial products as Nutra-Sweet, Equal, and Metamucil. Yet for periods of three or four days at a time no one in Congress knew where Cheney was, nor could anyone at Searle locate Rumsfeld. Even their wives were in the dark; they were handed only a mysterious Washington phone number to use in case of emergency.
After leaving their day jobs Cheney and Rumsfeld usually made their way to Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington. From there, in the middle of the night, each man -- joined by a team of forty to sixty federal officials and one member of Ronald Reagan's Cabinet -- slipped away to some remote location in the United States, such as a disused military base or an underground bunker. A convoy of lead-lined trucks carrying sophisticated communications equipment and other gear would head to each of the locations.
Rumsfeld and Cheney were principal actors in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan Administration. Under it U.S. officials furtively carried out detailed planning exercises for keeping the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The program called for setting aside the legal rules for presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new "President" and his staff. The idea was to concentrate on speed, to preserve "continuity of government," and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role. [complete article]
Sharon's shameful death
By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram, March 25, 2004
If Israel delivered a message with the three missiles that slammed into a Gaza street on Monday morning killing Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas's spiritual leader, and eight others, few in Israel could agree either on the meaning of that message or to whom it was addressed.
Was it directly linked to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral "disengagement" plan -- the promised evacuation of most Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip -- or was it planned months in advance, as Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom insisted? Did it bring the withdrawal nearer or make it less likely? Would Yassin's death fatally harm Hamas's organisational structure, or send the group's popularity soaring? And would it assist the Palestinian Authority security forces in re-establishing their control of Gaza, or act as a powerful recruiting sergeant for Islamic fundamentalism, possibly driving Hamas into the arms of Al-Qa'eda? [complete article]
A million Yassins?
By Amira Howeidy, Al-Ahram, March 25, 2004
"You going to the demonstrations?" the taxi driver asked Al-Ahram Weekly. "May God curse the Israelis." It was noon on Monday and the Cairene driver had heard of Israel's assassination of Hamas's founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin earlier that morning. "It's the first thing I heard when I woke up. I'm still furious."
A few hours after Israel assassinated Yassin in the early hours of Monday morning, reactions in Egypt -- the first Arab country to make peace with Israel -- came fast and furious. President Hosni Mubarak was swift in announcing Cairo's condemnation of the "atrocious act" and the "end of the peace process", after which he cancelled the controversial visit of a parliamentary delegation to Tel Aviv to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Camp David Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The official response was meant to be in harmony with an outraged public mood and it was met with the approval of many who feel it is high time Cairo severed diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv. [complete article]
By Neve Gordon, In These Times, March 26, 2004
... the Israeli attack [that killed Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin] will likely deal a harsh blow to the recent emergence of a Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement. The three-and-a-half year Palestinian uprising, known as the second Intifada, began changing its character about two months ago: from a struggle based on violent resistance led by relatively small groups of militants to a massive nonviolent grassroots movement.
The impetus for this mobilization is the rapid erection of the separation wall. The protesters used the same techniques developed by Ghandi and Martin Luther King, with hundreds of demonstrators standing or lying in front of bulldozers, chanting songs and waving flags. Although the military has been ordered to disperse the protesters, using tear gas, clubs, and, at times, even bullets, every day in the past weeks more and more Palestinians (alongside a few Israelis and internationals) have joined the ranks. For a moment it appeared that the Palestinians had adopted a tenable strategy which could actually threaten Israel's occupation.
Yassin's assassination will probably weaken the nonviolent resistance and empower those who favor violent retaliation against Israel. Thus, ironically, Israel's operation has actually strengthened the legitimacy of Hamas' military wing. [complete article]
Up to 2,000 marines to go to Afghanistan from Gulf
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, March 26, 2004
As many as 2,000 marines now aboard ships in the Persian Gulf will be sent to Afghanistan in the coming weeks to reinforce the American-led operation there to combat fighters of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
American commanders have not yet decided how many marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeuene, N.C., will ultimately be deployed to Afghanistan. A senior Pentagon official said "it will be most of them," while a defense official said that "some of the marines" would be sent but that conditions in the field would dictate the number.
The United States now has about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 2,000 marines. The additional marines -- about 2,000 to 2,200 are now aboard three ships in the gulf -- would add significant reinforcements at a pivotal moment in the running battle along the Afghan-Pakistani border. [complete article]
Implications of the seventh Majlis elections in Iran
By Christopher Boucek, Foreign Policy in Focus, March 25, 2004
In the seven years since Khatami's presidential victory, Iran's reformers appeared to many to have seized control of Iran's future, and set the Islamic Republic on the course of moderation. However the tenure of the reformists has produced few benefits for the people. The powerful, hard-line conservatives within the regime--unelected and deeply rooted in the system, especially within the judiciary and the Guardian Council--have repeatedly blocked any implementation of the moderates' agenda. Khatami's presidency has been marred by numerous press closures and confrontations over the limits of free expression, repeated legal tribulations for many leading reformists, and the extremely violent 1999 student democracy uprisings.
Thus, heading into February's elections many segments of the Iranian electorate felt betrayed by the reformists and their failures to enact their platforms. Many Iranian voters felt resigned to a conservative victory. As a result, relatively few voters actually turned out to participate in the Majlis elections. This widespread voter apathy was not just an admission of an unfair election, but rather a way for the electorate to vote "no confidence" in the system. [complete article]
Pakistan finds 'murdered troops'
BBC News, March 26, 2004
Pakistan's army says eight soldiers ambushed close to the Afghan border have been murdered in cold blood. The army has been engaged in an 11-day offensive against members of al-Qaeda, the Taleban and local tribesmen supporting them.
The soldiers were part of a convoy ambushed on Monday in which it was already reported that 11 other soldiers had been killed.
An army spokesman said the eight men had been shot at point-blank range. [complete article]
"We should have had orange or red-type of alert in June or July of 2001"
By Eric Boehlert, Salon, March 26, 2004
A former FBI wiretap translator with top-secret security clearance, who has been called "very credible" by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has told Salon she recently testified to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that the FBI had detailed information prior to Sept. 11, 2001, that a terrorist attack involving airplanes was being plotted.
Referring to the Homeland Security Department's color-coded warnings instituted in the wake of 9/11, the former translator, Sibel Edmonds, told Salon, "We should have had orange or red-type of alert in June or July of 2001. There was that much information available." Edmonds is offended by the Bush White House claim that it lacked foreknowledge of the kind of attacks made by al-Qaida on 9/11. "Especially after reading National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice [Washington Post Op-Ed on March 22] where she said, we had no specific information whatsoever of domestic threat or that they might use airplanes. That's an outrageous lie. And documents can prove it's a lie."
Edmonds' charge comes when the Bush White House is trying to fend off former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's testimony that it did not take serious measures to combat the threat of Islamic terrorism, and al-Qaida specifically, in the months leading up to 9/11.
Edmonds, who is Turkish-American, is a 10-year U.S. citizen who has passed a polygraph examination conducted by FBI investigators. She speaks fluent Farsi, Arabic and Turkish and worked part-time for the FBI, making $32 an hour for six months, beginning Sept. 20, 2001. She was assigned to the FBI's investigation into Sept. 11 attacks and other counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases, where she translated reams of documents seized by agents who, for the previous year, had been rounding up suspected terrorists.
She says those tapes, often connected to terrorism, money laundering or other criminal activity, provide evidence that should have made apparent that an al- Qaida plot was in the works. Edmonds cannot talk in detail about the tapes publicly because she's been under a Justice Department gag order since 2002. [complete article]
Note - To read the complete article, you'll need to subscribe to Salon or sign up for a "free day pass."
White House fights Clarke fire with fire
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, March 26, 2004
Bush's advisers are concerned that Clarke's assertions are capable of inflicting political damage on a president who is staking his claim for reelection in large measure on his fight against terrorism.
James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said he was stunned by the ferocity of the White House campaign but said Clarke "is raising fundamental questions about the credibility of the president and his staff in regard to what they did to keep America safe."
"They are vulnerable, which is why they are attacking so hard," Thurber said. "You have to go back to Vietnam or Watergate to get the same feel about the structure of argument coming out of the White House against Clarke's statements." [complete article]
Comment -- Though the White House's primary objective here is to destroy Richard Clarke's credibility, there is an underlying message from Bush to any other current or former members of his administration who might be contemplating what the president would regard as an act of treachery: Step out of line and I will also destroy you.
MIA WMDs--For Bush, it's a joke
By David Corn, The Nation, March 25, 2004
... political journalists love to see politicians engage in self-deprecating humor. Bill Clinton was quite good at these performances. Bush seems to enjoy them less. Rather than do straight standup, he sometimes relies on a humorous slide show, and that was how he chose to entertain the media throng this time.
It's standard fare humor. Bush says he is preparing for a tough election fight; then on the large video screens a picture flashes showing him wearing a boxing robe while sitting at his desk. Bush notes he spends "a lot of time on the phone listening to our European allies." Then we see a photo of him on the phone with a finger in his ear. There were funny bits about Skull and Bones, his mother, and Dick Cheney. But at one point, Bush showed a photo of himself looking for something out a window in the Oval Office, and he said, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere."
The audience laughed. I grimaced. But that wasn't the end of it. After a few more slides, there was a shot of Bush looking under furniture in the Oval Office. "Nope," he said. "No weapons over there." More laughter. Then another picture of Bush searching in his office: "Maybe under here." Laughter again. [complete article]
Comment -- While David Corn along with many others who didn't attend this event have expressed shock at Bush's insensitivity in joking about the missing WMD, this performance fits right in line with the administration's strategy for dealing with the failure to find weapons. It might look dumb, but it was an innocent mistake.
Insiders offer unflattering accounts of Bush's decision-making style
By Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder, March 25, 2004
In Clarke's view, Bush's reliance on a small circle of aides blinded the president to threats from al-Qaida terrorists and the negative consequences of invading Iraq. O'Neill said the tightly held decision-making process foreclosed any meaningful discussion about the impact of the bigger federal deficits that resulted from Bush's tax cuts.
Their complaints about the lack of robust internal debate echo the conclusions of some presidential scholars who study White House decision-making.
"George Bush tends to make decisions on the basis of hunch and intuition, and then pulls together groups that confirm his decisions," said Paul C. Light, the director of the Center for Public Service at the Brookings Institution, a center-left research center. "The only people who are invited to be on the team are people who agree with him."
Bush's management style reflects his personality. He's action-oriented, impatient and intolerant of lengthy briefings and long debates. He often cites the importance of "instincts" in making decisions. [complete article]
THE FEAR FACTOR
9/11 scrutiny hits Bush aura on terror
By Linda Feldmann and Liz Marlantes, Christian Science Monitor, March 26, 2004
The two days of testimony, featuring top defense and diplomatic officials from both the Clinton and second Bush administrations, were marked as much by the nonpartisan agreement over the limits in combating terrorism as by the flashes of partisanship that Clarke's testimony brought out.
"My gut sense on this is that for Americans who are paying attention, they're paying attention to the half of it that they want to hear," says independent pollster John Zogby. "For those who hate or are not inclined favorably toward the president, this is fuel for more anger. For those who are angry at the Clintons and hence the Democrats and John Kerry, the same thing - this is fuel to say, well, it's all Bill Clinton's fault."
Still, even if public memory of this week's testimony fades by Nov. 2, it was not a positive week for the Bush White House, analysts say. Administration officials, including Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and press secretary Scott McClellan, were put on the defensive, often uttering identical phrases that showed the care taken in a coordinated response. [complete article]
Comment -- As damaging as Richard Clarke's criticism are, they do not necessarily undermine George Bush's ultimate source of strength; not the power of God but the power of fear. Americans don't actually need to have confidence in Bush's judgment but simply that he is decisive. If the Bush campaign successfully portrays Kerry as indecisive, many Americans will end up voting for Bush for no other reason than that they fear the consequences of having an indecisive leader at a time of war. The Bush campaign will thus pound away at its theme that the times are too dangerous to risk making a change.
Extract: 'Against all enemies'
By Richard A. Clarke, New York Times, March 28, 2004
... on the evening of the 12th [September, 2001], I left the Video Conferencing Center and there, wandering alone around the Situation Room, was the President. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room. "Look," he told us, "I know you have a lot to do and all . . . but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way . . ."
I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr. President, al Qaeda did this."
"I know, I know, but . . . see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred . . ."
"Absolutely, we will look . . . again." I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. "But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen."
"Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us. [complete article]
Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, is available here.
High-end consumers are spending big, a sign the economy is back
By Matt Stearns, Knight Ridder, March 25, 2004
If you sell to the wealthy, the economy is booming.
Jobs may be going overseas and consumer confidence may be running low, but as the presidential campaign heats up debate on the economy, one thing is certain: It's good to be rich.
Nationally, new boat sales were up 9.5 percent in 2003, the first increase in two years, said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Many sales were to existing boat owners who were trading up to bigger yachts.
"These people don't even know there's a recession," said Chan Moser, a yacht broker in Stamford, Conn. "The interest rates are low. They don't give a damn. You should see what's being built."
