The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Bush warned of possible al Qaeda attacks before 9/11
By Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, April 10, 2004

President Bush was warned a month before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that the FBI had information that terrorists might be preparing for a hijacking in the United States and photographing federal buildings in New York.

The information was included in a written Aug. 6, 2001, briefing to Bush that was declassified Saturday night by the White House in response to a request from the independent commission probing the Sept. 11 attacks.

The short document, titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.," also included information that the FBI had "70 full field investigations" underway in the United States that were believed related to Osama bin Laden, and that a caller to the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates in May 2001 said a group of bin Laden supporters were in the United States planning attacks with explosives. [complete article]

Text of the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing
Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US (PDF format)

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Bush catches bass with crew from TV show
By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press, April 10, 2004

... Martin [host of the Outdoor Life Network program, "Fishing with Roland Martin"], the president and a Secret Service agent trolled for bass Friday afternoon. They rode in Martin's 21-foot boat, powered by a 250-horsepower engine, but in the small ranch pond, they used the boat's outboard trolling engine, Martin said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"The president was very relaxed," Martin said.

The unexpected Friday footage came as the crew was filming at the pond and Bush "came motoring down" in his pickup to chat, Martin said. They discussed the next day's scheduled shoot.

At about 5:30 p.m., Bush looked at his watch and said he had time to "make a couple casts, so we jumped into the boat real quick."

Iraq didn't come up. "He didn't really talk about politics at all," Martin said. "He was just relieved to have a minute to fish."

The TV host said Bush is "a very accomplished fisherman. He handled the tackle really well and caught three fish," Martin said. "He complains he doesn't fish there enough; so he misses that a lot."

They floated on the pond for about 1 1/2 hours. White House aides told Martin that "things were kind of calmed down" in Iraq and that prospects were good for another session Saturday. [complete article]

Bush's low profile questioned as violence flares in Iraq
By Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, April 10, 2004

Explosive violence in Iraq and persistent questions about the administration's handling of terrorist threats before Sept. 11, 2001, have plunged President Bush into one of the most difficult moments of his presidency, as he seeks to maintain public confidence in his leadership while facing what experts say are mostly unattractive options to put U.S. policy on track.

In the face of these challenges, Bush has yielded the stage, remaining largely out of sight at his Texas ranch as others in his administration explain his policies. Bush's silence in the face of mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq and concerns about the administration's timetable for transferring power to the Iraqis has brought criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. [complete article]

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Anti-U.S. outrage unites a growing Iraqi resistance
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, April 10, 2004

A new surge of Iraqi resistance is sweeping up thousands of people, Shiite and Sunni, in a loose coalition united by overwhelming anti-Americanism. On March 31, insurgents in Falluja ambushed four civilian contractors and mutilated their bodies, and the fiery words of Moktada al-Sadr, the young radical Shiite cleric, a few days later prompted violent uprisings in four cities.

In Baghdad, Kufa, Najaf, Baquba and Falluja, interviews with Sunnis and Shiites alike show a new corps of men, and a few women, who have resolved to join the resistance. They also reveal a generation of young people inured to violence and hankering to join in the fighting.

There is no way to estimate the size of the mushrooming insurgent force, but demonstrations in several cities by armed and angry people indicate that it probably runs in the tens of thousands. Many people said they did not consider themselves full-time freedom fighters or mujahedeen; they have jobs in vegetable shops, offices, garages and schools.

But when the time comes, they say, they line up behind their leaders -- with guns. [complete article]

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In Iraq, give peace a chance
By Yitzhak Nakash, New York Times, April 10, 2004

When American marines stormed into Baghdad a year ago, Amer al-Minshidawi, a leading cleric in the Saddam City neighborhood, told worshipers that after being liberated it was the "duty of Shiites in Iraq to teach the world that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and love." A year later, however, such gratitude has all but evaporated — and that Shiite enclave, now called Sadr City, has given birth to an insurgency led by the young cleric Moktada al-Sadr that has spread through southern Iraq.

Thus far, most Shiite moderates have not joined Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army. They have followed the calls for restraint issued by the most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Nevertheless, with Mr. Sadr now in the shrine city of Najaf -- where Ayatollah Sistani also lives -- Shiites are growing increasingly restive. If unchecked, the uprising could evolve into a full-scale Shiite revolt that, coupled with the fierce Sunni resistance in central Iraq, would make the American presence in the country untenable. [complete article]

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When U.S. aided insurgents, did it breed future terrorists?
By Hugh Eakin, New York Times, April 10, 2004

In the varied explanations for the 9/11 attacks and the rise in terrorism, two themes keep recurring. One is that Islamic culture itself is to blame, leading to a clash of civilizations, or, as more nuanced versions have it, a struggle between secular-minded and fundamentalist Muslims that has resulted in extremist violence against the West. The second is that terrorism is a feature of the post-cold-war landscape, belonging to an era in which international relations are no longer defined by the titanic confrontation between two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

But in the eyes of Mahmood Mamdani, a Uganda-born political scientist and cultural anthropologist at Columbia University, both those assumptions are wrong. Not only does he argue that terrorism does not necessarily have anything to do with Islamic culture; he also insists that the spread of terror as a tactic is largely an outgrowth of American cold war foreign policy. After Vietnam, he argues, the American government shifted from a strategy of direct intervention in the fight against global Communism to one of supporting new forms of low-level insurgency by private armed groups.

"In practice," Mr. Mamdani has written, "it translated into a United States decision to harness, or even to cultivate, terrorism in the struggle against regimes it considered pro-Soviet." The real culprit of 9/11, in other words, is not Islam but rather non-state violence in general, during the final stages of the stand-off with the Soviet Union. Using third and fourth parties, the C.I.A. supported terrorist and proto-terrorist movements in Indochina, Latin America, Africa and, of course, Afghanistan, he argues in his new book, "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror" (Pantheon). [complete article]

Mahmood Mamdani's book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror, is available here.

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A Spanish lesson
By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, April 10, 2004

A crowd is gathered under a drizzle outside the U.S. Embassy here in the capital of a country that has been one of America's closest allies. Perhaps the crowd has come to express solidarity with the American troops being shot at (along with Spanish troops) in the alleys of cities like Falluja?

Try again.

"Murderers," the crowd shouts at the embassy. "Murderers! Murderers!" That kind of anti-Americanism is now widespread around the globe, and it will be one of President Bush's most important legacies.

It's not just that the Bush administration's arrogance and unilateralism have led Pakistanis to give Osama bin Laden a 65 percent favorable rating, compared with 7 percent for President Bush (the latest international polls from the Pew Research Center make you want to cry). Even in traditional allies like Spain, which we now need to fix the mess in Iraq, the good will after 9/11 has dissolved into suspicion and hostility.

Mr. Bush is now recognizing what critics of the Iraq war pointed out from the beginning: We could win the initial invasion on our own, but to win the peace we need allies. The administration's ham-handed diplomacy has left the American troops in Falluja dangerously alone and exposed. [complete article]

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One year later - April 9, 2004
By Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, April 9, 2004

The people in Falloojeh have been trying to get the women and children out of the town for the last 48 hours but all the roads out of the city are closed by the Americans and refugees are being shot at and bombed on a regular basis... we're watching the television and crying. The hospital is overflowing with victims... those who have lost arms and legs... those who have lost loved ones. There isn't enough medicine or bandages... what are the Americans doing?! This is collective punishment... is this the solution to the chaos we're living in? Is this the 'hearts and minds' part of the campaign? [...]

The American and European news stations don't show the dying Iraqis... they don't show the women and children bandaged and bleeding- the mother looking for some sign of her son in the middle of a puddle of blood and dismembered arms and legs... they don't show you the hospitals overflowing with the dead and dying because they don't want to hurt American feelings... but people *should* see it. You should see the price of your war and occupation- it's unfair that the Americans are fighting a war thousands of kilometers from home. They get their dead in neat, tidy caskets draped with a flag and we have to gather and scrape our dead off of the floors and hope the American shrapnel and bullets left enough to make a definite identification... [complete article]

To see images of casualties in Fallujah go to this page and follow the link on the right, under Features, "Aljazeera exclusive in pictures: Falluja siege."

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U.S. forces want al-Jazeera out of Fallujah
By Mustafa Abdel-Halim, Islam Online, April 9, 2004

The United States asked al-Jazeera team to leave Fallujah as one of conditions for reaching a settlement to the bloody stand-off in the besieged western Baghdad town Friday, April 9.

"American forces declared al-Jazeera must leave before any progress is made to settle the Fallujah stand-off," al-Jazeera director general Wadah Khanfar told, citing sources close to the Iraqi Governing Council. [...]

As Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of U.S. military operations in Iraq, was speaking by phone on al-Jazeera and insisting that American forces declared a unilateral ceasefire in Fallujah, the channel was airing live images of continued air raids by F16 fighter jets on residential neighborhoods of the town.

Kimmitt later dismissed the coverage of the channel for the crisis as a "series of lies". However, asked by al-Jazeera anchor about the live images, the U.S. commander said he was not accusing al-Jazeera of faking the images, but rather "looked at things differently".

He said the attacks by F16 fighter jets and helicopters were meant to take out "armed insurgents firing at our troops". The anchor reminded Kimmitt, however, that "live coverage showed children and women killed by the missiles, not armed insurgents".

Observers see the U.S. highly unusual demand for al-Jazeera to leave Fallujah as a sign of crisis of credibility the U.S. forces face in the eyes of the Iraqis as well as people all over the Arab and Islamic world. [complete article]

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Pre-9/11 doings are coming to light
By James P. Pinkerton, Newsday, April 9, 2004

Plenty of people in Washington had their "hair on fire" about the terror threat in the summer of 2001. But not Bush, apparently. On Aug. 4, he went off on a working vacation to his ranch in Texas.

According to White House speechwriter turned memoirist David Frum, that summer Bush "did something I had never seen him do: he brooded." Yet the issue wasn't terror; it seems it was stem cell research. On Aug. 9, Bush gave his first primetime policy speech to the nation - on the topic of embryos. After that, according to Frum, Bush launched a "mini-political campaign" that took him out on the stump.

And we all know what happened the following month.

What we don't know is the precise sequence of events that led to the government's Pearl Harbor-like cluelessness on 9/11. But there's at least a chance now, as documents are revealed and as officials testify under oath, that we'll find out. In the meantime, here's a prediction, based on what we know already: Bush won't dare show more 9/11 images in his campaign ads. [complete article]

Comment -- When challenged to explain their lack of response to the pre-9/11 terrorist threat, members of the Bush administration have pursued two lines of argument. The first is that it was impossible to thwart an attack that took a form that no one could have imagined. That claim has itself been challenged by citing several pieces of intelligence that show that it was already known before September 11 that terrorists were considering flying planes into buildings. What rarely gets mentioned is that for a suicidal pilot to turn his plane into a missile went from the theoretical to the actual in September 1994 when Frank Eugene Corder aimed his single-engine Cessna at the White House and as the Washington Post reported, "a patch of lawn, a holly hedge and an old magnolia tree were all that slowed down the airplane as it hurtled toward the home of the president." Condoleezza Rice and everyone else working in the White House in 2001 didn't need to be shown a single intelligence report for them to conceive of the possibility of planes being intentionally crashed into buildings such as the one they then occupied; they merely needed to regularly watch the nightly news. As famous as was their antipathy for the previous administration I doubt that they never heard of the 1994 incident.

The second line of argument -- the one the Rice pressed more strongly this week -- is that the administration had not been provided with actionable intelligence. The intelligence, they say, was far too vague for the attacks to be thwarted. The 9/11 commission might consider testing this argument by seeking the opinion of the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. In the past two-and-a-half years Americans have frequently been alerted to the possibility of terrorist attacks and told -- as they are currently -- that "there is a significant risk of terrorist attacks." The government sees fit to alert the public even when it has no specific information about where or when attacks might occur. If in the summer of 2001, DCI George Tenet was running around Washington like his hair was on fire, so alarmed was he about the risk of terrorist attacks, and George Bush had by early August been alerted to the danger of an al Qaeda attack inside the United States, then countering the threat didn't depend on piecing together disparate scraps of intelligence whose connections had yet to be determined. All it would have taken would have been a press conference sanctioned by the president and led by Attorney General John Ashcroft. If Americans had been alerted to an imminent yet non-specific terrorist threat, who can claim that such an unprecedented warning would not have garnered vital results? Public awareness rather than bureaucratic reform is probably all it would have taken for the right information to reach the right people. The reason this didn't happen was not that the administration lacked actionable intelligence. On the contrary, its underestimation of the level of danger coupled with its disdain for open government, apparently made it inconceivable that the Bush administration would share with the people, information that the people had a right to know.

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Bush was warned of possible attack in U.S., official says
By Eric Lichtblau and David E. Sanger, New York Times, April 10, 2004

President Bush was told more than a month before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned an attack within the United States with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes, a government official said Friday.

The warning came in a secret briefing that Mr. Bush received at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Aug. 6, 2001. A report by a joint Congressional committee last year alluded to a "closely held intelligence report" that month about the threat of an attack by Al Qaeda, and the official confirmed an account by The Associated Press on Friday saying that the report was in fact part of the president's briefing in Crawford.

The disclosure appears to contradict the White House's repeated assertions that the briefing the president received about the Qaeda threat was "historical" in nature and that the White House had little reason to suspect a Qaeda attack within American borders. [complete article]

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Sunni and Shia unite against common enemy
By Jonathan Steele and Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, April 10, 2004

Up to 200,000 Iraqi believers, many of them Shias, crowded into the precinct of Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque yesterday to denounce the American occupation and pledge solidarity with the people of Falluja as well as the uprising led by the Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr.

It was the largest show of joint support by Iraq's Sunni and Shia communities.

"Long live Moqtada, long live Falluja, long live Basra, long live Kerbala," they shouted, naming the various cities where Shias have attacked coalition forces. Many punched the air with their fists.

"It is a year since America with its ally, the British devil Tony Blair, launched its attack. The Americans invaded the land of Iraq, but they did not penetrate its people or their souls," Dr Harith al-Dhari, the main preacher at the Umm al-Qura mosque thundered into a loudspeaker, as the overflow crowd sat on the lawns and concrete concourse.

"A year has passed and where is the democracy they promised? Instead, we have terror and censorship and rivers of blood," he went on. [complete article]

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Iraq's enemy within
By Haifa Zangana, The Guardian, April 10, 2004

In Iraq we say: "Choose the companion first, then the road." We believe it very important to know who one is travelling with. On June 30 the US-led occupation forces will hand power to an Iraqi government. Iraqis would like to begin our journey towards a much-needed stability and democracy. But at the moment our "companions" are the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and their appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). We have not chosen them.

The governing council is as responsible as the US-led occupation forces for Iraq's rapid slide into chaos and bloodshed. They stood aside last Sunday when the Sadr City demonstration against the closure of a newspaper was machine-gunned from helicopters - 32 people were killed and hundreds injured. They stood aside when rockets were fired into the Shulla neighbourhood further north in Baghdad, with more casualties. They have been watching in silence while Iraqis have been killed in Basra, Nassiriya, Kirkuk, Amara, Baquba, Kut, Kerbala and Najaf.

It was left to journalists and organisations like Amnesty International and Occupation Watch to document and condemn hundreds of occupation excesses and outright atrocities, starting from the shooting of 17 civilians at a demonstration in Falluja in April last year. [complete article]

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U.S. allies call for truce in Iraq
BBC News, April 10, 2004

The US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council has called for an immediate ceasefire after a week of the worst fighting since the war. It said a political solution to the crisis needed to be found.

One member called the operation against Sunni Muslim militants in Falluja "genocide" after doctors there reported 450 deaths and 1,000 injured this week. [complete article]

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Grief in Washington
By Marian Wilkinson, Sydney Morning Herald, April 10, 2004

Bush insists he does have a plan and its centrepiece is to hand over political power in Iraq on June 30 while keeping military power there under US command. "That date remains firm," he said repeatedly as the insurgency blew up across Iraq.

But the President unnerved many when he publicly stumbled over his explanation of who exactly will take over in Iraq on June 30. "The United Nations representative is there now to work on to whom we transfer sovereignty," Bush said haltingly. "It's one thing to say that it's a transfer; we got to ... we're now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty."

Three months out from the transfer date, neither Bush nor his advisers can give a straight answer on who exactly will take over. Next week the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, will be in Washington to discuss this vexed question amid reports of deep disagreements over Iraq's future.

As the power vacuum looms there, Bush and his top aides admit the latest upsurge in violence is directly linked to the struggle over who will fill the void after June 30. "My judgement is the closer we come to the deadline, the more likely these people will challenge our will," said Bush. [complete article]

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Neo-cons see Iran behind Shiite uprising
By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, April 9, 2004

Neo-conservatives close to the administration of President George W Bush are pushing for retribution against Iran for, they say, sponsoring this week's Shiite uprising in Iraq led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Despite the growing number of reports that depict the fighting as a spontaneous and indigenous revolt against the U.S.-led occupation, the influential neo-cons are calling on Bush to warn Tehran to cease its alleged backing for al-Sadr and other Shia militias or face retaliation, ranging from an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities to covert action designed to overthrow the government.

