|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
U.N. slams U.S. use of force in Iraq
By Alistair Lyon, Reuters, April 24, 2004
With U.S. troops threatening Sunni insurgents in Falluja and Shi'ite rebels in Najaf, a U.N. envoy says force can not solve Iraq's problems.
"I think that there is always a better solution than shooting your way into anywhere," Lakhdar Brahimi said of the standoffs in Iraq's flashpoint cities.
A few families who had fled fierce fighting in Falluja earlier this month walked back into the battle-scarred city on Saturday, hours after Iraq's U.S. administrator warned that "major hostilities could resume at short notice".
Paul Bremer said "armed bands" in Falluja must give up their weapons and "submit to national authority" if a shaky ceasefire negotiated with civic leaders was to last.
The United States, trying to shore up a shrinking coalition in Iraq, wants Brahimi to help choose an interim government to take back sovereignty from the U.S.-led occupation on June 30.
Brahimi said he wanted Iraq's U.S.-backed Governing Council to dissolve on June 30 and the politicians who dominate it to be excluded from a caretaker government of technocrats that he thinks should see Iraq through to elections in January 2005. [complete article]
SIEGE OF FALLUJA
Decision on possible attack on Iraqi town seems near
By David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, New York Times, April 24, 2004
Facing one of the grimmest choices of the Iraq war, President Bush and his senior national security and military advisers are expected to decide this weekend whether to order an invasion of Falluja, even if a battle there runs the risk of uprisings in the city and perhaps elsewhere around Iraq.
After declaring on Friday evening in Florida that "America will never be run out of Iraq by a bunch of thugs and killers," Mr. Bush flew to Camp David for the weekend, where administration officials said he planned consultations in a videoconference with the military commanders who are keeping the city under siege. [complete article]
Uneasy truce in the city of ghosts
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, April 24, 2004
Three weeks on, it is still almost impossible to get an independent account of the fighting. Access to the city is severely restricted: the marines still hold a cordon around Falluja, and much of the city and many surrounding villages are crawling with Iraqi resistance fighters.
But in interviews with the Guardian in Baghdad, more than a dozen civilians, doctors, clerics and politicians have begun to piece together the US military's bloodiest battle in Iraq. [complete article]
The soldiers who fear they are fighting a forgotten war
The Scotsman, April 24, 2004
British soldiers say they are fighting a forgotten war in the south of the country, sustaining about 50 casualties every month. They report that in recent weeks attacks have become increasingly organised and determined.
British forces are taking significant casualties. According to the Ministry of Defence, between 7 February last year and 31 March this year, 2,228 injured military personnel were evacuated out of the theatre of operations, a figure equivalent to two of the battle groups involved in the capture of Basra last April. [complete article]
The release of Mordechai Vanunu and U.S. role in Israel's nuclear arsenal
By Stephen Zunes, Antiwar.com, April 24, 2004
Though labeled a spy and a traitor, [Vanunu] was in fact simply a whistle-blower who became "a martyr to the causes of press freedom and nuclear de-escalation." He never received any money for this act of conscience, which he took upon recognizing that Israel's nuclear program went well beyond its need for a deterrent and was likely offensive in nature. A former strategic analyst at the Rand Corporation observed that Vanunu's revelations about Israel's nuclear program demonstrated that: "Its scale and nature was clearly designed for threatening and if necessary launching first-use of nuclear weapons against conventional forces." Prior to Vanunu's revelations, many suspected that Israel's nuclear program was limited to tactical nuclear artillery and naval shells. [complete article]
For God's sake
By Philip James, The Guardian, April 23, 2004
Evangelical lobbyists used to talk about access to previous Republican administrations. Today, they can say with confidence: "Who needs access when we are already on the inside?"
The influence of the Christian right on the Bush White House is self-evident. As well as George Bush, cabinet members Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft and Don Evans all consider themselves to be born again.
This administration has embarked on a bold agenda to roll back liberalism in the U.S., and won't let up if it gets a second term.
The September 11 attacks, Afghanistan and Iraq have overshadowed Bush's conservative domestic agenda, but it should not go overlooked by voters as we approach the November elections. [complete article]
An ominous moment in Middle East turmoil
By Roger Cohen, International Herald Tribune, April 24, 2004
"I have never been so discouraged about the Middle East," said Farhad Kazemi, a political scientist at New York University. "The president's word has lost its credibility in the region as the administration's policies have moved in the direction of an identification of America and Israel." [...]
The administration argues that there is no viable Palestinian interlocutor, that the Palestinian leadership has failed to stop terrorism, and that until there is Palestinian reform the best course is to try to prod Sharon toward the two-state solution outlined by Bush in 2002.
But powerful domestic forces also drive Bush's embrace of Israel. The Jewish vote is significant, but perhaps more significant is the backing of tens of millions of Evangelical Christians, many of whom are strong supporters of Israel because they believe the return of Jews to their homeland sets the stage for the Second Coming. Evangelical backing now appears as central to Republicans as African-American support has traditionally been for Democrats.
At the same time, Sharon has been successful at enveloping the Israeli fight against Palestinian militants in the mantle of the American "war on terror," so making it inevitable that Bush give his more or less unequivocal backing to whatever Israel does in the name of that fight.
The result, as [State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs spokesman Greg] Sullivan acknowledged, is that it is not easy to sell American policy in the Middle East. "There's a growing view in the Arab world of an American-Zionist conspiracy," he said. Nationalist ideologues in Iraq are finding it easy to sell the view that unless Iraqis fight they will end up bowing to the will of the United States and Israel, living in humiliating powerlessness like the Palestinians. [complete article]
The disaster in Iraq and constructive criticism
By Gabriel Ash, YellowTimes.org, April 23, 2004
There is a new "wisdom" that begins to unite some faux lefties and some old defense hands. According to this new wisdom, the failure in Iraq is the result of too much optimism, but optimism of a specific kind. Supposedly, had we only understood that Iraq was just "not ready for democracy," had we only sent twice as many soldiers, and given them a simple mission, such as to put in charge a friendly dictator and get out, everything might be different. [...]
The trouble with the new, old wisdom is that it is as wrong as the old, new wisdom. The mess in Iraq is not the fault of Iraqis. On the contrary, most Iraqis were happy to see Saddam gone. Despite suspicions, the majority of Iraqis were ready to give the U.S. the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, most Iraqis wanted, and probably still want, a stable, independent, pluralistic Iraq. Even more important is that the public leadership with the greatest level of legitimacy in Iraq, the Shi'a clergy, was and is supportive of a pluralistic and democratic Iraq. The leading clergy of Iraq, especially Al-Sistani, reject the theocratic Iranian model, put a premium on public order and consider political violence legitimate only as a last resort. To be sure, they were difficulties in Iraq that any foreign intervention would have faced but, over all, the U.S. could have stumbled on worse "nation building" projects. [...]
The most important causes of the current unfolding disaster are rather the occupation's goals and attitudes -- racism and bad faith. [...]
U.S. sense of cultural superiority is a feature of Washington and of the nation as a whole. But the Bush administration is unique in that its policies are fashioned mostly by a group of neo-con ideologues. Paul Bremer, the appointed pro-consul of Iraq, is one of them, and so are his bosses, Wolfowitz and Feith. The neo-cons are fervent supporters of Israel's Likud party and its racism toward Palestinians. Israeli racism is part of their world view. [...]
Neo-con racism precluded acknowledging Arab grievances against U.S. and Israeli policy. There was, therefore, no other way to make sense of Iraqi mistrust except as misguided "anti-Americanism." No surprise then that Bremer and his crew thought they could overcome Iraqi suspicions by such patronizing means as a new TV station. There is a short distance from that to the deluded doctrine, which the neo-cons learned from their Israeli friends and teachers, that "Arabs understand only force." [...]
After racism, the second reason the U.S. occupation failed to win the required support was bad faith. The problem with Iraqi mistrust was that it was justified. The overarching goal of the U.S. in Iraq was not to establish a pluralistic, independent and stable state. These were perhaps considered good things in Washington, and especially useful for domestic consumption but they were secondary to the more important goal of keeping Iraq subservient to the U.S. The White House's vision of Iraq was of a weak state, one that would follow U.S. orders on foreign policy, help the U.S. militarily, and leave oil under control of U.S. companies. [complete article]
THE MONEY TRAIL
Growing impatience on war costs
By Terry M. Neal, Washington Post, April 23, 2004
Just as the White House did more than a year ago with war in Iraq looming, President Bush is steadfastly refusing to speculate on the costs of the war.
In February 2003, Bush released his 2004 budget with no indication of how much it would cost to fund a war that would begin only one month later. Critics accused the White House of obscuring the money issue so as not to slow the march to war.
This year, with members of both parties in Congress urging the administration to be forthright with the American people about the way the U.S. military is burning through cash in Iraq and the reason it's in need of an infusion of billions more, the White House has said, essentially, "We'll get back to you on that in January."
January, of course, is two months after the November election, and some cynics have openly pondered whether the White House is playing political games at the expense of the military. Members of both parties have been critical. [complete article]
By Tom Regan, Christian Science Monitor, April 23, 2004
Iraq's private companies routinely pay bribes to get reconstruction contracts – often to Iraqi officials but sometimes to employees of US contractors. That's one of the allegations that has been made by a special investigation undertaken by public radio's Marketplace and the Center for Investigative Reporting, and funded by The Economist magazine. The result, according to experts monitoring the situation, is almost 20 percent of the billions of American taxpayers dollars being spent to rebuild Iraq is being lost to corruption.
Meanwhile, the report also documents the failure of the US government to effectively oversee expenditures in a reconstruction effort that the reports says costs 10 times more per capita than the Marshall Plan (the US-led effort to rebuilt Germany after WWII). [complete article]
ALLIES UNDER PRESSURE
Danish official resigns amid WMD outcry
By Jan M. Olsen, Associated Press (via Yahoo! News), April 23 2004
The Danish defense minister resigned Friday as parliament members questioned whether the military exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to justify the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Svend Aage Jensby stepped down just days after the prime minister reiterated that Denmark would not pull its troops out of Iraq despite continuing violence and a failure to find Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction. [complete article]
After Madrid, Manila?
By Marco Garrido, Asia Times, April 24, 2004
Along with the arrest of six suspected Abu Sayyaf members last month, Philippine police netted 36 kilograms of explosives (TNT). According to Central Luzon Police Chief Vidal Querol, that's enough to flatten a two-story structure with a floor area of about 60 square meters. "It can also rip through an average train coach, that's for sure," he adds.
According to one media report in the United States, the arrest came days after the administration of U.S. President George W Bush chided the Philippine government for not doing enough to crack down on local terrorist groups. The reproach follows Washington's reassessment of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a self-styled Islamic insurgency that normally engages in kidnapping-for-ransom, and comes amid heightened anxieties over intercepted chatter suggesting possible terrorist attacks. The Americans delivered a similar warning to the Indonesian government weeks before the attack in Bali in October 2002.
With the arrests, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo suggested that the terrorist threat had been averted. "We have preempted a Madrid-level attack on the metropolis," she declared, referring to the March 11 train bombing in the Spanish capital. "The most dangerous terrorist cell of the Abu Sayyaf has been dismantled."
News of the arrests, however, has not been entirely reassuring. The Philippines faces a presidential election in less than three weeks, as Spain did just before the Madrid bombing. Filipinos fear that terrorists may use the proximity of the elections - a turbulent period in any case - to sow even greater chaos. Or, it has been suggested, losing factions in the electoral contest may stage terrorist attacks to throw the process into disarray. Either way it would seem that the worst is yet to come. [complete article]
Violence slows progress of Iraq's reconstruction
By David Streitfeld and Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2004
The escalation of violence in Iraq this month is curtailing the pace of U.S. government-financed reconstruction, but both contractors and U.S. officials maintained Thursday that the disruption so far has been relatively minor.
Tom Wheelock, director of infrastructure for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said at a news briefing here that 90% of all projects were moving forward.
Privately, however, some contractors say the situation is far from normal.
"People just aren't moving now," an official at one major contractor said on condition he not be identified. "We can't get out in the field." [...]
Even some of the optimistic contractors said that if the insurgency continues or worsens, all bets are off. If foreign business, security and aid workers continue to be kidnapped or killed, contractors could conceivably pull out in droves. And no matter what, the additional security required in Iraq these days is coming out of the reconstruction budget. That means fewer and smaller projects for the benefit of the Iraqi people. [complete article]
BBC cuts back Iraq staff
By Claire Cozens, The Guardian, April 23, 2004
The BBC has dramatically scaled back its staff in Iraq and banned programme-makers from organising any new trips there amid the deteriorating security situation.
Just two reporters, David Willis and Dominic Hughes, and a small team of technical staff remain in the corporation's Baghdad bureau after Caroline Hawley and Barbara Plett left the country.
The cutbacks mean the BBC's TV channels and radio stations will be severely restricted in their coverage of the crisis in Iraq, with the flagship 10pm news missing out on live coverage altogether.
The BBC will also have to rely on news agencies and local reporters and cameramen for anything outside Baghdad. [complete article]
U.N. moves to disassociate itself from remarks by envoy to Iraq
By Warren Hoge, New York, Times, April 23, 2004
United Nations officials moved today to disassociate the organization from damning remarks about Israel and American policy in the Middle East made by its special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi. [...]
According to Agence France-Pressse, Mr. Brahimi told France Inter, "The problems are connected. There is no doubt that the great poison in the region is this Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians as well as the perception of the body of the population in the region, and beyond, of the injustice of this policy and the equally unjust support of the United States for this policy."
According to the agency, Mr. Brahimi continued, "The policy of very violent, strictly held security and total repression, and also this determination to occupy more and more Palestinian territory, does not aid the situation in the region."