At the Hinckley Co., whose Maine-made semicustom boats range from 29 to 70 feet and cost from $300,000 to $5 million, the order backlog is bigger than it's been in years. "We're breathing a lot easier than we were," said Ed Roberts, Hinckley's vice president of sales.
"High-end retailing has revved up significantly in the last year," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com. He cited a better job market for the well-educated, a rising stock market, increasing home values and lower taxes, especially for the rich. [complete article]
In Army survey, troops in Iraq report low morale
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, March 26, 2004
A slim majority of Army soldiers in Iraq -- 52 percent -- reported that their morale was low, and three-fourths of them said they felt poorly led by their officers, according to a survey taken at the end of the summer and released yesterday by the Army.
In addition, seven in 10 of those surveyed characterized the morale of their fellow soldiers as low or very low. The problems were most pronounced among lower-ranking troops and those in reserve units.
"Nearly 75% of the groups reported that their battalion-level command leadership was poor" and showed "a lack of concern" for their soldiers, said an Army report accompanying the data. "Unit cohesion was also reported to be low." [complete article]
U.S. officials fashion legal basis to keep force in Iraq
By John F. Burns and Thom Shanker, New York Times, March 26, 2004
With fewer than 100 days to go before Iraq resumes its sovereignty, American officials say they believe they have found a legal basis for American troops to continue their military control over the security situation in Iraq.
After months of concern about the legal status of the 110,000 American troops who are expected to remain here after the occupation formally ends on June 30, the officials say they believe an existing United Nations resolution approving the presence of a multinational force in Iraq, approved by the Security Council in October, gives American commanders the authority needed to maintain control after sovereignty is handed back.
Showing his confidence that the approach was grounded in international law, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the occupation authority, issued an executive order this week specifying that the newly formed Iraqi armed forces be placed under the operational control of the American commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who has been named to lead American and allied forces after the transfer of political authority to the Iraqis. [complete article]
Chalabi, nimble exile, searches for role in Iraq
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, March 26, 2003
... with his credibility under assault in Washington, Mr. Chalabi is reinventing himself, searching for a new political constituency in a country where the people hardly know him — and very few trust him, according to a recent opinion poll. Though he has shown himself to be one of the most energetic of Iraq's new leaders, he is largely bereft of a grass-roots following. Now Mr. Chalabi, who spent the last 45 years outside the country, has begun trying to appeal to Iraqis who bore the brunt of Mr. Hussein's rule.
To do that, Mr. Chalabi (pronounced CHAH-lah-bee) is moving closer to Iraq's Islamists. He has gone to Najaf, the holy Shiite city, more than 10 times in the past year to court religious leaders there. During the recent debates over the drafting of an interim constitution, Mr. Chalabi pushed for an expanded role for Islam. When the Shiite leaders boycotted the signing of the charter, he joined them. When a majority of the Iraqi Governing Council gathered to repeal a measure that endorsed a role for Islamic law in family relations, his representative voted for the repeal -- and then walked out with the Islamist members to Mr. Chalabi's headquarters. [complete article]
Sudden, painful rebirth unsettles stagnant region
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2004
These are days of heady promises, when kings and despots are making emphatic gestures of reform. There are petition drives in Syria and Saudi Arabia and women's rights negotiations in the United Arab Emirates. Human rights initiatives are suddenly being aired by members of oppressive regimes.
Saddam Hussein's fall unsettled Arab leaders by demonstrating that the United States is willing to do away with hostile regimes. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said it best: We must shave our beards, he warned, before others shave them for us.
But behind the gestures of political change, contradictions and resentment are as thick and dark as the pools of oil under Saudi sands. One year after the campaign to oust Hussein, other regimes have lost their sense of invulnerability and appear uncertain of the new order. Pro-democracy reformists from Damascus to Dubai took strength from the disintegration of the Iraqi regime -- but also were saddled with the poisonous label of American sympathizer.
The United States has paid for the war and the occupation with a profound anti-American backlash. The fires of jihad have been fueled in the hearts of a new generation of extremist recruits. Sectarian tensions are spilling from Iraq, drawing out tribal, religious and ethnic splits in neighboring countries and raising fears of instability.
The United States argued that toppling Hussein would ease the path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But another year of horrendous bloodshed in the Palestinian uprising has sunk Arabs deep into despair and intensified rage against U.S. foreign policy. [complete article]
Islamists losing out to pragmatists
By John Aglionby, The Guardian, March 25, 2004
The only international monitors of Malaysia's general election last Sunday were pretty scathing when presenting the initial findings of their mission: there were enough regulation violations and credible manipulation allegations for the poll's validity to be seriously questioned.
But even if their and the opposition's worst-case scenario is true, it is likely that only another 20-30 seats would have changed hands, which would still have given Malaysia's moderate, secular prime minister Abdullah Badawi the two-thirds majority he was looking for.
So even though one has to take into account the rampant pro-government bias of the mainstream media, it does appear that the Islamist Pan-Malaysia Islamic party (Pas) was dealt a hefty defeat. [complete article]
'Trapped' Bin Laden deputy urges army to oust Musharraf
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, March 27, 2004
Arabic television has broadcast a purported new audiotape by Osama bin Laden's right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahri, in which he urges the Pakistani army to mutiny and lead the overthrow of the government of President Pervez Musharraf.
"Musharraf seeks to stab the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan in the back," said the speaker on the tape, aired by the al-Jazeera network yesterday. "Every Muslim in Pakistan should work hard to get rid of this agent government, which will continue to submit to America until it destroys Pakistan."
Although no immediate authentification was possible, experts said that at first hearing the voice sounded like that of Zawahri, widely believed to be the main operational organiser of al-Qa'ida. [complete article]
Comment -- Bush administration officials will continue to downplay Musharraf's vulnerability and assume that their gestures of support, such as by making Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, have strengthened his position. Nevertheless, in a country where the majority of the population expresses some level of support for Osama bin Laden, the closer Musharraf aligns himself with his strong friend, the more tenuous becomes his hold on power.
Tribesmen demand troops withdraw from Al-Qaeda siege in Pakistan
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), March 27, 2004
Rebel Pakistani tribesmen locked in battle with thousands of troops hunting Al-Qaeda militants have refused to hand over 22 hostages until the army abandoned a bloody 11-day operation against them, tribal elders said.
"Members of the Yargulkhel tribe have refused to negotiate until troops vacate," said Mohabbat Khan Shirani, one of nine elders sent to negotiate with the hostage-holders on Thursday night.
Renegade tribesmen from the Yargulkhel clan, a fiercely independent Pashtun sub-tribe, have been fighting alongside hundreds of Al-Qaeda-linked militants against Pakistani forces since March 16 in a rugged tribal area of South Waziristan, near the Afghan border. [complete article]
Pakistani opposition warns govt of '71-like situation
By Rauf Klasra, The News International, March 26, 2004
All opposition parties in the National Assembly jointly boycotted the proceedings of the House on Thursday but only after delivering hard-hitting speeches against the military, General Pervez Musharraf and the United States for launching a military operation in the tribal areas.
For the first time, two voices of dissent within the treasury benches were also heard during the debate on the Wana operation when Chairman Pakistan Awami Tehrik Dr Tahirul Qadri and member from Fata Munir Aurakzai distanced themselves from the government policy on Fata and demanded an immediate end to the operation.
Members of the opposition parties, while raising slogans against the government, went out of the hall when the interior minister was given the floor to wind up the debate on the Wana operation.
They warned the government that the ongoing military operation in Fata could create a 1971-like situation. Ambience in the lower house of parliament got charged after the MMA leadership told the House that their Ulema, through a Fatwa, had already declared that army personnel killed while fighting under the command of Americans in the tribal areas could not be called "Shuhada" [martyrs]. [complete article]
India doubting its U.S. 'strategic partnership'
By Sultan Shahin, Asia Times, March 27, 2004
Clearing the way for close military ties, resumed sale of defense equipment and millions of dollars in direct economic assistance, United States President George W Bush has lifted the sanctions imposed against Pakistan following the bloodless military coup led by now-President General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999. The move comes a week after US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced in Islamabad that Pakistan's status was being elevated to that of a major non-NATO ally (MNNA). Sanctions related to Pakistan's nuclear tests in 1998 have already been lifted.
As a result, India is questioning its own "strategic partnership" with Washington, and many influential Indians are calling US rhetoric hollow and saying it confers no benefits. Some influential Indians even are talking of economic warfare with the US "enemy".
India is deeply worried, in view of Pakistan's past belligerence toward New Delhi whenever it was able to establish close military and economic ties with the US. The Sikh-majority Indian state of Punjab and Muslim-majority Kashmir became problem spots for India during the period of close Pakistan-US military ties in the 1980s when they launched a joint campaign to send Soviet troops packing from Afghanistan. Now the US and Pakistan have launched what some in India consider to be another joint jihad, this time against the same jihadis whom they had urged, trained and financed to fight the Soviet infidels in the 1980s. At that time they were referentially called mujahideen, but now the joint jihad has forged even closer ties between Washington and Islamabad. [complete article]
Comment -- Another reason India should fear the close partnership between the US and Musharraf is the danger that in response to domestic criticism for the current military operation in Waziristan, Musharraf will be tempted to sideline his critics and tap into nationalistic support by rekindling the dispute over Kashmir. Few political leaders when cornered at home are able to resist the temptation of quelling dissent by fueling fear of a foreign enemy. But if Musharraf decides to gamble on that strategy, he'll not only be fighting against his Islamist foes but struggling against the tide of public opinion that favors cricket over war.
Karzai wants to postpone Afghan polls until September: diplomats
Agence France Presse, March 26, 2004
President Hamid Karzai has told foreign diplomats he wants to delay Afghanistan's elections until September, diplomats told AFP.
"President Karzai called a group of ambassadors together on Wednesday afternoon. In the course of this meeting he said that it was his intention that elections would be held in September 2004," a diplomat said, requesting anonymity.
Ambassadors of the United States, Britain and the European Union were among those at the meeting.
The war-ravaged country's first presidential and parliamentary elections were originally scheduled to be held in June, according to a timetable set out by the Bonn conference in December 2001 following the fall of the Taliban. [complete article]
Road map to hell
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 27, 2004
By creating a shaheed (martyr) through the assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin, Israel may have signaled a war not only against all Palestinians, but against all Islam. This is the essence of the "clash of civilizations" as dreamed by American neo-conservatives and endorsed by the Likud Party in Israel.
Beirut in 1982 is the blueprint for the current strategy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Gaza and the West Bank. The objectives are straightforward: to destroy the Palestinian Authority (PA); to prevent the emergence of any credible, secular Palestinian leadership; to perpetuate chaos in the West Bank; and then to apply "transfer", expelling the indigenous Palestinian population to Jordan or, better yet, to an Iraq under American watch. Since 2001, everything in Palestine has been subjected to a hellish cycle of violence: a Sharon provocation is followed by a string of suicide bombings, which is followed by revenge attacks. The second intifada, the destruction of Yasser Arafat's government infrastructure, the massacre at the Jenin refugee camp, Arafat's house arrest - all these developments are hostage to the same cycle and serve the same logic: the destruction not only of Arafat and the secular, nationalist PA, but also of any hope of a Palestinian state. The assassination of Yassin is designed to increase the pressure.
In the eyes of Israel and the United States, Yassin is a terrorist. For the Arab and Muslim world, he is a resistance fighter and a spiritual leader. Early this year, Yassin told the German media that Hamas was ready to accept a "temporary peace if a Palestinian state is created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip". Hamas up to then had wanted a Muslim state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and denied the right of Israel to exist. Yassin said Hamas was prepared to stop its operations if Israel ended the occupation and stopped killing innocent Palestinians. [complete article]
Beware the ghost of Sheik Yassin
By Amin Saikal, International Herald Tribune, March 25, 2004
Israel's assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the Palestinian radical Islamic group Hamas, will resonate well beyond the Arab world. Many Muslims around the world will view his killing as an assault on Islam by Israel and its international backer, the United States. This is bound to undermine the U.S.-led war on terror.
Yassin was not only the founder of Hamas and its spiritual leader since 1987, but he was also viewed widely among Palestinians and Muslims as symbolizing Islam in defense of the Palestinians' right to resist Israel's brutal occupation of Palestinian land. Although a quadriplegic from childhood, he was a trained Islamic scholar, with an evolving commitment to deploy Islam as an ideology of resistance.
Despite Israel's current assertion that he was an uncompromising, militant Islamic murderer, Yassin and radical Hamas activists originally received backing from Israeli circles as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization of Yasser Arafat - a move recently described by the Israeli-born historian Ahron Bregman as "Israel's folly." Only later did Israel turn against Hamas and imprison Yassin, as it came to fear the growing popularity of Hamas among the Palestinians and concluded that it was better for Israel to deal with a weakened but secular PLO than to allow Hamas to Islamize the Palestinian nationalist movement. [complete article]
See also, Hamas history tied to Israel (UPI, June 18, 2002)
After teenage boy carries a bomb, Palestinians protest
By Greg Myre, New York Times, March 26, 2004
In this ragged city, which has dispatched many suicide bombers into Israel, Palestinian residents on Thursday delivered a rare rebuke to militant factions: stop sending teenagers as human bombs.