But independent experts say that while Iran has no doubt provided various forms of assistance to Shia factions in Iraq since the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein one year ago, its relations with Sadr have long been rocky, and that it has opposed radical actions that could destabilise the situation.

"Those elements closest to Iran among the Shiite clerics (in Iraq) have been the most moderate through all of this," according to Shaul Bakhash, an Iran expert at George Mason University here.

Many regional specialists agree that Iran has a strategic interest in avoiding any train of events that risks plunging Iraq into chaos or civil war and partition. [complete article]

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U.S. terrorism policy spawns steady staff exodus
By Caroline Drees, Reuters, April 7, 2004

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has faced a steady exodus of counterterrorism officials, many disappointed by a preoccupation with Iraq they said undermined the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Former counterterrorism officials said at least half a dozen have left the White House Office for Combating Terrorism or related agencies in frustration in the 2 1/2 years since the attacks.

Some also left because they felt President Bush had sidelined his counterterrorism experts and paid almost exclusive heed to the vice president, the defense secretary and other Cabinet members in planning the "war on terror," former counterterrorism officials said.

"I'm kind of hoping for regime change," one official who quit told Reuters. [complete article]

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Why Rice is a bad national security adviser
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 8, 2004

One clear inference can be drawn from Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission this morning: She has been a bad national security adviser -- passive, sluggish, and either unable or unwilling to tie the loose strands of the bureaucracy into a sensible vision or policy. In short, she has not done what national security advisers are supposed to do.

The key moment came an hour into the hearing, when former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste took his turn at asking questions. Up to this point, Rice had argued that the Bush administration could not have done much to stop the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Yes, the CIA's sirens were sounding all summer of an impending strike by al-Qaida, but the warnings were of an attack overseas.

Ben-Veniste brought up the much-discussed PDB -- the president's daily briefing by CIA Director George Tenet -- of Aug. 6, 2001. For the first time, he revealed the title of that briefing: "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside the United States." [complete article]

See also, Decoding Rice's self-serving testimony (Slate).

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This relationship isn't working
By Dan Plesch, The Guardian, April 6, 2004

Britain must loosen its military ties with the United States. Whatever their value in the past, today the relationship is dragging Britain into operations that are against its interests - while providing Americans with a false sense that they are speaking for what is called the international community. But this year presents a once-in-a-decade opportunity to open up the linchpin of that relationship to public scrutiny. This is the year that parliament and the United States Congress have to renew the treaty governing their cooperation on nuclear weapons.

The understanding is formally known as the 1958 Agreement for Cooperation on the Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes, but is usually called the Mutual Defence Agreement, or the 58 Agreement. It governs the two countries' trade in weapons of mass destruction. Trading in weapons of mass destruction is pretty controversial right now - given all the fuss about Libya, Pakistan, Iran and so on. But the negotiations between London and Washington are going on in secret, and the treaty is likely to be slipped in at the end of the year without anyone noticing.

Without the agreement, Britain would not have its Trident nuclear weapons system, or be a nuclear power at all. [complete article]

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Afghanistan: Crossing the rubicon
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, April 10, 2004

After the Pakistani army's failure in its recent operation in the South Waziristan tribal area to deal a significant blow to foreign resistance fighters poised for action in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States have concluded that they have no alternative other than to undertake "mission impossible": the capture of the "Shawal" base that straddles the border.

To date, US-led forces have respected the Durand Line that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan, waiting for Pakistani forces to drive foreign militants, Afghan resistance fighters and Taliban into their hands from across the border in a "hammer and anvil" approach.

This has proved ineffective, and security forces have told Asia Times Online that, with great reluctance and trepidation, Pakistan and the US will soon launch operations designed to secure the Shawal area. [complete article]

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Pakistan: It's deja vu all over again
By Leonard Weiss, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June, 2004

There is a long history to Pakistan's nuclear mendacity and the U.S. abandonment of nonproliferation goals in South Asia for short-term advantage in other policy areas.

Pakistani nuclear assistance to Iran and Libya is nothing new. News reports in 1988 revealed that Pakistan was assisting Iran on nuclear enrichment technology; reports of a Pakistan-Libya nuclear connection appeared as early as 1979. In 1987, a BBC documentary film revealed that Libya had provided financing for the Pakistani bomb project in 1973. The Saudis were also involved as bankrollers in those early days.

Despite President Pervez Musharraf's claim that the nuclear transfers to Iran and Libya (and North Korea) are the result of personal greed on the part of "the father of the Pakistani bomb," Abdul Qadeer (A. Q.) Khan, who "confessed" and was immediately pardoned, no serious observer believes that Khan's was a "rogue" operation unknown to the highest levels of the Pakistani military. While the complete story is yet to be told, it is well to remember the words of Musharraf's predecessor, the late Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who said: "It is our right to obtain [nuclear] technology. And when we acquire this technology, the entire Islamic world will possess it with us." (Zia failed to mention that Pakistan would also be sharing its nuclear secrets with North Korea, but that was before North Korea could help Pakistan with missile technology as a quid pro quo.) [complete article]

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Palestinian plan says no to attacks on civilians
By Arnon Regular and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, April 8, 2004

The Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad leaderships in Gaza have prepared a draft "National Plan" that "emphasizes the right to use violence to oppose the occupation and the settlements, while avoiding turning civilians from either side into targets for attack."

The document, which summarizes the outcome of meetings between Abdel Aziz Rantisi of Hamas, Ahmed Halas of Fatah, and representatives from the Islamic Jihad and other, smaller armed political factions, is regarded as a basis for negotiations between the PA and all the armed factions for a mutually agreed leadership to control Gaza after Israel withdraws. [complete article]

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U.S. battles for control of Iraq
Agencies, The Guardian, April 9, 2004

US forces were today struggling to regain control of Iraq, restoring order in the southern city of Kut but facing fresh fighting elsewhere in the country.

A brief halt in the US marines' assault on Falluja seemed to have fallen apart as the first anniversary of the fall of Baghdad was marked by more violence.

Insurgents attacked a US convoy carrying fuel west of Baghdad on Friday, killing at least nine people, witnesses said.

A Reuters photographer on the scene said he saw bodies burning inside the vehicles, which were still on fire near Abu Ghraib. He said the convoy included US military vehicles and fuel tankers.

Huge clouds of black smoke hung over the area, visible from several kilometres away. There was heavy fighting between US troops and guerrillas in Abu Ghraib.

Truckloads of people from the area have also tried to head further west to help other insurgents battling US forces in Falluja and Ramadi. [complete article]

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Now it is America that desperately needs rescuing
By Martin Woollacott, The Guardian, April 9, 2004

Since the end of the second world war, a cycle of military victory and defeat has been evident in American politics. It has taken the country from the apex of its military strength in 1945 to near disaster and then qualified victory in Korea, and then to failure in Vietnam, victory in the Gulf war, and now to Iraq. In each phase, but particularly after Vietnam, the impact of defeat has been to set in train a rebuilding of American military strength and, eventually, its confident and sometimes over-confident reassertion in a new situation. The formative years of the men who have shaped the foreign policy of George Bush's administration were influenced by the humiliation of defeat in Vietnam, and by the idea that if only the country's military power had been properly exerted, without condition or obstacle, Vietnam could have been won.

Iraq has become a test case for this concept of untrammelled military power, and it is proving a difficult one. With the excitement of the armoured race to Baghdad now a distant memory, the Bush administration finds itself face to face, perhaps even more than its predecessors in Vietnam, with what could be called the essential meagreness of the military instrument. It can be a key that opens the door for other kinds of action, but it cannot substitute for them. George Bernard Shaw observed that any political arrangement that depends on soldiers is not likely to continue long. The truth in Iraq has, from the start, been that the American "occupation", like most occupations, has never meant any kind of close military control of Iraqi society. Even if close control was desirable, American and other coalition troops are not present in sufficient numbers - nor do they have the language and other skills that would enable them to exercise it.

While those who predicted an unalloyed welcome for the Americans proved to be wrong, they were right to the extent that the US occupation relies on the consent of important forces in Iraqi society and on the promise of beneficial political and economic changes. It is this consent and the belief in that promise which is wavering as fighting spreads - and along with it the idea that the Americans are losing their way and have no clear idea how to reassert themselves. [complete article]

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U.S. commander will not take blame for unrest
By David Rennie, The Telegraph, April 9, 2004

America's top commander in Iraq has warned Washington that he will not be "the fall guy" if violence in the country worsens, it emerged yesterday, as word leaked out that US generals are "outraged" by their lack of soldiers.

America's generals consider current troop strengths of 130,000 in Iraq inadequate, reported the columnist Robert Novak, a doyen of the old-school Right in Washington.

Gen John Abizaid, commander of Central Command, told his political masters earlier this week that he would ask for reinforcements if requested by the generals under him. His words overrode months of public assurances from the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian chiefs that more troops are not necessary. [complete article]

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Bush credibility on 2 Wars -- Iraq, terrorism -- under challenge
By Dan Balz and Dana Milbank, Washington Post, April 8, 2004

A week of escalating violence in Iraq, accompanied by growing numbers of U.S. casualties and gruesome images on television and in newspapers, threatens to erode public confidence in President Bush and redraw the political calculus of the impact of the war on terrorism in the presidential election.

Bush has put a consistently hopeful face on his Iraqi policy as he aims for the June 30 transfer of power back to the Iraqis. But that very optimism could turn into a political liability if the American people conclude that it does not square with their evaluation of events. Faced with a growing debate over his policies, Bush's credibility on terrorism, once the linchpin of his political strength, is under serious challenge. [complete article]

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A coalition showing signs of fracture
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, April 9, 2004

The Shia uprising is exposing the fragility of the US-led coalition in Iraq and putting a strain on the smaller partners. While the 110,000-strong US force and the 8,700-strong British force are geared for combat, many of the other countries joined the coalition in expectation of peacekeeping and reconstruction.

To the dismay of US central command, Japanese and South Korea forces have retreated to their compounds after coming under fire while Ukrainian and Kazakh forces have been driven out of the town of Kut by Shia fighters. The US military is considering whether it needs to re-deploy 25,000 expected reinforcements from its sector around Baghdad to the south to bolster the coalition forces. The Pentagon has already shored up its troop levels to deal with the deepening chaos by halting the rotation of some 25,000 soldiers due to go home after a year in the war zone.

Hundreds more British troops flew out to Iraq yesterday. More than 300 members of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment plus Territorial Army soldiers from the Glasgow-based 52nd Lowland Regiment left for Basra where they will form part of the 4,500-strong 1st Mechanised Brigade.

Without the support of either the UN or Nato, the US has been unable to call on countries such as France, Germany, India and Pakistan for troops. Instead it has had to rely on a ragtag coalition of about 40 countries as diverse as El Salvador and Mongolia. Between them they contribute 24,000 troops in non-combat roles, primarily engineering. [complete article]

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Iraq Shiite radical tells Bush to withdraw troops or face revolution
Agence France Presse, April 9, 2004

Outlawed Shiite Muslim radical leader Moqtada Sadr branded US President George W. Bush an "enemy" and told him to withdraw his troops from Iraq or face a revolution.

"I address my enemy Bush. You are now fighting an entire nation, from south to north, from east to west, and we advise you to withdraw from Iraq," Sadr said Friday in a message that was read at the main mosque in this central shrine town by one of his aides.

"I call on America not to confront the Iraqi revolution," said Sheikh Jaber al-Khafagi, as he addressed worshippers gathered for the main weekly prayers in this Sadr stronghold. [...]

He also warned that Iraqis who failed to heed his call to fight the US-led occupation would "burn in hell".

"All faithful Iraqi men and women who have heard my call (to join) the struggle and do not heed it, will burn in hell ... and will be an outlaw," his message said. [complete article]

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U.S. attack belies Bremer's Falluja 'truce'
Aljazeera, April 9, 2004

US occupation forces have bombed the Iraqi town of Falluja, belying administrator Paul Bremer's announcement that his forces were suspending military operations there.

"As of noon today coalition forces have initiated a unilateral suspension of offensive operations in Falluja," Paul Bremer told reporters on Friday.

But, the US-led occupation's deputy director of operations, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, denied the reports of a ceasefire.

Minutes after Bremer's announcement, US forces carried out a fresh offensive on Falluja bombing the town from the air. Scores of residents were injured in the attack, reported our correspondent.

"There is no brokered agreement for a ceasefire in Falluja," Kimmitt told AFP. "There is no agreement between the rebels and the coalition forces."

Earlier, the Iraqi Governing Council member Mohsin Abd al-Hameed in a statement on behalf of his Iraqi Islamic party to Aljazeera said military action in Falluja would end for a period of 24 hours.

Upon commitment to a ceasefire by the occupation forces and Iraqi resistance fighters the ceasefire would continue, the statement said.

The Islamic party political bureau would send a delegation to hold talks with prominent figures in the town, the statement said.

Aljazeera, meanwhile, has learnt that during negotiations to end the military offensive, US forces imposed many conditions including getting the Aljazeera crew out of the town. [complete article]

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Rallying around an insurgent city
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, April 9, 2004

Solemn announcements boomed from mosques across Baghdad on Thursday beseeching Iraqis for donations of blood, money and medical supplies for "your sons and brothers in struggling Fallujah." And across the capital, Shiite Muslims joined Sunnis in rolling up their sleeves and reaching into their pockets.

The U.S. Marines' incursion into Fallujah, the eager contributors said, has recast the city long known as the epicenter of the volatile Sunni Triangle as a freshly minted emblem of shared religious identity.

Since a massive multiple suicide bombing on March 2 killed more than 140 people here and in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, Iraq has been shaken by assassinations of clerics and attacks on mosques that religious leaders say were calculated to sow mistrust between Shiites and Sunnis. But on Thursday, residents of Kadhimiya, this overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood in northern Baghdad, were giving what they could to help Sunni insurgents in Fallujah. [complete article]

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Signs that Shiites and Sunnis are joining to battle Americans
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, April 9, 2004

When the United States invaded Iraq a year ago, one of its chief concerns was preventing a civil war between Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country, and Sunni Muslims, who held all the power under Saddam Hussein.

Now the fear is that the growing uprising against the occupation is forging a new and previously unheard of level of cooperation between the two groups -- and the common cause is killing Americans.

"We have orders from our leader to fight as one and to help the Sunnis," said Nimaa Fakir, a 27-year-old teacher and foot soldier in the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia. "We want to increase the fighting, increase the killing and drive the Americans out. To do this, we must combine forces." [complete article]

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Fury ignites solidarity in Iraq
By Naomi Klein, Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2004

April 9, 2003, was the day this city fell to U.S. forces. One year later, it is rising up against them.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld claims that the resistance is just a few "thugs, gangs and terrorists." This is dangerous, wishful thinking. The war against the occupation is now being fought out in the open, by regular people defending their homes -- an Iraqi intifada.

"They stole our playground," an 8-year-old boy in Sadr City told me this week, pointing at six tanks parked in a soccer field next to a rusty jungle gym. The field is a precious bit of green in an area of Baghdad that is otherwise a swamp of raw sewage and uncollected garbage. [complete article]

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I never thought the invasion would end happily. But this is a dangerous mess
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 9, 2004

A year ago, I drove into Baghdad from Iraqi Kurdistan past smouldering Iraqi tanks. The war had just ended. The statue of Saddam toppled. Government buildings burnt but there was still a feeling among those in the city that the worst was over. It is difficult to recapture that feeling today.

Now Iraq is a country where people fear to venture on to the streets. Whether you are a foreign contractor, a Muslim attending prayers or a journalist, this is a land of ever-present danger. [complete article]

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Arabs worry over extremism while evoking vindication
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, April 9, 2004

Some Arabs watching the escalating violence in Iraq expressed fear Thursday that the United States, rather than helping to stamp out extremism, might have created a new, toxic incubator for it, while others expressed satisfaction that the Americans were getting their nose bloodied.

There is an almost universal sense in the Arab world that Washington is paying the price for entering Iraq with no coherent plan beyond toppling Saddam Hussein, and that the anarchy they allowed to run unchecked in the first days of occupation a year ago has never really been tamed.

"Iraq appears to be disintegrating, and the Iraqis are not better off today than they were before the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime," said Mohammed Kamal, a professor of political science at Cairo University. "The Americans don't have a plan on how to get out of this mess that they put themselves in." [complete article]

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Zeroing in on one classified document
By David Von Drehle, Washington Post, April 9, 2004

When the Washington investigative machinery gets rolling, it takes a major event to stop it. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice's defense of the Bush anti-terrorism effort at yesterday's hearing before the 9/11 commission was not enough.