Secretary General Kofi Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said that Mr. Brahimi was speaking as a private individual, not as a United Nations official. [complete article]
U.N. chief rebuts critics of the Iraq 'oil for food' program
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, April 23, 2004
Secretary General Kofi Annan struck back Thursday at critics of the United Nations and his leadership, saying they were treating unproven charges as facts and ignoring the good that the "oil for food" program brought Iraqis despite its scandal-ridden management. [...]
"I think it is unfortunate that there have been so many allegations, and some of it is being handled as if they were facts, and that is why we need to have this investigation done," Mr. Annan said Thursday.
"And in all this, '' he added, "what has been lost is the fact that the oil-for-food program did provide relief to the Iraqi population. Every household was touched." [complete article]
Whose chaos is this anyway?
By Mark LeVine, TomDispatch.com, April 22, 2004
If it's true that at least some of the chaos in Iraq has, to one degree or another, been consciously let loose on the land, the broadest reason is obvious. As Ali (an Iraqi friend who worked for the UN before a suicide bombing drove that organization out of the country) explained, "One thing is clear; it is impossible to build a peaceful alternative to the occupation when the chaos reaches its current levels." [...]
The question is: How much of the chaos is deliberate and how much due to arrogance, incompetence, and stupidity? There would seem to be at least three circles of chaos involved in the occupation of Iraq. I don't know official Washington well enough to determine exactly who fits into which category, but it's likely that President Bush and some of his senior military planners and top political advisors fall into the first circle of offenders – the arrogant, incompetent, and just plain stupid.
Whoever comprises this group, they are certainly responsible for the lack of coherent post-occupation planning and the innumerable political and cultural miscues of the American administration in Iraq, which are now much commented upon in the press. It is this group, both politically and militarily, that can be considered "that incompetent," as a leading scholar of Iraq described them to me.
However, there are two other groups within the American governmental system who are definitely not that incompetent: the radical right-wing ideologues in the White House and the Pentagon and their corporate sponsors. And they make up the final two circles of chaos-creators in Iraq. The two groups, not at all distinct, are embodied in the personage of former Defense Secretary and former Halliburton CEO Vice President Dick Cheney. On the more directly political level, neocon officials and their media allies such as Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Richard Armitrage, Michael Ledeen, George Will, Daniel Pipes and other stalwarts neither expected the occupation of Iraq to be a "cakewalk," nor cared if it spread chaos to other countries, as long as it furthered their aim to reconfigure the political map of the region. [complete article]
The enemy within
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek (via MSNBC News), April 21, 2004
In the run-up to the war on Iraq, a top Pentagon official pushed a highly unorthodox plan to deploy one of the U.S. government’s most controversial legal tactics--the designation of suspected terrorists as “enemy combatants”--in hopes of finding new evidence of alleged connections between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Al Qaeda, NEWSWEEK has learned.
The proposal, pressed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, called for President George W. Bush to declare Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as an enemy combatant in the war on terror. This would have allowed Yousef to be transferred from his cell at the U.S. Bureau of Prison’s “supermax” penitentiary in Florence, Colo., to a U.S. military installation.
Wolfowitz contended that U.S. military interrogators--unencumbered by the presence of Yousef’s defense lawyer--might be able to get the inmate to confess what he and the lawyer have steadfastly denied: that he was actually an Iraqi intelligence agent dispatched by Saddam to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993 as revenge for the first Persian Gulf War.
The previously unreported Wolfowitz proposal--and the high-level consideration it got within the Justice Department--sheds new light on the Bush administration’s willingness to expand its use of enemy-combatant declarations inside the United States beyond the three alleged terrorists, two of them American citizens, who have already been designated by the White House. [complete article]
Fables of the reconstruction
By Jason Vest, Village Voice, April 20, 2004
As the situation in Iraq grows ever more tenuous, the Bush administration continues to spin the ominous news with matter-of-fact optimism. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Iraqi uprisings in half a dozen cities, accompanied by the deaths of more than 100 soldiers in the month of April alone, is something to be viewed in the context of "good days and bad days," merely "a moment in Iraq's path towards a free and democratic system." More recently, the president himself asserted, "Our coalition is standing with responsible Iraqi leaders as they establish growing authority in their country."
But according to a closely held Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) memo written in early March, the reality isn't so rosy. Iraq's chances of seeing democracy succeed, according to the memo's author--a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of observations he'd made in the field for a senior CPA director--have been severely imperiled by a year's worth of serious errors on the part of the Pentagon and the CPA, the U.S.-led multinational agency administering Iraq. Far from facilitating democracy and security, the memo's author fears, U.S. efforts have created an environment rife with corruption and sectarianism likely to result in civil war.
Provided to this reporter by a Western intelligence official, the memo was partially redacted to protect the writer's identity and to "avoid inflaming an already volatile situation" by revealing the names of certain Iraqi figures. A wide-ranging and often acerbic critique of the CPA, covering topics ranging from policy, personalities, and press operations to on-the-ground realities such as electricity, the document is not only notable for its candidly troubled assessment of Iraq's future. It is also significant, according to the intelligence official, because its author has been a steadfast advocate of "transforming" the Middle East, beginning with "regime change" in Iraq. [complete article]
Text of redacted memo by U.S. official in Iraq
Militia has holy Iraqi city on edge
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, April 23, 2004
While the situation in Najaf is calm, it is not resolved. U.S. troops on the city's outskirts, who were ordered to kill or capture Mr. Sadr over a week ago, have begun to pull further away from the city. Commanders worry that a battle in the holy city would unite Iraq's Shiite community behind Sadr. Sadr has sought to paint himself as a symbol of Iraqi nationalism and resistance to occupation.
"The problem of Sadr is bigger than Sadr. It is the whole Shiite community and the holy shrine," Lt. Gen.Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told troops on Tuesday as they prepared to pull back from a base about 15 miles outside of Najaf. "We have just about eliminated all his influence across the south... but the real center of mess is right here. The problem is that if we launch you into the city of Najaf ... and if we get into destroying the holy shrines it will create a backlash." [complete article]
Keep out of Najaf, Iran warns U.S.
By Dan De Luce, The Guardian, April 23, 2004
Iranian clerics have warned the U.S. that a military assault on two holy cities in Iraq would unleash the wrath of Shia Muslims.
Their warning was echoed by President Mohammed Khatami, who said it would be "suicide" for the coalition to attack Najaf and Kerbala, still encircled by U.S. forces.
It would "mobilise emotions among the world's Shia against the Americans", he added in a statement reported by Tehran newspapers. "I do not think they will make such a mistake, because if they did they would be caught up in a storm."
Three senior clerics used stronger language, saying they would issue fatwas (religious rulings) if the pilgrimage sites remained encircled. [complete article]
U.S. wants British to move north into heart of Iraq fighting
By Patrick Wintour and Luke Harding, The Guardian, April 23, 2004
The Ministry of Defence is resisting U.S. pressure on Britain to extend its sphere of military influence in Iraq to some of the most violent parts of the country, including the capital Baghdad.
Britain is being leant on by the U.S. military, although no formal request has been issued, to provide a new headquarters unit in south-central Iraq to replace Spanish troops being pulled out by the new Madrid government. That would take British troops into the troubled town of Najaf, where the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is holed up.
Some British military figures have also been told that U.K. forces may be asked to undertake a hearts and minds operation inside Baghdad, currently an exclusively U.S. sphere of influence. [complete article]
Insurgents spark a fierce battle in Fallouja
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2004
Marines backed by helicopter gunships and F-16 jets fought a fierce five-hour battle in this city Wednesday with scores of insurgents armed with grenades, machine guns and mortar shells.
The early morning fighting, which came less than 48 hours after U.S. and Iraqi representatives agreed on a preliminary plan for a full cease-fire in Fallouja, left three Marines wounded, one critically. Officials said that at least nine insurgents were killed and an unknown number injured.
Marines said that upward of 100 insurgents were involved and that many seemed to rush toward U.S. positions in what 1st Sgt. James Madden called "almost a suicide-like attack."
Even the presence of tanks did not deter the fighters, Marines said. The insurgents attacked the tanks with rocket-propelled grenades, but the weapons either missed their targets or bounced off the armored vehicles, which responded with massive firepower. Cobra and Huey helicopters raked buildings with gunfire, and the bombs dropped by the F-16s flattened several structures. [complete article]
Marines poised for Fallujah offensive
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 23, 2004
"Kill the Americans, God bless the mujahideen [holy warriors]," the speakers blared, according to the marines. "Islam requires you to fight the enemy."
The guerrillas in the flash-point city of Fallujah are proving difficult to subdue. Senior U.S. officers here say their opponents amount to a "hard core" of a couple hundred foreign and more Iraqi fighters, "fairly significantly depleted" by recent fighting.
Marines have cordoned off the restive city since April 5. Terms of this week's cease-fire - made with civic leaders who concede they have no control over the insurgents - were to forestall a U.S. offensive in exchange for a handover of heavy weapons.
But as of Thursday, the initiative had yielded only a truck full of "junk," said Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. As hopes dimmed for cooperation, U.S. forces, concerned that guerrillas are simply regrouping, appeared poised to go on the offensive.
The standoff will come to a head in "days, not weeks," said General Conway. [complete article]
U.S. contractor fired for military coffin photo
By Sue Pleming, Reuters (via Yahoo! News), April 22, 2004
A U.S. contractor and her husband have been fired after her photograph of 20 flag-draped coffins of American troops going home from Iraq was published in violation of military rules.
"I lost my job and they let my husband go as well," Tami Silicio, who loaded U.S. military cargo at Kuwait International Airport for a U.S. company, told Reuters in an e-mail response to questions.
The Pentagon tightly restricts publication of photographs of coffins with the remains of U.S. troops and has forbidden journalists from taking pictures at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the first stop for the bodies of troops being sent home. [complete article]
Photos of coffins draw U.S. crackdown
By Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2004
A website dedicated to publishing censored pictures and documents released dozens of photographs of coffins containing American war dead, which caused the Pentagon on Thursday to renew its ban on releasing such images to the media.
Pictures of flag-draped coffins filling aircraft cargo bays and being unloaded by white-gloved soldiers were obtained by Russ Kick, a 1st Amendment activist in Tucson who won their release by filing a Freedom of Information Act request.
Air Force officials initially denied the request but relented last week and sent him more than 350 pictures of Iraq war dead arriving at the military's largest mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. [...]
Soon after the photographs were posted on the Web, the Department of Defense barred their further release to other media outlets, saying the photos violated the privacy of troops' families. [complete article]
Russ Kick's Web site
Allies suspect Al Qaeda link to bombings in Basra; death toll is reduced
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 23, 2004
As the authorities scoured the sites of five nearly simultaneous car bombings that killed dozens of people here on Wednesday, allied military officials said the attacks bore the hallmarks of the Qaeda terrorist network but said they did not have proof.
A spokesman for the British forces, which are responsible for the Basra area, lowered the death toll on Thursday to 50, including 20 children, after a closer review of hospital reports. The count was originally 68 dead, as reported by Basra's provincial governor shortly after the bombings. More than 100 people were injured, including four British soldiers. [...]
General Stewart said it was too soon to tell if Al Qaeda or a Jordanian militant linked to Al Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, bore responsibility for the attacks. He blamed only unidentified people from outside Basra. But American officials in Baghdad said the spectacular, synchronized attacks were characteristic of Al Qaeda or related terrorists.
United States officials have accused Mr. Zarqawi of organizing two suicide bombings at Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala on March 2 in which at least 181 people died. American intelligence officials say that his goal is to incite a civil war between Iraq's Shiite majority and the Sunni minority by conducting attacks against Shiites. [complete article]
Sadr's backers demonstrate in Basra
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, April 23, 2004
Hundreds of followers of an influential Shiite Muslim leader demonstrated in the southern city of Basra on Thursday as residents mourned the deaths of 73 people killed in five car bombings a day earlier.
The protesters, who support Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, shouted anti-foreign slogans near the funerals of two children who died in the suicide attacks, and they called for British troops to leave the city, according to television footage of the event. The death toll, which includes 20 children, rose overnight as some of the injured died.
U.S. officials, who accused Sadr's forces of exploiting public grief for political purposes, contrasted the angry demonstration with the circumspect retreat of British troops from the scene. [complete article]
Saudis look for clues at bomb site
Associated Press (via International Herald Tribune), April 23, 2004
Investigators on Thursday examined charred cars and sifted through rubble from the seven-story security building targeted in the latest bombing to strike here, while Saudi's top cleric condemned the terrorists responsible. [...]
After special prayers for the dead in a Riyadh mosque, hundreds of mourners chanted antiterrorism slogans while marching behind the bodies of four victims, wrapped in brown and white sheets, as they were carried to their burials.
Officials said the bombing bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda, which has also been blamed for suicide attacks in May and November 2003 in Riyadh that killed 51 people, including the assailants.
A shadowy Islamic extremist group, the al-Haramin Brigades, released a statement on at least two Islamic Web sites claiming responsibility for the attack. The authenticity of the statement could not immediately be verified. [complete article]
Saudis support a jihad in Iraq, not back home
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, April 23, 2004
In Saudi Arabia, a strategic ally of the United States, violence against the occupation in Iraq is seen by many as jihad, or a holy struggle, but virtually no one accepts violence as jihad when it unrolls here at home, in the heart of what is supposed to be the most Muslim of countries.
In Iraq, attacks by American troops serve as evidence to some that the United States occupation of a Muslim land must be reversed. Requests for God to avenge American actions pour down from mosque minarets, and some women university students sport Osama bin Laden T-shirts under their enveloping abayas to show their approval for his calls to resist the United States.
But many Saudis consider the attack here on Wednesday a shocking and unsettling crime, especially since the attackers chose for their first major government target an office building that virtually every adult male must visit to collect a license or car plates. [...]
Experts on the topic believe that most Saudis do not view the two battles as even remotely related.