Palestinians have strongly supported suicide attacks in the current Mideast fighting, and the backing is particularly strong in Nablus, one of the most radicalized and lawless West Bank cities.
But an aborted suicide attack Wednesday by Hussam Abdo, a 16-year-old Nablus resident, provoked a chorus of condemnations, led by his parents from their comfortable, middle-class apartment in one of the city's better neighborhoods. [complete article]
Palestine is now part of an arc of Muslim resistance
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, March 25, 2004
Ariel Sharon's decision to incinerate a 67-year-old blind quadriplegic cleric outside his local mosque will certainly go down as one of the most spectacularly counter-productive acts of violence in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Quite apart from the morality of assassinating Sheikh Yassin, it is the Israeli people themselves who will suffer from certain retaliation. Israel has the right to defend itself, President Bush declares, while apparently denying the Palestinians the same luxury. But the killing can have no military value at all. Whatever his authority as the founder and figurehead of Hamas, the idea that Yassin was involved in planning armed attacks is preposterous. When Israel rocketed the apartment block he was visiting last September, the ailing sheikh was reported not to have even realised that an attack had taken place. And regardless of the domestic political calculations of the Israeli government, such attempts to destroy a popular movement by decapitation are doomed to failure.
From Algeria to Vietnam, the past century is littered with evidence that such strategies invariably come to nought. Where resistance has deep roots - as Hamas's undoubtedly has in the occupied territories - it will always re-emerge, however savage the repression. Yassin has been succeeded by Abd al-Aziz Rantissi, and if the Israelis incinerate him, another will take his place. What Monday's killing has done is simply widen the range of targets on each side, expanding the arena of terror. [complete article]
Palestinian intellectuals urge restraint
By Mohammed Daraghmeh, Associated Press (via Yahoo), March 25, 2004
Sixty prominent Palestinian officials and intellectuals on Thursday urged the public to refrain from retaliation for Israel's assassination of Hamas' founder, saying it would ignite a new round of bloodshed that would only hurt Palestinian aspirations for independence.
The half-page advertisement in the PLO's Al-Ayyam newspaper called on Palestinians to lay down their arms and turn to peaceful means of protest to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The ad reflected growing sentiment among many Palestinian leaders and intellectuals that military struggle is not helping the Palestinian cause. Thousands of Palestinians have died during 3 1/2 years of fighting with Israel. Similar calls in the past have had little impact on public opinion, and Thursday's ad was greeted with little enthusiasm by ordinary Palestinians. [complete article]
Academic boycott of Israel gathers momentum
By Polly Curtis, The Guardian, March 25, 2004
Leading advocates of an academic boycott of Israel have stepped up their campaign calling for an "outing" of Israeli universities which support their government's policy on the occupied territories.
Nearly 300 academics from around the world have published an open letter calling for leaders of Israeli universities to lay their political cards on the table and reveal whether they support the government's policies on the border conflict.
One Israeli academic said the move echoed the days of "McCarthyism" in America.
The letter, which is addressed to Professor Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and "members of Israel's forum to combat the academic boycott", says that Palestinian universities are being severely compromised. "Harassment, arrests, random shootings and assaults" are carried out regularly by Israeli troops on Palestinian campuses, it claims. [complete article]
Who's next? Israel's Most Wanted ... and Hamas'
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, March 25, 2004
Prior to the early morning Gaza operation [killing Sheikh Ahmed Yassin], the first and only time that Israel had assassinated the overall head of a Palestinian movement was the August 2001 killing of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Mustafa Zibri (Abu Ali Mustafa).
In Zibri's case, the retaliation was similarly unprecedented: Two months later, a PFLP squad gunned down Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi at the door to his Jerusalem hotel room.
Since the Yassin killing, Hamas has made little secret of the character of the vengeance it would prefer. The same day, Hamas leaders issued a statement declaring that "Sharon has opened the gates of hell and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head." [complete article]
Arms-control group says U.S. inflated Libya's nuclear bid
By William J.Broad, New York Times, March 25, 2004
Rekindling debate on how close Libya actually came to acquiring a nuclear bomb, a private arms-control group says the Bush administration overstated the number of devices the country had for making uranium fuel.
The group, the Institute for Science and International Security, based in Washington, said yesterday that the administration had given an inaccurate briefing to reporters last week at the Energy Department's nuclear weapons lab in Oak Ridge, Tenn. At that briefing, officials displayed a dozen uranium centrifuges from what they said was a cache of about 4,000 that Libya had obtained before agreeing in December to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
The institute, which has done extensive research on uranium centrifuges, said its own inquiries, including interviews with federal and overseas experts, found that Libya had obtained 4,000 casings for centrifuges, but that few if any had the finely tooled rotors that are the machine's heart. [complete article]
The forgotten victims of the war in Iraq
By Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe, March 24, 2004
Last week at the White House, President Bush marked the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion by saying: "The murders in Madrid are a reminder that the civilized world is at war. And in this new kind of war, civilians find themselves suddenly on the front lines."
There was no mention of Iraqi civilians killed by American bombs and bullets in the invasion and occupation.
Bush went to Fort Campbell, Ky., to tell soldiers that they had liberated a nation "in which millions of people lived in fear, and many thousands disappeared into mass graves. That was the life in Iraq for more than a generation until the Americans arrived."
The soldiers applauded. There was no mention of the civilian carnage caused by the arrival of the Americans. [complete article]
Richard Clarke KOs the Bushies
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 24, 2004
Richard Clarke made his much-anticipated appearance before the 9/11 commission this afternoon and, right out of the box, delivered a stunning blow to the Bush administration -- the political equivalent of a first-round knockout.
The blow was so stunning, it took a while to realize that it was a blow. Clarke thanked the members for holding the hearings, saying they finally provided him "a forum where I can apologize" to the victims of 9/11 and their loved ones. He continued, addressing those relatives, many of whom were sitting in the hearing room:
Your government failed you ... and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask ... for your understanding and for your forgiveness.
End of statement. Applause. KO. [complete article]
Sept. 11 probe reveals longstanding flaws in America's defenses
By John Walcott, Knight Ridder, March 24, 2004
Months of investigation and two days of televised public hearings this week by the commission investigating America's war on terrorism revealed how ill-equipped the nation was to battle the al-Qaida terrorist network before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Witnesses from the Clinton and Bush administrations and investigators on the staff of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States outlined chronic weaknesses that allowed a small group of zealots to hijack commercial airliners and kill nearly 3,000 people.
An unclassified version of the commission's staff report on intelligence policy, released Wednesday, paints a dispiriting picture of denial, disagreement, doubt and delay as the Clinton and then the Bush administration grappled with the al-Qaida threat. [complete article]
Bush's brand new enemy is the truth
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, March 25, 2004
One of the first official acts of the current Bush administration was to downgrade the office of national coordinator for counterterrorism on the National Security Council - a position held by Richard Clarke. Clarke had served in the Pentagon and State Department under presidents Reagan and Bush the elder, and was the first person to hold the counterterrorism job created by President Clinton. Under Clinton, he was elevated to cabinet rank, which gave him a seat at the principals' meeting, the highest decision-making group for national security.
By removing Clarke from the table, Bush put him in a box where he could speak only when spoken to. No longer would his memos go to the president; instead, they had to pass though a chain of command of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, who bounced each of them back.
Terrorism was a Clinton issue: "soft" and obscure, having something to do with "globalisation", and other trends ridiculed from the Republican party platform. "In January 2001 the new administration really thought Clinton's recommendation that eliminating al-Qaida be one of their highest priorities, well, rather odd, like so many of the Clinton administration's actions, from their perspective," Clarke writes in his new book, Against All Enemies. When Clarke first met Rice and immediately raised the question of dealing with al-Qaida, she "gave me the impression she had never heard the term before". [complete article]
Christians must challenge American messianic nationalism:
A call to the churches
By Rosemary Radford Ruether, The Witherspoon Society, March 23, 2004
Religious language is always double edged. It is properly used as prophetic critique that calls for repentance. But it can be twisted into a self-sacralizing rhetoric that associates God with human projects of power. The United States has often fallen into this temptation to use religious language as idolatrous messianic nationalism. When this happens it is the duty of the churches to challenge such language and reveal its opposition to the authentic good news of the gospel. In 1934 the German theologians of the Confessing Church disassociated themselves from a German Christianity that identified Christianity with Aryan nationalism. I believe the Americans churches must make a similar critique of American messianic nationalism today.
What is American messianic nationalism? This is an ideology rooted in the belief that the United States of America is uniquely an elect nation chosen by God to impose its way of life on the rest of the world by coercive economic means, and even by military force, if it deems necessary. Nations who pursue other ways of economic development than "free market capitalism" can be regarded as enemies, not only of the United States, but of God. This is particularly the case if they seek to mobilize a counter-bloc of nations against the global hegemony of the United States.
The ideology that the United States is an elect nation divinely chosen to be a model and mentor to other countries has long been entertained by dominant American culture. During the Cold War the struggle against communism was typically couched as a "war against evil." The conflict between two strategies of economic development, capitalism and communism, was defined as if it were a war against demonic powers in which capitalist countries were the agents of divine goodness.
This language has returned with new force under the administration of George W. Bush in its "war against terrorism." [complete article]
A key force behind the 9/11 commission
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, March 25, 2004
William Rodriguez was the last man to run out of the World Trade Center. Had he made it to work on time, he and the master key to the stairwells would have been near the top of the complex when the second plane hit.
Instead, he raced up the stairwells he had maintained for 20 years to unlock doors and help people escape. "I was protected for another purpose," he says. Credited with saving many lives, he received a National Hero Award from the Senate of Puerto Rico and organized the Hispanic Victims Group.
Like many others who lost family or were personally involved in Sept. 11, Mr. Rodriguez is convinced that much of what happened that day is still behind locked doors, and the only way to open them is to keep hurling questions at officials until they get answers. For such activists, the appearance of top Clinton and Bush administration officials before the 9/11 commission this week was a key moment, long awaited. [complete article]
What New York can learn from 17th-century London
By Adrian Tinniswood, New York Times (via IHT), March 24, 2004
No poetry, no passion, no poignant sentiment about reflecting absence. Simply "the Monument," the way The Times of London is simply "The Times."
As a tourist you might have passed it by, hardly noticing, the last time you were there: A tall Doric column crowned with a gilt-bronze urn at the head of London Bridge, a few hundred yards from the Tower. It has stood for more than 300 years, reminding the curious that in 1666 one of the greatest cities in the Western world was utterly destroyed. Our need to commemorate catastrophe runs deep. [...]
In 2004 we have this weird conviction that, because the World Trade Center was such a magnificent landmark, whatever replaces it must be bigger, better, more spectacular - otherwise the terrorists will have won. And maybe we should see a dreadful visitation like the Sept. 11 attacks as an architectural opportunity. The architects and surveyors charged with the task of rebuilding London after the fire felt much the same.
But in 1666 ordinary traders, merchants and craftsmen simply wanted to get on with the everyday business of living. They ignored the planners and visionaries. Of course there's a place for grandiose memorials - but let's not forget that in the aftermath of catastrophe, there is also room for the commonplace. The real monument to the Great Fire of London is not a column with a flaming urn on top. It is London itself. In 300 years, I hope New York, in talking of Sept. 11, will be able to say the same. [complete article]
'Al-Qaeda has got it wrong'
By Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times, March 26, 2004
A recently released Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided document affords some remarkably critical and militant Islamic perspectives on the "war on terror". Highlighting the unique nature of the document's perspective, it addresses an analysis of al-Qaeda's efforts by al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah, a faction which is designated by the US State Department as a terrorist organization. The fact of the document's release by the CIA speaks volumes about its interest.
Providing an equally surprising parallel, in December the US Defense Department's Strategic Studies Institute released a report describing the objectives of the Bush administration's war efforts as "politically, fiscally and militarily unsustainable". Al-Jama'ah observed essentially the same of al-Qaeda. And according to the CIA translation, al-Jama'ah argues that al-Qaeda "entangled the Muslim nation in a conflict that was beyond its power to wage". [complete article]
Al Qaeda supporters strike back in Pakistan
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, March 25, 2004
After the Pakistani military's week-long offensive here inside the country's semiautonomous tribal belt, Al Qaeda supporters have launched a series of counterstrikes.
On Tuesday evening, guerrillas attacked the headquarters of Pakistani paramilitary troops as well as government establishments in the Northwest Frontier Province's capital, Peshawar. In the nearby town of Bannu, a bomb exploded moments before a military convoy was to pass a bridge, killing three policemen and a civilian. In the tribal region of Korram Agency, masked men attacked a military camp, killing three troops. Villagers in South Waziristan have reported a series of explosions, mostly in the evenings.
Significantly, these attacks have taken place well outside the 30-square mile area cordoned off by the Pakistani military in its roundup operation against Al Qaeda fighters. This broadening of the fight suggests that Pakistan could be facing a wider guerrilla war from Al Qaeda and their local supporters. [complete article]
The perfect storm that's about to hit
By Jeremy Rifkin, The Guardian, March 24, 2004
... we have all the conditions coming together to create the perfect economic storm: record oil prices triggering a restriction in US economic growth and an increase in the federal budget deficit, accompanied by further erosion in the value of the dollar - with increased budget deficits and the diminished value of the dollar leading in turn to higher interest rates to convince foreign investors to lend the US additional money, followed by a further retraction of the US economy as rising interest rates lead to a drop in domestic investment and consumption. The cascade of events touches off a tsunami that engulfs the rest of the global economy, submerging the world in deep recession.