But while the hotly anticipated hearing -- a sometimes testy affair played out live before television cameras in a room packed as tight as a rush-hour Red Line train -- did not end the scouring of the Bush administration, it helped to narrow the focus to this: What did President Bush and his senior advisers know in the summer of 2001 about a flurry of terrorist threats picked up by intelligence services, and what did they do about it?

That piece of the puzzle remained in dispute in part because of questions about a key classified document that detailed terror threats to Bush about a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Commissioners called on the White House to make the document public, which seems certain to keep the investigation in the headlines. [complete article]

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Powell calls U.S. casualties 'disquieting'
By Dana Milbank and Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 9, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday gave the administration's most sober assessment yet of the uprising in Iraq, calling the recent rise in U.S. casualties "disquieting" and acknowledging that coalition allies are "under the most difficult set of circumstances." [...]

"Whether we are confronted by an outlaw and his mobs claiming to themselves the mantle of religion, or by disgruntled members of the former tyrant's regime, or by foreign terrorists, we will deal with them. In that we are resolute," Powell said. Alluding to the first signs of fraying among the 33 nations that have deployed troops in Iraq, Powell also said that the U.S. coalition partners are "staying the course, even under the most difficult set of circumstances."

Bush spent the morning watching national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's televised testimony to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, then toured his ranch with Wayne LaPierre Jr., chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and other leaders of hunting groups and gave an interview to Ladies' Home Journal. On Sunday, he is to appear in public at nearby Fort Hood, the home base for seven soldiers recently killed in Baghdad. [...]

This is Bush's 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency. [complete article]

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One hearing, two worlds
By Robert Wright, New York Times, April 9, 2004

Throughout the public phase of these hearings, attention has centered on a pseudo-scandal: could 9/11 have been prevented? Probably not. Even a quite vigilant administration would have needed some luck to catch wind of Al Qaeda's plans. Moreover, President Bush was hardly alone in the central confusion that kept him from being quite vigilant: the idea that "rogue states" are a bigger threat than terrorism per se, and indeed that terrorists can't do much damage without a state's help.

More scandalous, as some have noted, is that the administration didn't change this view after 9/11, when terrorists based in places like Germany killed 3,000 people using weapons (in this case airliners) acquired in America. Hence the war in Iraq.

The polar opposite of a preoccupation with state support of terrorism is the view that, in the modern world, intense hatred is self-organizing and self-empowering. Information technologies make it easy for hateful people to coalesce and execute attacks -- and those same technologies can also help spread the hatred. That's why opponents of the Iraq war so feared its effect on Muslim sentiment. [complete article]

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Sept. 11 allegations lost in translation
By Jefferson Morley, Washington Post, April 8, 2004

The sensational story of Sibel Edmonds illuminates the world of difference between the international online media and the U.S. press.

Edmonds is a 33-year-old former FBI translator whose February allegations to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks directly challenge the credibility of the commission's star witness, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. In an April 2 interview with the Independent of London, Edmonds said she read intelligence reports from the summer of 2001 that al Qaeda operatives planned to fly hijacked airplanes into U.S. skyscrapers.

"There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used but not specifically about how they would be used and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks," she said. She added that specific cities with skyscrapers were mentioned.

Edmonds said that she had provided the commission's staff with "specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

Edmonds took issue with Rice's assertion in a March 22 Washington Post Op-Ed piece that the United States had no intelligence warning of al Qaeda's tactics. "That is impossible," she said.

As Rice's appearance before the commission grew into a huge news story, Edmonds's account went global. The Independent's story received respectful, extensive treatment from news sites on every continent, ranging from Cronica de Hoy (in Spanish) in Mexico City to Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung (in German) to the Khaleej Times in the Persian Gulf to the New Zealand Herald in the South Pacific.

Edmonds's story has been almost uniformly ignored in the U.S. daily press. [complete article]

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Country's widest political division is the gap over religion
By Steven Thomma, Knight Ridder, April 8, 2004

Across the country this week, tens of millions of Americans are signaling how they'll vote for president this fall.

They're doing it not by tuning in to campaign commercials, contributing to one of the candidates or registering at a polling place. Rather, they're making their political statement by attending religious services or celebrating Passover - or by ignoring the religious holidays.

The religion gap is fast becoming the country's widest political division. Those who regularly attend religious services vote Republican by a margin of 2-1, and those who don't vote Democratic by the same margin. [complete article]

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Pakistan set to launch new attack against Al Qaeda
Associated Press (via The Star), April 8, 2004

Pakistani forces have drawn a bead on a cluster of remote hideouts along the Afghan border and promised today to send thousands of soldiers in a fierce crackdown if tribesmen there do not hand over Al Qaeda terrorists by April 20.

Critics, however, said announcing the deadline makes it easy for terrorists to flee ahead of the operation, as they did when last month when they eluded Pakistani forces in South Waziristan. [complete article]

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One year on: From liberation to jihad
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 9, 2004

For all purposes, an intifada is now going on. Local sources tell Asia Times Online there are pro-Muqtada posters all over Anbar - the richest, predominantly Sunni, Iraqi province. Ramadi - where marines have been under fierce attack - is in Anbar. Only a war of national liberation is the motive capable of explaining these posters. The concept - penned by the Pentagon - of a Shi'ite Mahdi Army fighting the marines in Sunni Anbar is positively ludicrous. This regional resistance is conducted by former officers of the Iraqi army, as tribal sheikhs in the Sunni triangle told this correspondent last year.

Sunnis and Shi'ites are united in Baghdad, under the same nationalist impulse. Sheikh Raed al-Kazami, Muqtada's man in the Shi'ite-majority Kazimiya neighborhood, is not very far from the truth when he says: "All of Iraq is behind Muqtada al-Sadr; we are but one body, one people." On the other side of the Tigris, Sunni-majority Adhamiya is now aligned with Kazimiya, as well as Fallujah, Ramadi and even Mosul, against the "American invaders". The popular justification is always the same: this is now a jihad, regardless of whether one is Sunni or Shi'ite. People will fight in their neighborhoods, even if they don't join the Mahdi Army.

Asia Times Online has learned that in an unprecedented move, 150 powerful Sunni tribal leaders and emissaries personally delivered a support message to Muqtada's key aides in the 2-million-plus slum of Sadr City, the former Saddam City: "We are all behind Muqtada al-Sadr, we are by his side because he awakened the Iraqi people to liberate the country from the infidel invaders." The message also said: "We are but one Muslim nation - no one can separate us, be it in Iraq or Palestine." [complete article]

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In Iraq, a 'perfect storm'
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 2004

The US closure of an irregularly published newspaper with just 5,000 readers seemed a tiny moment in the struggle for stability in Iraq. But the March 28 move to close Al Hawza, controlled by militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, now looks like the edge of a violent storm.

How its twin fronts - of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents - built and combined to create what might be described as the perfect Iraqi sandstorm is only now coming into focus. At the time, no one would have forecast that the deaths of four US security contractors alone would result in a major military campaign in Fallujah. Similarly, the US coalition hardly anticipated that the closure of just one of 100-plus newspapers in Baghdad would form the genesis of a Shiite revolt in half a a dozen cities around Iraq.

But the unexpected series of incidents - combined with the 100-day countdown to the US hand-over of political power to Iraqis - has built bridges between the US-led coalition's enemies inside Iraq and drawn more people to the insurgency. And it has created the bloodiest crisis of postwar Iraq, with 460 Iraqis and 35 Americans killed in fighting in eight Iraqi cities since Sunday. [complete article]

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Afghan city falls despite troop dispatch
By David Brunnstrom, Reuters (vai Yahoo), April 8, 2004

Forces of a renegade adviser to President Hamid Karzai overran the capital of a northern province of Afghanistan on Thursday, creating a fresh security headache for the government and its U.S.-led foreign backers.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum's largely ethnic Uzbek militia invaded Faryab from neighboring provinces on Wednesday, prompting the central government to send national troops there on Thursday in an attempt to maintain control.

The fighting in the north and another outbreak in the western province of Herat last month have been an unwanted diversion for Karzai and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan even as they battle Taliban and allied militants in the south and east.

The latest unrest bodes ill for President Bush 's hopes for a successful election in Afghanistan later in the year to offset the mounting problems he faces in Iraq. [complete article]

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Afghanistan: One step forward, two steps back
By Bushra Asif, Foreign Policy in Focus, April 8, 2004

As donors met in Berlin last week to review Afghanistan's progress and reaffirm their commitment to its reconstruction, the Afghan National army was swiftly moving into the northern province of Herat. Its mission was to quell an upsurge in factional fighting, following the murder of Mirwais Sadeq, the Afghan aviation minister and son of the powerful warlord and governor Ismail Khan. Although the army may have prevented the escalation of violence, the episode highlights the weakness of the central government and the fragility of security in the country. Almost two years after the fall of the Taliban, peace and security in Afghanistan still remains elusive.

The establishment of Hamid Karzai's interim Afghan government and the presence of U.S. forces had temporarily curbed factional infighting between warring ethnic militias, but did little to reduce the influence of regional warlords or improve security beyond Kabul. In the absence of effective central authority, different parts of Afghanistan continue to suffer from chronic insecurity and violence. More than 220 Afghan officials, civilians, and aid workers were killed in 36 separate armed attacks in and outside Kabul in August 2003 alone. 2004 was not much better. January was marked by a series of suicide bombings and ambushes, particularly in the Pashtun-populated east and south, where Taliban insurgents are staging a come back. [complete article]

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Account of broad Shiite revolt contradicts White House stand
By James Risen, New York Times, April 8, 2004

United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shiite uprising that goes well beyond supporters of one militant Islamic cleric who has been the focus of American counterinsurgency efforts, United States intelligence officials said Wednesday.

That assertion contradicts repeated statements by the Bush administration and American officials in Iraq. On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that they did not believe the United States was facing a broad-based Shiite insurgency. Administration officials have portrayed Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric who is wanted by American forces, as the catalyst of the rising violence within the Shiite community of Iraq.

But intelligence officials now say that there is evidence that the insurgency goes beyond Mr. Sadr and his militia, and that a much larger number of Shiites have turned against the American-led occupation of Iraq, even if they are not all actively aiding the uprising. [complete article]

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U.S. falling deeper and deeper into Iraq quagmire
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, April 8, 2004

US officials warned for months that violence could rise in the weeks before the planned June 30 turnover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government, as rival sectarian and political groups angled for power and extremists tried to disturb the installation of functioning institutions.

But what is sweeping over Iraq is different from anything the US had anticipated, experts say, both in intensity and in terms of who is doing the fighting--which increasingly appears to be a possible unifying of radical Sunnis and dispossessed Shiite factions.

As fighting blazes in various parts of Iraq and increasingly involves formerly quiescent groups, war has in fact roared back. With prospects for more violent conflicts eroding the envisioned scenario of Iraq's stabilization and orderly transition, a host of new political and military risks are cropping up for the Bush administration. [complete article]

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Shiites taxing thin U.S. forces
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, April 8, 2004

Until now, the US-led coalition plan for securing transitional Iraq had hinged on training new Iraqi forces. The coalition says it has 70,000 Iraqi police officers and 20,000 members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps equipped and on duty.

In February, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is in charge of coalition troops in Baghdad, decided that Iraqis were ready to take over some security operations in the city. He began moving US troops from forward positions in Baghdad to bases on the outskirts of the city.

But reports are coming in from around the country that Iraqi security forces are refusing to confront the new challenges head on. Analysts now say the best military solution to the rising tide of Sunni and Shiite attacks - and unexpected alliances - is a major increase in US forces. [complete article]

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Line blurs between civilians, fighters
By Karl Vick and Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 8, 2004

"The Mahdi Army is the people," said Abu Raja Kinani, a tribal elder in the neighborhood, his voice exasperated. "They're the sons of all the city."

In a population caught between an occupier's armor and an indigenous guerrilla force, the full truth of Kinani's sloganeering is all but impossible to determine. Yet again and again in interviews Wednesday across the teeming slum of 2 million, residents repeated Kinani's formulation in words of their own.

Destroying the Mahdi Army, they said, might be possible only by destroying Sadr City. [complete article]

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Pull out of Iraq or they will die
By Paul McGeough, Syndey Morning Herald, April 9, 2004

The uprising against US-led forces in Iraq has taken a sinister new turn with militant groups holding civilian hostages from coalition countries and threatening to kill them if troops and other personnel are not withdrawn.

One group is holding three Japanese citizens and another has snatched seven South Korean members of a church group. Japan has 550 non-combat troops in Iraq while South Korea has 600 military engineers and medics and plans to send 3000 more for reconstruction.

The Arab TV station Al-Jazeera in Dubai showed chilling video of the Japanese captives, including one woman, who were blindfolded and surrounded by masked men pointing guns. A knife was held to one hostage's throat in a room with walls riddled with bullets. [complete article]

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Under fire, security firms form an alliance
By Dana Priest and Mary Pat Flaherty, Washington Post, April 8, 2004

Under assault by insurgents and unable to rely on U.S. and coalition troops for intelligence or help under duress, private security firms in Iraq have begun to band together in the past 48 hours, organizing what may effectively be the largest private army in the world, with its own rescue teams and pooled, sensitive intelligence. [complete article]

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Iraq interior minister resigns as battles rage
Financial Times, April 8, 2004

Nouri Badran, Iraq's interim interior minister, resigned on Thursday in the latest blow to the US appointed transitional administration. Mr Badran, who was responsible for the country's 50,000 strong police force, said he had been told that the US-led administration thought the defence minister and interior minister should not both be Shia Muslims. A second front in the resistance to the occupation of Iraq was opened this week when followers of Moqtada al-Sadr took up arms in a number of cities in the south. Mr Badran's resignation was not immediately linked to the uprising, but it further complicates the US's task in tackling the wave of unrest in both Shia and Sunni areas. The Pentagon is set to increase the number of US troops deployed in Iraq amid a growing insurgency that has made demonstrable progress at loosening the coalition's grip on the country. [complete article]

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From nation-building to religion-building
By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, April 7, 2004

One thing that can be said about U.S. neo-conservatives is they do not lack for ambition.

''We need an Islamic reformation'', Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz confided on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year, ''and I think there is real hope for one''.

Echoing those views one year later, another prominent neo-conservative, Daniel Pipes of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum (MEF), recently declared that the ''ultimate goal'' of the war on terrorism had to be Islam's modernisation, or, as he put it, ''religion-building''.

Such an effort needs to be waged not only in the Islamic world, geographically speaking, added Pipes, who last year was appointed by President George W. Bush to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP), but also among Muslims in the West, where, in his view, they are too often represented by ''Islamist (or militant Islamic)'' organisations. [complete article]

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What the 9/11 commission overlooks
By Tony Karon,, April 8, 2004

... the furor over the allegations by Richard Clarke have framed the question facing the public as simply whether you believe the former terrorism czar's charge that the Bush team took its eye off the ball, or whether you accept the administration's account of Clarke as a disgruntled former employee trying to get back at those who overlooked his self-imagined importance. The debate over Clarke's claims asks no questions about how the Qaeda threat had emerged in the first place. And it is on this score that more candor may be required.

It is generally accepted among historians of the Qaeda phenomenon that Bin Laden's organization grew out of the "Arab Afghans," young men recruited from throughout the Muslim world to join the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. The program to recruit, arm, train and deploy these men involved three U.S.-allied intelligence agencies -- those of Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- working in conjunction with the CIA, which was coordinating America's own covert assistance to the Afghan jihad. It suited the Egyptians and Saudis to ship off the restive Islamist elements who might pose a domestic challenge to wage war on the Soviets, and it suited the U.S. to help rally anti-Soviet sentiment in the Islamic world, particularly among Sunni elements naturally at odds with Iran. That's why a number of former intelligence personnel regard the emergence of the Qaeda phenomenon as 'blowback,' spook jargon for the unintended consequences of a covert operation. What the U.S. and its allies had helped to do in Afghanistan was assemble an international brigade of radical Islamists -- hardly natural allies of the West, but nonetheless an extremely useful proxy in the immediate task of "bleeding the Soviets." But in the eyes of the "Arab Afghans" themselves, the experience had revived the idea of the unity of the world's Muslims across the national boundaries imposed on them by the West, honoring their age-old religious obligation to wage war against "infidel" armies on Muslim soil.

The unintended consequences, of course, came years later. [complete article]

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Some more questions for Condoleezza
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, April 8, 2004

Condoleezza Rice is to be questioned in public only about the Bush administration's policy on terrorism before September 11. But her negligence and incompetence encompasses the entirety of the Bush foreign policy.

The story of Rice's role in the destruction of the Middle East peace process has never been told.Yet the pattern of her conduct is of a piece with the disregard of terrorism despite all warnings before 9/11. The national security adviser is the central organiser of foreign policy for the president, and Rice quickly became one of President Bush's most intimate aides.