"When people see Israeli operations in Palestine and the American cruelty in Iraq, they feel angry and frustrated," said Abdullah Bejad al-Oteibi, a former fundamentalist now working as a legal researcher. "They cannot control their anger and they admire bin Laden, so that is why many people volunteer for jihad. But when there are operations here, people feel angry and betrayed." [complete article]
TRANSFER OF POWER
White House says Iraq sovereignty could be limited
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, April 23, 2004
The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday. [...]
Only 10 weeks from the scheduled transfer of sovereignty, the administration is still not sure exactly who will govern in Baghdad, or precisely how they will be selected. A week ago, President Bush agreed to a recommendation by [special United Nations envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi to dismantle the existing Iraqi Governing Council, which was handpicked by the United States, and to replace it with a caretaker government whose makeup is to be decided next month.
That government would stay in power until elections could be held, beginning next year.
The administration's plans seem likely to face objections on several fronts. Several European and United Nations diplomats have said in interviews that they do not think the United Nations will approve a Security Council resolution sought by Washington that handcuffs the new Iraq government in its authority over its own armed forces, let alone foreign forces on its soil. [complete article]
Into the unknown in Iraq
By Tony Karon, TIME.com, April 21, 2004
Although the change envisaged for June 30 is largely symbolic -- an Iraqi caretaker government will be given what Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz this week described as "limited" sovereignty, in that it won't have any control over the security forces operating inside its borders, both Coalition and Iraqi -- the hand-over will nonetheless inaugurate a complicated new reality. That's because it involves the U.S. relinquishing formal control over Iraq's political future. Under the plan devised by United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and welcomed last week by President Bush and Tony Blair, it will be the U.N. rather than the Coalition Provisional Authority that has the final say in picking an Iraqi caretaker government. Not surprisingly, some elements on the Iraqi Governing Council are resisting the proposal, since it would required that the IGC be dissolved. And some of its more controversial figures, such as Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon's favorite Iraqi exile, are unlikely to make it into a U.N.-picked interim government mandated to run the country for a seven-month period, pending nationwide elections to be held next January. [complete article]
Bush's 'transfer of power' gambit
By Jack A. Smith, Asia Times, April 22, 2004
The war in Iraq may be blowing up in the Bush administration's face, but the White House is conspiring to maintain substantial military, political and economic power in the war-torn country following a deeply suspect "transfer of sovereign power" to an interim Iraqi government on June 30.
The guerrilla resistance, combined with Washington's bungling of the occupation, have compelled President George W. Bush and his neo-conservative advisors to reconfigure or shelve several of their more grandiose post-war plans. But the U.S. government has no intention to simply relinquish its expensively obtained hegemony over a Baghdad government possessing the world's second largest proven petroleum reserves and strategically located to influence the entire Middle East. [...]
The U.N. is acceding to Washington's wishes so far, despite grave reservations about Bush's actions. This is not unexpected. The global body never criticized the U.S. for violating its charter and illegally invading in the first place, and it has subsequently approved measures recognizing Washington's administration of the occupation.
U.N. Council backs probe of 'oil-for-food'
By Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2004
The Security Council unanimously endorsed an independent investigation Wednesday into charges that U.N. officials mishandled the Iraqi "oil-for-food" program, allowing Saddam Hussein to illegally pocket billions of dollars. [...]
The U.N. oil-for-food program was established in 1996 to allow Iraq -- then under U.N. sanctions for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait -- to sell oil and use the revenue to buy humanitarian goods. Oil sales outside the program were prohibited. The 15-member Security Council set the terms for the program.
Allegations of corruption emerged in January in the Iraqi newspaper Al Mada, which published a list of 270 dignitaries, officials and journalists from 46 countries who allegedly received vouchers from Hussein's regime to buy millions of barrels of oil at a discount. The coupons allegedly were resold at market value to oil refinery middlemen. [...]
Even before the accusations of corruption in the oil-for-food program arose, many Iraqis had a negative view of the United Nations, blaming it for shortages of critical goods during the period of sanctions. [complete article]
'Kofigate' threatens U.S. aims in Iraq
By Tom Regan, Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 2004
The BBC reports that Saddam Hussein, former leader of Iraq, made billions of dollars more than previously thought from the United Nations' oil-for-food program, according to U.S. officials. The U.S. Treasury estimates $10 billion of "illicit gains" were made between 1997 and 2002 from the scheme. And the Independent reports allegations that three top U.N. officials, including Benon Sevan, the Cypriot-born U.N. undersecretary general who ran the program for six years, took million dollar bribes from Mr. Hussein while overseeing the program. [...]
The allegations of U.N. corruption, which have become know in some circles as "Kofigate," have become serious enough that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed an independent panel last week, headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, to look into the allegations. Other members of the investigative panel include Yugoslav war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone of South Africa and the Swiss criminal law professor Mark Pieth. On Wednesday, CNN reported the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution welcoming the panel. The CBC reported Thursday that Resolution 1538 "may come to be remembered as the official lifting of the lid on a financial scandal that could ultimately dwarf even the worst excesses of Wall Street." [complete article]
Can Sharon win by force?
By Mitchell Plitnick, MuslimWakeup.com, April 21, 2004
For the past decade, political leaders--Israeli, Palestinian, American, European and Arab alike, have had one point of agreement with peace activists around the Israel-Palestine conflict. That was the axiom that “neither side would triumph by force.” But now, the dangerous duo of George Bush in the White House and Ariel Sharon in the Prime Minister’s office has embarked on their attempt to prove this false.
At a White House press conference on April 14, Sharon received his thank-you gift from the United States for his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The gift that Bush gave him will severely limit the possibility of fruitful negotiations with the Palestinians and will profoundly damage prospects for a lasting peace. But it was precisely what Sharon wanted most. Behind the specific statements Bush made was the opportunity for Sharon to see if he can prove the axiom about triumph by force wrong.
Bush made several key statements during the press conference highlighting the rewards to Israel for the Gaza withdrawal. These included: an endorsement of the Israeli separation wall’s route deep into occupied territory in the West Bank, with only a few alterations to prevent the complete encircling of some Palestinian towns; a promise that Israel would not be expected to withdraw to the armistice borders that existed before 1967; and the clearest statement ever by an American president against any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. In the letters exchanged between the two heads of state, Bush makes it clear that Israel has a free hand for “anti-terror operations” in Gaza after the pullout and that the U.S. will block all peace initiatives, outside of Bush’s stillborn “road map.” Bush thereby assured Sharon that the Saudi plan that gathered so much international support, as well as the Geneva plan will be held in check along with any international or other interference in U.S./Israeli programs. [complete article]
Palestinians blame plight on U.S., Israel
By Scherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via The Guardian), April 23, 2004
Mohammed Domeh was relaxing on his living room sofa, watching the TV news when he heard the fateful words: President Bush was flatly ruling out the return of Palestinians such as himself to what is now Israel.
"When I heard what Bush had to say - and I am saying this as a Palestinian intellectual - I wished I could wear an explosive belt around my waist and blow myself up in front of Bush,'' said Domeh, 44.
Such anti-American rage, from an otherwise mild-spoken, middle-class Palestinian writer, is being echoed around the Arab world at a volume some say is unprecedented. [complete article]
U.S. role in Middle East vilified at emergency meeting of Islamic countries
By John Aglionby, The Guardian. April 23, 2004
The U.N. should be given a central role in Iraq as soon as possible, to avert a slide into greater anarchy and halt the U.S.-led forces' "sheer disregard" for civilians and holy sites, an emergency meeting of Muslim states in Kuala Lumpur declared yesterday.
The Organisation of Islamic Conferences also condemned Washington for supporting Israel's latest Palestinian initiative.
The Malaysian prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, who is the OIC's current chairman, said George Bush's abandonment of the road map to peace could "wreck the entire peace process in the Middle East".
Describing the situation in Iraq and Israel as "extremely alarming", Mr Badawi said: "The latest developments are threatening the stability and integrity of both, as well as the peace and security of neighbouring countries." [complete article]
Youths on Gaza frontline keep hatred alive
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, April 23, 2004
At the top the rivalry between Mr. Arafat and the Islamist groups, especially Hamas, is a fight for political survival. But on the ground in Gaza the factions have abandoned their differences and are fighting together. The gunmen say the level of cooperation has increased in the past month since the assassinations of the two Hamas leaders, Sheik Yassin and Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi.
A Democratic Front fighter, hiding behind an iron fence, pointed to the various groups: "That is the proof of unity among the military factions," he said.
Despite belonging to a leftwing secular organisation, he is sympathetic to Hamas, the dominant Islamist group. "We are all ready to die," he said. "The deaths of Sheik Yassin and Dr Rantissi have motivated us to fight even harder and revenge their deaths."
At the height of the battle dozens of masked Palestinian gunmen were queuing up on a street corner to join the fighting. The different factions were recognisable only by their headbands: the green of Hamas, the black and white of Islamic Jihad, and the red stars of the two smaller groups, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front. They were joined by unmasked freelance civilians who brought along their own guns.
The mood of those going into battle was high-spirited, even though they were heavily outgunned by the Israelis. [complete article]
House asks 'What if,' adopts doomsday strategy
By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2004
For many members of Congress, one of the most indelible memories of Sept. 11 was being forced to flee the Capitol amid reports that terrorists had hijacked a fourth airliner and were bent on decimating the legislative branch of the government.
While no such attack occurred, the shock of what might have been spurred an all-out effort to develop plans for assuring that the legislative branch quickly recover from a devastating blow.
But three years later, the once-bipartisan issue has become just one more object of political wrangling -- as shown by House action Thursday on a measure that Republicans praised but Democrats said could render Congress unable to respond to a crisis.
As approved, the House measure provides for special elections to be held within 45 days if more than 100 of the House's 435 seats become vacant. It calls for state political parties to nominate one candidate for each vacant seat within 10 days after the speaker of the House declares a national emergency. [complete article]
HEARTS AND MINDS
Changing the climate
The Guardian, April 22, 2004
We grieve for the children who suffered such an appalling death in Basra yesterday, caught in the blast from terrorist bombs as their buses took them to school. We mourn the sad irony of the previous day's mortar attack on a prison in Baghdad that killed so many Iraqi detainees put there by the Americans. These are dreadful events that illustrate once again the indiscriminate nature of most acts of terrorism, just as the recent deaths of women and children in Falluja illustrate the indiscriminate nature of many military operations. Beyond outrage, we need to consider with a fresh mind what lessons should be drawn. The prime minister claims that the terrorists have shown their increasing desperation by choosing to attack "literally the most defenceless people they can find", but such an argument shows a rather despairing optimism of its own. [...]
... The root problem is how to foster an Iraqi society that is so well embarked on the road to reconstruction, and so confident of its own sovereignty, that the market for violence is sharply reduced. Even if the latest attacks have been committed by groups close to al-Qaida - and perhaps connected with the Riyadh operation - they are able to operate only because this project has so far failed. Yesterday the New York Times quoted one U.S. general in Iraq who understands this very well. Many of the young men who have taken up arms want to be "part of the solution", said Major General John Batiste, but "they don't see a future yet. There's not any hope [for them] politically or economically." More troops without more freedom will only swell their numbers. [complete article]
Battle for Falluja rouses the anger of Iraqis weary of the U.S. occupation
By Edward Wong, New York Times, April 22, 2004
After suicide car bombs ripped into the relative calm of the southern city of Basra on Wednesday, merchants in a middle-class neighborhood here directed words dripping with venom at the American occupiers.
The comments along the commercial boulevard of Outer Karada echoed those heard throughout the country in recent weeks: that the fighting in Falluja had proven the occupiers to be barbarians; that encircling Najaf to capture a rebel cleric was a step toward violating one of the holiest cities in Shiite Islam; that the nearly three-week-old uprising -- and the American failure to handle it -- had essentially turned Iraq back to last summer's lawlessness.
When asked about their thoughts on the recent surge in violence in Iraq, none of the people interviewed mentioned the deadly attacks in Basra on Wednesday that killed at least 68 people, including 23 schoolchildren. Nor did anyone mention that guerrilla fighters were trying to undermine any national stability. And no one talked about the ouster of Saddam Hussein and his brutal dictatorship a year ago.
Instead, several people running businesses along Outer Karada pointed first to Falluja, 35 miles to the west, where marines are trying to rout undisciplined but determined Iraqi fighters.
"Frankly, we started to hate the Americans for that," Towfeek Hussein, 36, an electronics salesman, said of the siege of Falluja as he sat behind a desk in his shop. "The Americans will hit any family. They just don't care. Children used to wave to the American soldiers when their patrols passed by here. Two days ago, the children turned their faces away." [complete article]
By David Isenberg, Asia Times, April 23, 2004
Since commencing Operation Vigilant Resolve in Fallujah, in the aftermath of the killing and mutilation of four Blackwater contractor employees on March 31, and the fiery words of Muqtada al-Sadr, the young radical Shi'ite cleric, a few days later that prompted violent uprisings in four cities, things have gone from bad to worse for U.S. military forces. And the situation is unlikely to get better any time soon.
A new surge of Iraqi resistance is sweeping up thousands of people, Shi'ite and Sunni, in a loose coalition united by overwhelming anti-Americanism. Interviews with Sunnis and Shi'ites alike show a new corps of men, and a few women, who have resolved to join the resistance, increasing their ranks by thousands. [complete article]
Iraqi backer of U.S. became its victim
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2004
Asaad Khadim was an unapologetic supporter of the U.S. project in Iraq, long after the initial euphoria of Saddam Hussein's overthrow had waned among most of his countrymen. Even many of his fellow journalists, now enjoying the chance to practice their craft freely for the first time, had soured on the occupation. Not Khadim.
"Asaad was always talking about how the Americans would bring us liberty, bring us progress," recalled his colleague Jassem Kamel, decidedly more skeptical about the U.S. presence. "It was too much."