As long as the US and global economy are increasingly dependent on an ever-dwindling supply of oil from the Middle East, the conditions for a perfect economic storm will continue to haunt us. The solution, in the long run, is to wean the world off its dependency on oil. That would require much tougher fuel efficiency standards, greater energy conservation measures, support of hybrid vehicles and a switch to renewable sources of energy. Short of that, expect the storm clouds to gather in intensity. [complete article]
Say bye-bye to cheap oil
By Paul Roberts, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2004
For the tens of millions of American motorists patiently waiting for gas prices to come back to Earth, the news from the oil markets is not encouraging.
For the last year, government forecasters have reassured us that the unusually high oil prices we've seen since 2002 -- around $30 a barrel -- were temporary: As soon as global markets recovered from the mess in Iraq, oil prices would drop and gasoline prices would eventually follow.
Yet nearly 12 months after "victory" in Iraq, oil prices are at an eye-popping $38 a barrel, or about $15 above the two-decade average, and some forecasters are now offering a far less sanguine prognosis: Not only will oil stay high through 2005, but the days of cheap crude are history. These aren't exactly glad tidings for a global economy designed to run on low-priced oil, nor for a White House that gambled it could deliver low oil prices with a mix of diplomatic muscle and market liberalization. [complete article]
U.S. sent medically unfit soldiers to Iraq, Pentagon acknowledges
By David Goldstein, Knight Ridder, March 24, 2004
To meet the demand for troops in Iraq, the military has been deploying some National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers who aren't fit for combat.
More than a dozen members of the Guard and reserves told Knight Ridder they were shipped off to battle with little attention paid to their medical histories.
Those histories included ailments such as asthma, diabetes, recent surgery and hearing loss. Once in Iraq, the soldiers faced severe conditions that aggravated their medical problems, and the medical care available to them was limited.
David Lloyd, a 44-year-old mechanic with the Tennessee National Guard, died of a heart attack in Iraq last August. His wife, Pamela Lloyd, said her husband didn't know he'd had a problem, but his autopsy showed three blockages in his coronary arteries.
"He should have never been deployed," she said. "He was supposed to have been given a thorough physical. He had none. The only thing he had was the shots."
"They funneled us through the medical part: boom, boom, boom," said Michael Scott, an Iowa National Guardsman who had a herniated disc. "They let it be known they weren't real interested in hearing about stuff. `No, you're fine right now.'" [complete article]
U.S. calls for Sunni and Kurdish rights after turnover
By John F. Burns, New York Times, March 25, 2004
Faced with a top Shiite cleric's demands for majority rule that would dilute Sunni and Kurdish rights in an independent Iraq, the head of the American occupation, L. Paul Bremer III, delivered a strong argument on Wednesday for the American insistence on a democratic system that protects minority rights.
"Democracy entails not just majority rule, but protection of minority rights," Mr. Bremer said at an outdoor ceremony to mark the 100-day countdown to the dissolution of the occupation authority and the return of sovereignty to Iraq. Attending were Iraqi leaders who have worked closely with the Americans since a United States-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's government nearly a year ago. [complete article]
11 Iraqi police officers are killed by gunmen
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, March 24, 2004
According to police reports, a car with gunmen hanging out the windows and blasting assault rifles swerved in front of the minibus. The bullets drilled right through the aluminum-skinned bus and into the officers seated inside.
The Hilla area, home to a large American presence, has become increasingly violent. Earlier this month, two American civilians working for the occupation authorities were killed on an empty road near Hilla. Four Iraqi policemen were arrested in connection with those slayings.
The second attack on Tuesday happened in the northern city of Kirkuk, a caldron of ethnic tension among Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. The two police officers who were killed were twin brothers, according to The Associated Press. They were parking a car near a mosque when they were ambushed. [complete article]
U.S. wades into heated debate on future of Australian troops in Iraq
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), March 25, 2004
The United States ambassador in Canberra warned Australia's up-and-coming opposition leader his campaign pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq by Christmas would have "serious consequences".
Labor leader Mark Latham, riding high in opinion polls ahead of an election due later this year, came under a barrage of criticism over his pledge, with government politicians accused him of playing into the hands of terrorists and straining the US alliance.
American ambassador Tom Schieffer described the pledge as "short-sighted" and warned it could undermine efforts to rebuild Iraq. [complete article]
U.S. not to reduce nuclear arsenal to Moscow Treaty levels
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), March 25, 2004
The United States will not cut its nuclear arsenal to levels designated by an arms accord it concluded two years ago with Russia because it must hedge against an uncertain future, a top administration official announced.
The Moscow Treaty signed with great fanfare by Presidents George W. Bush of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia in May 2002 calls on both sides to reduce their strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012.
But it refers to "operationally deployed" weapons, essentially offering both governments a loophole that allows them to move an unlimited number of warheads into storage and keep them indefinitely under lock and key.
While US officials have often praised this option, Wednesday's remarks by Undersecretary of Energy Linton Brooks before the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces represented the first official indication the Bush administration had actually decided to exercise it. [complete article]
Expansion of military bases overseas fuels suspicions of U.S. motives
By Michael Kilian, Chicago Tribune (via Sun Herald), March 23, 2004
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has dramatically expanded its military presence in the Middle East and Central Asia, building a vast network of bases designed to counter what military officials call an "arc of instability."
U.S. military installations in the region extend from Turkey to near the Chinese border, and from former Soviet republics in the north to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The facilities surround Iran; are situated in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and are close to Syria and Lebanon. Several were created to address the confrontation with Iraq, and continue to support operations there.
"No one could have anticipated in the summer of 2001 that the United States would be basing forces at Karshi Khanabad, Uzbekistan, or conducting a major military operation in Afghanistan," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress last year.
Experts fear the ubiquity of U.S. forces may fuel belief in radical Islamic claims that America is bent on controlling the oil and politics of the Islamic world. A poll that the nonpartisan Pew Research Center conducted in Muslim nations in the region found significant portions of their populations believed just that. [complete article]
14 'enduring bases' set in Iraq
By Christine Spolar, Chicago Tribune (via Yahoo), March 23, 2004
From the ashes of abandoned Iraqi army bases, U.S. military engineers are overseeing the building of an enhanced system of American bases designed to last for years.
Last year, as troops poured over the Kuwait border to invade Iraq, the U.S. military set up at least 120 forward operating bases. Then came hundreds of expeditionary and temporary bases that were to last between six months and a year for tactical operations while providing soldiers with such comforts as e-mail and Internet access.
Now U.S. engineers are focusing on constructing 14 "enduring bases," long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops expected to serve in Iraq for at least two years. The bases also would be key outposts for Bush administration policy advisers. [complete article]
Talk, talk or bomb, bomb?
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, March 25, 2004
Colonel Muammar Gadafy, the man former US president Ronald Reagan branded a "mad dog", finally comes in from the cold today with Tony Blair's visit to Libya.
The "tent summit" is primarily a reward for Col Gadafy's agreement last December to surrender Libya's weapons of mass destruction, a decision for which Britain claims credit.
The meeting follows close on this week's visit to Tripoli by the senior US envoy, William Burns, marking a big turnaround in American policy. Eighteen years ago, President Reagan ordered the bombing of the Libyan capital and until very recently, the US continued to regard Libya as the worst kind of rogue state.
Now the Bush administration is talking about normalised relations, renewed trade, and investment, especially in Libya's coveted oilfields. A lifting of bilateral economic sanctions is in prospect if remaining concerns about terrorism and human rights are satisfied. [complete article]
Zapatero refuses to reverse policy on Iraq
By Ben Russell, The Independent, March 25, 2004
Tony Blair was rebuffed yesterday when he tried to persuade Spain's incoming Prime Minister not to pull his troops out of Iraq.
Mr Blair was forced to accept that Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero would honour his general election pledge, whatever happened in Iraq before the planned handover of power to the Iraqi interim government on 30 June. Ministers had hoped a United Nations-approved transfer of power would be enough to keep the Spanish contingent of 1,300 troops in Iraq, despite the new Socialist government's anti-war stance.
Mr Blair met Mr Zapatero for nearly an hour before a memorial service in Madrid for the 202 victims of the terrorist bombings earlier this month. Iraq dominated Mr Blair's agenda, but Downing Street acknowledged that Mr Zapatero would have to honour his pledge to pull troops out. [complete article]
Zapatero may add troops in Afghanistan
By Katrin Bennhold, International Herald Tribune, March 24, 2004
In a move that might help muffle criticism of a Socialist pledge to pull troops out of Iraq, Spain's incoming prime minister is considering increasing the number of Spanish soldiers guarding the fragile peace in Afghanistan, sources in his party said Tuesday.
Less than two weeks after the deadly train bombings in Madrid, the incoming prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, wants to signal his commitment to fight terrorism and show the United States that Spain remains a loyal ally, said one of the sources, a high-ranking party official who spoke on condition of anonymity. [complete article]
'Your government failed you'
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, March 24, 2004
In deft and sometimes dramatic testimony, former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke today did new political damage to the Bush White House by laying out a bold scenario by which the September 11 plot might have been unraveled.
Clarke never explicitly claimed that the terror attacks could have been stopped and actually began his high-stakes appearance before the September 11 commission with a surprise rhetorical flourish: he apologized to the families of the attack victims for failing to do enough. "Your government failed you ... and I failed you," Clarke said.
The prospect of a U.S. government apology is hardly compatible with the basic White House line on September 11 -- that there was no way that the plot to hijack four civilian airliners and use them as weapons could have been foreseen. But the real significance of Clarke’s testimony is that he "connected the dots" in a way that for the first time demonstrated how the plot might well have been disrupted -- if only the Bush administration had recognized the urgency of the Al Qaeda threat. [complete article]
Clarke: Terrorism not urgent for Bush
By Fred Barbash and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 24, 2004
Richard A. Clarke, who has roiled Washington this week with his allegations that the Bush administration did not adequately deal with the threats of al Qaeda, appeared this afternoon before the panel investigating U.S. preparedness for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and said that officials in the Clinton administration were more involved in the issue than their successors.
The Bush administration considered terrorism "an important issue but not an urgent one" before the attacks.
He told the panel that "although I continued to say it [terrorism] was an urgent problem, I don't think it was ever treated that way" by the current administration in advance of the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He even sent a letter to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice one week before those attacks urging that officials imagine what it would be like if hundreds of Americans were killed in a terrorist strike. [complete article]
Fatal in difference
Bush's catastrophic allergy to Clinton
By William Saletan, Slate, March 23, 2004
Every once in a while, in the course of spinning the issue of the day, an administration accidentally betrays its broader mentality. Six weeks ago on Meet the Press, President Bush revealed his abstract notion of reality. Three weeks ago in his re-election ads, Bush displayed a confidence unhinged from facts and circumstances. This week, in response to criticism of its terrorism policy by a former Bush aide, the administration is betraying a third fundamental flaw: a categorical aversion to the ideas of the Clinton years. [complete article]
Dick Clarke is telling the truth
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 23, 2004
I have no doubt that Richard Clarke, the former National Security Council official who has launched a broadside against President Bush's counterterrorism policies, is telling the truth about every single charge. There are three reasons for this confidence.
First, his basic accusations are consistent with tales told by other officials, including some who had no significant dealings with Clarke.
Second, the White House's attempts at rebuttal have been extremely weak and contradictory. If Clarke were wrong, one would expect the comebacks -- especially from Bush's aides, who excel at the counterstrike -- to be stronger and more substantive.
Third, I went to graduate school with Clarke in the late 1970s, at MIT's political science department, and called him as an occasional source in the mid-'80s when he was in the State Department and I was a newspaper reporter. There were good things and dubious things about Clarke, traits that inspired both admiration and leeriness. The former: He was very smart, a highly skilled (and utterly nonpartisan) analyst, and he knew how to get things done in a calcified bureaucracy. The latter: He was arrogant, made no effort to disguise his contempt for those who disagreed with him, and blatantly maneuvered around all obstacles to make sure his views got through. [complete article]
By Ryan Lizza, The New Republic, March 23, 2004
Previous critics of the Bush administration have proved to be easy targets for the White House. The Bushies effortlessly dismissed Paul O'Neill with a wave of the hand. "We're not in the business of doing book reviews. I don't get in the business of selling or promoting or critiquing books," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters upon publication of Ron Suskind's account of O'Neill's tenure as Treasury secretary. This worked partly because the media was predisposed to believe that O'Neill was a bit quirky and unreliable--and partly because his accusations about the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq were outside his area of expertise. Rand Beers and Joe Wilson, two other national security whistle-blowers, did some damage to the White House. But by subsequently embracing John Kerry, they made it easy for the administration to paint them as partisan opportunists.