In January 2002, Rice launched a serious effort to restart the Middle East peace process. She hired Flynt Leverett, a foreign service officer on the policy planning staff of the state department, as director of the initiative. Rice told him she understood that the absence of a peace process was hurting the war on terrorism and that Leverett should propose any measures he thought necessary, regardless of political controversy. Leverett developed a plan dealing with security, Palestinian political reform and Jerusalem. Its core was essentially the same as President Clinton's ultimate proposal. Rice rejected it as politically untenable for Bush, who would have been forced to confront Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to enact it. [complete article]

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Mosques will be targeted: U.S.
Agence France Presse (via News Interactive), April 8, 2004

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, speaking to CNN from Baghdad, said US forces had dropped two 227kg precision-guided bombs on a mosque compound in Fallujah, Iraq, because local insurgents were using the compound as cover to fire at US soldiers.

"It (a mosque) has a special status under the Geneva Convention that it can't be attacked," Kimmitt said, adding "however, it can be attacked when there is a military necessity".

He said such religious sites would be struck if his forces believed insurgents were "storing weapons, using weapons, inciting violence, (or) executing violence from its grounds".

Kimmit said he could not confirm precise damage to the mosque or additional reports that a second Fallujah mosque had been attacked by US troops. [complete article]

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Fallujah hospital chief: Over 280 Iraqis killed
Associated Press (via Yahoo), April 8, 2004

More than 280 Iraqis have been killed and 400 wounded this week in the U.S. Marines' siege of insurgents in this city west of Baghdad, the director of Fallujah's hospital said Thursday.

Taher Al-Issawi told The Associated Press that the toll was likely higher.

"We also know of dead and wounded in various places buried under rubble, but we cannot reach them," because of fighting, he said.

The U.S. assault on Fallujah began early Monday, when Marines surrounded the city of 200,000 people. Since then, U.S. forces have been waging heavy street battles, using warplanes and tanks against Sunni insurgents dug in heavily populated neighborhoods.

At least three Marines are known to have been killed since the operation began, but commanders have not given an official toll. [complete article]

Comment -- Before "Operation Vigilant Resolve" started, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt promised that it would be "methodical", "precise" and "overwhelming." There was little doubt that it would be planned precisely, executed methodically and use overwhelming force. Yet precision is no guarantee of accuracy, to be methodical does not preclude being reckless, and the use of overwhelming force was almost certain to result in indiscriminate violence. When a 500-pound bomb hits the compound of a mosque and an Associated Press reporter in the vicinity reports 40 deaths and the US military claims no civilians were killed, who is expected to believe which account? Media outlets with unswerving loyalty to the US government, such as National Public Radio, may be obliging enough to report the official account, but what does it profit the military if they can fool the American media and the American public when the key constituency here is in fact the people of Fallujah? To seal off a city makes every single resident feel like a potential target. To bomb a mosque sends a message beyond Fallujah, throughout the Middle East, not that this is a counter-insurgency operation or an attempt to eliminate terrorists, but that this is a war against Islam. American officials will vigorously and sincerely deny that this is their intention, yet they repeatedly fail to recognize that what really counts is not how they understand their own motives but how others perceive their actions. America is judged not by what is says but by what it does.

It was always recognized that the goal of liberating Iraq required winning a battle for Iraqi hearts and minds yet it was equally clear that American forces were ill-equipped to accomplish that task. Good intentions cannot disguise ignorance and when foreigners who understand neither your language nor your culture take over your country, it is of little consequence that, by and large, they mean well. For many Iraqis, skepticism about America's intentions and frustration in the slowness of reconstruction, long ago gave way to bitterness and hostility. The events of the last few days merely serve to reinforce those feelings. Irrespective of claims being made by Bush and Rumsfeld about America's commitment to "stay the course" in Iraq, it must now be increasingly clear to most American soldiers on the ground that they already lost the fight for hearts and minds.

A year ago, commentators who warned about the dangers of urban warfare and the fact that in this arena US forces would be at a serious disadvantage, were dismissed as doomsayers. Now thousands of war-weary troops who expected to soon return home will instead be providing what Rumsfeld referred to as their "seasoned" experience "to see the current situation through." The prospect ahead is the worst possible combination: Urban combat against a faceless enemy in searing summer heat.

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In Iraq, without options
By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, April 7, 2004

So now the president's war of choice has led to an occupation with no good options.

The Bush administration's plan is to hand over control of Iraq to the Iraqi Governing Council on June 30. Just how that council will sustain itself in power, however, is increasingly unclear after the upheaval of the past few days. Its own police force, which the United States has spent time and treasure recruiting and training, all but collapsed during the uprising of Moqtada Sadr's Shiite militia.

In Kufa, Najaf and Baghdad's own Sadr City, the government's new cops handed over police cars and police stations to the militia without any reported resistance. In some instances, the cops actually joined forces with Sadr's militants.

So much for our thin blue line.

Within Iraq, there are thousands of current and potential gunmen willing to fight for their people and their creeds -- Kurdish automony, Sunni hegemony, Shiite control, an Islamic republic. But the force charged with defending a pluralistic, united Iraq just went AWOL under fire.

It's not that there aren't lots of Iraqis committed to a democratic, relatively nonsectarian nation. But that is just one faith among many in post-Hussein Iraq. And by keeping sole control of the occupation, the White House has ensured that the cause of pluralistic nationhood has become disastrously intermingled with support for the U.S. occupation. [complete article]

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U.S. stoking unrest before festival, say Shia
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 8, 2004

The Army of the Mehdi has shown that it has greater military strength than had been supposed in fighting since the weekend.

It is reportedly in control of most of Najaf where Sadr himself has taken refuge. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit, deputy director of operations for the US army in Iraq, said that Sadr would be arrested and "the coalition and security forces are conducting operations to destroy the Mehdi Army."

This will be sooner said than done. If the US army uses its massive fire power to fight its way into Najaf in pursuit of Sadr it well be seen by Shias as a repetition of the Iraqi army offensive. This was against rebels in Najaf and Kerbala during their great uprising against Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. [complete article]

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A guided missile, a misguided war
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 8, 2004

An airborne assault on a mosque killed at least 40 worshippers attending prayers in the city of Fallujah yesterday as US-led occupation forces lost control of large parts of Iraq.

American attack helicopters and fighter aircraft supported Marines as they stormed Fallujah 30 miles west of the capital. The aircraft fired a rocket and a bomb into the compound of the Abdul-Aziz al-Samarrai mosque.

Witnesses said the attack came as worshippers gathered for afternoon prayers. Improvised hospitals were set up in private homes to treat the wounded and prepare the dead for burial. [...]

Overall civilian casualties in Fallujah are not known but 16 children and eight women were reported to have been killed when US aircraft hit four houses on Tuesday, according to Hatem Samir, an official at Fallujah hospital. [complete article]

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U.S. hits mosque compound; 40 said killed
Associated Press (via Yahoo), April 7, 2004

U.S. Marines in the third day of a battle to pacify this Sunni Muslim city fired a rocket and dropped a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb on a mosque compound Wednesday, and witnesses said dozens were killed. Shiite-inspired violence spread to key cities in Iraq.

The fighting in Fallujah and neighboring Ramadi -- just east of Baghdad -- has killed 15 Marines since Monday and was part of an intensified uprising involving other Sunni towns in northern and central Iraq, and Shiite population centers south of the capital.

Marines waged a six-hour battle around the Abdul-Aziz al-Samarrai mosque with militants holed up inside before a Cobra helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at the base of its minaret and an F-16 dropped the bomb, said Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne.

The fight began when a Marine vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired from the mosque, wounding five Marines, and a large U.S. force converged on it, Byrne said.

Witnesses said the strike came as worshippers had gathered for afternoon prayers.

An Associated Press reporter saw cars ferrying out dead and wounded. Witnesses estimated that as many as 40 people were killed. [complete article]

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U.S. military operations, firefights range across Iraq
By Fred Barbash, Washington Post, April 7, 2004

U.S. military operations and firefights ranged across Iraq Wednesday from Fallujah to the Syrian border to the Baghdad suburbs, with military authorities reporting the deaths of "a significant number" of Iraqi and "foreign" insurgents, as well as the deaths of one additional soldier and the 12 U.S. Marines killed in action Tuesday night. [...]

In Baghdad itself, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq, vowed "to destroy" the Mahdi militia led by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, which is based in the slums of Sadr city.

"These militias that take to violence will become targets," Kimmitt said.

In further evidence of the dramatically altered environment in Iraq since last weekend, Bulgaria has asked the United States to send troops to reinforce Sofia's 450-strong battalion in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, where occupation soldiers are also facing a Shiite uprising. [complete article]

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60 Iraqis killed overnight in Fallujah
By Bassem Mroue, Associated Press, April 7, 2004

U.S. troops battled with insurgents in two central Iraqi towns Wednesday, with at least 60 Iraqis killed and more than 120 wounded in overnight fighting in Fallujah, hospital officials said. [...]

U.S. Marines and gunmen were engaged in heavy battles in the Dubat neighborhood on the eastern side of Fallujah and elsewhere in the city, witnesses said.

U.S. warplanes opened fire on groups of Iraqis in the street. Rocket-propelled grenade fire set a U.S. Humvee ablaze, injuring soldiers inside, witnesses said.

Mosques in the city called for "jihad," or holy war, against Americans. Some gunmen in the street were seen carrying mortars, and some women carried automatic weapons.

Among the 60 dead in the city, 26 people -- including 16 children and up to eight women -- were killed when warplanes struck four houses late Tuesday, said Hatem Samir, head of the clinic at Fallujah Hospital. Others were killed in ongoing street battles. [complete article]

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Clashes in Iraq threaten to undermine political process
By Sewell Chan and Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 7, 2004

Three days of violent clashes have shaken the already fractious and fragile political process that is supposed to result in a sovereign Iraq in less than 90 days.

As U.S. troops battled insurgents in Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad and other cities in a third day of fierce fighting around Iraq, officials expressed concern that a popular uprising could erode U.S.-led control of the country. They said they were worried that an insurrection would prolong the occupation and drive out the United Nations, which recently sent two teams of experts to help determine how to form an interim government and conduct elections.

"We've reached a moment of truth here with both Fallujah and Sadr," said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy, referring to the Shiite Muslim cleric, Moqtada Sadr, whose militia began clashing with the Americans on Sunday. "We have to get both right, or there are serious questions about whether this political transition can go forward." [complete article]

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Muslim rivals unite in Baghdad uprising
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, April 7, 2004

On the streets of Baghdad neighborhoods long defined by differences of faith and politics, signs are emerging that resistance to the U.S. occupation may be growing from a sporadic, underground effort to a broader insurrection by militiamen who claim to be fighting in the name of their common faith, Islam.

On Monday, residents of Adhamiya, a largely Sunni section of northern Baghdad, marched with followers of Moqtada Sadr, the militant Shiite cleric whose call for armed resistance was answered by local Sunnis the same afternoon, residents said.

As protesters chanted anti-occupation slogans in Abu Hanifa Square, militants were seen hustling toward the site carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, residents said. The guerrillas opened fire on the U.S. armor deployed near the demonstration, attacking from positions in a neighborhood where militants appear to be not just tolerated but encouraged. [complete article]

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At word of U.S. foray, a Baghdad militia erupts
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, April 7, 2004

The word went out on Tuesday at noon, with the blast of the call to prayer: American soldiers had raided an office of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, and torn up a poster of his father, one of Iraq's most revered martyrs.

The Khadamiya bazaar exploded in a frenzy. Shopkeepers reached beneath stacks of sandals for Kalashnikov rifles. Boys wrapped their faces in black cloth. Men raced through the streets, kicking over crates and setting up barriers. Some handed out grenades. Within minutes this entire Shiite neighborhood in central Baghdad had mobilized for war.

"We're going to attack a tank!" yelled Majid Hamid, 32, waving an assault rifle.

The incident was another example of the power vacuum spreading across Iraq — during the disturbance in Khadamiya, there were no American soldiers, no Iraqi police and no order. It also cut to the heart of the militia issue, which remains a problem despite the occupation authorities' insistence that private armies disband. And it showed the depth of support for Mr. Sadr, the firebrand cleric who is blamed for the most serious insurrection yet and is now wanted by the Americans. [complete article]

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Anxious moments in grip of an outlaw Iraqi militia
By John F. Burns, New York Times, April 7, 2004

If Moktada al-Sadr has chosen a grand mosque in this Euphrates River town for a last stand against American troops, as many of his militiamen have claimed in recent days, he appears to be relying more on the will of God than anything like military discipline to protect him.

Many hundreds of militiamen in the black outfits of Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army were visible on Tuesday on roads approaching the golden-domed mosque and inside the sprawling compound leading to the inner sanctuary. But they seemed unmarshaled, at least to the layman's eye -- more milling about than militant.

A reporter and photographer for The New York Times had a rare -- and unplanned -- opportunity to see Mr. Sadr's battle troops up close on Tuesday. A 100-mile drive from Baghdad for a supposed news conference by Mr. Sadr ended up with no news conference, and a handful of the newspaper's Baghdad staff, including drivers, security guards and an interpreter, detained for nearly eight hours. They were suspected, their captors said, of being Special Forces operatives or intelligence agents for the United States, Spain or Israel. [complete article]

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U.S. firm on Iraq handoff
By Paul Richter and Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2004

One of the few things untouched by the new violence spreading across Iraq is the ringing U.S. insistence that no amount of instability will derail American plans to hand sovereignty back to Iraqis on June 30.

But when the U.S. does make the transfer, formally ending the occupation, the new and still undefined Iraqi government will receive only very limited authority -- a sort of "Sovereignty Lite" that may not satisfy either Iraqis or Americans.

Current administration plans call for the U.S. military to remain in Iraq at occupation strength. Under Iraq's transitional administrative law, the United States and its allies also will in effect keep control over the partially organized Iraqi army, as well as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which has been fighting insurgents. The coalition is also expected to retain influence over the police force it is helping train.

Control of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid will give the Americans additional leverage with the interim government. If the United Nations agrees to return to Iraq to help organize the country, the U.S. is likely to wield important influence through the world body as well.

A huge new U.S. Embassy will take the place of the current Coalition Provisional Authority, and the largest CIA station in the world will be in Baghdad. [complete article]

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White House withholds Rice speech
MSNBC, April 6, 2004

The White House has refused to provide the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with a speech that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was to have delivered on the night of the attacks touting missile defense as a priority rather than al-Qaida, sources close to the commission said Tuesday.

With Rice scheduled to publicly testify Thursday before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the commission submitted a last-minute request for Rice’s aborted Sept. 11 address, the sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity. But the White House has so far refused on the grounds that draft documents are confidential, the sources said. [complete article]

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'Armageddon' plan was put into action on 9/11, Clarke says
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, April 7, 2004

An "Armageddon" program designed to ensure that the federal government would continue to function in the aftermath of a nuclear war was put into place during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

According to ABC's "Nightline," which plans to report its findings tonight, every federal agency shifted its control to an alternate headquarters outside Washington. President Bush's decision to fly to Nebraska that day instead of returning to the White House, which drew some criticism at the time, was part of that plan, former counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke said on the program.

"Nightline" expands on a book by James Mann that detailed the birth of the program, named "Continuity of Government," during the Reagan administration. Under the plan, if the United States were facing a nuclear attack, three teams of 50 federal officials would be sent from Washington to locations across the country -- each with a Cabinet member who was prepared to become president. [complete article]

Read more about the "Armageddon plan" here.
James Mann's book, The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet is available here.

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U.S. cautions PA against including Hamas in leadership
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, April 7, 2004

The United States has warned the Palestinian Authority against inviting Hamas to join a unified leadership group, saying that it opposes any cooperation with the militant Palestinian organization.

In an interview to the German magazine Focus, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat expressed support for the inclusion of the militant organization in the Palestinian leadership.

Asked if he supported Hamas' integration into the PA, Arafat replied: "Yes. They [Hamas] were there from the beginning, even if they did later break away." [complete article]

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Uprising in Iraq could derail Bush
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, April 7, 2004

Washington insisted yesterday that US commanders would have all the troops and resources they needed, and Mr Bush signalled once more that he was prepared to stake his presidency on defeating the insurgents. "There are thugs and terrorists in Iraq who are trying to shake our will," the chief White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, told journalists. "And the president is firmly committed to showing resolve and strength ... They cannot shake our will."

However, with even Republicans warning of the imminent danger of a civil war in Iraq, and the administration's handling of the terrorist threat under increasing scrutiny, the president's image as a wartime leader is taking a battering.

The news that Tony Blair is flying to the US next week for consultations has only added to the sense of crisis.

The White House yesterday insisted that the visit to New York and Washington had been planned weeks ago, but conceded that much of the agenda would be consumed by Iraq.

Mr Blair will find a president who is increasingly nervous about his re-election. [complete article]

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How armed groups threaten stability
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, April 7, 2004

The uprising by armed supporters of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has highlighted the growing danger to Iraq's stability from unofficial militias.