But Khadim, 26, a correspondent for the U.S.-funded Al Iraqiya television station, never lived to see if his optimism was warranted. He and his driver, Hussein Saleh, 31, were killed Monday when U.S. forces apparently opened fire on their vehicle as they drove near an American base in Samarra, north of Baghdad. Kamel, a cameraman, and an Iraqi police officer in the car survived.
As journalists, friends and family gathered in the capital Tuesday for the funerals, they expressed more than grief for the loss of two men known for their courage and determination. The mourners' outrage and disbelief also seemed to encapsulate a profound disappointment with the entire American endeavor in Iraq, underscoring how moderate Iraqis -- professional men and women like Khadim who have been eager for economic progress and democracy -- are losing faith in the U.S. effort. [...]
"Is this the freedom and democracy that the USA brings us?" said a disconsolate Fian Faik, an announcer at the TV network who took part in the funeral cortege for Khadim and Saleh, which wound its way down Haifa Street in central Baghdad. "A freedom where a journalist gets shot down doing his job?" [complete article]
SHOW ME THE MONEY
U.S. occupation of Iraq running over budget
By Esther Schrader and Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2004
With bills piling up from the conflict in Iraq, pressure is mounting on war planners in Washington to come up with additional money to fund U.S. efforts there.
Republicans in Congress complained Wednesday that the Bush administration's plan to put off a request for more money until early next year was unrealistic. And the nation's top military official, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers, said the growing violence was pushing the cost of the U.S.-led occupation far over budget, threatening a $4-billion shortfall by late summer.
The occupation is costing about $4.7 billion a month, officials said. [...]
Myers said the decision to extend the Iraq tours of 20,000 troops would cost the Pentagon about $700 million more over the next three months. [complete article]
The secret $700 million
By Cass R. Sunstein, Salon.com, April 22, 2004
The most puzzling passage in Bob Woodward's new book deals with the allegedly covert expenditure of $700 million on preparatory tasks for the war in Iraq. Under the Constitution, the executive branch cannot spend taxpayer money without a congressional appropriation. The key question is whether Congress, explicitly or implicitly, authorized President Bush to spend $700 million for these purposes. The answer to that question is far from clear. But it is crucial to pose it, not only to evaluate what has happened in the last three years, but also to learn something about the relationship between Congress and the president in the modern era. [complete article]
Byrd questions use of money for Iraq
By Carl Hulse, New York Times, April 21, 2004
Senator Robert C. Byrd, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that the administration might have broken the law by failing to inform Congressional leaders in mid-2002 of its use of emergency antiterror dollars to begin preparations for an invasion of Iraq.
Mr. Byrd, of West Virginia, said that he was never told of any shift of money, as the measure required. A diversion of $700 million without Congressional approval was reported in Plan of Attack," a new book by the journalist Bob Woodward.
"If the Woodward allegations are true, then the administration failed to abide by the law to consult with and fully inform Congress," Mr. Byrd said in a statement. [complete article]
Spoils of war
By Marketplace, April, 21, 2004
The spoils of war add up to more than capturing expansive palaces and luxury cars. As Marketplace reporters have discovered, not all of the $22 billion being spent to rebuild Iraq is going where it should. Who's watching the money as it streams through Baghdad? Just about no one, and bribes and black marketeering are rampant, witnesses say. A leading anti-corruption group claims that massive amounts of U.S. money spent in Iraq is being lost to corruption. From Halliburton subsidiaries charging double for gas, Iraqi officials and Arabic translators unrestrained from pocketing millions of dollars, or even members of the interim governing Council accusing each other of taking tens of millions in bribes. Trouble is, the root of the problem can't be found anywhere near the Green Zone. Try the White House, and Capitol Hill, where oversight of Iraqi construction crews and U.S. contractors like Halliburton has only just begun to be assigned… more than a year after the war began. [complete article]
GUANTANAMO ON TRIAL
Court hears test of how detainees handled
Associated Press, April 21, 2004
The government can't throw out prisoners' constitutional rights to make their case in court just because the country faces new threats in the war on terrorism, a lawyer for foreign-born detainees argued Tuesday in the Supreme Court's first case arising from the Sept. 11 attacks. [...]
The justices seemed deeply divided over the fate of more than 600 men from 44 countries who have been held for more than two years at the Guantanamo camp, and about the underlying questions concerning presidential powers in wartime.
"I'm still honestly most worried about the fact that there would be a large category of unchecked and uncheckable actions dealing with the detention of individuals that are being held in a place where America has the power to do everything,'' said Justice Stephen Breyer.
Two and a half years after Sept. 11, the high court is starting small, with a simple question about whether federal judges can even hear the complaints of the Guantanamo prisoners. [complete article]
The human rights scandal of Guantanamo Bay
Amnesty International press release (via Scoop), April 22, 2004
Amnesty International welcomes consideration by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights of the situation of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. This is long overdue.
More than two years after the first of the detainees arrived in the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Camp X-Ray and its successor Camp Delta, the United States Government continues to exert unfettered executive power in total disregard for the rule of law. Hundreds of detainees remain held in tiny cells for up to 24 hours a day without any legal process.
International law has been flouted from the outset. None of the detainees was granted prisoner of war status nor brought before a competent tribunal to determine his status, as required by the Third Geneva Convention. None has been granted access to a court to be able to challenge the lawfulness of his detention, as required by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 9) to which the United States is a party. Detainees have been denied access to legal counsel and their families. When a state, let alone one as powerful as the United States of America, adopts a selective approach to international law and standards, the integrity of those standards is eroded. [complete article]
Government's ugly secret
Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2004
George W. Bush probably never heard of RCA engineer and family man Al Palya or the eight other men who died in October 1948 when the military plane they were aboard crashed into a Georgia field. But without a negligence lawsuit brought by Palya's widow and two others against the Air Force, Bush's authority as president might be much different. The lawsuit went up to the Supreme Court, which ruled that government had a right to keep secrets even from federal judges on grounds of national security. The 1953 ruling, in U.S. vs. Reynolds, is a basis for the unilateral authority that Bush has claimed since September 2001 to spy on, detain and prosecute terror suspects without releasing any information about these actions.
As The Times' Barry Siegel reported Sunday and Monday, the Air Force was protecting lies about the airplane's safety, not state secrets. Those lies have given rise to half a century of legal precedents and case law. The shady origins of this secrecy right should give pause to Congress before it considers further expanding law enforcement agencies' powers or endorsing the president's continued detention of terror suspects without lawyers or charges.
The day he died, Al Palya was testing a pilotless guidance system he helped engineer. That system did not cause the lumbering B-29 to crash. The plane exploded 40 minutes into flight after its engines caught fire, a result of poor maintenance and negligence. [...]
Palya's daughter, Judy, was 7 weeks old when he died. She wouldn't learn the truth until 2000 because the Air Force kept insisting that releasing its report might harm national security. In ruling in the damage suit the families filed, neither the trial judge nor the appeals court judge bought the military's argument. But with the Cold War brewing and the Korean War hot, the Supreme Court did buy it, upholding the government's secrecy privilege. [...]
The "state secrets privilege" doctrine that the Reynolds case spawned has swelled into constitutional principle. The government has invoked it to protect information about alleged collusion between defense contractors; alleged civil rights violations by the FBI; and the purchase, insurance and inspection records of a government mail truck involved in an accident. More recently, the case has undergirded much of the Bush administration's response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Enough. Bush wants Congress to expand the already-sweeping Patriot Act powers, and his lawyers were before the Supreme Court on Tuesday defending the president's authority to jail terror suspects outside the reach of judges or juries. Trust us, they insist, that we won't abuse this power. But Judy Palya Loether's long search to learn how her father died is even now an object lesson to lawmakers and high court justices on the perils of giving government officials the sole power to decide what citizens should know. [complete article]
CHILDREN IN IRAQ
UNICEF condemns killing of children in Iraq
By UNICEF Press Release (via Scoop), April 22, 2004
Responding to the deaths Wednesday of children on a school bus in Basra, UNICEF said it is alarmed by the growing impact of the ongoing fighting on Iraqi children.
"The fighting in Iraq is exacting a heavy toll," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, "and children are paying with their lives."
In many cities across Iraq, children are unable to lead a normal life. "They are not just unable to attend school and get decent health care and clean water, but far too often they are paying the ultimate price," Bellamy said. "The ongoing instability and fighting is hitting children the hardest."
The killings in Basra follow the reported deaths of more than 100 children in Fallujah in recent days. [complete article]
Schoolgirl sees all her friends perish in blast
By Luke Harding and Mohammad Haider, The Guardian, April 22, 2004
"I saw a minibus full of children on fire," said Amin Dinar, whose house was next to the scene. "Fifteen of the 18 passengers were killed and three badly wounded. I looked around and saw my leg bleeding and my neighbour lying dead on the floor torn apart."
Only one girl, Ala'Muhamad, 15, who was about to board the bus, escaped the fireball. "I had just left the house," she said. "I opened the door and went out. I could see the bus. I found myself flying in the air and falling on the ground. I saw fire and smoke. It was a huge explosion. I couldn't get up again."
Shivering, shaking and weeping, she said: "I can't believe all my friends have been killed. I'm the only one left."
Three minutes later a second car bomb ripped into another police station in central Basra, followed five minutes later by a third in the port's historic old town. [complete article]
THE HAND OF AL QAEDA?
Basra's death toll nears 70, includes up to 22 children
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2004
The string of suicide car bombings in Basra on Wednesday that killed at least 65 people -- including kindergarten students and middle-school girls in passing school vans -- appeared to be well-planned, synchronized attacks, Iraqi security officials said.
The bombs targeting police facilities were the most deadly attack in the southern city of Basra since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq more than a year ago and highlighted the instability that continues to beset much of the country.
Five car bombs struck four targets: three police stations and a police training academy, authorities said. The first four bombs exploded shortly after 7 a.m., as residents headed to work and school. The fifth detonated an hour later at the same police academy, in a city suburb.
The highly coordinated nature of the blasts immediately led some officials to place the blame on the Al Qaeda network, but no evidence has been found that international terrorists were involved.
No group was known to have claimed responsibility for the blasts -- which is usually the case in Iraq, where mysterious bombers have terrorized the country since the first major explosion hit the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad last summer. [complete article]
Saudi bomb: a shift in Al Qaeda tactics
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 2004
Suspected Al Qaeda militants struck their first major Saudi target Wednesday when a suicide car bomber blew himself up in front of national police security headquarters.
The attack is seen by Saudi analysts as a tactical shift in a growing confrontation here between Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda and the Saudi government.
"The militants previously did not attack security forces. They only fought them in self-defense. They were on the defensive. Now they're going on the offensive," says Abdullah Bjad al-Otaibi, a columnist with al-Riyadh, a daily newspaper in the capital.
"Previously their target was Americans and Westerners in Saudi Arabia. Now their war is also against the security forces," says Mr. Otaibi. Militants struck two housing compounds last year killing more than 50 people. [complete article]
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Iraqi tribunal to try Hussein is established
Associated Press (via Los Angeles Times), April 21, 2004
Iraqi leaders have set up a tribunal of judges and prosecutors to try ousted dictator Saddam Hussein and members of his Baathist regime, an Iraqi National Congress spokesman said Tuesday.
Salem Chalabi, a U.S.-educated lawyer and nephew of the head of the Iraqi National Congress, was named as general director of the tribunal. The congress was an opposition group during Hussein's regime.
Chalabi has appointed a panel of seven judges and four prosecutors, congress spokesman Entefadh Qanbar said. [...]
The tribunal, with a 2004-05 budget of $75 million, will determine charges against Hussein and his former officials, Qanbar said. [complete article]
Perle at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment, April 22, 2004
Now Chalabi's nephew Salem has been put in charge of the trial of Saddam Hussein. Salem is a partner in Zell and Feith, a Jerusalem-based law firm headed by a West Bank settler, in which Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of Defense for Planning, is also a senior partner when not in the U.S. government. You can be assured that the trial will be conducted on behalf of the Bush administration and the Neocons, and on behalf of the Chalabis. Since the Chalabis have been trying to overthrow Saddam for decades, it is hard to see how this can have even the appearance of an impartial tribunal. [complete article]
ARAFAT GOES ON DEFENSE
Fenced in, frustrated Arafat speaks out
By Jane Lampman, Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 2004
Short and slightly stooped, the familiar figure in military dress uniform and kaffiyeh enters with a smile and handshakes all around. Now in his 70s, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat has the spent look of a man confined for two years inside this grim compound. As the leader sits down, Palestinians await the results of a meeting between President Bush and the man who confines Mr. Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The next day's news will be very bad for the Palestinians. They call Mr. Bush's letter to Mr. Sharon - in which the U.S. acknowledges some Israeli settlements in the West Bank and rejection of the right of return - a "second" Balfour Declaration: in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the British first promised Jewish Zionists a homeland in Palestine, as long as it did not prejudice the rights of the "non-Jewish community."
In two meetings - one before the announcement, at which the Monitor asked questions, and a speech two days after to Christians from 30 countries - Mr. Arafat hews to one line. "In spite of what we are facing in this catastrophe, which our people are suffering day by night from this Israeli military escalation," he says, "we are still committed to the 'peace of the brave' which we signed with our partner, [Israeli Prime Minister] Yitzhak Rabin, who was killed by fanatical groups." [complete article]
Arafat evicts 21 militants from Muqata compound
Haaretz Service and Associated Press, April 22, 2004
Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has evicted 21 Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades out of his Muqata compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Israel Radio reported on Thursday.
Palestinian sources said that Arafat's security chiefs had been pressing the chairman to expel the men, fearing that Israel would attack the Muqata in order to arrest the militants.
Last week, Israeli security officials summoned Ismail Jabber, commander of the Palestinian national forces, and told him if the fugitives were not forced out they would invade, and if necessary, pull them out of "Arafat's desk drawer," a fugitive told the Associated Press. [complete article]
Iraq's doomed disarmament deal
By Ron Synovitz, Asia Times, April 22, 2004
In the Sunni city of Fallujah, residents said that Marines and guerrillas traded mortar, machinegun and rocket-propelled grenade fire in clashes that broke out early Wednesday morning and were still raging in the city's Golan district hours later.
