The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
A year on from 'Mission Accomplished', an army in disgrace, a policy in tatters and the real prospect of defeat
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, May 2, 2004

Wisps of grey smoke were still rising from the wreckage of four Humvees caught by the blast of a bomb which had just killed two US soldiers and wounded another five. It seemed they had been caught in a trap.

When the soldiers smashed their way into an old brick house in the Waziriya district of Baghdad last week, they were raiding what they had been told was an insurgent bomb factory, only for it to erupt as they came through the door. The reaction of local people, as soon as the surviving American soldiers had departed, was to start a spontaneous street party.

A small boy climbed on top of a blackened and smouldering Humvee and triumphantly waved a white flag with an Islamic slogan hastily written on it. Some other young men were showing with fascinated pride a blood-soaked US uniform. Another group had found an abandoned military helmet, and had derisively placed it on the head of an elderly carthorse.

A year after President George Bush famously declared "major combat" in Iraq over, how is it that so many Iraqis now have such a visceral hatred of Americans? One reason is that the photographs of brutality and humiliation of Iraqi detainees by British and American troops, which have so shocked the rest of the world and angered Arab countries, have come as little surprise to Iraqis. For months it has been clear to them that the occupation is very brutal; for weeks they have been watching pictures of the dead and injured in Fallujah on al-Jazeera satellite television which CNN did not broadcast. [complete article]

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Seven Iraqis die in British custody. How many soldiers are charged? None
By Andrew Johnson and Severin Carrell, The Independent, May 2, 2004

Amid the furore caused by yesterday's publication of photographs showing British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners were claims by the Ministry of Defence and General Sir Michael Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff, that the photographs were of an isolated incident caused by the "ill discipline of a few soldiers".

But it is a year and two days since Ather Karen al-Mowafakia died in British custody in Basra. During the next five months another six men died while in the custody of British soldiers.

And it is four months since the first details of these deaths first emerged in The Independent on Sunday, when our Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, gave an account of the death of Baha Mousa, 26, a hotel receptionist. Mr Mousa was allegedly beaten to death in September by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment - the same regiment shown abusing prisoners in yesterday's photographs. Kifah Taha, a hotel worker arrested at the same time as Mr Mousa and who suffered acute renal failure after being kicked by soldiers during questioning, said each of the Iraqis was given a nickname: "They called us by the names of footballers and kept telling us to repeat them, so we would remember who we were."

A year after the first death, and six months after the last, the Royal Military Police (RMP) is still investigating six cases. No disciplinary action has been taken against any soldier, and no soldier has been charged, although in the case of Mr Mousa possible manslaughter charges are being considered by the Army Prosecuting Authority. [complete article]

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"THERE WILL BE AN INVESTIGATION"

President Bush says that "there will be an investigation" into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, yet as Seymour Hersh reports, a major investigation into the Army's prison system in Iraq has been completed and its findings already reported. What did Bush already know about this report when he said that there "will be" an investigation?

A handful of soldiers are now the focus of attention and many of their loyal hometown defenders believe that they are being victimized. As the Balimore Sun reported:

A local pastor whose church has sent care packages to soldiers in the 372nd said he isn't convinced the accused have done anything wrong.

"I know from being in a semipublic position, there's lots of accusations out there. Let's wait until we get all the facts before we jump to any conclusions," said the Rev. John Herbst of Winifred Road Church of Christ. "Maybe it's much ado about nothing. We're still standing behind our boys."


The question now is not whether they did anything wrong, but whether the focus on these individuals is part of a cover-up designed to protect the US Army, The Pentagon and the White House.

Torture at Abu Ghraib
By Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, April 30, 2004

In the era of Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib, twenty miles west of Baghdad, was one of the world's most notorious prisons, with torture, weekly executions, and vile living conditions. As many as fifty thousand men and women -- no accurate count is possible -- were jammed into Abu Ghraib at one time, in twelve-by-twelve-foot cells that were little more than human holding pits.

In the looting that followed the regime's collapse, last April, the huge prison complex, by then deserted, was stripped of everything that could be removed, including doors, windows, and bricks. The coalition authorities had the floors tiled, cells cleaned and repaired, and toilets, showers, and a new medical center added. Abu Ghraib was now a U.S. military prison. Most of the prisoners, however -- by the fall there were several thousand, including women and teen-agers -- were civilians, many of whom had been picked up in random military sweeps and at highway checkpoints. They fell into three loosely defined categories: common criminals; security detainees suspected of "crimes against the coalition"; and a small number of suspected "high-value" leaders of the insurgency against the coalition forces.

Last June, Janis Karpinski, an Army reserve brigadier general, was named commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade and put in charge of military prisons in Iraq. General Karpinski, the only female commander in the war zone, was an experienced operations and intelligence officer who had served with the Special Forces and in the 1991 Gulf War, but she had never run a prison system. Now she was in charge of three large jails, eight battalions, and thirty-four hundred Army reservists, most of whom, like her, had no training in handling prisoners.

General Karpinski, who had wanted to be a soldier since she was five, is a business consultant in civilian life, and was enthusiastic about her new job. In an interview last December with the St. Petersburg Times, she said that, for many of the Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib, "living conditions now are better in prison than at home. At one point we were concerned that they wouldn?t want to leave."