Former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke is proving to be a tougher opponent. He's served presidents from both parties. He says he won't work in a Kerry administration. His foreign policy views in the 1980s and 1990s placed him in the camp of Republican hardliners. He writes warmly of his relationship with Richard Perle. And most of his attacks on Bush are from the right, not the left. He is undoubtedly the toughest critic whose credibility the White House has ever had to undermine; he represents a potent cocktail of nonpartisanship, expertise, and withering criticism aimed at Bush's greatest electoral strength. For the last 48 hours, administration officials have done their best to chip away at Clarke and his case against the president. They've adopted several different tacks--none of which is particularly honest, and many of which are mutually contradictory. [complete article]
The professionals' revolt
By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, March 24, 2004
Just a few minutes after 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, with the bombs still falling on Pearl Harbor, Pacific Fleet intelligence officer Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton, who'd been predicting a Japanese attack for that very weekend, was scurrying through fleet headquarters when two of his superiors stopped him. "Here is the young man we should have listened to," said Capt. Willard Kitts, the fleet gunnery officer. "If it's any satisfaction to you," added Capt. Charles "Soc" McMorris, the fleet war plans officer, "you were right and we were wrong."
You can read any number of accounts of our latter Day of Infamy, Sept. 11, 2001, without coming across any equivalent verbal acknowledgments addressed to Richard Clarke, the chief of counterterrorism in the Clinton and second Bush administrations, who'd been predicting a major al Qaeda attack on the United States to the point that some colleagues thought him obsessed. But, then, an assault from al Qaeda did not fit into the Bush administration's view of the world. Just one day later, the president was directing Clarke's attention to Iraq, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was all but insisting that the proper response to al Qaeda's murder of thousands of Americans was to bulldoze Baghdad. Acknowledging that Clarke had been right might mean that there was more to heaven and earth than the neocons had dreamt of in their philosophies. [complete article]
Media prevented from reporting independently on army offensive in South Waziristan
At least four journalists arrested
Reporters Without Borders, March 23, 2004
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres) protested today at Pakistan's concerted efforts to stop foreign and local journalists freely covering the army's offensive against armed Taliban and Al-Qaeda supporters in the Wana region of South Waziristan. At least four journalists have been arrested and a dozen more barred entering from the area.
The press freedom organisation said the government's duty to ensure basic security for journalists must not be used as an excuse to prevent them independently reporting on this major operation in the fight against terrorism by arresting them, keeping them out of the area and seizing their equipment. It called on armed forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan to guarantee better media access to the region by giving journalists special passes.
The government has barred nearly all Pakistani and foreign journalists from the South Waziristan tribal area, where the combat zone has been tightly sealed off by the military, which did however put on a helicopter tour for foreign journalists on 20 March, though not to the area of the fighting itself. [complete article]
Pakistan's flames of war spread
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, March 25, 2004
Amid reports of an escalation of resistance and even foreign complicity, fighting continues between the army and suspected al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan's tribal region of South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan.
Tribal elders had earlier tried to talk foreign militants and their local supporters into surrendering during a break in the fighting that began in earnest last week. But the army apparently was not prepared to wait any longer, and nor were their targets, as overnight reports filtered in of attacks on military bases in other parts of the troubled region, and even a rocket attack on Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.
More disturbingly, there have been confirmed reports of dissent among the ranks of the Pakistani para-military troops and the army sent into the semi-autonomous region to flush out al-Qaeda and Afghan resistance suspects. More than 5,000 forces have been deployed in the region. [complete article]
Missiles strike city in Pakistan
By Zulfiqar Ali, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2004
A guerrilla ambush killed three Pakistani soldiers Tuesday and raised the death toll for the security forces to 32 after more than a week of fighting near the Afghan border.
Thousands of Pakistanis have marched to protest the offensive ordered by President Pervez Musharraf and his cooperation with the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Violence has been growing throughout the region as Pakistani forces seek to root out suspected foreign militants and tribesmen accused of sheltering them.
Tuesday night, three missiles hit Peshawar, creating huge, simultaneous explosions in parts of the Northwest Frontier Province's capital and sparking panic among the city's residents. [complete article]
$27 million sought for nuclear arms study
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 20, 2004
At a time when President Bush has made nuclear nonproliferation a major goal, the administration is seeking $27.6 million to continue a study next year of a possible new nuclear weapon and projecting that it could cost $485 million over the next five years if it goes into development. [...]
Continued U.S. efforts to modernize thousands of warheads and develop new ones come not only as the Bush administration has made nonproliferation a goal, but also as international efforts are underway to get North Korea and Iran to back away from alleged new nuclear weapons programs.
The administration has said that its development of weapons does not affect what other nations do.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group promoting disarmament measures, said yesterday that the continuing U.S. programs "give strength to the hard-liners in North Korea and Iran who want to keep their nuclear programs open." [complete article]
Addressing the unthinkable, U.S. revives study of fallout
By William J. Broad, New York Times, March 19, 2004
To cope with the possibility that terrorists might someday detonate a nuclear bomb on American soil, the federal government is reviving a scientific art that was lost after the cold war: fallout analysis.
The goal, officials and weapons experts both inside and outside the government say, is to figure out quickly who exploded such a bomb and where the nuclear material came from. That would clarify the options for striking back. Officials also hope that if terrorists know a bomb can be traced, they will be less likely to try to use one.
In a secretive effort that began five years ago but whose outlines are just now becoming known, the government's network of weapons laboratories is hiring new experts, calling in old-timers, dusting off data and holding drills to sharpen its ability to do what is euphemistically known as nuclear attribution or post-event forensics. [complete article]
Al Qaeda bluffing about having suitcase nukes, experts say
Russians claim terrorists couldn't have bought them
By Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 2004
Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda's No. 2 man, has bragged that the terrorist group bought suitcase nuclear bombs from former Soviet nuclear scientists in Moscow and Central Asia, but experts on Russia's nuclear program dismiss the statements, saying Osama bin Laden's deputy is bluffing.
Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, who is writing bin Laden's biography, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. last week that al-Zawahri made the boast during a 2001 interview when he was asked whether the terror network really had nuclear weapons.
Al-Zawahri, the Egyptian doctor believed to be a mastermind of the Sept. 11, attacks, laughed and said: "If you have $30 million, go to the black market in central Asia, contact any disgruntled Soviet scientist and a lot of . .. dozens of smart briefcase bombs are available," Mir reported. "They have contacted us, we sent our people to Moscow, to Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan), to other Central Asian states, and they negotiated, and we purchased some suitcase bombs.''
The idea of al Qaeda's acquiring suitcase nuclear bombs -- compact, easily portable bombs shaped like briefcases or backpacks that can be detonated by timers -- is the sum of all fears for Washington. [complete article]
Machiavelli in the Middle East
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, March 23, 2004
"It is much safer to be feared than loved," wrote the philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli nearly 500 years ago. That harsh logic can be seen in Israel's assassination Monday of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the terrorist group Hamas.
It follows that for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it's better to be seen as ruthless than as weak. That's especially true now, when Sharon plans to make a concession to the Palestinians by withdrawing from settlements in Gaza. The danger in this unilateral withdrawal, one of Sharon's advisers told me several months ago, is that terrorist groups such as Hamas might think they had "won" by forcing an Israeli retreat. Israeli defense analyst Zeev Schiff explained in the online edition of the newspaper Haaretz on Monday: "The message that Israel sent out by assassinating Sheik Ahmed Yassin is that when the disengagement from Gaza is finally implemented, Hamas will not be able to claim that the withdrawal was promoted by the group's operations."
But even Machiavelli believed that intimidation has its limits. Just a few sentences after the famous passage quoted above, he cautioned: "Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred." [complete article]
Rantisi is cut in the Nasrallah mold
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, March 24, 2004
Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who announced Tuesday that he has been selected as Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's heir as Hamas' leader, will bring his own radical political stamp to the organization, and will try to impose his authority on Hamas overseas. His stance toward Israel is uncompromising, as was seen in his consistent opposition last summer to hudna proposals that were supported by most of his Hamas colleagues (including Yassin).
Rantisi comes from a family of refugees from Ramle. He studied medicine in Egypt, but has given very little time to his field of family medicine, and opted to put most of his energy to Hamas activity, and has been particularly active in the fields of education, social welfare, health, sport and culture.
Rantisi is known for his organizational skills and emerged as the chief spokesman of the 400 Hamas figures who were deported to Southern Lebanon in winter 1992. During his expulsion, Rantisi forged connections with Hezbollah leaders and also with Iranian figures. [complete article]
After Sheik is slain, Hamas picks fiery figure as its leader in Gaza
By Greg Myre, New York Times, March 24, 2004
The Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas selected one of its most combative figures, Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, as its leader in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after Israel's killing of the group's founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.
Meanwhile, senior Israeli security officials said top Hamas leaders would remain targets as part of a continuing campaign against Palestinians linked to violence against Israel. "Everyone is in our sights; there is no immunity for anyone," said Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel's minister of internal security.
Dr. Rantisi, who speaks often to journalists, has been the most visible and fiery Hamas spokesman in recent years. He vowed that with him as leader of Hamas from its Gaza stronghold, the group would continue to push hard to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks. [complete article]
Official: Yassin offered Israel a truce
By Mark Lavie, Associated Press (via Yahoo), March 24, 2004
Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, assassinated in an Israeli air strike, offered Israel a 30-year truce in 1997, the mediator who arranged Yassin's release from prison said Tuesday.
Efraim Halevy, a former Mossad operative who was called in to resolve an Israel-Jordan crisis after a botched assassination attempt against a Hamas leader in Jordan in 1997, made the disclosure in an interview on Israel TV.
Halevy was a confidant of Jordan's King Hussein, and he suggested releasing Yassin from Israeli prison as the price for freedom for six Mossad agents captured in the abortive attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. Yassin was imprisoned in 1989.
Halevy, who later served as Mossad chief and is now a private citizen, said that just before the Mashaal affair, "Yassin brought up the idea of a cease-fire of 30 years between Israel and the Palestinians." [complete article]
Lifting the shroud
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 23, 2004
From the day it took office, U.S. News & World Report wrote a few months ago, the Bush administration "dropped a shroud of secrecy" over the federal government. After 9/11, the administration's secretiveness knew no limits -- Americans, Ari Fleischer ominously warned, "need to watch what they say, watch what they do." Patriotic citizens were supposed to accept the administration's version of events, not ask awkward questions.
But something remarkable has been happening lately: more and more insiders are finding the courage to reveal the truth on issues ranging from mercury pollution -- yes, Virginia, polluters do write the regulations these days, and never mind the science -- to the war on terror.
It's important, when you read the inevitable attempts to impugn the character of the latest whistle-blower, to realize just how risky it is to reveal awkward truths about the Bush administration. When Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress that postwar Iraq would require a large occupation force, that was the end of his military career. When Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV revealed that the 2003 State of the Union speech contained information known to be false, someone in the White House destroyed his wife's career by revealing that she was a C.I.A. operative. And we now know that Richard Foster, the Medicare system's chief actuary, was threatened with dismissal if he revealed to Congress the likely cost of the administration's prescription drug plan.
The latest insider to come forth, of course, is Richard Clarke, George Bush's former counterterrorism czar and the author of the just-published "Against All Enemies." [complete article]
Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, is available here.
Interview: Richard Clarke
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, March 23, 2004
JB: So were there any principals meetings about al-Qaida in all this time?
RC: It didn't come up in the principal's meetings. Between April and July only four of the 30 or 35 deputy principal meetings touched on al-Qaida. But three of those were mainly about US-Pakistan relations, or US-Afghan relations or South Asian policy, and al-Qaida was just one of the points. One of the meetings looked at the overall plan. It was the July one. April was an initial discussion of terrorism policy writ large and at that meeting I said we had to talk about al-Qaida. And because it was terrorism policy writ large [Paul] Wolfowitz said we have to talk about Iraqi terrorism and I said that's interesting because there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States. There hasn't been any for 8 years. And he said something derisive about how I shouldn't believe the CIA and FBI, that they've been wrong. And I said if you know more than I know tell me what it is, because I've been doing this for 8 years and I don't know about any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993. When I said let's start talking about Bin Laden, he said Bin Laden couldn't possibly have attacked the World Trade Centre in '93. One little terrorist group like that couldn't possibly have staged that operation. It must have been Iraq. [complete article]
'No' not part of his vocabulary
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2004
In his 30 years as a master Washington bureaucrat, Richard Clarke learned to get the job done, no matter what it took -- and no matter whom it annoyed.
If Clarke needed money for a program, he wouldn't hesitate to fish it out of someone else's budget. If he wanted action from a military officer, he'd call the officer in the field, ignoring the Pentagon's chain of command. "Government is designed not to work," he would tell subordinates. "Our job is to make it work anyway."
It made him one of Washington's most effective bureaucrats. But it also made enemies of those he thought stood in the way of his mission.
This week, those enemies have come to include President Bush and senior officials of the administration that Clarke once served as the nation's top counterterrorism official. [complete article]
An accuser's insider status puts the White House on the defensive
By Todd S. Purdum, New York Times, March 23, 2004
John Kerry himself has never dared to make such a bald charge: That President Bush failed to adequately grasp the threat of Al Qaeda in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, then followed up with "an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."