They do not have the experience of the private armies of Afghanistan's warlords but, unless checked soon, they could follow that pattern, posing a challenge not only to the Americans but also to whatever central government eventually takes over after the US pulls out.

In the short term, as US officials agonise over whether to arrest the young preacher or hope things simmer down through backstage negotiations by the moderate Shi'ite clergy, the militias' actions have brought into focus the occupation authority's dilemma: how to bring the militias under control - by forcible disarmament or with economic and other incentives.

The armed Shi'ites of Moqtada's so-called "Mahdi army" are the first of the militias to go on the offensive against coalition forces.

But despite being the most vocal they are not the biggest militias in Iraq - nor are they officially recognised. The five official armed groups include three who fought against Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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'I am ready to shed my blood'
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, April 7, 2004

America's newest enemy in Iraq spent yesterday sitting in a back room of his cramped office on the corner of Najaf's Street of the Prophet, promising in apocalyptic tones an unparalleled fight against the American occupation.

Moqtada al-Sadr chose his refuge carefully. Here, the radical young cleric, whose supporters have staged violent demonstrations across southern Iraq for the past three days, is in the shadow of the holiest shrine in the Shia Islamic faith.

Earlier in the day he had moved out of his mosque in the nearby town of Kufa, gambling that the revered, golden dome of the Imam Ali shrine will protect him from America's threat of arrest.

To get to him, the Americans will have to fight their way through dozens of his armed men standing guard outside the office, dressed in black and bearing Kalashnikov assault rifles, spare ammunition clips and hand-grenades. They danced in circles when they were handed Mr Sadr's latest statement.

"I am ready to shed my blood for my holy city, my clerics and my society," wrote Mr Sadr, 30. [complete article]

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Al-Mahdi's ranks swell with young poor
By Colin Freeman, The Scotsman, April 7, 2004

If the word of his workmates is anything to go by, Ahmed Atklal has neither the brains, the brawn nor the stomach for a major brawl with the United States army. A slightly built 19-year-old with a wispy adolescent moustache, by day he is junior-most car washer at Baghdad’s al-Musawi Mercedes showrooms.

By night, however - and whenever else he gets the call, he says - he is ready to die for the Jaysh al-Mahdi, the private street army of Iraq’s outlawed Shiite cleric, Muqtadr al-Sadr.

Since the weekend, al- Mahdi militiamen have opened up a formidable new front in the insurgent war in Iraq, battling with coalition forces in clashes that have killed around 100 Iraqis and nearly a dozen US troops. So far, it is fair to say, Ahmed has been nowhere near any of it. But should US forces carry out their threat to arrest Sadr at his stronghold in the holy city of Najaf, he vows to mobilise immediately.

"We do not like to fight the Americans, because many people have got killed already," he said. "But I tell you, I will die before I see Muqtadr al-Sadr get arrested, and so will many others." [complete article]

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Strong-arm cleric shows rifts among Iraqi Shi'ites
By Alistair Lyon, Reuters, April 6, 2004

Sadr, 30, knows he cannot match the religious authority of Iraq's foremost Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, but is paying no heed to a Sistani-inspired appeal for calm.

His display of street muscle is a headache not only for U.S.-led forces grappling with a Sunni Muslim insurgency, but also for Shi'ite political leaders sitting on the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council which Sadr views as illegitimate.

Hamid al-Bayati, spokesman for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told Reuters Shi'ites wanted to deal peacefully with the U.S.-led occupiers.

"This is the first time we see violence between Shi'ites and the coalition. It's a dangerous escalation," he said.

SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is a member of the Governing Council, as is Ibrahim Jaafari, leader of the Shi'ite Daawa Party. Both returned from exile after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein a year ago this week.

Sadr and his rampaging black-clad militiamen are in effect contesting such leaders' claims to represent Shi'ites in postwar Iraq, which are as untested in any election as his own. [complete article]

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Private guards repel attack on U.S. headquarters
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, April 6, 2004

An attack by hundreds of Iraqi militia members on the U.S. government's headquarters in Najaf on Sunday was repulsed not by the U.S. military, but by eight commandos from a private security firm, according to sources familiar with the incident.

Before U.S. reinforcements could arrive, the firm, Blackwater Security Consulting, sent in its own helicopters amid an intense firefight to resupply its commandos with ammunition and to ferry out a wounded Marine, the sources said.

The role of Blackwater's commandos in Sunday's fighting in Najaf illuminates the gray zone between their formal role as bodyguards and the realities of operating in an active war zone. Thousands of armed private security contractors are operating in Iraq in a wide variety of missions and exchanging fire with Iraqis every day, according to informal after-action reports from several companies. [complete article]

Comment -- Some of the legal issues at play here are amplified on by a US Army lawyer with the 1st Infantry Division's, 2nd (DAGGER) Brigade, based in Iraq, who writes:

We've received a number of requests from contractors to carry weapons. Not all of them are allowed to. International law prevents us from arming civilians accompanying the force. They are non-combatants who are not supposed to carry arms or wear a uniform. If we give them weapons and training then their status is even murkier. There is NO protection under international law for armed civilians in a combat zone, with one minor exception for a Levee en Masse. Otherwise they are unlawful combatants. (Note this is the same rationale applied to the detainees in Guantanamo and the reason they are called unlawful enemy combatants. We caught them in civilian clothes fighting us.) In the case of the four contractors that were killed in Fallujah. They were authorized to carry weapons since they were hired as security contractors. The authorization has to come from very high up the chain of command but they work with no legal authority. They have weapons permits that allow them to carry their weapons but they really are in no way connected with the military. This is a very tricky legal issue since the military really can't do what we're doing without contractors but we really aren't allowed to let them protect themselves.

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Scores die as clashes spread
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, April 7, 2004

Coalition forces fought against Shia gunmen and Sunni insurgents on several fronts yesterday, with British, Italian and US troops involved in battles that killed dozens of Iraqis and at least 15 coalition soldiers.

Up to twelve US marines were killed when dozens of gunmen attacked their position near the governor's palace in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. Officials said that "a significant number" of Iraqis were killed in the fighting. It was not clear who had mounted the attack, but Ramadi, in the so-called Sunni Triangle, has been a hotbed of the anti-coalition insurgency.

The losses were among the heaviest inflicted on US forces in any clash on the ground since the Iraq war began a year ago. [complete article]

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The war on terror misfired. Blame it all on the neocons
By David Clark, The Guardian, April 7, 2004

It was never going to be easy to keep a sense of perspective in the face of a terrorist campaign as violent as the one being waged by al-Qaida; some have found it harder than others. The claim by James Woolsey, the former CIA director, that we are in the process of fighting "world war three" stands out as a particularly silly example of the hyperbolic overdrive that has characterised much of the debate over the past two-and-a-half years. So does Tony Blair's assertion that the terrorist threat is "existential" in its scope.

Islamist terrorism poses a threat to the physical existence of those who stand to be killed as a result of its actions, as yesterday's news of a plot to explode a chemical bomb in Britain reminded us. But it is not comparable to the threat posed to western democracy and European Jewry by Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s, let alone the prospect of nuclear annihilation during the cold war. Policy choices that proceed from that assumption are almost certain to be wrong. [complete article]

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Moqtada al-Sadr's political reach

It is becoming increasingly clear that Moqtada al-Sadr's political influence has seriously been underestimated, in large part perhaps, simply because he doesn't fit our image of a political leader. He's too young, he speaks roughly, he comes across as a political upstart, he's a firebrand - he simply doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. That's what Bremer and most non-Iraqis thought until a few days ago, but now the picture has changed. The conceit of the West clearly has no limit.

The observations below, come from 26 year-old Palestinian-Iraqi blogger, Raed Jarrar (friend of Salam Pax). His new blog is called Raed in the Middle. -- PW

The uprising in Iraq is still expanding...
By Raed Jarrar, Raed in the Middle, April 7, 2004

AsSadr is NOT reflecting a minority of Iraqis, this is a stupid big lie.
Whether we liked him or not, he is the political and religious leader for MILLIONS of Iraqis in the southern region...
There are 15 million Iraqi living in the south, and another 5 million in Baghdad, I can say that 5 to 7 millions of them can be considered as AsSadr followers.

AsSadr is NOT a mere twenty-something years old guy, that is playing games.
Whether we liked him or not, he is a phenomenon. When people in the south of Iraq look at Muqtada AsSadr, they see the history of his father, the deep roots of his religious supporter: AlHaeri.

AsSadr is NOT a small follower of the Iranian Government; he has very bad relations with the official government of Iran, unlike Sistani and Hakim.

AsSadr is the GOVERNMENT in most of the cities of the south: Amara, Kut, Nasryya and Diwanyya and Simawa partially, and Najaf partially (Kufa is a small city in Najaf that is the center of AsSadr). [complete article]

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U.S. allies battle to contain Iraqi fury as chaos spreads
Agence France Presse, April 6, 2004

US-led forces in Iraq battled to contain further fierce attacks by both Sunni and Shiite Muslim factions across the country as the situation appeared to be sliding inexorably out of their control.

More than 100 Iraqis have been killed and hundreds wounded in the past three days as coalition troops have grappled with furious assaults by rebels loyal to Muslim Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

A further 20 coalition troops have been killed in those clashes and in actions against Sunni insurgents west of the capital, military sources said. [complete article]

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Behind Iraq's Moqtada Intifada
By Tony Karon,, April 5, 2004

The Shiite challenge is different from the Sunni insurgency. Instead of guerrillas attacking from the shadows and melting back into the civilian population, Moqtada al-Sadr has built a grassroots infrastructure for insurrection, with support structures in local mosques dotted around the country recruiting young men for his "Army of the Mahdi" militia. Following the arrest of one of his top aides on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a pro-U.S. cleric almost a year ago (the same incident for which Moqtada is now wanted) and the closure of his newspaper last week, the 30-year-old cleric appears to have ordered his supporters to rise up and seize control of their neighborhoods. Much of the weekend's violence came in clashes between Coalition troops and Sadr supporters who have occupied police stations and local council offices. Rather than hit-and-run attacks, the Sadrists have taken to the streets, combining mass protest with gunplay in scenes reminiscent of the opening weeks of the Palestinian intifada in the Fall of 2000. That association is far from coincidental -- Moqtada has sought to stir up Shiite passions by likening the plight of Iraqis under occupation to that of the Palestinians, and he recently vowed to cooperate with Hamas and Hezbollah in avenging the death of the assassinated Gaza Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. [complete article]

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Bush vows to crush Sadr and his militia
By Marian Wilkinson, Sydney Morning Herald, April 7, 2004

US commanders are looking at sending more troops to Iraq after President George Bush agreed to a military operation to capture the radical imam Moqtada al-Sadr and crush his militia, as his followers continued their uprising across Iraq.

"We are going to focus on disbanding them, de-arming them and we'll do that deliberately and with a plan," a senior Pentagon official said, while insisting that avoiding civilian casualties would be a priority.

The decision to arrest Mr Sadr had been debated for weeks as US commanders appeared to weigh up the political and military cost of confronting the anti-American Shiite religious figure.

Mr Bush lent his full support to crushing Mr Sadr, saying: "This is one person who's deciding that rather than allow democracy to flourish, he's going to exercise force. We just can't let that stand." [complete article]

Comment -- If there is a single theme that has remained consistent throughout George Bush's presidency it is his need to focus his animus on individuals. Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and now Moqtada al-Sadr -- each takes their turn in becoming the face of the enemy. No sooner does his attention fade from one than it quickly turns to another. Are these, in Bush's mind, the many faces of Satan?

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Heavy fighting in sealed Falluja
BBC News, April 6, 2004

Fierce clashes are reported between US forces and Iraqi insurgents after a major US operation began against the flashpoint town of Falluja. Troops have sealed off the town - but witnesses speak of shelling and blasts and the use of helicopter gunships. Four US troops died in Anbar province on Monday, but the military did not say whether they were killed in Falluja.

There has also been further violence in Shia areas, with 15 deaths reported in clashes in the town of Nasiriya. About a dozen Italian troops were also reported to have been injured there, in fighting with Shia militants. [complete article]

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Al-Sadr leaves mosque in Kufa
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), April 6, 2004

A radical Shiite cleric sought by U.S. forces said Tuesday he left the fortress-like mosque where he has been holed up for days, surrounded by armed supporters. Muqtada al-Sadr, in a statement released by his office, did not say where he had gone.

The United States declared al-Sadr an ''outlaw'' after his militiamen battled coalition troops Sunday in Baghdad and outside Najaf in fights that killed 61 people including eight U.S. soldiers.

U.S. officials announced an arrest warrant against al-Sadr on Monday, suggesting they would move soon to detain him. [complete article]

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Coalition crackdown on Sunni, Shiite rebels leaves dozens dead
Agence France Presse, April 6, 2004

Dozens of Iraqis and almost 20 coalition troops have been killed as US troops move against Sunni insurgents and crack down on Shiite rebels of firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, declared wanted for murder.

The US military said Tuesday that four Marines died in Al-Anbar province, a hotbed of insurgents west of Baghdad.

On Monday US troops kicked off Operation Vigilant Resolve in the province to hunt down the rebels who brutally murdered four US security contractors in the flashpoint town of Fallujah last week.

Another three US soldiers were killed in separate attacks since Monday in a Shiite district of Baghdad. The latest deaths raised to 19 the number of coalition troops killed since Sunday, including a Salvador soldier and the rest Americans. [complete article]

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"Freedom under the gun is no freedom at all"
By Christine Hauser, New York Times, April 6, 2004

Almost a year ago, the Shiites of Sadr City were throwing flowers at American tanks that rumbled into Baghdad ending the rule of their longtime oppressor, Saddam Hussein.

But on Monday, many Iraqis were filling plain wooden coffins with the bodies of their kin and neighbors, killed in a firefight with American armored forces that now patrol their impoverished neighborhood.

"After American forces ended the regime, we wanted to welcome them," said Mohsin Ghassab, a 42-year-old unemployed Iraqi, who is a resident of the predominantly Shiite district. "But now there is no stability." [complete article]

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Shiite uprising challenges central premise of U.S. policy
By William Douglas and Matt Stearns, Knight Ridder, April 5, 2004

President Bush vowed Monday to stay the course in Iraq despite a Shiite Muslim militia uprising Sunday against the American-led occupation that killed seven U.S. soldiers.

Bush said the uprising and the mutilation of four American civilians by an Iraqi mob in Fallujah last week wouldn't affect the June 30 deadline for transferring power from the Coalition Provisional Authority to Iraqi self-rule.

" . . . We've got to stay the course, and we will stay the course," the president said in Charlotte, N.C., where he was campaigning. "The message to Iraqi citizens is, they don't have to fear that America will turn and run. If they think that we're not sincere about staying the course, many people will not continue to take ... the risk toward freedom and democracy."

Staying the course, however, could require an escalating American commitment to Iraq just as the presidential campaign is gathering steam. Opposition to the U.S.-led occupation is spreading from Sunni Muslim Saddam Hussein diehards and their foreign allies to radical members of the country's Shiite majority, and on Monday, a U.S. military official publicly raised for the first time the possibility that more American troops may be needed in Iraq if violent protests continue to spread.

More important, Sunday's insurrection pitted U.S. soldiers against the Iraqis who the advocates of invading Iraq in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office thought would be America's allies: Shiite opponents of Saddam's regime. That will make it harder for the administration to defend the guerrilla war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, just as a new poll Monday suggested that the war is eroding Bush's approval rating. [complete article]

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The battle the U.S. wants to provoke
By Naomi Klein, The Guardian, April 6, 2004

At first, Bremer responded to Sadr's growing strength by ignoring him; now he is attempting to provoke him into all-out battle. The trouble began when he closed down Sadr's newspaper last week, sparking a wave of peaceful demonstrations. On Saturday, Bremer raised the stakes further by sending coalition forces to surround Sadr's house near Najaf and arrest his communications officer.

Predictably, the arrest sparked immediate protests in Baghdad, which the Iraqi army responded to by opening fire and allegedly killing three people. At the end of the day on Sunday, Sadr called on his supporters to stop staging demonstrations and urged them to employ unnamed "other ways" to resist the occupation - a statement many interpreted as a call to arms.

On the surface, this chain of events is mystifying. With the so-called Sunni triangle in flames after the gruesome Falluja attacks, why is Bremer pushing the comparatively calm Shia south into battle?

Here's one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council. [complete article]

Comment -- There is currently a good deal of speculation about a power struggle inside the administration. One assumption is that this is between Cheney and the State Department, but I have to wonder whether the rift is actually between Bush and everyone else. Even while Rumsfeld recently gave himself some wiggle room when pressed on the firmness of the date for transfer of sovereignty, Bush has given himself none. Bush has spent so much time accusing his presidential election opponent of being a flip-flopper that he can't afford to now look like one himself. Bremer, however, with no clear plan for a transfer of power, may well have decided that rather than be grilled by sceptical congressman (he cancelled his congressional briefing that had been scheduled for yesterday) and rather than provide hollow reassurances to Bush face to face, it would be preferrable to be stuck in Baghdad managing a crisis - even if it was one of his own making. If Bush can't be persuaded by his advisors to reverse his commitment to the June 30 handover, then perhaps the facts on the ground will speak for themselves. And if bad goes to worse, the blame will end up being shifted to the Iraqis themselves, rather than the political operatives inside the CPA who naively imagined that their campaign skills in perception management could readily be transferred to the real-world task of managing an occupation.