U.S. and Iraqi representatives had agreed on a preliminary plan for a full ceasefire in the embattled town. After three days of indirect talks, U.S. military officials agreed that they would call off offensive operations at the town provided that local leaders could persuade insurgents to hand over their heavy weapons to Iraqi police. [...]
"It seems highly unlikely that the militant groups are actually going to turn over their weapons. There's been no incentive for the militant groups to actually come forward and disarm. So it seems the repeated threat of military action is not going to compel these groups to disarm," [editor of the London-based publication Jane's Defense Weekly, Ian] Kemp, said.
Even if some fighters participate, Kemp says it will be difficult for the U.S.-led coalition to confirm how many weapons remain. "One of the difficulties for the coalition is [that] they have no idea how extensive the holding of weapons are. During the Saddam [Hussein] regime, small arms in particular - and that includes such things as rocket-propelled grenades - were very widely distributed," Kemp said. "And, of course, it is these rocket-propelled grenades [and] artillery ammunition being used to create improvised explosive devices that really concern the coalition." [...]
"It is worth noting that the intelligence services of some of the coalition forces believe there are foreign fighters there, but that the hard core of the opposition is actually composed of former Iraqi service personnel who have received their training from the Iraqi army. They might have been in other elements of the security forces at the time that Saddam was overthrown. But really, these former Iraqi security service personnel actually constitute the hard core of the resistance movement. And the sort of weapons that they are using, the sort of tactics they are using, would be consistent with that sort of military training," Kemp said. [complete article]
THE IRAQI CIVIL DEFENSE CORPS
General: Much of Iraq's forces have quit
By Connie Cass, Associated Press (via Yahoo! News), April 21, 2004
About one in every 10 members of Iraq's security forces "actually worked against" U.S. troops during the recent militia violence in Iraq, and an additional 40 percent walked off the job because of intimidation, [Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey,] the commander of the 1st Armored Division said Wednesday. [...]
The militia violence aggravated underlying troubles in Iraq's new military and police forces -- the unfulfilled desire for "some Iraqi hierarchy in which to place their trust and confidence" and a reluctance by Iraqis to take up arms against their countrymen, Dempsey said. [complete article]
A force for resistance
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, April 21, 2004
The blueprint for security in the new Iraq calls for a 75,000-strong national police service and a military of about 35,000 to deal with external threats. Thousands more are to patrol the borders and work in intelligence.
They've got the numbers. But they are ill equipped, morale is low and training is too short, too slow and inadequate. Those who are armed feel humiliated that they are trusted with only one ammunition clip at a time.
Until the death this month of hundreds of Iraqis in the battle for Falluja and during the Shiite uprising in the south, few of the recruits appreciated that the work would entail killing Iraqis - that was the job of the Americans, they thought. And now they are being infiltrated by the insurgency.
It is bad enough that many of them are accused of being cowardly - a battalion of the new Iraqi Civilian Defence Corps (ICDC) refused to fight alongside U.S. forces at Falluja, despite being accompanied by U.S. Special Forces operatives as a morale booster; those who joined the fight were confined to manning checkpoints and other menial tasks on the fringe of battle, or wore balaclavas to conceal their identity from other Iraqis.
But allegations of two particularly horrific incidents of infiltrators using the uniforms of the ICDC and the Iraqi police to work against the U.S.-led occupation mean that now even the Americans are openly suspicious of the two services. [complete article]
U.S.-Iranian cooperation initiative on Iraq falls apart amid Iranian diplomats' assassination
By Ardeshir Moaveni, EurasiaNet, April 21, 2004
An apparent deal between the United States and Iran that would have brought Tehran's influence to bear on Iraqi Shi'as to end their uprising against U.S. occupation forces has fallen apart amid the assassination of a top Iranian diplomat in Baghdad. A leading American expert on Iran said the deal's collapse indicates that the Bush administration lacks a coherent Iran policy. [...]
The circumstances surrounding the assassination prompted some political analysts to suggest that it was specifically designed to upend the tenuous U.S.-Iranian rapprochement effort. Other experts maintained that the U.S.-Iranian deal had fallen apart before the assassination occurred, adding that Iranian officials were using the killing as an after-the-fact pretext for abandoning the cooperation effort. [...]
"The current situation in Iraq is undoubtedly the result of U.S. negligence towards the realities and the sentiments of people in the region," Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in comments published by IRNA. "It is necessary that the United States change its behavior towards the Iraqi people." [complete article]
N. Korean nuclear issue simmers on a back burner
By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2004
Dealing with Pyongyang's headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons, once described as the biggest security threat to the United States, has been downgraded to a droning diplomatic process with little sense of urgency -- at least until after the U.S. presidential election.
"It is like they are just going through the motions," said Charles L. Pritchard, once a lead U.S. negotiator with North Korea and now a harsh critic of the Bush administration's handling of the Stalinist regime.
The latest delays come on top of months of fits and starts on North Korea as the war in Iraq largely dominated the world's attention. As the standoff over the North's nuclear ambitions drags into its 19th month, Pyongyang is likely to be exploiting delays to perfect its bomb-making technology.
The Bush administration "can say with a straight face that we have engaged the international community. We have a multilateral approach. But they are not headed to legitimate resolution of the problem," Pritchard said. "They have merely obtained their interim goal, which is to keep Korea off the front pages."
Vanunu: Israel's nuclear telltale
By Martin Asser, BBC News, April 20, 2004
Mordechai Vanunu's revelations in 1986 appeared to confirm suspicions about Israel's nuclear arsenal and showed a weapons programme bigger and more advanced than anyone had previously thought.
He had worked for nine years as a technician at the Dimona nuclear research centre in the Negev desert - but he left in late 1985 to backpack around the Far East, having become disillusioned with his work.
Before quitting he surreptitiously snapped two rolls of film at the top secret nuclear plant, including equipment for extracting radioactive material for arms production and laboratory models of thermonuclear devices.
It is not clear whether Vanunu was already set upon blowing the whistle on Israel's secret nuclear activities, but by the following year he had joined a group of anti-nuclear Christians in Sydney, Australia, coincidentally being baptised as an Anglican.
One of the group, Colombian-born freelance journalist Oscar Guerrero, persuaded him to follow his conscience and publish the pictures along with detailed information about the Dimona plant.
It was a decision that led him first to London and the Sunday Times - then to Rome and kidnapping by Israeli intelligence service Mossad - then back to Israel and a long jail sentence. [complete article]
See also additional background on the Vanunu story in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
WHY THEY HATE US
Arab ally snubs Bush amid 'unprecedented hatred' for U.S.
By Ewen MacAskill and Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, April 21, 2004
A growing rift between America and the Arab world was exposed yesterday when two Middle Eastern allies delivered damaging rebuffs to President George Bush's policies in the region.
King Abdullah of Jordan flew home from the U.S. after abruptly cancelling a meeting planned for today with the president in Washington. The king's move came as the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, said there was more hatred of Americans in the Arab world today than ever before. [...]
King Abdullah's cancellation was in retaliation for Mr Bush's support last week for a plan by the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, in which he offered to pull out of Gaza in return for U.S. recognition of illegal settlements on the West Bank and an end of the right of 3.6 million Palestinians to return to Israel.
Mr Mubarak cited as reasons for the increased hatred Israel and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In an interview with Le Monde published yesterday, he said: "After what has happened in Iraq, there is an unprecedented hatred. What's more - they [Arabs] see Sharon act as he wants, without the Americans saying anything". [complete article]
Why they hate us, really
By Walter Russell Mead, New York Times, April 21, 2004
For the last five weeks I have been traveling through the Middle East, meeting diplomats, officials, policy experts, military leaders, students and ordinary citizens. I learned something very important: the greatest single cause of anti-Americanism in the Middle East today is not the war in Iraq; more surprisingly, it is not even American support for Israel, per se. Rather, it is a widespread belief that the United States simply does not care about the rights or needs of the Palestinian people. [...]
In Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and other countries, the large majority of people I spoke with are ready to tolerate the Jewish state -- most even understand that the final boundaries of Israel will include some of the heavily settled areas beyond the pre-1967 borders. They also understand that few if any Palestinians will return to the homes they lost after the war that erupted when Israel declared its independence in 1948. And they are prepared to accept, though not to relish, America's close relations with Israel. Beyond that, they want increased American support for their domestic political reforms and for initiatives to enhance regional cooperation for economic growth and fighting terrorism.
But one thing sticks in their craw: Why doesn't America care more about the Palestinians' future? [complete article]
Pentagon deleted Rumsfeld comment
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, April 21, 2004
The Pentagon deleted from a public transcript a statement Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made to author Bob Woodward suggesting that the administration gave Saudi Arabia a two-month heads-up that President Bush had decided to invade Iraq.
At issue was a passage in Woodward's Plan of Attack, an account published this week of Bush's decision making about the war, quoting Rumsfeld as telling Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, in January 2003 that he could "take that to the bank" that the invasion would happen. [complete article]
Transcript text deleted by the Pentagon
CRITICISM FROM WITHIN THE RANKS
Whitehall's private anger won't abate
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, April 20, 2004
Senior British military officers... sharply criticise U.S. tactics in Iraq. "The Americans were too brutal. They would have been better off trying a different approach," says one. "We are culturally different from the U.S. We would have done things differently if we had been in charge," says another. Such anger was reflected in a letter in yesterday's Times, with former senior officers and diplomats remarking pointedly: "If we seek to bring democracy to Iraq, the rule of law should come first." [...]
Anger in Whitehall with the U.S. approach to the so-called war on terror was evident well before the invasion of Iraq. Whitehall is furious at America's treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
British officials were angry, too, when Washington persisted in claiming that Saddam and al-Qaida were linked. This raises another issue. When the Guardian first reported that British intelligence officials dismissed such links, the Foreign Office was annoyed, but not because the story was inaccurate. Jack Straw's FO was worried because the story would upset the Americans. [complete article]
2 U.S. generals fault Iraqi ban on former elite
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 21, 2004
Two American generals warned Tuesday that the occupation authority's policy of barring former Baath Party members, including senior Iraqi Army officers, from government jobs was self-defeating and breeding resentment against the American-led efforts in the country. [...]
"There are a number of Sunnis who are very good, courageous and determined people, who, if given a chance, would be part of the solution in Iraq," said one of the generals, Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste, commander of the First Infantry Division, at his headquarters here in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces overlooking the Tigris River. "They would be schoolteachers. They would be engineers."
General Batiste also said there were a "huge number" of former Iraqi military officers who have been "completely marginalized" by the decision last year by L. Paul Bremer III, Iraq's civilian administrator, to disband the Iraqi Army. "These are proud officers with enormous energy and capability," General Batiste said. "If we harness their capability, it'd be a good thing." [complete article]
U.S. turns to old foes to secure Iraq
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 2004
After months of placing great hope on the budding U.S.-trained army and security forces, recent fighting has set off alarm bells. One newly formed Iraqi battalion refused orders to join U.S. Marines in the Fallujah fight; Police have left their posts, in some cases joining the rebels.
"It is clear that Iraqi forces will not be able, on their own, to deal with these threats by June 30 when an Iraqi government assumes sovereignty," Mr. Bremer said on Sunday, in an unusually candid assessment. [...]
On paper, the U.S. has trained 200,000 police, defense corps members, and soldiers. But former Iraqi officers say the only solution to the current unrest is resurrecting large parts of the old Iraqi military, before insecurity spirals further out of control - an idea that is gaining traction with U.S. commanders.
"It's very clear that we've got to get more senior Iraqis involved - former military types involved in the security forces," said Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. regional commander, last week. "In the next couple of days you'll see a large number of senior officers being appointed to key positions in the Ministry of Defense, and the Iraqi joint staff, and in Iraqi field commands." [complete article]
Chalabi's fall from grace
By Johanna McGeary, Massimo Calabresi, TIME.com, April 26, 2004
Once upon a time, Ahmad Chalabi had friends in high places. The M.I.T.-educated Iraqi exile was the odds-on choice of a powerful coterie inside the Bush Administration to run Iraq once Saddam Hussein was gone. In the fall of 2002, well before the U.S. invaded, Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith was trying to get Congress to release $97 million earmarked for groups, like Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (I.N.C.), that were agitating for regime change. The Administration was relying on Chalabi's sources to provide intelligence on Saddam's alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But the State Department and the CIA persuaded the Senate Appropriations Committee not to release the money, arguing that Chalabi's intelligence wasn't worth paying for.
Nevertheless, with help from the top, Chalabi got his share of the money. In October 2002, at a meeting of President Bush's top aides, according to a former senior National Security Council official familiar with the session, Vice President Dick Cheney pushed forcefully for the payout, saying, "We are nickel-and-diming the I.N.C. when they are providing critical intelligence" on Iraq's WMD. Oversight of Chalabi's information operation was shifted from the skeptics at State to the Pentagon, where his champions included Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. [...]
Chalabi's fall from grace began the moment he arrived in Iraq. An exile for almost 46 of his 59 years, Chalabi, a secular Shi'ite, had no constituency inside the country. When the CIA refused to provide weapons to his ragtag band of mercenaries, the Pentagon armed them over the agency's objections. Within days of their arrival, some of Chalabi's forces claimed houses, buildings, document caches and vehicles in Baghdad that belonged to the former regime. Eventually the U.S. disarmed those members of the militia it could still track down. Among Iraqis, Chalabi, dogged by charges that he mishandled U.S. funds and convicted in absentia in 1991 of bank fraud in Jordan -- he has always maintained his innocence -- has failed to shake his image as a carpetbagger. Polls show that in spite of his efforts to ingratiate himself with powerful figures like Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, he remains the most mistrusted political figure in Iraq. [complete article]
By Arthur Neslen, The Guardian, April 21, 2004
When U.S. forces recently demanded that a team from the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera leave Falluja as a condition for reaching a ceasefire with the local resistance, it came as no surprise at the network's headquarters in Doha. Reliable sources there say that coalition officials threatened to close down the al-Jazeera bureau in Baghdad earlier this year and last week sent a letter accusing the network of violating the Geneva convention and the principles of a free press.