But that is the stinging indictment of Mr. Bush's own former top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, published this week in a memoir. At the worst possible moment, it undercuts Mr. Bush on the issue that he has made the unapologetic centerpiece of his administration and a linchpin of his re-election campaign: his handling of the global war on terror.
For more than a year, Mr. Bush has portrayed the invasion of Iraq as a critical battle in that war, and despite some significant setbacks and stiff international and domestic criticism, he has so far won broad political support for his position. Mr. Clarke agrees that Iraq and terrorism are linked in the president's mind, but in a way that he contends runs counter to the facts.
"In the end, what was unique about George Bush's reaction to terrorism was his selection as an object lesson for potential state sponsors of terrorism not a country that had been engaging in anti-U.S. terrorism but one that had not been, Iraq," Mr. Clarke writes in his book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror." "It is hard to imagine another president making that choice." [complete article]
Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, is available here.
Arabs can handle their own affairs, says Prince Saud
By Khaled Al-Mahdi, Arab News, March 22, 2004
Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal yesterday slammed Washington's calls for reform in the Middle East and said Arab countries could tackle their problems by themselves.
The US proposals "include clear accusations against the Arab people and their governments that they are ignorant of their own affairs," the Saudi Press Agency quoted Faisal as saying in the Yemeni capital.
"Those behind these plans ignore the fact that our Arab people have cultures rooted deep in history and that we are able to handle our own affairs," the Saudi chief diplomat said.
Prince Saud said calls for Arabs to join the modern world were being made "as if for all these years we had not been doing anything and had just been waiting for direction from outside".
He said any foreign help should be concentrated on settling the Palestinian-Israel conflict and forming a "genuine economic partnership" with the Arab world.
Prince Saud's statement comes two days after his talks in Riyadh with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. [complete article]
The al-Zawahiri fiasco
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 24, 2004
It featured all the trappings of a glorified video game. Thousands of Pakistani army and paramilitary troops played the hammer. Hundreds of US troops and Special Forces, plus the elite commando 121, were ready to play the anvil across the border in Afghanistan. What was supposed to be smashed in between was "high-value target" Ayman al-Zawahiri, as Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf enthusiastically bragged - with no hard evidence - to an eager CNN last Thursday. But what happened to this gigantic piece of psy-ops? Nothing. And for a very simple reason: al-Qaeda's brain and Osama bin Laden's deputy was never there in the first place. And even if he was, as Taliban-connected sources in Peshawar told Asia Times Online, he would choose to die as a martyr rather than be captured and paraded as a US trophy.
It now appears that world public opinion fell victim to a Musharraf-inspired web of disinformation. In the early stages of the battle west of Wana in South Waziristan, Taliban spokesman Abdul Samad, speaking by satellite telephone from Kandahar province in Afghanistan, was quick to say that talk of al-Zawahiri being cornered was "just propaganda by the US coalition and by the Pakistani army to weaken Taliban morale". Subsequently, Peshawar sources were quoting al-Qaeda operatives from inside Saudi Arabia as saying that both bin Laden and al-Zawahiri had left this part of the tribal areas as early as January. [complete article]
More fuel to Pakistan's simmering fire
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, March 23, 2004
Even though it has approximately 5,000 troops in the area, the Pakistani army has been moved into seeking a ceasefire with tribal fighters in South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan.
Yet calls for a truce have already fallen on deaf ears, and the unrest that has followed the Pakistan army's entrance into the semi-autonomous tribal region in pursuit of al-Qaeda and Afghan resistance figures over a week ago can be expected to intensify, and spread to the other tribal areas, as well as other parts of the country.
Recent developments bode ill for any hopes for a peaceful and quick resolution to the current crisis that pits the Pakistani army on one side of the border and United States-led troops on the other side in Afghanistan in an operation designed to flush out al-Qaeda and Afghan resistance fighters who enjoy widespread support and shelter in the tribal regions. [complete article]
Pakistan marks pro-Al Qaeda clan
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, March 23, 2004
The Pakistani military is refining its tactics in the ongoing battle to capture Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in this semi-autonomous tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
It's targeting a specific clan, the Yargul Khel, and Monday began bulldozing all their mud houses as a punishment for a group of clansmen providing shelter to the "foreign terrorists," as Pakistani authorities describe them.
The markets of South Waziristan's capital of Wana Monday were a scene of panic, as businessmen of the clan frantically emptied hundreds of shops ahead of a 48-hour deadline to turnover the "terrorists" or face the destruction of all tribal property.
"If few people of the tribe have committed any crime or sin then why there is destruction to the whole tribe? This is no justice. I have never supported Al Qaeda.... My only crime is to be a member of the Yargul Khel," says enraged shopkeeper Mohammad Tahir while packing garments and imported crockery. [complete article]
Comment -- When George Bush launched his war on terrorism, the key statement in his declaration was, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." Though this was widely interpreted as an expression of America's determination to stand up to terrorism what it actually was attempting to do was to make the use of force legitimate on the basis of intent rather than because it could claim to be well-targeted or reasonably be expected to bring about its declared aim. The war on terrorism thus became a form of tribal warfare whose "success" need only be measured through ongoing efforts to engage the enemy, rather than by any demonstrable effect of reducing or erradicating terrorism.
Yassin's death may be end of P.A. in Gaza
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, March 23, 2004
It is very possible that the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin will be the final nail in the coffin of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. Just recently there were attempts to rehabilitate, even slightly, the PA security forces: The Palestinian National Security Council, headed by Yasser Arafat, published a plan for imposing law and order in the Strip, and the Palestinian media reported on special forces that had begun patrolling the streets of Gaza.
In at least one case, such a patrol stopped a suspicious car, which was carrying Hamas men and weapons. When the patrol tried to arrest the passengers in the car, a gun battle erupted, killing one and wounding many.
The effort to restore law and order in Gaza included foreign assistance. The head of Egyptian intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, and Egyptian presidential advisor Osama el -Baz promised to train the Palestinian security services and the training program was to begin in the coming days. There was also talk of a British effort to establish a joint control and command center for all the security forces in Gaza, to enable them to coordinate their efforts.
Now it looks like there will no need for any of this. The situation after the assassination of Yassin does not appear fortuitous for any rehabilitation of the PA's rule in Gaza. [complete article]
In Yassin slaying, Arabs see U.S. hand
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, March 23, 2004
The "wink" the United States has given Israel in the wake of its assassination of the spiritual leader of Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, exemplifies once again how successful Israel has been at aligning its fight against militant Palestinians with the US war on terror.
At the same time, the apparent tacit US approval - which contrasts with the swift condemnation of the killing by other countries - suggests why the road ahead in the Middle East remains so arduous for the US.
What looks to Arabs in the region like a US "green light" to Israel also raises the prospect that the US, or at least American interests in the region, will become a target of militant Palestinian reprisal. [complete article]
Killing of Yassin a turning point
By Ilene R. Prusher and Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, March 23, 2004
The assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin Monday as he left morning prayers marks a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and the end rhetorically and practically to the peace process.
The death of the wheelchair-bound cleric, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement, is also likely to lead to a dramatic upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian violence, analysts say.
"The [peace] process has been dead for a long time, but talk about it continued by the Americans, Egyptians, Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians. Now even the talk about the peace process will be put to rest for a period of time," says Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. [complete article]
A day when the White House reversed stand on the killing
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, March 23, 2004
The Bush administration, in the middle of its own campaign to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and others it considers terrorists, found itself on Monday in the position of being pressed by world opinion to criticize as "deeply troubling" Israel's assassination of the leader of Hamas.
In a startling sequence of events unusual even for the ups and downs of Middle East policy, the administration began the day by avoiding direct criticism of Israel after the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City.
Instead, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said in a morning television interview that Hamas was a terrorist organization, that Sheik Yassin had been involved in terrorist actions and that it was "very important that everyone step back and try now to be calm in the region."
Only later in the afternoon did the administration shift tone and criticize Israel's action as harmful to the cause of bringing peace to the region. [complete article]
Israel continuing campaign against Hamas
By Josef Federman, Associated Press (via AJC), March 23, 2004
Israel will strike at more Hamas leaders, the Israeli defense minister said Tuesday, a day after the founder of the Islamic militant group, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was assassinated in a missile attack.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and his security chiefs decided to try to kill the entire Hamas leadership, without waiting for another terror attack, security sources said Tuesday.
The killing of Yassin threatens to escalate Israel-Palestinian fighting. Fearing revenge, Israel beefed up security throughout the country and at missions abroad. [complete article]
Iraqi cleric intensifies opposition to interim constitution
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 22, 2004
Iraq's most powerful Shiite Muslim cleric intensified his opposition to the country's interim constitution in a letter released Monday, threatening to boycott meetings with U.N. envoys who are expected to help chart the transition from American occupation if the constitution is endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.
The threat by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani marked another dramatic assertion of the reclusive, 73-year-old cleric's authority in the attempts to fashion a political arrangement after the U.S. administration of Iraq ends on June 30. While Sistani has already made clear his objections to the interim constitution, the letter was forceful in questioning its legitimacy, demanding that it be amended and warning of the consequences of not revising a document praised by its supporters as the most liberal in the Arab world.
The letter, which was dated Friday and bore the stamp of Sistani's office in the sacred Shiite city of Najaf, said flaws in the constitution "will lead to a dead end and bring the country into an unstable situation and perhaps lead to its partition and division." [complete article]
Iraqis united in their fury toward U.S.
By Haroon Sidiqui, Toronto Star, March 22, 2004
Set aside the arguments over how George W. Bush invaded Iraq under false pretences. Forget the mirage of the weapons of mass destruction and the missing link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Ignore the inconsistency of toppling one dictator but sparing others.
On the first anniversary of the American occupation, concentrate instead on what is happening in Iraq -- the resistance, the spreading terrorism and the presumed imminence of a civil war between religious, ethnic and tribal factions.
What does the future hold for Iraq's 25 million people and, by extension, all Arabs and indeed the larger Muslim world of 1.3 billion, especially their toxic relationship with America?
The answers lie partly in the response to another question, the one American soldiers in Iraq often ask, when not sitting in armoured vehicles with machine guns pointing outward: "Why do they hate us?" [complete article]
After 9/11, U.S. policy built on world bases
By James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 2004
Government officials have been searching for suitable memorials to the thousands killed in the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, but the most telling monument, which best illustrates the historic turn America's approach to global problems has taken since the attacks, may turn out to be an obscure American air base in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.
The Bush administration honored the memory of Chief Peter J. Ganci Jr., the most senior New York City Fire Department official killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center, by naming the new military base there for him.
It was a fitting choice because the facility is just one in a string of new overseas military deployments, beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, that have become a defining characteristic of President Bush's tough style of foreign engagement. [complete article]
FBI shadowed Kerry during activist era
By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2004
As a high-profile activist who crossed the country criticizing the Nixon administration's role in the Vietnam War, John F. Kerry was closely monitored by FBI agents for more than a year, according to intelligence documents reviewed by The Times.
In 1971, in the months after the Navy veteran and decorated war hero argued before Congress against continued U.S. involvement in the conflict, the FBI stepped up its infiltration of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the protest group Kerry helped direct, the files show.
The FBI documents indicate that wherever Kerry went, agents and informants were following -- including appearances at VVAW-sponsored antiwar events in Washington; Kansas City, Mo.; Oklahoma City; and Urbana, Ill. The FBI recorded the content of his speeches and took photographs of him and fellow activists, and the dispatches were filed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Nixon. [complete article]
The folly of the new Guantanamo trials
By Neal Katyal, Slate, March 19, 2004
The rush to create the fig leaf of justice at Guantanamo Bay has begun. Next month, the Supreme Court will review the Bush administration's claim that no one at Guantanamo is entitled to civilian court adjudication of their detentions. On the eve of the Supreme Court deadline for filing its brief defending that policy, the administration announced a newly minted procedure for annual reviews of detentions. The irony of this and other actions (including the decision announced the day before another Supreme Court filing deadline, to allow Jose Padilla, the alleged "dirty bomber," access to a lawyer) should not be lost: By modifying its policies in the past months, the administration has made the definitive case for civilian review of Guantanamo. The only due process that's happened there came only after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. [complete article]
Reaching to the choir
By Ayelish McGarvey, The American Prospect, April 1, 2004
In early February, 60 minutes' Morley Safer portrayed white evangelical Christians as the carnies of American Protestantism. Nine million viewers tuned in and saw shots of vast "megachurch" congregations swaying hypnotically and raising their hands in song. Tacky cinematic renderings of a fiery Armageddon added some dramatic tension. The slick ringmaster of these goings-on, of course, was the Reverend Tim LaHaye, the famous apocalyptic entrepreneur and co-author of the wildly popular Left Behind novels. (The series depicts the end of the world as prophesized in the Book of Revelation.)
Safer eventually turned his attention to Washington, where he declared that "evangelical ... beliefs have already reshaped American politics." As the visages of George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, and John Ashcroft flitted across the screen, the message was clear: The Republican Party has God on its side.
Except that this year, a considerable group of evangelicals just might swing the vote -- in favor of the Democrats.
FBI budget squeezed after 9/11
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, March 22, 2004
In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows.