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Pentagon delays U.S. troops' trip home
By Tom Squitieri, USA Today, April 5, 2004

A decision by the Pentagon to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is a reversal of its plan to steadily reduce the U.S. force level there.

Since the war began a year ago, senior military leaders have given frequent assurances to troops and their families that Iraq duty would be no longer than a year.

Now, those assurances have met the reality of Iraq, where military leaders are planning for the possibility that anti-U.S. violence will spread. U.S. troops are stretched thin around the world, and the Pentagon has few options to increase the force in Iraq if necessary.

On Monday, a senior official with U.S. Central Command said that the return home of about 24,000 U.S. troops who were scheduled to leave in the next few weeks would be delayed as their replacements arrive. Central Command's responsibility includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the 24,000 remaining and others who have arrived as intended replacements, there are 134,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- By delaying the return of troops even while their "replacements" arrive, the Pentagon planners seem to be attempting to provide Donald Rumsfeld and the White House with political cover so that no one needs to utter those unsavory words, "I'm sending more troops to Iraq." Moreover, when officials minimize the significance of current violence by saying that this is not the beginning of civil war, their assessment is probably correct, but not because the violence looks like it is about to subside; rather, because this looks more like the beginning of a war for independence.

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U.S .envoy gives Pakistan ultimatum to tackle extremists on Afghan border
Agence France Presse, April 6, 2004

US-led forces in Afghanistan will move into Pakistani territory to destroy Taliban and other extremist groups if Islamabad cannot do the job by itself, the US envoy in Afghanistan has warned.

"We have told the Pakistani leadership that either they must solve this problem or we will have to do it for ourselves," said Zalmay Khalilzad, also the special presidential envoy in Kabul.

Khalilzad said the US-led coalition was prepared to help Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

"We prefer that Pakistan takes responsibility, and the Pakistani government agrees," he said.

"However, one way or the other, this problem will have to be dealt with," he added. [complete article]

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The other war
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, April 5, 2004

In December, 2002, a year after the Taliban had been driven from power in Afghanistan, Donald Rumsfeld gave an upbeat assessment of the country's future to CNN's Larry King. "They have elected a government. . . . The Taliban are gone. The Al Qaeda are gone. The country is not a perfectly stable place, and it needs a great deal of reconstruction funds," Rumsfeld said. "There are people who are throwing hand grenades and shooting off rockets and trying to kill people, but there are people who are trying to kill people in New York or San Francisco. So it's not going to be a perfectly tidy place." Nonetheless, he said, "I'm hopeful, I'm encouraged." And he added, "I wish them well."

A year and a half later, the Taliban are still a force in many parts of Afghanistan, and the country continues to provide safe haven for members of Al Qaeda. American troops, more than ten thousand of whom remain, are heavily deployed in the mountainous areas near Pakistan, still hunting for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed President, exercises little political control outside Kabul and is struggling to undercut the authority of local warlords, who effectively control the provinces. Heroin production is soaring, and, outside of Kabul and a few other cities, people are terrorized by violence and crime. A new report by the United Nations Development Program, made public on the eve of last week's international conference, in Berlin, on aid to Afghanistan, stated that the nation is in danger of once again becoming a "terrorist breeding ground" unless there is a significant increase in development aid.

The turmoil in Afghanistan has become a political issue for the Bush Administration, whose general conduct of the war on terrorism is being publicly challenged by Richard A. Clarke, the former National Security Council terrorism adviser, in a memoir, "Against All Enemies," and in contentious hearings before the September 11th Commission. The Bush Administration has consistently invoked Afghanistan as a success story -- an example of the President's determination. However, it is making this claim in the face of renewed warnings, from international organizations, from allies, and from within its own military -- notably a Pentagon-commissioned report that was left in bureaucratic limbo when its conclusions proved negative -- that the situation there is deteriorating rapidly. [complete article]

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Shi'ite militia rules streets of Baghdad slum
By Michael Georgy, Reuters (via Yahoo), April 5, 2004

U.S. helicopter gunships opened fire as tanks rumbled through Baghdad's sprawling Shuala district Monday, but teenage militiamen with guns and knives were firmly in control when the clashes ended.

Young boys jumped up and down on a U.S. military truck that had been attacked and set ablaze in a symbolic victory for radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militiamen are challenging U.S. forces in several cities across Iraq.

Sadr's Mehdi Army has said for months it is ready for holy war against the Americans if the order comes, and the militia displayed its zeal and organizational skills Monday in Shuala, a teeming Shi'ite area. [complete article]

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Cleric: Iraq's Sadr turns down elders' peace appeal
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters, April 5, 2004

Radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has turned down an appeal by Iraq's powerful Shi'ite Muslim establishment to renounce violence, an aide to a leading cleric said on Monday.

An aide to Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum, a member of the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council, told Reuters Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, regarded as Iraq's most powerful cleric and a rival of Sadr's, supported the appeal.

Sistani has made declarations in the past calling on Iraqis to respect state institutions and public order. He has not spoken directly on the violence involving Sadr's supporters, but he is expected to make a statement in the next few days.

"The Hawza (seminary) is unanimous on this," the aide said.

"We asked Moqtada (al-Sadr) to stop resorting to violence, occupying public buildings and other actions that make him an outlaw. He insists on staying on the same course that could destroy the nation." [complete article]

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U.S. moves to arrest cleric
By Christine Hauser, New York Times (IHT), April 6, 2004

American officials announced Monday that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose followers began a coordinated anti-American uprising in several cities over the weekend. The top American official in Iraq labeled him an outlaw.

The announcement of the warrant came as American troops stepped up military action against the various centers of Iraqi armed resistance to the occupation, cordoning off the volatile city of Falluja and rolling American tanks and combat vehicles into the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, the scene of the fiercest fighting over the weekend.

The officials said the warrant had been issued by an Iraqi judge after Sadr was implicated in the death of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a rival Shiite cleric who was hacked to death by a mob in April 2003. The officials did not say when they would attempt to serve the warrant or try to detain the cleric. [complete article]

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Sharon: My plan will force Palestinians to give up dreams for years
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, April 6, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that his disengagement plan is a blow to the Palestinians as it will force them to give up their aspirations for many years to come, until a new leadership emerges on their side that is ready to fight terror. Meanwhile, says the prime minister in an interview to Haaretz for the Pesach holiday, they will not be able to set up a state. [complete article]

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No concession
By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram, April 1, 2004

There is an understandable, though unhealthy, trend among prominent critics of Israel, including both Palestinians and Israeli anti- Zionists, to suggest that any scheme proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that appears to benefit the Palestinians must be a "phantom" plan, or illusion, as Mustafa Barghouti recently put it on these pages.

Their logic is appealing. Sharon's "disengagement" -- the evacuation of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip -- would effectively be an end to the 37-year occupation. All Israeli leaders, and most especially Sharon, have struggled to make sure there would never be a Palestinian state. Ergo, Sharon is lying. "Sharon is not changed or changing anything," writes Barghouti.

Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart adopts much the same line in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, warning us to remember the words of the American historian Howard Zinn: Governments lie. "It appears that this generalisation is one of the most difficult for people to internalise and digest in a democratic society," she says. "Until this changes, the majority is doomed to believe again and again the same lie."

Neither Barghouti nor Reinhart is wrong in predicting an ever more dismal future in store for Gaza and the West Bank. Nonetheless, I for one want to challenge their confidence in dismissing Sharon's evacuation plan as a trick. To do so risks both misunderstanding what is likely to happen next and formulating the wrong strategies for opposing it. It makes the job of those who wish to point out that the situation is deteriorating -- rapidly and dramatically -- all the harder. [complete article]

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U.S. thought control of Middle East studies
By Joel Beinin, Asia Times, April 3, 2004

A band of neo-conservative pundits with close ties to Israel have mounted a campaign against American scholars who study the Middle East. Martin Kramer, an Israeli-American and former director of the Dayan Center for Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University, has led the pack in blaming these scholars for failing to warn the American public about the dangers of radical Islam, claiming that they bear some of the responsibility for what befell the country on September 11. In 2003, proponents of this position took their complaints to Congress. The Senate is expected to review them soon, as it discusses the Higher Education Reauthorization bill. [complete article]

See also, Be careful what you say on campus (Seattle PI).

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U.N. relief agency says suspending food aid in Gaza
By DPA, Haaretz, April 1, 2004

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) announced Thursday it stopped distributing emergency food aid to some 600,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA said in a statement that the suspension followed restrictions introduced by Israel on the sole commercial crossing into Gaza through which it is able to bring in humanitarian assistance.

The agency said it had now completely run out of stocks of rice, flour, cooking oil and other essential products.
[complete article]

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Protests unleashed by cleric mark a new front in war
By Anthony Shadid and Sewell Chan, Washington Post, April 5, 2004

By unleashing mass demonstrations and attacks in Baghdad and southern Iraq on Sunday, a young, militant cleric has realized the greatest fear of the U.S.-led administration since the occupation of Iraq began a year ago: a Shiite Muslim uprising.

Fighting with U.S. troops raged into the night in a Baghdad slum, and hospitals reportedly took in dozens of casualties. But even before sunset, there was a sense across the capital that a yearlong test of wills between the American occupation and supporters of Moqtada Sadr had turned decisive, and its implications reverberated through Iraq.

The unrest signaled that the U.S. military faces armed opposition on two fronts: in scarred Sunni towns such as Fallujah and, as of Sunday, in a Shiite-dominated region of the country that had remained largely acquiescent, if uneasy about the U.S. role. If put down forcefully, a Shiite uprising -- infused with religious imagery, and symbols drawn from Iraq's colonial past and the current Palestinian conflict -- could achieve a momentum of its own. [complete article]

U.S. brands radical Shiite cleric an outlaw amid anti-coalition uprising
Agence France Presse, April 5, 2004

US authorities in Iraq branded a radical cleric from the Shiite majority an outlaw at the head of an uprising against the US-led occupation of the country, where at least seven US soldiers and 46 Iraqis were killed the previous day.

Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator of Iraq, pledged that US forces would stop incendiary cleric Moqtada Sadr from trying to seize authority.

"We have a group under Moqtada al-Sadr that has basically placed itself outside the legal authorities, the coalition and Iraqi officials," Bremer said.

"He is attempting to establish his authority in the place of the legitimate authority. We will not tolerate this. We will reassert the law and order which the Iraqi people expect," Bremer told a national security meeting. [complete article]

Phase II of the anti-occupation revolt begins
By Juan Cole,, April 5, 2004

The always tense relationship between the Sadrist movement among Iraqi Shiites and the US and its Coalition partners has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Perhaps a third of Iraqi Shiites are sympathetic to the radical, Khomeini-like ideology of Sadrism, and some analysts with long experience in Iraq put it at 50%. Earlier Muqtada Al-Sadr, the movement leader, had called on his forces to avoid violence against Coalition forces. As of Saturday and Sunday, he appeared to have feared that the Coalition meant permanently to exclude his group from power, and had decided to launch an uprising. This uprising involved taking over police stations in Kufa, Najaf, Baghdad and possibly elsehwere. The Sadrist militia now controls Kufa, according to the New York Times, and probably controls much of Sadr City or the slums of East Baghdad, as well, though it has been expelled from the police stations it had occupied there. Muqtada seemed to back off later on Sunday, calling on his followers to cease fighting, and vowing to protest by withdrawing to his mosque for a lengthy retreat with his followers. It is too soon to tell if this retreat (in both senses) will satisfy the Bush administration, or whether they will now feel impelled to arrest Muqtada. If they do, it seems likely to me that it will cause no end of trouble in coming months. [complete article]

Shia protests spread to Basra
BBC News, April 5, 2004

Iraqis loyal to a radical Shia Muslim cleric have occupied the governor's office in Basra in protest at coalition actions against their movement. About 150 followers of Moqtada Sadr took over the building unopposed to stage what they called a sit-in. [complete article]

Iraqis killed in U.S. Apache air strike
Aljazeera, April 5, 2004

At least five people have been killed and several others injured after two US Apache helicopters launched an air strike targeting an al-Sadr bureau in al-Shula area of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. According to Aljazeera's correspondent, a number of adjacent houses were damaged in the strike. A US vehicle was also seen burning in the area, he added. Followers of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had previously taken control of al-Shula area, the correspondent said. [complete article]

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Marines roll into Fallouja
By Tony Perry and Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2004

Thousands of Marines surrounded this anti-American stronghold early today and began moving in to retake control of the city and apprehend those responsible for last week's slayings of four U.S. security contractors.

The highly anticipated action, dubbed Operation Valiant Resolve, was expected to be one of the biggest military offensives since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government a year ago.

All roads leading to this city of 300,000 were cut off and barricaded with tanks and concertina wire. Working through the cold and windy desert night, Marines set up camps for detainees and residents who might flee.

Before dawn, several Marine positions on the fringes of town were hit by mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenade fire; one Marine was reported killed. [complete article]

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Fallujah leaders set defiant tone
By Kevin Johnson, USA Today, April 4, 2004

In a warning to the U.S.-led coalition, some local leaders in this restive city said they would endorse the continued killing of soldiers and foreign civilians as part of what they described as a justified resistance to the continued occupation of Iraq.

"Every foreigner in Fallujah is a target," said Fallujah's chief administrator, Fawzi Shaf al-Aifan. "The resistance attacks are legitimate ... But the mutilation is totally rejected." [complete article]

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Militia may disarm, but it won't dissolve
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2004

Deadly clashes Sunday between soldiers with the U.S.-led coalition and fighters loyal to a radical Shiite cleric underscore the potential of militia groups to upset Iraq's transition to sovereignty and plunge the nation into armed conflict.

There are growing signs that dismantling these groups -- even forces like the Kurdish peshmerga, who fought alongside U.S. troops and were a key ally in routing Islamic insurgents in the north -- is unlikely to happen before coalition forces hand over authority to a new Iraqi government on June 30.

How well the peshmerga and other militias make the transition from political and regional armed forces into the new Iraqi army and other national security forces, analysts say, may well determine whether Iraq avoids civil war once coalition forces withdraw.

"No state can exist in which sub-national entities are allowed to have their own private armies or armed forces," a coalition official negotiating the future of the militias said over the weekend. "Our job is to create a single nation in which the government has the control of armed forces. And in order to do that, all these sub-national forces have to be absorbed."

Peshmerga fighters, whose name means "those who face death," already have begun merging into the new Iraqi civil defense and border guard units, but their leaders now say they will also seek to maintain a force of several thousand warriors as a national guard in northern Iraq, in part to promote their aim of expanding Kurdish control over disputed territories like Kirkuk. [complete article]

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Crime and disorder thriving in Baghdad
By Roshan Muhammed Salih, Aljazeera, April 4, 2004

US-occupied Baghdad has become a paradise for criminals, gun-runners and drug addicts.

Anything from an AK-47 to hard drugs is available in broad daylight for knockdown prices.

Since the US-led invasion last year, the occupation authorities have overseen a burgeoning black market in the capital and a creeping criminalisation of Iraqi society.

Gangs now terrorise the city's residents in a spree of robberies and kidnappings.

And it seems the Iraqi police and their US bosses are either unwilling or unable to do much about it. [complete article]

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Leaders of 9/11 panel say attacks were probably preventable
By Philip Shenon, New York Times, April 5, 2004

The leaders of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks agreed Sunday that evidence gathered by their panel showed the attacks could probably have been prevented.

Their remarks drew sharp disagreement from one of President Bush's closest political advisers, who insisted that the Bush and Clinton administrations had no opportunity to disrupt the Sept. 11 plot. They also offered a preview of the difficult questions likely to confront Condoleezza Rice when she testifies before the panel at a long-awaited public hearing this week.

In a joint television interview, the commission's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, and its vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic House member from Indiana, indicated that their final report this summer would find that the Sept. 11 attacks were preventable.

They also suggested that Ms. Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, would be questioned aggressively on Thursday about why the administration had not taken more action against Al Qaeda before Sept. 11, and about discrepancies between her public statements and those of Richard A. Clarke, the president's former counterterrorism chief, who has accused the administration of largely ignoring terrorist threats in 2001. [complete article]

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A new window on the war room
By Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, April 12, 2004

The grainy photograph rolled off the fax machine at the White House counsel's office last Monday morning, along with a scribbled note that smacked of blackmail. If the White House didn't allow national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify in public before the 9/11 commission, it read, "This will be all over Washington in 24 hours." The photo, from a Nov. 22, 1945, New York Times story, showed Adm. William D. Leahy, chief of staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, appearing before a special congressional panel investigating the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. PRESIDENT'S CHIEF OF STAFF TESTIFIES read the headline over the snapshot of Leahy's very public testimony. The point was clear: the White House could no longer get away with the claim that Rice's appearance would be a profound breach of precedent.