Since the "war on terror" began, al-Jazeera has been a thorn in the side of the Pentagon. "My solution is to change the channel," Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said this month in Baghdad, "to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station. The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources." [...]
The al-Jazeera reports of U.S. snipers firing at women and children in the streets of Falluja have now been corroborated by international observers in the city. Perhaps it is natural that a military force should seek to suppress evidence that could be used against it in future war crimes trials. But it is equally natural that a free media should resist.
Democratising the Middle East may have been the neo-cons' case for the conquest of Iraq. But on the ground, the U.S. is acting against the flowering of Middle East media freedom, which al-Jazeera initiated. [complete article]
South Asia in the shadow of terror
By Ajai Sahni, Asia Times, Apr 21, 2004
The U.S. coalition's growing troubles in Iraq are bad news for South Asia. Among the primary targets of Islamist extremist terrorism in the region, India has long seen a necessary convergence of its interests with those of the U.S.-led global "war against terrorism" - though there have been differences over the discriminatory focus of this war, and the evident indulgence extended to Pakistan's continuing support to terrorist groups. The increasing disarray in Iraq creates imminent dangers of an escalation and widening of Islamist terrorist activities in this region, even as it creates possibilities of intensification of violence by terrorist groups deriving their justification from other ideological streams. [...]
This creates opportunities and incentives for terrorists and their state sponsors in South Asia to intensify campaigns that had, briefly, been brought under significant pressure as a result of the glare of international publicity and the increased risk of international penalties after September 11, 2001. It is useful to recall that it was the neglect of developments in South Asia - and particularly of the assembly lines of jihad in Pakistan and then-Taliban-controlled Afghanistan - that contributed directly to the current mushrooming of global Islamist terrorism and the planning and execution of September 11. While the armies and infrastructure of terrorism in Afghanistan were substantially eroded by the U.S.-led campaign there, much of these simply shifted across the border into Pakistan, to join forces with a number of like-minded terrorist groups, many of them created and directly supported by covert state agencies in that country. Considerable U.S. pressure on the regime of President General Pervez Musharraf had resulted in some cosmetic curbs on these organizations, and a marginal decline in their visible activities. Such trends are now in danger of reversal, as U.S. prestige suffers blow after blow in Iraq.
There is, today, a growing assessment among radical Islamist groups that, while the United States does have the unquestionable power and technology to blow any country out of existence, it does not have the capacity or comprehension to manage even a mid-sized nation - such as Afghanistan or Iraq - under occupation or surrogate rule. The U.S., moreover, is assessed to have no effective defenses against sustained and determined terrorist campaigns, and is, consequently, perceived to be immensely vulnerable despite its apparent strength. [complete article]
We'll take whatever the Americans allow
By Yitzhak Laor, Haaretz.com, April 21, 2004
During the decades of the occupation, the dovish camp has learned to summarize its position regarding annexation with the dogma, "The Americans won't allow it." Even the settler right has tended to believe that dogma, and decided to identify it with "fear of the powerful gentile" so familiar from the Diaspora, and such. But that belief has been in stark contradiction to the facts.
Since the 1970 Rogers Plan, no American administration, before or after elections, in a second term or not, has ever intended to halt the Israeli annexation of the last of the land available to the Palestinians to establish their own state. When the U.S. wanted to pressure Israel - for example, in the case of the withdrawal from Sinai in 1975 - it applied a "reassessment" and Israel folded in a flash. If the United States really and truly wanted to prevent Israel from undertaking the long adventure of tragically taking over the territories of the West Bank and Gaza, it could have done so easily. But it never did. [...]
The difference between us and Bush and his advisers is the price that we will pay here for the crime of missing the historic opportunity to divide the country. Israel, according to the Bush vision and those who enjoy his support in the settlements, will live in a deepening process of apartheid, with all its security justifications ("everything is temporary, until peace arrives"). Those who think the country will remain quiet for 40 years just because the Americans agree that keeping Beit El is part of the basic condition for the security of Israeli lives, should remember how the blood flowed like rivers in all those parts of the world where a pax Americana reigned, and not only in Southeast Asia (where it was possible to blame the Communists) but also in Latin America - a purely American playground. Now, the Middle East has joined the pax Americana, meanwhile, from Baghdad to Tel Aviv. As Dante wrote on the gates of hell: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." [complete article]
Their beliefs are bonkers, but they are at the heart of power
By George Monbiot, The Guardian, April 20, 2004
In the United States, several million people have succumbed to an extraordinary delusion. In the 19th century, two immigrant preachers cobbled together a series of unrelated passages from the Bible to create what appears to be a consistent narrative: Jesus will return to Earth when certain preconditions have been met. The first of these was the establishment of a state of Israel. The next involves Israel's occupation of the rest of its "biblical lands" (most of the Middle East), and the rebuilding of the Third Temple on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques. The legions of the antichrist will then be deployed against Israel, and their war will lead to a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. The Jews will either burn or convert to Christianity, and the Messiah will return to Earth.
What makes the story so appealing to Christian fundamentalists is that before the big battle begins, all "true believers" (ie those who believe what they believe) will be lifted out of their clothes and wafted up to heaven during an event called the Rapture. Not only do the worthy get to sit at the right hand of God, but they will be able to watch, from the best seats, their political and religious opponents being devoured by boils, sores, locusts and frogs, during the seven years of Tribulation which follow.
The true believers are now seeking to bring all this about. This means staging confrontations at the old temple site (in 2000, three U.S. Christians were deported for trying to blow up the mosques there), sponsoring Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, demanding ever more US support for Israel, and seeking to provoke a final battle with the Muslim world/Axis of Evil/United Nations/ European Union/France or whoever the legions of the antichrist turn out to be. [...]
We can laugh at these people, but we should not dismiss them. That their beliefs are bonkers does not mean they are marginal. American pollsters believe that 15-18% of U.S. voters belong to churches or movements which subscribe to these teachings. A survey in 1999 suggested that this figure included 33% of Republicans... The people who believe all this don't believe it just a little; for them it is a matter of life eternal and death.
And among them are some of the most powerful men in America. John Ashcroft, the attorney general, is a true believer, so are several prominent senators and the House majority leader, Tom DeLay...
So here we have a major political constituency - representing much of the current president's core vote - in the most powerful nation on Earth, which is actively seeking to provoke a new world war. Its members see the invasion of Iraq as a warm-up act, as Revelation (9:14-15) maintains that four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates" will be released "to slay the third part of men". [complete article]
COALITION OF THE LESS WILLING
Blair condemns Israel and opens rift with U.S.
By Ewen MacAskill in Jerusalem and Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, April 20, 2004
Tony Blair distanced himself from Washington yesterday by pointedly condemning the Israeli assassination of the Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi at the weekend.
George Bush's administration refused to criticise the killing and said Israel had a right of self-defence.
Mr Blair told parliament: "We condemn the targeted assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi just as we condemn all terrorism, including that perpetrated by Hamas."
While Mr Blair has been quick to condemn Palestinian suicide bombings against Israel in the past, he has been less ready to criticise action against Palestinians. [...]
Mr Blair could have opted, as he has done in the past, to leave the criticism to the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who condemned the assassination at the weekend.
Mr Blair's condemnation came as the Bush administration denounced Hamas, saying it should be put out of business. The Palestinian government should shut down Hamas and provide Palestini ans with the social services that Hamas offers them, the White House spokesman Richard Boucher said. [complete article]
Will others follow Spain to the exit?
By Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2004
On the streets of Najaf, the Spanish soldiers whose withdrawal Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero ordered Sunday will scarcely be missed - they account for less than 1 percent of the coalition troops in Iraq.
But among U.S. allies, the new Spanish leader's decision will kindle new flames of doubt, threatening the coalition as governments rethink their commitment in the light of the flaring violence in Iraq and the country's uncertain future. U.S. hopes of persuading NATO to play a role in southern Iraq, for example, appear dimmed. [...]
Further pullouts would have little military impact, but would send politically damaging messages of distrust about how U.S. forces are dealing with the insurgency in Iraq, and would signal a lack of confidence in the U.S. vision of Iraq's political future, analysts say. [complete article]
Tough U.S. tactics quell Fallujah unrest, but at what cost?
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2004
President Bush vowed last week that "resolute action" would be used to quell the uprising in Iraq. Monday the hardening U.S. military policy showed signs of working: Fallujah civic leaders called on militants to surrender their heavy weapons; if they do, U.S. forces promised not to resume their offensive against the besieged city.
"It would appear there is an agreed political track," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters Monday. "There is also a very clear understanding ... that should this agreement not go through, Marine forces are more than prepared to carry through with military operations" and could seize Fallujah "in fairly short order." [...]
The dilemma: How to use forceful tactics - which are widely seen as drawn from Israel's uncompromising playbook, against Palestinian militants - without alienating the entire population.
"Even if we crush the resistance, it is only temporary," warns Charles Smith, head of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona. "There are too many cases, like in Israel, of [U.S. forces] doing target practice on anything that moves. What you are doing is creating more terrorism against yourself." [complete article]
Baghdad doctors report use of cluster bombs in Falluja; U.S. harrassment of patients
By Dahr Jamail, The NewStandard (via ElectronicIraq.net), April 20, 2004
[A] doctor at Noman Hospital, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that he saw the U.S. military dropping cluster bombs on the Al-Dora area last December, "I've seen it all with my own eyes. The U.S. later removed the unexploded bombs by soldiers picking up the bomblets and putting them in their helmets."
He also believes that cluster bombs are currently being used in Falluja, based on reports from field doctors presently working there, as well as statements taken from wounded civilians of Falluja.
He also claimed that many of the Falluja victims he had treated had been shot with 'dum-dum bullets', which are hollow point bullets that are designed to inflict maximum internal damage. These are also referred to as 'expanding bullets.'
Nearing the end of the discussion, the first doctor stated, "The U.S. induces aggression. If you don't attack me, I will never attack you. The U.S. is stimulating the aggression of the Iraqi people!" [complete article]
Woodward shares war secrets
CBSNews.com, April 18, 2004
[Plan of Attack author Bob] Woodward permitted 60 Minutes to listen to tapes he recorded of his most important interviews, to read the transcripts, and to verify that the quotes he uses are based on recollections from participants in the key meetings. Both CBS News and Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Woodward's book, are units of Viacom.
Woodward says that many of the quotes came directly from the president: "When I interviewed him for the first time several months ago up in the residence of the White House, he just kind of out of the blue said, 'It's the story of the 21st Century,' his decision to undertake this war and start a preemptive attack on another country." [complete article]
Woodward on Bush
By David Corn, The Nation, April 19, 2004
It's hard to know what is more disturbing. That George W. Bush misled the public by stating in the months before the Iraq war that he was seriously pursuing a diplomatic resolution when he was not. That he didn't bother to ask aides to present the case against going to war. That he may have violated the U.S. Constitution by spending hundreds of millions of dollars secretly to prepare for the invasion of Iraq without notifying Congress. That he was misinformed by the CIA director about one of the most critical issues of the day and demanded no accountability. Or that he doesn't care if he got it wrong on the weapons of mass destruction.
Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, illustrates all these points. The full book, which details Bush's march to war, is not yet out, but as is routine for a Woodward book, the more noteworthy passages have preceded the book's release via a well-orchestrated PR blitz (60 Minutes, installments in Woodward's Washington Post, and leaks). And before this book--which follows Woodward's Bush at War, a mostly pro-Bush chronicling of the war in Afghanistan--hits the racks, it is already possible to draw conclusions. (Isn't life in the information age wonderful?) [complete article]
Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, is now available here.
The terror of Bush's war on America
By Peter Preston, The Guardian, April 19, 2004
The people have a vote (if registered). They can be, and often are, involved in community politics. But real politics is the preserve of the few. And the few, like Marie Antoinette reaching for the ginger biscuits, are perennially edgy about their authority. Television and radio have given the president the added aura of supreme power. They have helped to free him from the web the founding fathers wove. He has a digital bully pulpit now. But he runs what [Bob Ivie, professor of communication and culture at Indiana University] calls a "rhetorical presidency" - full of "images, phantasms, tropes and insecurity". That means "governance by crisis".
Modern history makes the case. First the mutual phantasm of the cold war, then the dominoes of Vietnam falling. If no more suitable dragon than General Noriega presented itself, there was always a "war on drugs" to wage or forget, as necessary. And today there is that "war on terror". If war is crisis, then war is also the stifling of debate in weak democracies.
Those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty" while criticising the Bush administration's methods of fighting terror at home and abroad provide "aid to terrorists". That's attorney general John Ashcroft testifying to the Senate after 9/11. "See how dissent terrorises democracy while political quiescence promotes peace and security," says Ivie dryly. "Democratic dissent has turned oxymoronic." [complete article]
CNN to Al Jazeera: Why report civilian deaths?
ElectronicIraq.net, April 19, 2004
As the casualties mount in the besieged Iraqi city of Fallujah, Qatar-based Al Jazeera has been one of the only news networks broadcasting from the inside, relaying images of destruction and civilian victims-- including women and children. But when CNN anchor Daryn Kagan interviewed the network's editor-in-chief, Ahmed Al-Sheik, on Monday (4/12/04)-- a rare opportunity to get independent information about events in Fallujah-- she used the occasion to badger Al-Sheik about whether the civilian deaths were really "the story" in Fallujah. [...]
CNN's argument that a bigger story than civilian deaths is "what the Iraqi insurgents are doing" to provoke a U.S. "response" is startling. Especially in light of official U.S. denials of civilian deaths, video footage of women and children killed by the U.S. military is evidence that needs to be seen. [...]