The document, dated Oct. 12, 2001, shows that the FBI requested $1.5 billion in additional funds to enhance its counterterrorism efforts with the creation of 2,024 positions. But the White House Office of Management and Budget cut that request to $531 million. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, working within the White House limits, cut the FBI's request for items such as computer networking and foreign language intercepts by half, cut a cyber-security request by three quarters and eliminated entirely a request for "collaborative capabilities."
The document was one of several administration papers obtained and given to The Washington Post by the Center for American Progress, a liberal group run by former Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta. The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks. [complete article]
How we got homeland security wrong
By Amanda Ripley, Time, March 21, 2004
International terrorism, as most experts will tell you, is not as unpredictable as it feels. Terrorists follow patterns. And while we can't read the minds of zealots, we can get a good idea of what kind of damage they could do in any given location. We can estimate the cost of an attack on a port in Los Angeles vs. an attack on a port in Prince William Sound. We can calculate where a nuclear blast of a given force would kill 500,000 people as opposed to 50,000. These are the logical estimates that insurers and investment banks are seeking as they try to quantify the risk they face.
But while all this strategic thinking is going on in the private sector, the government has responded to terrorism in a less rational way. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, about $13.1 billion has surged into state coffers from the Federal Government -- sorely needed money that has gone for police, fire and emergency services to help finance equipment and training to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.
That is a 990% increase over the $1.2 billion spent by the Federal Government for similar programs in the preceding three years. But the vast majority of the $13.1 billion was distributed with no regard for the threats, vulnerabilities and potential consequences faced by each region. [complete article]
Memoir criticizes Bush 9/11 response
By Barton Gellman, Washington Post, March 22, 2004
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, according to a newly published memoir, President Bush wandered alone around the Situation Room in a White House emptied by the previous day's calamitous events.
Spotting Richard A. Clarke, his counterterrorism coordinator, Bush pulled him and a small group of aides into the dark paneled room.
"Go back over everything, everything," Bush said, according to Clarke's account. "See if Saddam did this."
"But Mr. President, al Qaeda did this," Clarke replied.
"I know, I know, but . . . see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred."
Reminded that the CIA, FBI and White House staffs had sought and found no such link before, Clarke said, Bush spoke "testily." As he left the room, Bush said a third time, "Look into Iraq, Saddam." [complete article]
Richard Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies, is available here.
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram, March 18, 2004
One year after the first bombs fell Baghdad still lives between explosions. Some are controlled, emanating from the "Green Zone", the vast sequestered colony in the heart of Baghdad that now hosts the Anglo- American rulers. Some are real, ripping through police stations, mosques and hotels, leaving scores dead, hundreds maimed, all traumatised.
When they come people stop, look up, check their watches and resume what they were doing -- shopping, working, seeking normality in a city that has forgotten what that is. The atmosphere is of a war unfinished, of a conquest on the brink of implosion.
Most fear the war, above all between themselves. Some resist the conquest. All fear implosion. Some still see light at the end of the tunnel, though even they admit the tunnel is longer and darker than they imagined. "If the road is a 100 miles long, we have moved half a mile," says Zaed Safar, a doctor, who welcomed the regime's fall and believes the worst thing now would be for the occupation to leave.
Perhaps the only thing on which Iraqis agree is that one year on the Americans have made a hash of the occupation -- that while the US and Britain knew how to conquer Iraq, they have no idea how to run it. [complete article]
Iraqi militias near accord to disband
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 22, 2004
Leaders of Iraq's two largest militias have provisionally agreed to dissolve their forces, according to senior U.S. and Iraqi officials. The move is a major boost to a U.S. campaign to prevent civil war by eliminating armed groups before sovereignty is handed over to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, the officials said.
Members of the two forces -- the Shiite Muslim Badr Organization and the Kurdish pesh merga -- will be offered a chance to work in Iraq's new security services or claim substantial retirement benefits as incentives to disarm and disband. Members of smaller militias will also be allowed to apply for positions with the new security services, but those that choose not to disband will be confronted and disarmed, by force if necessary, senior U.S. officials said. [...]
Iraq experts and crisis analysts warn, however, that dismantling the militias will not necessarily eliminate the dangers posed by tensions among Iraq's many religious, ethnic and political factions. Deep-seated allegiances to ethnic or religious leaders will probably prove stronger than loyalty to the fledgling security forces of a national government that has yet to take shape, they say.
"Many militiamen will likely be absorbed into existing security organizations such as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, where their loyalties will continue to be divided between their Baghdad paymasters and local or sectarian affiliations," Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote last week in a paper on Iraq's militias.
Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: "There's a real question about how many members of the new security forces will again become Sunnis or Shiites first once a crisis erupts." [complete article]
Official killed as strife grows in Afghanistan
By Amy Waldman, New York Times, March 22, 2004
Afghanistan's minister for civil aviation, the son of one of the country's most powerful warlords, was killed Sunday as fighting broke out in Herat. The violence was some of the worst in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban more than two years ago.
While accounts were conflicting over what set off the fighting, officials in Herat in western Afghanistan said it began after a failed assassination attempt against the warlord Ismail Khan, who is also the provincial governor.
Mr. Khan's son, Mir Wais Sadeq, the minister of civil aviation for the central government, was killed as he led an advance on the headquarters of a government commander whom he blamed for the assault on his father, said Herat's deputy intelligence chief, Abdul Wahid Tawakali. [complete article]
Hamas may be only side to profit from Yassin's death
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, March 22, 2004
The assassination of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin may well turn out to be a blow, not to Hamas, but to the Palestinian Authority. In the power struggle waged for the past several years in Gaza between the PA and Hamas, it was Yassin's organization that enjoyed an ever-increasing advantage in the sphere of public opinion.
Hamas is perceived as an organization whose leaders are free of corruption and ready to make sacrifices. In the eyes of the Palestinian street, Hamas' diplomatic tactics have proven themselves to be effective, while PA chairman Yasser Arafat's strategy has led to a dead end. The assassination of Yassin puts paid once and for all to the possibility that the PA will take measures to restrain Hamas and curb its members. [complete article]
Massive anti-Israel backlash after assassination of Hamas founder
Press Association (via Scotsman), March 22, 2004
Anti-Israel demonstrations erupted across the Arab world today after Israel assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, with a missile attack outside a Gaza City mosque.
Any hopes for recent Arab moves to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were drowned in condemnations and shouts for revenge.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had been using his influence to press ahead with peace efforts, called it "cowardly".
Asked about its likely impact on the peace process, he replied: "What peace process?"
Mubarak cancelled plans for a few Egyptian legislators to participate in a celebration tomorrow in the Israeli parliament of the 25th anniversary of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The treaty was the first between Israel and an Arab state.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared three days of mourning for the quadriplegic sheik and said the Israelis had "crossed all red lines". [complete article]
World blasts Yassin killing
By Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, March 22, 2004
Many of the world's leaders, from Britain to Iran, were quick to condemn Israel's killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin – with the United States one notable exception.
AFP quoted a State Department official as urging "all sides to remain calm and exercise restraint."
The official said the US Government was aware of reports of the incident and was following developments in the region. "We are looking into the circumstances and are in touch with Israeli and Palestinians authorities," the official said. [complete article]
Killing will unleash a bloody vengeance, Arab leaders warn
Reuters/AFP/AP (via SMH), March 23, 2004
Israel's assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin has enraged the Arab and Muslim world which has called for revenge and predicted that the region would plunge deeper into violence.
Mohamed Mahdi Akef, leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, called it "an unforgivable crime". Palestinians should not lay down their arms because violence was the only language that Israel understood, he said.
"We will not rest. We will not sleep until the last Zionist leaves our territory."
Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud warned that "Israel
will find the same fate in the occupied territories as it found in south Lebanon".
In Iran a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said: "This is a criminal act and a further example of the Zionist regime's barbarity ... The Zionist regime will plunge further into the crisis it brought upon itself." [complete article]
Obituary: Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
The Guardian, March 22, 2004
When the half-blind, almost wholly paralysed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, killed in an Israeli air strike aged around 67, arrived in Gaza in October 1997 after his release from an Israeli jail in exchange for Mossad agents caught trying to assassinate a colleague in Jordan, one Arab commentator likened him to Nelson Mandela. That was a comparison that must have made Yasser Arafat inwardly seethe, even as he heaped outward homage on the returning hero. For if there were any Palestinian Mandela, any unique, historic leader of the Palestinian people, Arafat believed he was it.
In truth, neither Arafat nor Yassin had Mandela's special greatness. But of the two it was Yassin, the founder-leader of the militant Islamist organisation Hamas who came closer. This was not to be found in his beliefs - which, in their narrow, religious frame, were far removed from the South African's lofty humanism and compassion - but in the facts of his career, and the part which certain very personal qualities, of selflessness, simplicity, conviction, and a true sense of service, played in bringing it to fruition. [complete article]
Hamas chief killed in air strike
BBC News, March 22, 2004
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual head of Palestinian militant group Hamas, has been killed in an Israeli air strike.
He was targeted as he returned from a mosque in Gaza City at daybreak. Seven others were killed and many wounded.
The killing triggered unrest and calls for revenge from Palestinians, as tens of thousands took part in a funeral.
Hamas said Israel had "opened the gates of hell" - but the army said the Sheikh had been "personally responsible" for the killing of Israelis. [complete article]
In the Middle East, it seems that Arab blood is cheap to the West
By Ziauddin Sardar, The Independent, March 21, 2004
[Tony Blair] thinks that the war against terrorism should be approached with all the mass mobilisation and cockney sparrow spirit of the Second World War. Indeed, he has even gone so far as to compare al-Qa'ida to the Nazis. This is patent nonsense.
Al-Qa'ida is undoubtedly an immoral organisation, a malignant tumour. But to liken it to the organised, industrialised, bureaucratised inhumanity of the state mobilisation of Nazism belittles the enormity of what Hitler brought forth. It is an insult to all who fell prey to the mass murder of his genocide, and cheapens the sacrifices of all who were caught up in opposition to the Nazi horror. The battle for wartime Britain is exactly the wrong analogy. Terrorism cannot be resisted by trying to be Churchill and whipping up hysteria about the terrorist threat.
Worse, the comparison and the relentless publicity given to the fiendish ingenuity, cosmic reach, allegedly limitless capability and total impact of al-Qa'ida is the most seductive recruiting poster they could have. Those enticed to the ranks of al-Qa'ida are educated and intelligent men with no political prospects of power, inclusion or relevance in their native lands. These deluded individuals, with a perverted sense of having a righteous cause on behalf of the marginalised, are now being given purpose and direction by the actions and intransigent scaremongering of Bush and Blair. Without the abomination of Guantanamo Bay, without the corporate looting of Iraq, without the obscenity of supporting despotic regimes in Muslim countries, al-Qa'ida could only peddle the promise of irrelevant slaughter. With Bush and Blair, bad, demented and misguided men have real purpose and stand centre-stage as power-brokers. [complete article]
What exactly does al-Qaeda want?
By Jason Burke, The Observer, March 21, 2004
As the shock of the Madrid bombings turns to a more profound sense of insecurity, one question is repeatedly asked of the militants behind the wave of terror: what do they want?
Modern Islamic militancy is varied and complex. Al-Qaeda is as much an ideology or a set of values as a single organisation led by a single leader. The values and ideas, the 'wants', of militants are very varied.
Recent Islamic militants have shown many different motivations. Ramzi Yousef, who tried to destroy the World Trade Centre in 1993, was driven more by a lust for notoriety than religious fervour. He did not pray and flirted with female lawyers while on trial. Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 11 September hijackers, acted because he felt, with absolute certainty, that he had no option but to wage a jihad (holy war). He was obliged to fulfil his religious duty. One of the men who organised the bombing of a night club in Bali in October 2002 said he had been disgusted by the 'dirty adulterous behaviour' of the 'whites' there. Another said he was angered by the war in Afghanistan. [complete article]
Ties run deep in probe of Spain blast
By Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2004
It seems clear now that Jamal Zougam had dangerous connections.
During a trip from Madrid to Tangier in August 2001, Spanish police wiretaps tracked the Moroccan-born shopkeeper's movements into the heart of an extremist underworld girding for a global offensive.
In his hometown of Tangier, Zougam joined a fellow Moroccan who had just helped arrange a meeting in Spain of plotters preparing the Sept. 11 attacks, according to court documents. Zougam also spent time with hard-core jihadis, or so-called holy warriors, who would be arrested after suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, last year, documents show.
And Zougam made a pilgrimage to Mohammed Fizazi, a radical imam whose words were his weapons. Fizazi's anti-Western sermons in Tangier and Hamburg, Germany, are a thread linking the Sept. 11 attacks, the Casablanca blasts and the recent train bombings in Madrid.
But until the morning of March 11, when 10 backpack bombs tore through four trains here, killing 202 people and wounding more than 1,500, investigators say they saw few signs that Zougam intended to hurt anyone. [complete article]
Terrorism web emerges from Madrid bombing
By Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2004
New evidence of the way Islamic terrorists evade detection by operating in loosely connected networks is emerging from the investigation of the Madrid bomb attacks.
Eleven days after the atrocity in the Spanish capital, the ties that are emerging between a key suspect in the bombing and Islamic militants elsewhere in Europe and North Africa point to a widening web of organizations that may have few direct links to Al Qaeda but are bent on the same goals.