The fax was the work of Philip Zelikow, the commission's executive director, a University of Virginia historian who had been poring over records of the Pearl Harbor inquiries for months. Those probes, Zelikow believes, are the clearest blueprint for the 9/11 panel's work. "This is what happens when you hire historians," joked commission chairman Thomas Kean.

A White House aide says it is "fatuous" to say the Leahy photo forced the White House to capitulate. But after battling with the panel for nearly a year over documents and testimony, the White House finally relented and said Rice would testify publicly under oath. As part of the deal, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who until last week insisted they would testify only before the panel's leaders, also agreed to appear. Now they will give unsworn testimony, together, before the full panel. Bush realized the controversy was a costly distraction that needed to end, and fast. GOP leaders on Capitol Hill and the president's political aides, says one commissioner, "just wanted this to go away." [complete article]

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Shiite cleric spurs uprising in Iraq
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times (via IHT), April 5, 2004

Iraq was racked Sunday by the most violent civil disturbances since the occupation started, with a coordinated Shiite uprising spreading across the country, from the slums of Baghdad to several cities in the south.

By day's end, witnesses said Shiite militiamen controlled Kufa, a city south of Baghdad, with armed men loyal to a radical cleric occupying the police stations and checkpoints. More than eight people were killed by Spanish forces in a similar uprising in Najaf, which is adjacent to Kufa.

In Baghdad, American tanks battled militiamen loyal to the radical cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who has denounced the occupation and has an army of thousands of young followers.

At nightfall Sunday, Sadr City, a mostly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, shook with explosions and tank and machine gun fire. Black smoke choked the sky. The streets were lined with armed militiamen dressed in black. American tanks surrounded the area. Attack helicopters thundered overhead.

"The occupation is over!" people on the streets yelled. "We are now controlled by Sadr. The Americans should stay out." [complete article]

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Violence could delay Iraq handover
By David Morgan, Reuters, April 5, 2004

The Bush administration may have to consider extending its June 30 deadline for the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq or risk seeing the country lapse into civil war, says the head of the U.S. Senate's foreign relations panel.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana and the panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, said in separate interviews that more troops may be needed to stabilise Iraq amid growing violence including deadly clashes in a Shi'ite section of Baghdad that killed seven U.S. soldiers.

The lawmakers also chastised the Bush administration for failing to produce a plan to deal with a newly sovereign Iraq, and touted a Biden proposal that would give NATO a major new security role and establish a U.N. commissioner for Iraq who would answer to the U.N. Security Council. [complete article]

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Bush loyalists pack Iraq press office
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via SF Chronicle), April 4, 2004

Inside the marble-floored palace hall that serves as the press office of the U.S.-led coalition, Republican Party operatives lead a team of Americans who promote mostly good news about Iraq.

Dan Senor, a former press secretary for Spencer Abraham, the Michigan Republican who's now Energy Secretary, heads the office that includes a large number of former Bush campaign workers, political appointees and ex-Capitol Hill staffers.

More than one-third of the U.S. civilian workers in the press office have GOP ties, running an enterprise that critics see as an outpost of Bush's re-election effort with Iraq a top concern. [complete article]

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7 U.S. troops killed in Baghdad fighting
Associated Press (via Yahoo), April 4, 2004

Seven U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday in fighting with Shiite militiamen in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, the U.S. military said. At least 24 other American troops were wounded, the military said in a written statement.

Elsewhere Sunday, supporters of an anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric waged violent demonstrations in four Iraqi cities, punctuated by a gun battle at the Spanish garrison near this Shiite holy city that killed at least 20 people, including two coalition soldiers -- an American and a Salvadoran.

The U.S. military also reported two Marines were killed in a separate "enemy action" in Anbar province.

The military said the fighting in Baghdad erupted after members of a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took control of police stations and government buildings in Sadr City, a poor neighborhood of mainly Shiites on the eastern outskirts of the capital. [complete article]

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Shiite protests turn deadly
CBS News, April 4, 2004

Supporters of an anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric waged violent demonstrations in four Iraqi cities Sunday, punctuated by a gun battle at the Spanish garrison near this Shiite holy city that killed at least 20 people, including two coalition soldiers -- an American and a Salvadoran.

The U.S. military on Sunday reported two Marines were killed in a separate "enemy action" in Anbar province, raising the toll of American service members killed in Iraq to more than 600.

Protesters also clashed with Italian and British forces in other cities in a broad, violent challenge to the U.S.-led coalition, raising questions about its ability to stabilize Iraq ahead of a scheduled June 30 handover of power to Iraqis. [complete article]

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Iraq cleric thrives on religion, politics
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press, April 4, 2004

The political views of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are still murky. His academic pedigree is shaky and his oratorical skills are rough. But the 30-year-old cleric whose supporters turned to violence Sunday has a family lineage that earns him respect and adulation among his anti-U.S. supporters.

Moreover, his movement's mix of religion, politics and community work provides a welcome platform of self-assertion for poor Shiites in Baghdad and Shiite-dominated cities in Iraq's impoverished south. [complete article]

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The Shia factor: Key to Iraq's future?
By Amal Hamdan, Aljazeera, April 4, 2004

When Grand Ayat Allah al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shia leader, demanded direct elections he offered a glimpse of his power: 30,000 Shia promptly took to the streets of Basra.

Their brethren in Baghdad held demonstrations for three consecutive days.

Iraq's Shia population is flexing its new-found political muscle for the first time after decades of being silenced not only by Saddam Hussein, but successive governments beginning in 1921. [complete article]

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Fallouja: No good options
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2004

The U.S. military has promised to avenge the deaths of four U.S. civilian contractors whose remains were mutilated in the city last week. Military officials say no options have been ruled out: airpower, overwhelming ground forces, house searches and mass arrests. Such an all-out approach might bring temporary calm to this city of 300,000 but would almost certainly entail more Iraqi civilian casualties and spawn anger and likely retaliation throughout the Sunni Muslim regions of Iraq that have been the strongholds of the insurgency.

"There really are no good options for the military in this situation," said Michael Clarke, professor of defense studies at King's College in London.

Robin Bhatty, a senior analyst with the Washington-based International Crisis Group who is focusing on security issues in Iraq, sees a similar conundrum. "The U.S. can't leave, because Iraqi security forces are simply not ready for the job, but they also can't blow the whole place to pieces," he said, noting that Iraqi civilian casualties inflicted by the U.S. military last April set off the round of reprisals that is still playing out.

A hard look at the intractable situation in Fallouja -- and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle -- points up the difficulties facing the U.S. troops there, according to British, American and Iraqi observers.

Several experts contend that, from the beginning, the U.S. failed to understand the complex social and political factors at work in the towns along the Euphrates River. The local power structure is the product of alliances between fiercely insular tribal clans, a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement and former Baath Party businessmen and intelligence officers, who have helped bankroll the insurgency and plot some of its more sophisticated attacks.

Only a handful of people are active insurgents, but because of widespread antagonism toward all Westerners and the inability of the U.S.-led coalition to crush the insurgency, the local population is always hedging its bets, careful not to alienate the forces that could soon be in charge again. [complete article]

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U.S. relying on U.N.'s help with Iraq exit plan
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 4, 2004

The Bush administration is scrambling to develop a new Iraq exit strategy with help from the United Nations over the next two to three weeks, but the array of political and security challenges is now so daunting that U.S. officials also quietly acknowledge that the U.S.-led coalition may end up in an even worse position if the latest effort fails.

The United States is banking largely on the negotiating skills of one man to pull it off, U.S. officials concede. After two failed attempts, the administration and its allies are ceding authority to propose solutions to U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, U.S. officials add. He is expected to arrive in Baghdad soon.

"We're very dependent on him to develop a plan -- and then to help legitimize it among Iraqis," said a senior State Department official involved in Middle East policy. "This is a time-intensive process, and time's not something we have a lot of." [complete article]

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Last chance for an alliance
By Joseph R. Biden Jr., Washington Post, April 4, 2004

With less than three months to go before the Coalition Provisional Authority hands over sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, three critical questions remain unanswered. First, who will referee Iraq's growing political disputes so that the country doesn't slide into civil war? Second, does the administration have the will, and a strategy, to engage and broaden the coalition to include all our NATO allies? Third, to whom will we be transferring sovereignty?

These questions are unanswered because deep divisions continue to plague the Bush administration. The president must end the internal feud that has hamstrung his Iraq policy for more than a year. Otherwise the United States will find itself in an isolated and dangerous position. [complete article]

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Questions for Dr. Rice
By Peter Bergen, New York Times, April 4, 2004

1. A search of all your public statements and writings reveals that you apparently mentioned Osama bin Laden only once and never mentioned Al Qaeda at all as a threat to the United States before 9/11. Why?

2. Both Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War" and Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" show that shortly after 9/11 there was considerable focus by the Bush cabinet on Iraq's possibly being the perpetrator of the attacks. Why was Iraq considered a suspect when there was no evidence that it was involved in any act of anti-American terrorism for a decade — other than a failed attempt to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush in 1993 -- while there was overwhelming evidence that it was the Al Qaeda network that attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, tried to blow up Los Angeles International Airport in 1999, blew up American embassies in Africa in 1998 and attacked the destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000? After all, the cabinet did not discuss the possibility that the attacks were the work of Iran, Libya or Syria, all countries that have a history of terrorism directed at Americans. [complete article]

Questions for Dr. Rice
By Scott Armstrong, New York Times, April 4, 2004

1. In his statement on March 24 to the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, said, "In August 1996, bin Laden, in collaboration with radical Muslim clerics associated with his group, issued a religious edict or fatwa in which he proclaimed a `declaration of war,' authorizing attacks against Western military targets on the Arabian Peninsula."

Two years ago, the joint Congressional committee looking into pre-9/11 intelligence made reference to the participation of Saudi clerics -- salifi -- in the preparation of additional fatwas issued by Osama bin Laden in 1998 in which he "declared war" against Americans. What's more, the director of the National Security Agency reportedly told a closed session of that committee that on Sept. 10, 2001, his agency intercepted messages by the 9/11 hijackers. The messages, which went untranslated until Sept. 12, were reportedly not to Osama bin Laden but to Saudi clerics.

Who, then, planned and executed the 9/11 attack beyond Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants? What have the intelligence agencies of the United States and other countries suggested were the reasons, motivations and objectives of these other groups? What has the United States government learned about the participation before and after 9/11 by these Saudi clerics? What has been done to halt their support of Mr. bin Laden and bring them to justice? What has been done to compel the Saudi government to take action against these forces? [complete article]

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Bush attacks environment 'scare stories'
By Antony Barnett, The Observer, April 4, 2004

George W. Bush's campaign workers have hit on an age-old political tactic to deal with the tricky subject of global warming - deny, and deny aggressively.

The Observer has obtained a remarkable email sent to the press secretaries of all Republican congressmen advising them what to say when questioned on the environment in the run-up to November's election. The advice: tell them everything's rosy.

It tells them how global warming has not been proved, air quality is 'getting better', the world's forests are 'spreading, not deadening', oil reserves are 'increasing, not decreasing', and the 'world's water is cleaner and reaching more people'.

The email - sent on 4 February - warns that Democrats will 'hit us hard' on the environment. 'In an effort to help your members fight back, as well as be aggressive on the issue, we have prepared the following set of talking points on where the environment really stands today,' it states.

The memo - headed 'From medi-scare to air-scare' - goes on: 'From the heated debate on global warming to the hot air on forests; from the muddled talk on our nation's waters to the convolution on air pollution, we are fighting a battle of fact against fiction on the environment - Republicans can't stress enough that extremists are screaming "Doomsday!" when the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.' [complete article]

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Bush and Blair made secret pact for Iraq war
By David Rose, The Observer, April 4, 2004

President George Bush first asked Tony Blair to support the removal of Saddam Hussein from power at a private White House dinner nine days after the terror attacks of 11 September, 2001.

According to Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British Ambassador to Washington, who was at the dinner when Blair became the first foreign leader to visit America after 11 September, Blair told Bush he should not get distracted from the war on terror's initial goal - dealing with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Bush, claims Meyer, replied by saying: 'I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.' Regime change was already US policy.

It was clear, Meyer says, 'that when we did come back to Iraq it wouldn't be to discuss smarter sanctions'. Elsewhere in his interview, Meyer says Blair always believed it was unlikely that Saddam would be removed from power or give up his weapons of mass destruction without a war.

Faced with this prospect of a further war, he adds, Blair 'said nothing to demur'. [complete article]

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Framework of Clarke's book is bolstered
By Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank, Washington Post, April 4, 2004

When Condoleezza Rice appears Thursday before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush's national security adviser will have the administration's best opportunity to rebut her former aide's stinging critique of Bush's terrorism policy. [...]

But the broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.

In addition, a review of dozens of declassified citations from Clarke's 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. Indeed, the declassified 838-page report of the 2002 congressional inquiry includes many passages that appear to bolster the arguments Clarke has made. [complete article]

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Spread of bin Laden ideology cited
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, April 4, 2004

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has accelerated the spread of Osama bin Laden's anti-Americanism among once local Islamic militant movements, increasing danger to the United States as the al Qaeda network is becoming less able to mount attacks, according to senior intelligence officials at the CIA and State Department.

At the same time, the Sunni Triangle has become a training ground for foreign Islamic jihadists who are slipping into Iraq to join former Saddam Hussein loyalists to test themselves against U.S. and coalition forces, these officials say.

Islamic militant organizations in places such as North Africa and Southeast Asia, which were previously focused on changing their local country leadership, "have been caught by bin Laden's vision, and poisoned by it . . . they will now look at the U.S., Israel and the Saudis as targets," a senior intelligence official said last week. "That is one manifestation of how bin Laden's views are expanding well beyond Iraq," he said. [complete article]

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Morocco's slide towards fundamentalism
By Andrew Hussey, The Observer, April 4, 2004

Morocco has always presented itself to the world as the liberal and non-confrontational face of Islam. From Sixties Tangier, the gay playground of the Mediterranean, to blissed-out Marrakech in the Nineties, the country has become a safe haven for Westerners seeking exotic thrills only a few hours from London or Paris. But this view of Morocco was altered forever by the suicide bombing attacks in Casablanca on 16 May 2003 which killed 45 people.

The four targets were either Jewish or Spanish and responsibility for the murders was claimed by al-Qaeda (Osama Bin Laden had declared Morocco 'ready for liberation' only weeks prior to the attacks). But what shocked most middle-class Moroccans was that the bombers were not foreigners, but came from Tangier and Casablanca. The news that one of the Casablanca bombers had French nationality was initially greeted with delight, on the grounds no Moroccan could have conceived of such a crime. But as it became clear the other bombers were Moroccan, many commentators began to talk of a campaign of Islamist insurrection on the model of Algeria.

The fear of an Algerian-style insurgency first properly entered the public imagination in Morocco a few years ago, when reports from Nador, Rabat, Mohammedia, Tangier and Casablanca confirmed that disparate but organised Islamist factions, under the influence of possibly Algerian or Saudi-financed groups, were taking control of the slums and shanty towns. This information was followed by regular stories that drinkers, prostitutes, drug dealers, policemen and others suspected of un-Islamic behaviour had been thrown into wells, stoned to death or had their throats cut. In the exclusive areas of Rabat and Casablanca, Moroccan women in Western clothes were assaulted at knife-point for not wearing the hijab. 'We were not so much frightened as taken aback,' I was told by Saadia, a fashionable 'Europeanised' working mother. 'We had never seen such things here before.'

All of this 'propaganda by deed' was to many outside commentators clearly modelled on the strategy and tactics of the Algerian Islamists who had brought their own country to its knees. As Islamist parties in Morocco entered the political mainstream during this period, Gilles Perrault, a long-established observer of North Africa, noted that the country would be soon 'within the grasp of Islamic militants'. [complete article]

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The terror timebomb
By Raymond Whitaker, Paul Lashmar and Sophie Goodchild, The Independent, April 4, 2004

Britain's security services, already working overtime to contain a host of terrorist threats, face a new nightmare. Islamist extremists with links to al-Qa'ida are seeking to recruit a "second generation" of terrorists among young, disaffected British Muslims.

Their targets are second- or third-generation Muslims, born and educated in Britain, who feel a crisis of identity - a crisis that has worsened since the September 2001 attacks. In the words of Dr Tahir Abbas, director of the University of Birmingham's Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Culture, they are desperate for status and to prove their masculinity.