But independent journalists reporting from Fallujah have described a scene consistent with the one broadcast by Al Jazeera. Rahul Mahajan, a U.S. journalist in Fallujah, estimated that of the 600 Iraqis killed in Fallujah, 200 were women and 100 young children, with many of the adult male casualties also non-combatants. He reported witnessing "a young woman, 18 years old, shot in the head" and "a young boy with massive internal bleeding" at a clinic (CommonDreams.org, 4/12/04). Mahajan recounted that during the "cease-fire," "Americans were attacking with heavy artillery but primarily with snipers"-- with ambulances among the targets. The sniper activity was also reported by U.S. journalist Dahr Jamail (NewStandardNews.net, 4/11/04): "Fallujah residents say Marines are opening fire randomly on unarmed civilians and have attacked clearly marked ambulances." [complete article]
Understanding Sistani's role
By Vali Nasr, Washington Post,, April 19, 2004
As U.S. forces encircle Najaf to "capture or kill" Moqtada Sadr and disband his militia, the Mahdi Army, it is important that policymakers consider the costs of such an operation. Reining in Sadr and his militia is important to U.S. objectives, but it may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has refused to sanction the entry of U.S. forces into Najaf, and he has publicly warned the United States about crossing a "red line" that will inflame Shiite public opinion, not only in Iraq but from Pakistan to Lebanon. The fallout is likely to make U.S. objectives in Iraq and its surrounding region more difficult to realize. It will instead cause instability, violence and anti-Americanism in quarters where such tendencies have so far not been evident. [...]
It is crucial that U.S. policymakers take stock of Sistani's importance and the positive role that he can play in helping America realize its goals in Iraq and the broader region. The U.S. administration must look to strengthen Sistani. This means avoiding radicalizing Shiite politics, increasing Sistani's room to maneuver and making sure that he is able to maintain his legitimacy by delivering on the demands of his community, especially with regard to the constitution and the interim government that will take over on June 30. If he fails to do so, his brand of politics will give way to one that looks to confrontation rather than negotiation.
More importantly and immediately, the United States must allow Sistani to find a solution to the standoff in Najaf. If Sistani is able to preserve the sanctity of the city and prevent bloodshed while addressing U.S. demands, his stature will be enhanced immensely. This is ultimately what America wants -- to empower Sistani and to cage Sadr, to nudge the Shiite community away from combative posturing and toward constructive engagement over the constitution and future of Iraq. The imperative of reining in Sadr and his militia has to be balanced with the larger goal of achieving the U.S. objectives of bringing stability and order to Iraq. Preserving Sistani's position should matter more than crushing Sadr. Surely the United States would not want Sistani to become "collateral damage" in a showdown in Najaf. [complete article]
Occupation highlights superpower limits
By Henry C K Liu, Asia Times, April 20, 2004
While defeating an outdated military of a small nation one tenth its size, such as Iraq, is hardly a conclusive validation of superpower prowess, the problems of occupation of a country the size of California are apparently overwhelming the superpower. No power, however super, can be the policeman of the world, a lesson the US had painfully learned that subsequently led to the age of detente in the last phase of the Cold War. A new policy of detente towards militant Islam by dealing directly with the root causes of Islamic terrorism now needs to be considered. Law enforcement will remain ineffective if laws derived from historical imperialism and cultural bias remain unjust. With the US definition of terrorism, the "war on terrorism" cannot be won. With blatant injustice condoned as bogus freedom, it would be easier to hunt down and sweep clean all mushrooms in a rain forest than to root out terrorists around the world.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq, the centerpiece of the US "war on terrorism", serves to illustrate the dysfunctionality of superpower geopolitics. The war was waged first on a pretext of policing government-supported terrorism, and then of preemptive removal of weapons of mass destruction, both in hindsight having been found wanting in reality. Now the high-minded final objective of bringing democracy to a tribal nation is turning out to be a disastrous geopolitical blowback, as a democratic government of the Shi'ite majority is far from what Washington had in mind for Iraq. Unlike the brief invasion phase of the Iraqi war, leaving alone the controversial official pretexts of the invasion, in which anticipated urban warfare from a defending army failed to materialize, in the open-ended occupation phase, unexpected urban warfare between a professional US army and a popular militia has emerged in occupied Iraq. [complete article]
Sharon's banana republics
By Afif Safieh, The Guardian, April 19, 2004
After the horror of 9/11, when the predictable retaliation was being discussed, the pro-Israel lobby emerged as the "maximalist school", which wanted to expand the theatre of operations beyond Afghanistan to engulf Iraq, Syria and Libya. That lobby has grown accustomed to using one muscle too many and one pressure too far. The collusion between the US and Israeli agendas has put America on a collision course with the Arab World, which now perceives the US as Israel's belligerent Sparta and the aim of American foreign policy to be docility, not democracy.
Tony Blair has always had a more sophisticated approach than George Bush. Blair knew that military challenges and security threats needed political responses. That to win the battle of hearts and minds, the west had to be seen as engaged in resolving the Palestinian problem. The test and the extent of his influence in Washington depended on who Bush needed more: Blair internationally or Ariel Sharon domestically.
Last week was a sad moment for international diplomacy. The world's two most powerful leaders, Bush and Blair, caved in to the most unscrupulous politician in the Middle East, who was found to be "unfit for public office" by an Israeli inquiry committee after the massacres of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. [complete article]
The Pentagon as global slumlord
By Mike Davis, TomDispatch, April 19, 2004
The battle of Fallujah, together with the conflicts unfolding in Shiia cities and Baghdad slums, are high-stakes tests, not just of U.S. policy in Iraq, but of Washington's ability to dominate what Pentagon planners consider the "key battlespace of the future" -- the Third World city.
The Mogadishu debacle of 1993, when neighborhood militias inflicted 60% casualties on elite Army Rangers, forced U.S. strategists to rethink what is known in Pentagonese as MOUT: "Militarized Operations on Urbanized Terrain." Ultimately, a National Defense Panel review in December 1997 castigated the Army as unprepared for protracted combat in the near impassable, maze-like streets of the poverty-stricken cities of the Third World.
As a result, the four armed services, coordinated by the Joint Staff Urban Working Group, launched crash programs to master street-fighting under realistic third-world conditions. "The future of warfare," the journal of the Army War College declared, "lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings, and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world."
Israeli advisors were quietly brought in to teach Marines, Rangers, and Navy Seals the state-of-the-art tactics -- especially the sophisticated coordination of sniper and demolition teams with heavy armor and overwhelming airpower -- so ruthlessly used by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza and the West Bank. [...]
This tactical "Israelization" of U.S. combat doctrine has been accompanied by what might be called a "Sharonization" of the Pentagon's worldview. Military theorists are now deeply involved in imagining how the evolving capacity of high-tech warfare can contain, if not destroy, chronic "terrorist" insurgencies rooted in the desperation of growing megaslums. [complete article]
Carnage dims hopes for political way in Iraq
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2004
To many Westerners, the ambush and mutilation of four U.S. contractors in Fallouja appeared to be the start of the troubles. But tracing the onset of this downward spiral, two other events stand out that at the time were viewed by Westerners as relatively ordinary.
Six days before the attack on the contractors, newly arrived Marines had entered Fallouja -- the first time in months that U.S. forces had done so. In a battle for control near an entrance to the city, Marines killed between eight and 18 Iraqis, some of them civilians. That set off a cycle of revenge, including the ambush and mutilation of the contractors and a nearly simultaneous assault that killed five Marines.
The second event occurred two days after that initial battle. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority shut down a newspaper sponsored by Sadr, angering his supporters. Within hours, 500 to 1,000 followers rallied in front of the paper's office. [complete article]
THE SECURITY COMPANIES
Fallujah: Brutal ambush might have been avoided
By Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, April 19, 2004
The brutal slaying and mutilation of four private U.S. guards as they drove through the flashpoint town of Fallujah last month shocked the world and sparked an escalation of the bloody conflict in Iraq. Yet as U.S. Marines besiege the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim city in a bid to punish the attackers, one uncomfortable question remains: Could the tragedy have been avoided?
In the past three weeks, The Chronicle has delved into the background of the fateful decision that led Blackwater Security, a respected and experienced U.S. security firm, to escort a food convoy through the most dangerous town in Iraq. [...]
Security sources in Iraq have told The Chronicle that Blackwater had just taken over the escort contract from a British company, Control Risks Group, which warned them at the time that Fallujah was not safe to travel through.
According to senior executives working with other Baghdad security companies, Blackwater's decision to press ahead anyway stemmed from a desire to impress its new clients. [complete article]
Security companies: Shadow soldiers in Iraq
By David Barstow, New York Times, April 19, 2004
They have come from all corners of the world. Former Navy Seal commandos from North Carolina. Gurkas from Nepal. Soldiers from South Africa's old apartheid government. They have come by the thousands, drawn to the dozens of private security companies that have set up shop in Baghdad. The most prized were plucked from the world's elite special forces units. Others may have been recruited from the local SWAT team.
But they are there, racing about Iraq in armored cars, many outfitted with the latest in high-end combat weapons. Some security companies have formed their own "Quick Reaction Forces," and their own intelligence units that produce daily intelligence briefs with grid maps of "hot zones." One company has its own helicopters, and several have even forged diplomatic alliances with local clans.
With every week of insurgency in a war zone with no front, these companies are becoming more deeply enmeshed in combat, in some cases all but obliterating distinctions between professional troops and private commandos. Company executives see a clear boundary between their defensive roles as protectors and the offensive operations of the military. But more and more, they give the appearance of private, for-profit militias -- by several estimates, a force of roughly 20,000 on top of an American military presence of 130,000. [complete article]
WAR ON HAMAS
Israel's extreme measures
By Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, April 19, 2004
Bereaved Palestinians threw purple flowers on the body of assassinated Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rantissi Sunday as Arab leaders blamed the US, burying hopes for any near-term prospects for a negotiated solution with Israel. [...]
Israeli analysts say the combination of the American backing and the assassination translates into a political resuscitation for Mr. Sharon, who faces possible indictment on corruption charges in the coming weeks. But Palestinian analysts say the events also close the door on negotiations and sharpen local support for Hamas, Fatah, and other Palestinian militant groups.
"There is no political alternative for Palestinians today," says Hafez Barghouthi, editor of the PA's al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper. "We will see more blood. That is the only future for this area when there is a prime minister like Sharon and a president like Bush." [complete article]
A funeral in Gaza - and birth of a new resistance
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, April 19, 2004
Shops all over Gaza City were shuttered yesterday and tyres burned at every crossroads, emitting black clouds and a toxic stink as the town closed down to bury Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, the 57-year-old paediatrician and leader of Hamas who was assassinated by Israeli helicopter gunships on Saturday night, along with two associates.
His death came less than a month after Israel killed another Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and provoked the organisation to vows vengeance. "The blood of Yassin and Rantissi will not be wasted. Their blood will force the eruption of new volcanoes," one militant cried.
The group posted a statement on its website pledging "100 retaliations" that would shake Israel. It said it had declared a state of emergency in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until revenge was complete. [complete article]
Sharon's victory will still leave his people living in fear
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, April 19, 2004
Mr Sharon's vision for Israel and Palestine is taking shape, and no matter what Tony Blair says it has no place for the road map agreed in December 2002 by the US, EU, UN and Russia as a step-by-step approach to a negotiated peace.
He is imposing his own version of peace. He told the cabinet that the barrier between Israel and the West Bank would be completed within 10 months.
Israel has a right to build such a barrier, which has proved successful in reducing the number of would-be Palestinian suicide bombers passing from the West Bank, but only along the 1967 border with the Palestinian West Bank, not eating into Palestinian territory, as it does. [...]
Mr Sharon's plan may provide a temporary sense of security for Israelis but it will feed the Palestinian sense of injustice, producing resentment in new generations. [complete article]
Old weapons, new terror worries
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 15, 2004
Imagine this scenario: Computer hackers working for Al Qaeda break into Russia's nuclear weapons network, and "spoof" the system into believing it is under attack, setting off a chain reaction, and a real nuclear counterattack.
Another doomsday possibility made headlines when Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's No. 2, was quoted last month boasting that Al Qaeda had already acquired "some suitcase bombs" - radioactive material packed with conventional explosives. Mr. Zawahiri said that anything was available for $30 million on the Central Asian black market or from disgruntled Soviet scientists. Russia immediately rejected the claim.
But such what-ifs are among the nuclear terrorism threats that analysts are reexamining, as the learning curve of terror groups today comes closer to intersecting the vulnerabilities of atomic arsenals. [complete article]
Iraqi nuclear gear found in Europe
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, April 15, 2004
Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned the U.N. Security Council in a letter that U.N. satellite photos have detected "the extensive removal of equipment and, in some instances, removal of entire buildings" from sites that had been subject to U.N. monitoring before the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
ElBaradei said an IAEA investigation "indicates that large quantities of scrap, some of it contaminated, have been transferred out of Iraq, from sites monitored by the IAEA." He said that he has informed the United States about the discovery and is awaiting "clarification." [complete article]
U.S. wastes billions on nuclear weapons stockpile
National Journal Group, Global Security Newswire, April 15, 2004
The Bush administration is spending 12 times more on developing nuclear weapons than it is on efforts to secure and reduce existing nuclear weapons materials, according to a report released Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (see GSN, Jan. 29).
“The Energy Department is asking Congress for $6.8 billion for nuclear weapons projects for next year’s budget — double what we spent a decade ago,” report author Christopher Paine, a senior policy analyst at the council, said in a prepared statement. “Spending billions to extend the life of thousands of Cold War nuclear warheads is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars,” he added. [complete article]
'Lawrence of Arabia' redux
By Frank Rich, New York Times, April 18, 2004
... The most apt movie for this moment just may be David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia." Richard Holbrooke, the Clinton ambassador to the United Nations whose foreign service career began in Vietnam, said to me last week, "That's the image everyone I've talked to who saw the movie has in his head right now."