The investigation has also revealed how terrorist plotters from different structures appear to have survived police crackdowns in several countries to regroup and join forces in order to carry out the operation in Madrid, which killed 202 people. [complete article]
Engagement is a constant in Kerry's foreign policy
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 21, 2004
When President Bill Clinton referred to the United States as "the indispensable nation" during his second inaugural address in 1997, and then as other U.S. officials picked up the term, Sen. John F. Kerry recoiled. He turned to his longtime foreign policy aide Nancy Stetson to ask, "Why are we adopting such an arrogant, obnoxious tone?"
Kerry, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has repeatedly slammed President Bush for what he calls a "go-it-alone" foreign policy. The line of attack comes naturally. Throughout his nearly 20 years in the Senate, the Massachusetts Democrat has expressed a deep commitment to negotiation and international institutions as a way to advance U.S. interests, according to interviews with the candidate and his aides and a review of his speeches, floor statements and votes. [complete article]
Can Iraq embrace democracy?
By Paul McGeough, Syndey Morning Herald, March 20, 2004
The story of the new Iraq is very much the story of the majority Shiites, whose culture and identity are built around their long suffering at the hands of minority rulers and foreign invaders. Iraq's fate is now tightly entwined with theirs: will they win a level of political control that reflects the fact they make up 65 per cent of the population?
Can they be restrained from responding violently to bombings and assassinations? And can Iraq embrace democracy despite its deep tribal and religious divisions? Its neighbours provide no inspiration. At best, the Arab countries embraced by the US - Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria and Kuwait - might be described as "liberalised autocracies". They have constitutions in flowery language that purport to guarantee many of the rights taken for granted in Western democracies. But their leaders survive by control and repression, and their parliamentary oppositions a joke.
In truth, democracy does not exist in the Middle East, apart from Israel. So how can it be planted in Iraq, which has known only occupation and puppet statehood, repression and ruthlessness since it was set up by Britain in the 1920s? [complete article]
A year after the invasion the spectre of murderous civil war still hangs over Iraq
By James Drummond, Financial Times, March 20, 2004
A year on, the chaotic aftermath of war has seen Iraqis take refuge in the old loyalties of kinship and religion.
Amid deep lack of understanding between a Shia majority, based mainly in the south, and a northern Kurdish minority, and with less than four months to go before the US surrenders sovereignty, many openly fear an explosion of internecine strife. The Shia festival of Arbain next month, which may attract as many worshippers as Ashura, provides another opportunity for bloodshed. [complete article]
U.S. Afghan allies committed massacre
By David Rose, The Observer, March 21, 2004
Dramatic corroboration of the massacre of Afghan prisoners by the US-backed Northern Alliance at the start of the war in 2001 was last night provided by American pathologists commissioned to investigate the claims by the UN.
A vivid account of the slaughter was provided to The Observer last week by three Britons who were released from the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba more than two years after they were first seized in Afghanistan. They told how they narrowly escaped the massacre before being handed over to American forces and flown to Guantanamo Bay.
Forensic anthropologist William Haglund, who earlier led inquiries into mass graves in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone, told The Observer how he dug into an area of recently disturbed desert soil outside the town of Shebargan, and exhumed 15 bodies, a tiny sample, he said, of what may be a very large total.
Thanks to the cold and arid climate, they were well enough preserved to carry out autopsies. Haglund's conclusion 'that they died from suffocation' exactly corroborates the stories told by the Guantanamo detainees in last week's Observer. [complete article]
The secret war
By Mark Townsend, John Hooper, Greg Bearup, Paul Harris, Peter Beaumont, Antony Barnett, Martin Bright, Jason Burke and Nick Pelham, The Observer, March 21, 2004
Ten days after suspected al-Qaeda terrorists struck at the heart of Madrid, killing almost 200 people and wounding 1,500 others, a secret battle is under way to prevent another atrocity, amid growing warnings that Britain's crackdown on terror suspects would lead to revenge attacks.
Forget the idea of al-Qaeda as a coherent fighting group, or even a flag of convenience. Call it what you will - 'Islamist', 'Salafi' or 'Jihadi' - it hardly matters. According to some intelligence experts, they do not wish to be understood.
For an increasing number of young Muslims, resistance to the western values is now a way of life. Most are not terrorists and those who are do not accept the term, because they believe they are fighting imperialism by western infidels.
As the investigators continued yesterday trying to piece together details of the terror network in Europe, the reverberations from the Madrid blasts swept America and Britain. The terrorists had scored a spectacular victory, ousting the Spanish Prime Minister and a key ally over the war in Iraq.
New security measures were being deployed to protect trains and tunnels from suicide bombers, and London announced a huge increase in the number of intelligence officers being deployed to hunt the enemy. They have one major problem: they are fighting a mindset, not an army, and nobody has yet patented a technique to read minds. [complete article]
Homegrown terrorists: They seemed normal but plotted to kill thousands
By Paul Harris, The Observer, March 21, 2004
William Krar and Judith Bruey appeared a perfectly normal couple. Certainly Teresa Staples thought so. She remembered a polite, sociable couple who always paid their rent on time for the three garages they rented from her.
So when the FBI showed up in the tiny Texas hamlet of Noonday demanding access to the garages, Staples thought they had made a mistake. But a few hours later, more FBI agents turned up, this time wearing biochemical warfare suits. 'When those guys showed up in spacesuits, I just knew something very bad had been found,' Staples said.
She was right. Among a terrifying arsenal of guns, bullets and bombs, the FBI found a chemical cyanide bomb. Used in a shopping mall, a stadium or a subway, it could have killed thousands. 'I was terrified. I live here with my children and they had that terrible stuff in there,' Staples said.
Krar and Bruey will soon be sentenced to lengthy jail terms, but their capture has revealed a gaping hole in America's war on terror: the home front. The FBI fears that other chemical bombs, built by Krar, may already be in circulation. The case has now sparked the biggest domestic terror investigation since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Critics say the case shows that the authorities, obsessed with Islamic terrorists, have ignored the deadly assortment of domestic extremists. America's right-wing groups, though diminished in numbers since 1995, have become bent on acquiring weapons capable of mass slaughter. [complete article]
Did Bush press for Iraq-9/11 link?
60 Minutes, CBS News, March 19, 2004
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, President Bush ordered his then top anti-terrorism adviser to look for a link between Iraq and the attacks, despite being told there didn't seem to be one.
The charge comes from the advisor, Richard Clarke, in an interview airing Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/PT on 60 Minutes.
The administration maintains that it cannot find any evidence that the conversation about an Iraq-9/11 tie-in ever took place.
Clarke also tells CBS News Correspondent Lesley Stahl that White House officials were tepid in their response when he urged them months before Sept. 11 to meet to discuss what he saw as a severe threat from al Qaeda.
"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the President is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know." [complete article]
Richard Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies, is available here.
Know thine enemy
By Anthony Sampson, The Observer, March 21, 2004
As the fear of terror stalks the West, we have to keep it in perspective and frustrate the first objective of terrorists throughout the years - to provoke the enemy to behave badly and so widen the conflict.
Historically, the British know this better than anyone. In the late nineteenth century, anarchists and revolutionaries were causing panic throughout Europe, assassinating French and Spanish Prime Ministers and an Italian king. British governments maintained their phlegmatic calm and resisted provocation.
They did not outlaw anarchists, like most continental governments, but watched them closely and tried to use them for their own purposes, playing cat-and-mouse games. The subtle methods of the police were much admired by Joseph Conrad, whose superb novel, The Secret Agent, should be read by every counterterrorist.
Conrad describes how a sinister East European diplomat tries to provoke British reprisals by employing a spy, Verloc, to blow up the Greenwich Observatory (based on a real incident in 1894). When the British fail to be provoked, the diplomat angrily complains: 'The general leniency of the judicial procedure here, and the utter absence of all repressive measures, are a scandal to Europe.' [complete article]
Bin Laden: My part in his downfall
By Oliver Pritchett, The Telegraph, March 21, 2004
At home our current state of alert is Code Mauve. This means that we are combining a high level of vigilance with a slight feeling of queasiness. After all last week's doom-laden warnings of terrorism from the Prime Minister and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, I thought it would be helpful to show readers how it is possible to remain in a constant state of panic, while not allowing it to affect one's everyday life.
I am, of course, a coiled spring. Most of the time I am to be found in the basic karate position, one knee forward and slightly bent, open hands at the ready. This means that, in the kitchen, I can simultaneously spin and leap in the air every time the pop-up toaster pops up.
My wife, in the meantime, is rehearsing a special sort of low-pitched scream - one that will summon all the emergency services but without causing undue alarm to bystanders. [complete article]
Trapped al-Qa'eda leader is Uzbek mullah
By Massoud Ansari and Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, March 21, 2004
A radical Uzbek mullah who is one of Osama bin Laden's most important lieutenants is believed to be the senior al-Qa'eda figure leading the resistance to a ferocious five-day Pakistani offensive in Waziristan, the Telegraph has learned.
As heavy artillery and Cobra helicopter gunships were deployed yesterday against an international brigade of Islamic fanatics, officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan identified Tahir Yuldash, the leader of several hundred Central Asian Islamic fundamentalist fighters, as the key figure being protected by up to 400 al-Qa'eda militants.
Yuldash, a founder of the hardline Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, teamed up with bin Laden in Afghanistan but has been based in Pakistani tribal areas since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. His cordon of bodyguards is fighting the Pakistani onslaught with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
While Yuldash would be a prized captive, Pakistan faced criticism last night for at first suggesting that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who is bin Laden's right-hand man, was trapped in the vicious firefight being waged along a chain of mud fortresses in the lawless border terrain of South Waziristan. [complete article]
A wild, cruel and merciless country outside the law
By Ahmed Rashid, The Telegraph, March 20, 2004
Waziristan has been a wild, lawless, desolate frontier for thousands of years. The high, rugged mountains and deep valleys of the North-West Frontier have provided a blockade to would-be invaders from Persia and Central Asia and provided safe refuge for robbers, wife snatchers and rebels for centuries.
Alexander the Great failed to subdue it. Centuries later, even at the height of the Raj, six divisions - a quarter of the Army in India - stationed in the area for 100 years were unable to bring the lawless Waziri fighters to heel.
Gerald Curtis, a British political officer there in the Thirties wrote that Waziristan "is a cruel and merciless country, worthy of its sons". [complete article]
Thousands worldwide demand troops pull out of Iraq
By Grant McCool, Reuters, March 20, 2004
Thousands of antiwar protesters poured into streets around the globe on Saturday's anniversary of the Iraq war to demand the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops.
From Sydney to Tokyo, Madrid, London, New York and San Francisco, protesters condemned U.S. policy in Iraq and said they did not believe Iraqis are better off or the world safer because of the war.
Journalists estimated that at least a million people streamed through Rome, in probably the biggest single protest. [complete article]
See also, 100,000 at NYC rally as protests gather nationwide (Newsday).
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
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.
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.
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.
The emergence of hyperterrorism
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 17, 2004
Romano Prodi, head of the European Commission, says that force is not working against terrorism: "Terrorism now is more powerful than before." Most European politicians and intellectuals - apart from Blair, Berlusconi, Aznar and their friends - consider that the Bush administration's response to asymmetric warfare has only served to increase the threat. It's a classic reductio ad absurdum. Increasingly lethal American military muscle deployed all over the Islamic world has led to more lethal terrorist attacks, in the Islamic world and also in the West. More muscled defense of hard targets, or strategic targets, has led to more indiscriminate attacks on so-called soft targets (like the Madrid trains). Madrid is a tragic mirror of Baghdad and Karbala: more than 200 innocent workers and students died in Madrid, more than 200 innocent pilgrims died in Iraq.
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.
Why the Qaeda threat is growing
By Tony Karon, Time.com, 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.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
The Bushes' new world disorder
By James Carroll, Boston Globe, March 16, 2004
The United States of America has become its own opposite, a nation of triumphant freedom that claims the right to restrain the freedom of others; a nation of a structured balance of power that destroys the balance of power abroad; a nation of creative enterprise that exports a smothering banality; and above all, a nation of forcefully direct expression that disrespects the truth. Whatever happens from this week forward in Iraq, the main outcome of the war for the United States is clear. We have defeated ourselves.
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.
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.
The courage of Spain
Voters hate liars more than they fear terrorists
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, March 16, 2004
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.
From 9/11 to 3/11
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 22, 2004
What is known beyond doubt is that no coordinated terrorist operation remotely as big as [the Madrid bombings] had ever hit Western Europe before. It was, at the very least, a powerful reminder that such atrocities can happen anywhere, including the United States. For the moment, the official American "threat level" has not gone up. Officials say they haven't picked up the kind of "chatter" among terrorists that put them on edge -- and the alert warning at Orange -- last December. Security has been conspicuously increased for trains and subways, especially in the crowded Northeast corridor. But Stephen Flynn, author of a forthcoming book about the deficiencies of homeland security, warns that U.S. officials are kidding themselves if they think they could have prevented an attack like the one in Madrid. "We are equally vulnerable," says Flynn.
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.
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