In the 1990s, hundreds of young British Muslim men who felt the same way sought military training in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some simply thought it would be an adventure. Others dreamt of liberating Kashmir, the region of origin for most Britons of Pakistani descent, who make up half the Muslim community in this country.

For most of these would-be jihadis, security sources say, it was a sobering experience: they discovered they were more British than they imagined, and were repelled by the extremism they encountered. In nine cases out of 10, they returned to Britain, vowing to stay out of trouble. But the same training camps were being used by Arabs, Afghans, Chechens, Turks, Uzbeks and Filipino Muslims, and one of the main doctrines being taught was that the jihad was not just about one country, but wherever Muslims were deemed to be oppressed. [complete article]

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Top military brass insists missile defense ready to be deployed
By Wade Boese, Arms Control Today, April, 2004

Despite intense grilling from Senate Democrats and an acknowledgment that the system has yet to be fully tested, top Pentagon officials have not retreated from claims that a planned defense against ballistic missiles would be effective when it is deployed later this year.

"The analysis that has been done clearly shows that this will bring a capability, admittedly rudimentary and initial, but a capability that is of military utility," Admiral James Ellis, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 11.

President George W. Bush declared Dec. 17, 2002, that the United States would begin operating the initial elements of a projected multilayered defense against ballistic missiles in 2004.

The president's announcement came only six days after the proposed system had failed in its latest attempt to destroy a mock warhead in space. That failure dropped the system's intercept record to five hits and three misses, and no similar tests have been conducted since.

Despite the system's small number of intercept tests, the Pentagon is pushing ahead with plans to fulfill the president?s deployment order, which the Pentagon has since said would take place in fiscal year 2004, which ends Sept. 30. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

'I saw papers that show U.S. knew al-Qa'ida would attack cities with aeroplanes'
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, April 2, 2004
A former translator for the FBI with top-secret security clearance says she has provided information to the panel investigating the 11 September attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes happened. She said the claim by the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no such information was "an outrageous lie". Sibel Edmonds said she spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission's investigators providing information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought to silence her and has obtained a gagging order from a court by citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege".

9/11 widows skillfully applied the power of a question: Why?
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, April 1, 2004
Kristen Breitweiser was at home in Middletown, N.J., cleaning out closets. Patty Casazza of Colts Neck was dashing to the dry cleaners. Lorie Van Auken of East Brunswick was headed out to do grocery shopping. Her neighbor Mindy Kleinberg had just packed her children off to school. Then came word, Tuesday morning, that President Bush had agreed to allow his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to testify publicly about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. All at once, the cellphones started ringing and the e-mail started flying and "the Jersey girls," as the four women are known in Washington, were getting credit for chalking up another victory in the nation's capital. Americans just tuning in to the work of the commission investigating the attacks may not have heard of Ms. Breitweiser and the rest. But on Capitol Hill, these suburban women are gaining prominence as savvy World Trade Center widows who came to Washington, as part of a core group of politically active relatives of Sept. 11 victims, and prodded Congress and a recalcitrant White House to create the panel that this week brought official Washington to its knees.

How (not) to win
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 31, 2004
The pages have yellowed and the binding's cracked, but my old airport paperback of "Terrorism: How the West Can Win," edited by Benjamin Netanyahu, makes more interesting reading today than when it came out 18 years ago. The relentless tough-guy talk -- so articulate and persuasive and, read on the page, so satisfying -- has become conventional wisdom in Washington as well as in Tel Aviv. The West must "do away with the middle ground of neutrality," wrote Netanyahu, who served as Israel's prime minister from 1996 to 1999. "We must force a dichotomy." You're with us [meaning Israel and the West] or you're with the terrorists. "Retaliation and preemption," he says, are "acts of self-defense." Yet terrorism, as we know, is a whole lot worse today than it was back in 1986, or 1996, for that matter. In one horrible sense, "Bibi" Netanyahu proved prophetic. He warned that "terrorism follows an inexorable, built-in escalation. To be effective, it must continually horrify and stupefy." And, yes, that's just what's happened. So let's be glad Richard A. Clarke wrote his new book, "Against All Enemies." He may be vindictive, theatrical and egotistical ("pain in the a--," is the term most of our mutual acquaintances use for him), and his best seller has been talked about so much in the last week you're probably sick of hearing it mentioned. But the former coordinator for counterterrorism in the Clinton and Bush administrations is a thoughtful pro when it comes to the nuts and bolts of eliminating terrorists, and his recommendations for what should have been done after September 11 -- and still might be done -- are the best antidote I've found to the kind of fatal absolutism promoted by Netanyahu and his sympathizers.

A growing unity against Israel
By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, April 2, 2004
Three years ago, members of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement created the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to compete with Hamas -- in effect, to see which organization's armed wing could send the most suicide bombers against Israel and win the most support among Palestinians. Today the former rivals have forged alliances, a shift that is complicating Israeli efforts to thwart major attacks and blurring the ideological lines between nationalist and religious factions, according to Palestinian militants, analysts and senior Israeli military officials. In addition to al-Aqsa and Hamas -- formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement -- other militant groups have also participated in collaborative efforts, most notably Islamic Jihad. The growing trend toward cooperation emerged just over a year ago, Palestinian fighters and Israeli generals say, in a bid to combat the increasing success of Israeli forces in targeting, killing or capturing militant leaders and their operatives.

Driven by national pride
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, April 2, 2004
The architecture of the Iraqi town of Falluja bears little resemblance to the narrow alleys of Gaza's impoverished refugee camps. Detached two-storey homes with palm trees and small shaded gardens behind their sand-coloured front walls stand along wide streets, looking as comfortable as suburbs anywhere. But as residents ushered reporters into their homes a few days ago, shortly before this week's attack on four American security guards (though mercenaries might be a better term), it was clear that deep communal anger was lurking here, and had reached boiling point. They wanted to show the results of several US incursions over four days and nights last week. Rockets from helicopter gunships had punctured bedroom walls. Patio floors and front gates were pockmarked by shrapnel. Car doors looked like sieves. In the mayhem 18 Iraqis lay dead. On the American side two marines were killed. It was the worst period of violence Falluja has seen during a year of occupation. So this week's retaliation comes as no surprise. The cycle of violence that US troops unleashed looks and feels increasingly like Palestinian rage in the face of excessive force by an occupying power.

Soldiers of good fortune
By Barry Yeoman, Mother Jones, May/June, 2003
The four Americans horrifically killed on Wednesday by a mob in Fallujah, Iraq, worked for Blackwater USA, one of a growing number of for-profit companies hired by the U.S. military to to do work traditionally performed by soldiers. In this article in the May 2003 issue of Mother Jones, Barry Yeoman detailed the Pentagon's increasing -- and increasingly perilous -- reliance on private military companies.

In Iraq, looking through the unfiltered lens of hatred
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, April 1, 2004
[After seeing the images from Fallujah o]ne could also look back into Iraq's history and comfortably say, with the smug satisfaction of historical confirmation, that there's nothing new here. In 1963, when Iraqi President Abdul Karim Qassem was executed, Baathist radicals displayed the former leader's body on television, his corpse riddled with bullet holes. The camera panned in and a soldier "sauntered around, handling its parts," according to Kanan Makiya, who recounted the episode in the book "Republic of Fear." It was, according to Makiya, nothing particularly new for Iraqis, used to bloody displays, though television had extended its reach. So we can place [yesterday's images of mutilation] in the Mogadishu file, or the Iraqi history file, both of which suggest precedents and lessons that blunt the power of the imagery, and both of which (whether we acknowledge the implicit message or not) suggest that this is the kind of thing people unlike us -- people who don't look like "us," people in poor, sandy parts of the world -- just happen to do, from time to time. Yet there's a dignity owed to the charred corpses in Fallujah that demands we argue with any easy interpretation of these images, at least until they are superseded by newer, even uglier images and messages. Perhaps this is what people unlike us do, from time to time, but it's also what we do, when motivated by pure, unyielding hatred -- from time to time. A foreign commentator, trying to make sense of James Byrd's mangled body, kicked, beaten and dragged by the ankles behind a pickup truck in Texas in 1998, might well have called upon his knowledge of lynching and racism and said, well, this is what these people do. It's in their history, their blood, their nature.

Top focus before 9/11 wasn't on terrorism
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 1, 2004
On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday" -- but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals. The speech provides telling insight into the administration's thinking on the very day that the United States suffered the most devastating attack since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text. The speech was postponed in the chaos of the day, part of which Rice spent in a bunker. It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States. The text also implicitly challenged the Clinton administration's policy, saying it did not do enough about the real threat -- long-range missiles.

IRS request for more terrorism investigators is denied
By David Cay Johnston, New York Times, March 31, 2004
The Bush administration has scuttled a plan to increase by 50 percent the number of criminal financial investigators working to disrupt the finances of Al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist organizations to save $12 million, a Congressional hearing was told on Tuesday. The Internal Revenue Service had asked for 80 more criminal investigators beginning in October to join the 160 it has already assigned to penetrate the shadowy networks that terrorist groups use to finance plots like the Sept. 11 attacks and the recent train bombings in Madrid. But the Bush administration did not include them in the president's proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year. The disclosure, to a House Ways and Means subcommittee, came near the end of a routine hearing into the I.R.S. budget after most of the audience, including reporters, had left the hearing room. It comes as the White House is fighting to maintain its image as a vigorous and uncompromising foe of global terrorism in the face of questions about its commitment and competence raised by the administration's former terrorism czar, Richard A. Clarke, and its first Treasury secretary, Paul H. O'Neill.

U.S. newspaper ban plays into cleric's hands
By Nir Rosen, Asia Times, March 31, 2004
After many American threats to arrest [Shi'ite leader] Muqtada [Sadr] in the past, the American occupying forces accused [his mouthpiece, the newspaper] al-Hawza of fomenting violence against them and closed its offices for 60 days, padlocking and chaining the doors, handing the editor a letter signed by US civilian administrator L Paul Bremer, explaining that the newspaper had violated a ban on fomenting violence. The letter cited several instances in which the paper had slandered the occupying forces, such as an article entitled "Bremer follows the steps of Saddam" and an article accusing American helicopters of firing rockets at an Iraqi police station. Buses brought protestors into the central Baghdad al-Hurriya circle, where they waved flags and shouted "No to America!" and "We don't want another Saddam!" Though the Americans might be attempting to silence a vocal and vitriolic critic of their efforts in Iraq, the move plays directly into Muqtada's hands. Hamid Bayati, the spokesmen for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, confirmed that the move would only "provoke Muqtada Sadr's supporters", and confirm Iraqi suspicions that Americans are hypocritical and selective in their application of democracy. The occupying forces have already punished alJazeera and al-Arabiya, two Arabic satellite news networks, for broadcasting programs the Americans found distasteful.

Uzbekistan: the next Iraq?
By Ali Abunimah, Chicago Tribune/, April 3, 2004
When asked recently if the deaths of more than 500 U.S. service personnel in Iraq were "worth it," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld exclaimed, "Oh, my goodness, yes." His reason? "Twenty-five million people being liberated is gigantic."-- Fox News Channel, March 19, 2004.
Because there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Bush administration hopes Americans will believe that the noble goals of liberation, democracy and religious freedom justify the enormous sacrifices in human life that have resulted from the Iraq war. But the administration's tight new embrace of one of the world's most repressive regimes--in Uzbekistan--shows that this is cynical at best. Uzbekistan is a Central Asian nation bordering Afghanistan. It's about the same size as Iraq and also has 25 million people. It lies in the center of a region with rich, untapped oil and gas reserves that U.S. energy companies are eager to exploit. Its president, Islam Karimov, is a holdover from when Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union, but he got on America's good side by allowing his country's bases to be used for the war in Afghanistan. On Monday, in unprecedented violence that shook the country, bombs killed 19 people, mostly police, in Uzbek cities, including the capital Tashkent. A few days later, Uzbek authorities carried out bloody armed raids. The interior ministry released a statement saying, "Eleven male terrorists were eliminated. Five female terrorists were killed as well in one incident in the capital." The Karimov regime blames what it calls Muslim "fundamentalists" and "Wahhabis" for the violence, claiming that it is conducting a "war on terror" similar to that of the United States. The perpetrators of the bomb attacks remain unknown and some Uzbek opposition groups blame the government. Whatever the case, the background to this violence is a concerted campaign of repression by the Karimov regime, which the United States is helping to fund. In a just-released 300-page report, Human Rights Watch states that "For the past decade, with increasing intensity, the government of Uzbekistan has persecuted independent Muslims. This campaign of religious persecution has resulted in the arrest, torture, public degradation and incarceration in grossly inhumane conditions of an estimated 7,000 people."
More on Uzbekistan

Shiites organize to block U.S. plan
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 29, 2004
With the turban of the clergy and the talk of a politician, Hashem Awadi, a young Shiite Muslim cleric, thumbed through papers that described the latest challenge to Washington's political blueprint for Iraq. Here, the gaunt, 38-year-old said, was a leaflet that enumerated the objections of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most powerful cleric, to Iraq's interim constitution. This, he said, was the letter the ayatollah sent to the United Nations in protest. And here, displayed proudly, was the petition denouncing that constitution in what he said amounted to a "popular referendum." "We want to make clear the will of the people," said Awadi, who heads the Ghadir Foundation, a religious institute in Baghdad that, by his count, has distributed as many as 10,000 of the petitions. "The people are burning." Awadi, whose speech veers from Islamic law to Western freedoms, is one of the leaders of a vociferous grass-roots campaign unleashed by the edict published by Sistani's office March 8 questioning the legitimacy of the interim constitution. In the weeks since, the vast network of Shiite Muslim mosques, religious centers, foundations and community organizations that make Sistani Iraq's most influential figure has led a campaign to amend the constitution or discard it. Posters have gone up at universities in Baghdad and elsewhere, leaflets have circulated among prayer-goers and Sistani's cadres -- from young clerics to devoted laymen -- have gathered tens of thousands of signatures on the petitions. Demonstrations are next, they warn.

At the gates of hell
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, March 27, 2004
The Gaza Strip is one of the most terrible places on earth - crowded, dirty, dangerous. Its economy is shot and most people sit around waiting for the next demonstration, a bombing or an Israeli incursion. Walls everywhere are a depressing riot of multi-coloured graffiti on suffering, war and martyrdom. Most shop windows feature a poster of the dead Yassin. In the street, a cart loaded with wobbling bananas negotiates huge mounds of earth and rubble that the Palestinians hope will slow the progress of Israeli tanks. And only the powerful smell of garlic wafting from a growers' packing shed masks the smell of burning rubber that lingers from the tyre fires that raged during demonstrations across the city after Yassin's death. Nearly every woman seems to be clutching a newborn baby, prompting locals to joke that their birthrate is the Palestinians' weapon of mass destruction. A dozen born this week were named Ahmed Yassin and every one of them faces a future as bleak as that of Hussam Abdo, the 16-year-old West Bank boy who horrified the world on Wednesday as it watched footage of an Israeli robot handing him scissors to free himself from a suicide-bomber's vest - in which he had been dressed for death and destruction by the men of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade. Fortunately, for once, the mission was aborted. It's a perfect environment of privation for the likes of Hamas to put down roots.

Clarke's critique reopens debate on Iraq war
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 28, 2004
John F. Lehman, a Republican member of the 9/11 commission, put it bluntly to former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke when he testified publicly last week: Why did his earlier, private testimony to the commission not include the harsh criticism leveled at President Bush in his book? "There's a very good reason for that," Clarke replied. "In the 15 hours of testimony, no one asked me what I thought about the president's invasion of Iraq. And the reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because by invading Iraq . . . the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism."

Iraqi defector's tales bolstered U.S. case for war
By Bob Drogin and Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2004
The Bush administration's prewar claims that Saddam Hussein had built a fleet of trucks and railroad cars to produce anthrax and other deadly germs were based chiefly on information from a now-discredited Iraqi defector code-named "Curveball," according to current and former intelligence officials. U.S. officials never had direct access to the defector and didn't even know his real name until after the war. Instead, his story was provided by German agents, and his file was so thick with details that American officials thought it confirmed long-standing suspicions that the Iraqis had developed mobile germ factories to evade arms inspections. Curveball's story has since crumbled under doubts raised by the Germans and the scrutiny of U.S. weapons hunters, who have come to see his code name as particularly apt, given the problems that beset much of the prewar intelligence collection and analysis. U.N. weapons inspectors hypothesized that such trucks might exist, officials said. They then asked former exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, a bitter enemy of Hussein, to help search for intelligence supporting their theory. Soon after, a young chemical engineer emerged in a German refugee camp and claimed that he had been hired out of Baghdad University to design and build biological warfare trucks for the Iraqi army. Based largely on his account, President Bush and his aides repeatedly warned of the shadowy germ trucks, dubbed "Winnebagos of Death" or "Hell on Wheels" in news accounts, and they became a crucial part of the White House case for war -- including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's dramatic presentation to the U.N. Security Council just weeks before the war.

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