What Mr. Holbrooke is referring to is the story's mordant conclusion. The Arab revolt against the Ottoman empire, abetted by the heroic British liaison officer T. E. Lawrence and guerrilla tactics, has succeeded. The shotgun mandating of the modern state of Iraq, by the League of Nations in 1920, is just a few years away. But as the local leaders gather in an Arab council, a tentative exercise in self-government, there is nothing but squabbling, even as power outages and public-health outrages roil the populace. "I didn't come here to watch a tribal bloodbath," says Peter O'Toole, as Lawrence, earlier in the movie when first encountering the internecine warfare of the Arab leaders he admired. But the bloodbath continued — and now that we've ended Saddam's savage grip on Iraq, it has predictably picked up where it left off. Only Americans have usurped the British as the primary targets in the crossfire of an undying civil war. [complete article]
Bush's dangerous arrogance
By Henry Porter, The Observer, April 18, 2004
American foreign policy consists entirely of self-interest, never more so than in an election year when a first-term President is pursuing an extra couple of per cent of Jewish votes in Florida and Ohio. For this, the President attempts to put the world's most serious problem into storage, leaving the destiny of people hanging in the air and the world open-mouthed at the nakedness of his motives.
The Prime Minister has argued that the Sharon plan is, in effect, stage one of the 'Road Map' and that it may contain an opportunity for progress, but the signs are not hopeful for the simple reason that it dismisses Security Council resolution 242 which demands an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders. Drafted by the British, 242 is the central pillar of the Palestinian case and to have it dismissed by the Americans and Israelis will add to their rage and sense of injustice.
In his Observer article last week about Iraq, the Prime Minister wrote that a 'significant part of Western opinion is sitting back, if not half-hoping we fail, certainly replete with Schadenfreude at the difficulty we find'. There's a reason for this which he may have appreciated better at the end of last week than he did at the beginning. A vast proportion of intelligent Western opinion is sick of the world's most delicate problems being subsumed to the ambitions of a few American politicians.
We hurried to war last year so that it wouldn't overlap with Bush's election campaign. We are about to hand over to a sovereign authority in Iraq, the nature of which is still unclear, so that he can distance himself from events there during the run-up to 4 November. Now, Bush dispatches the Palestinian problem to the distant rim of the agenda with this shoddy fix in a hotel room. [complete article]
Blair has lost his grip
By Charles Kennedy, The Observer, April 18, 2004
In the year since the invasion of Iraq we have seen public opinion in the UK and the rest of the world swept aside, the UN sidelined, allies spurned. The US President has ignored advice from the CIA, the State Department and even the Pentagon. When respected former UN ambassadors and Foreign Secretaries such as Sir Crispin Tickell and Douglas Hurd have joined the ranks of the critics, the criticism should not be taken lightly.
The gravest error is the continuing insistence that Iraq is the front line in an uncompromising 'war' against terrorism. The Prime Minister lumps together all the elements of resistance and calls them 'fanatics and terrorists', while praising moderate members of the Iraqi Governing Council. But if members of the IGC are resigning in protest at the way the occupation is being handled they must be sensing a shift in the public mood.
Not everyone who opposes the coalition is a terrorist. If Iraq is a haven for Islamic terrorists it is because of the invasion; there was no proven link with al-Qaeda before. We cannot expect Iraqi society to quietly wait for democracy to be delivered according to the coalition's timetable. We should not confuse nationalism with Islamic terrorism. The perpetrators of the Madrid bombs are not the same as nationalists in Iraq, as the Prime Minister seems to believe. [complete article]
The War: What we're missing
By John DeBlasio, Washington Post, April 18, 2004
Ever since the initial planning phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we Americans have struggled with the single most important question about our role in Iraq: Are we "occupiers" or "liberators"? [...]
Legally speaking there has never been any question about our role. In October 2002, the Defense Department's general counsel ruled that, under international law, we would be responsible as an occupying force after invading Iraq. Otherwise, it would have been the job of coalition forces, as "liberators," to quickly hand over power to a legitimate government that would assume the legal responsibility for governing the country and its people. As occupiers, we would assume the legal responsibility to guarantee the security and well-being of the Iraqi people. That was also part of the premise of U.N. Resolution 1483, which lifted sanctions in Iraq and further defined our role as occupiers.
Unfortunately, U.S. planning took a different tack. Eschewing the mantle of occupier, we prepared instead for the postwar period by zeroing in on the potential for humanitarian catastrophes instead of the administrative and security issues that became paramount following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. As a result, U.S. forces were unprepared when, following "liberation," the Iraqi people tore into their own neighborhoods. [complete article]
The last Iraqi insurgency
By Niall Ferguson, New York Times, April 18, 2004
From Ted Kennedy to the cover of Newsweek, we are being warned that Iraq has turned into a quagmire, George W. Bush's Vietnam. Learning from history is well and good, but such talk illustrates the dangers of learning from the wrong history. To understand what is going on in Iraq today, Americans need to go back to 1920, not 1970. And they need to get over the American inhibition about learning from non-American history.
President Bush, too, seems to miss the point. "We're not an imperial power," he insisted in his press conference on Tuesday. Trouble is, what he is trying to do in Iraq -- and what is going wrong -- look uncannily familiar to anyone who knows some British imperial history. Iraq had the distinction of being one of our last and shortest-lived colonies. This isn't 'Nam II -- it's a rerun of the British experience of compromised colonization. When Mr. Bush met Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain on Friday, the uninvited guest at the press conference -- which touched not only on Iraq but also on Palestine, Cyprus and even Northern Ireland -- was the ghost of empire past. [...]
Then as now, the insurrection had religious origins and leaders, but it soon transcended the country's ancient ethnic and sectarian divisions. The first anti-British demonstrations were in the mosques of Baghdad. But the violence quickly spread to the Shiite holy city of Karbala, where British rule was denounced by Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi -- perhaps the historical counterpart of today's Shiite firebrand, Moktada al-Sadr. The revolt stretched as far north as the Kurdish city of Kirkuk and as far south as Samawah, where British forces were trapped (and where Japanese troops, facing a hostage crisis, were holed up last week).
Then, as now, the rebels systematically sought to disrupt the occupiers' communications -- then by attacking railways and telegraph lines, today by ambushing convoys. British troops and civilians were besieged, just as hostages are being held today. Then as now, much of the violence was more symbolic than strategically significant -- British bodies were mutilated, much as American bodies were at Falluja. By August of 1920 the situation was so desperate that the general in charge appealed to London not only for reinforcements but also for chemical weapons (mustard gas bombs or shells), though these turned out to be unavailable. [complete article]
Revolts in Iraq deepen crisis in occupation
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karl Vick, Washington Post, April 18, 2004
In the space of two weeks, a fierce insurgency in Iraq has isolated the U.S.-appointed civilian government and stopped the American-financed reconstruction effort, as contractors hunker down against waves of ambushes and kidnappings, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
U.S. officials said they are reconsidering initial assessments that the uprisings might be contained as essentially military confrontations in Fallujah, where Marines continue their siege of a chronically volatile city, and Najaf, where the militant Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr has taken refuge in the shadow of a shrine.
"The Fallujah problem and the Sadr problem are having a wider impact than we expected," a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy said. In Baghdad and Washington, officials had initially concluded that addressing those problems would not engender much anger among ordinary Iraqis. "Sadr's people and the people of Fallujah were seen as isolated and lacking broad support among Iraqis," the official added.
Instead, the official said, "The effect has been profound." [complete article]
Rantisi and Najaf
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment, April 18, 2004
The Sunday Herald correctly points out that the Israeli murder of Abdul Aziz Rantisi, the head of the political wing of the Hamas party, on Saturday, will cause further trouble in Iraq.
With al-Anbar province tense and US troops surrounding Najaf, one could not imagine a worse time for Bush to give a green light to Sharon for further provocations. One can only conclude that neither Ariel Sharon nor Bush and his Neocon advisers give a fig about the lives of US and Coalition servicemen in Iraq. Otherwise, they'd stop with the theatrics. If the Israelis had wanted to arrest Rantisi, they could have. They pulled off Entebbe. This extra-judicial murder of political opponents is just showing off, and it is of course ethically despicable and a war crime for which one only wishes Sharon could be made to stand trial in the Hague. If Rantisi could have been proved to have committed an act of terrorism, he should have been arrested and tried in Gaza for murder. I condemn violence by Palestinian leaders just as I do that done by Israeli ones, and do not have a problem with terrorists being punished for killing innocent people. I do have a problem with political rivals whacking one another unnecessarily, especially when it is likely to get some of my friends killed. [complete article]
Qureia blames U.S. bias; Israel: Rantisi was terror mastermind
Haaretz Service and Agencies, Haartez.com, April 18, 2004
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia on Saturday said Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi was a "direct result" of encouragement from the United States.
Rantisi was killed by a missile strike on his car in the Gaza Strip, the powerbase of the Palestinian Islamic militant group where he had been the top official.
"The Palestinian cabinet considers this terrorist Israeli campaign is a direct result of American encouragement and the complete bias of the American administration towards the Israeli government," he said. [...]
The White House early Sunday declined to criticize the strike, saying instead that Israel "has the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks" and urging restraint in the region. [complete article]
Why Arabs hear Sharon, not Bush
By Tony Karon, Time.com, April 15, 2004
Who are the Arabs going to believe, the Bush administration or Ariel Sharon? According to President Bush, Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza while consolidating his grip on key West Bank settlements is a bold new start and an important step toward a two-state peace solution. Sharon, however, proclaims his plan a "heavy blow" to the Palestinians that forces them "to give up their aspirations for many years to come."
That discrepancy may explain why President Bush's approval Wednesday of Sharon's plan to unilaterally redraw the de facto boundaries between Israel and the Palestinians has provoked a chorus of criticism in the Middle East and Europe. Perhaps mindful of the inevitable backlash, President Bush framed his endorsement of Israel's claim to keep the bulk of its settlements in the West Bank as consistent with previous peace plans. "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949," the President said. "And all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion." He added the important qualifier that Sharon's boundaries are temporary, and final borders between Israel and the Palestinians would have to be reached in negotiations between the two sides. [complete article]
Inside America's Jenin
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz.com, April 16, 2004
After a week of siege and fighting left hundreds dead and widespread destruction, Falluja has become the symbol of Iraqi resistance to the American occupation.
In the Baghdad National Theater, near the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein, which has been replaced by a modern statue meant to symbolize freedom, a film club opened last week. "Scent of a Woman" with Al Pacino and "The Life of David Gale" were the two films chosen to launch the opening. But this week, it was difficult to reach the theater building. The instructions of the American army are that Iraqi citizens may not approach American soldiers, and that any Iraqi carrying arms will be shot on the spot - no questions asked. [...]
"There is shooting everywhere," a Baghdad citizen was heard to say, "and no one knows who is shooting or where the shots are coming from." Harsh words were exchanged in the interim Iraqi Governing Council. Some of the members demanded that the council be dissolved because it cannot function while the Americans are killing Iraqi citizens in Falluja. Others said that a distinction should be made between the war the Americans are conducting against militants and the important role the council must fulfill in preparing the state for the transfer of government. Two ministers resigned, and the interior minister was dismissed. [complete article]
Islam's distant battle
By David Holley and Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2004
The police broke down the door looking for the grandmother. But she was out, so they took away two younger women and three little girls to face accusations of religious extremism and potential ties to terrorism.
"The police insulted us and laughed, and said the little children … will kill policemen when they grow up," said Mukhabbat Akhmedova, one of the women who were briefly detained. The girls' grandmother, the police taunted them, was probably headed for the nearby capital, Tashkent, to carry out a bombing. [...]
In a part of the world where onetime Communist bosses have tried to control a resurgent Islam through repression of its more radical adherents, the violence was a warning that this formula might trigger a backlash. The secular Uzbek government keeps mosques under a tight rein, yet underground groups -- both nonviolent and armed -- that mix fundamentalist Islamic values with radical political goals have been able to grow. [complete article]
Not on our best behavior
By Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2004
A phrase uttered by an American colonel at a press conference last summer at Bagram air base in Afghanistan has been stuck in my head for months: He spoke of "guests under control," as in "I will not handle any questions pertaining to guests under control."
It is an expansive notion of hospitality that can include such a concept -- the colonel's Orwellian gem refers to the approximately 1,000 individuals who have been detained by coalition forces in Afghanistan since 2002, and presumably extends to the approximately 10,000 currently detained in Iraq, as well as the nearly 600 still being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The colonel coolly termed the last group "long-term guests of the coalition."
The Bush administration has scrupulously prevented these detainees from speaking to anyone but representatives of the International Red Cross, whose continued access to prisoners depends on their discretion. But in recent months, more and more of the military's "guests" have been released by their erstwhile hosts and have related disturbing accounts of their treatment in detention -- including allegations of torture -- to journalists and to human rights groups. While widely reported in the international press, only scattered accounts have appeared in the American media.
Take the "Tipton Three," the British papers' nickname for Shafiq Rasul, Rhuhel Ahmed and Asif Iqbal, all from the English Midlands town of Tipton. The three men, released last month after spending more than two years in Guantanamo's cages, told their story to the Observer newspaper. They described being repeatedly beaten and interrogated with guns to their heads at a detention center in Kandahar before being sent in shackles to Guantanamo. There, the three say they each endured more than 200 interrogations, inhumane conditions, many more beatings and three months in solitary confinement after they were accused of being present at a videotaped meeting between Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and Osama bin Laden. Though they were eventually vindicated when British intelligence officers confirmed they had been in England when the meeting took place, all three, ultimately, falsely confessed that they had been present. "I'd got to the point where I just couldn't take any more," Rasul told the Observer. [complete article]
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