A month later, General Karpinski was formally admonished and quietly suspended, and a major investigation into the Army's prison system, authorized by Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior commander in Iraq, was under way. A fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, was completed in late February. Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to Karpinski?s brigade headquarters.) Taguba's report listed some of the wrongdoing:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

There was stunning evidence to support the allegations, Taguba added -- "detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence." Photographs and videos taken by the soldiers as the abuses were happening were not included in his report, Taguba said, because of their "extremely sensitive nature." [complete article]

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Iraqis see dignity crushed in prison abuse photos
By Joseph Logan, Reuters, May 1, 2004

In Washington, shocking images of foreign troops abusing Iraqi prisoners are an exception to the rule of American good intentions. In Baghdad, they look like signs of what Iraq's dignity means to its occupiers.

"Pimps...don't do what the Americans do. Who takes a bearded man, a Muslim, and lays him down with his face in another man's genitals?" said Abdel Wadoud Muhbal, a currency trader in the Iraqi capital, on Saturday. "They want jihad (holy war)."

Photos from a Baghdad prison, aired on a U.S. network and Arab channels, show nude Iraqi men forced to lie in a heap and simulate sex acts, as their laughing captors pose and give the thumbs-up sign.

The images, as well as those of soldiers from U.S. ally Britain urinating on their Iraqi captives, have sparked Arab outrage, international condemnation and a plea from President Bush for Iraqis to judge his nation on its avowed principles, not the scenes of degradation in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- In its actions in the Middle East, the Bush administration has persistently shown its blithe indifference to the significance of symbols. Even now, it is hard to imagine that anyone in the White House fully grasps the depth of contempt in which America is now held throughout the Arab world, but as Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, says, " I think this is the end of the story for America." While efforts at damage control will focus on characterizing abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American and British soldiers as isolated incidents, even as President Bush expresses his disgust at these incidents, it is nevertheless telling that he uses the language of a thug when he promises that the culprits "will be taken care of." As Atwan says, "We have replaced a brutal dictator with a brutal super-power."

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How to lose friends and alienate people
By Aaron Glantz, Inter Press Service, April 30, 2004

As the U.S. military continues to clash with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army in the holy city Najaf, the mid-day call to prayer sounds in the poor, Shia neighbourhood Showle in Baghdad.

A group of residents crowd around a cigarette stand to explain to the U.S. army reporter what happened when the Army came into their neighbourhood with tanks and military vehicles last week. [...]

An older man speaks up. "They're an army of cowards. They're from a country of cowards. They cannot stop (Muqtada al-Sadr) so they take the picture of the man."

This confrontation in Showle is just one of many between the U.S. military and the posters of Muqtada al-Sadr. Two weeks ago an Iraqi civilian was beaten to death by U.S. soldiers in the primarily Shia city of Kut. The Iraqi reportedly refused to take down a photograph of Muqtada al-Sadr from the window of his car.

A raid on Baghdad's Mustansuriye University was similar. Troops smashed every window that held a picture of al-Sadr. Then the Army sent tanks into the middle class neighbourhood around the university, blasting out a message.

"First the soldiers said you are a very good neighborhood and you have to stand with us, not against us," recalls Mustansuriye resident Salahadul Karim. He says the message was delivered by a U.S. military interpreter who sat on top of the tank, his head covered with a hood to hide his identity.

"The translator told us 'we will crush (al-Sadr's) Mehdi Army and if this neighbourhood stands with them we will crush you too'," Karim says. [complete article]

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Saddam's man takes over in Fallujah
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, May 1, 2004

A former senior general in Saddam Hussein's army made a triumphant entry into the besieged city of Fallujah yesterday and was greeted by flag-waving locals celebrating the departure of US marines.

Maj Gen Jassem Mohammed Saleh, who headed Saddam's infantry forces, is to take over as head of what American officials are calling the "1st battalion of the proposed Fallujah Brigade".

His appearance came as two marines were killed and six wounded in the city when their patrol was attacked by a suicide car bomber.

The new Iraqi battalion will have up to 1,100 men, many of them former members of Saddam's forces and some insurgents who have been fighting the marines. [complete article]

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Cunning enemy hits U.S. morale in Iraq
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, April 30, 2004

For weeks U.S. Marines operating near the volatile city [of Falluja] have been searching houses, hunting suspected guerrillas and setting up ambush positions deep in enemy territory.

But the operations have yielded few tangible results and despite their high-tech weapons and draconian discipline, Marines are struggling against resourceful guerrillas with no clear leadership, structure or supply lines.

Marines say the guerrillas have mastered the art of attacking them and then melting away in villages where it is impossible to distinguish between insurgents and civilians.

"They fire their AK-47s from their homes, walk out the back door and then actually walk up and shake hands with American soldiers when the fighting is over," said Lance Corporal Peter Johnson, 20, of Wheaton, Illinois.

"It is just impossible to tell them apart. They can't aim very well and they don't have lots of weapons but they are resourceful and smart. They are getting better." [complete article]

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Who's winning the rivalry between the Army and Marine Corps in Iraq? Nobody
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 30, 2004

One of the wars behind the war in Iraq -- the fierce rivalry between the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps -- was settled this week. The outcome: Both sides lost.

Last winter, when the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was tapped to replace the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Fallujah, Marine officers boasted that they knew how to run the occupation in smarter, subtler ways than the ham-fisted Army.

The Army at the time was calling in airstrikes to suppress insurgencies in the Sunni triangle. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st MEF, told the New York Times' Michael Gordon, "I don't envision using that tactic. ... I don't want to condemn what [Army] people are doing. I think that they are doing what they think they have to do." Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, went further: "If [the insurgents] choose to fight, they are going to regret it, but we also believe that part of the physicians' oath that says, 'First, do no harm.' If to kill a terrorist we have got to kill eight innocent people, you don't kill them."

Speaking on background to the Washington Post's Thomas Ricks, one Marine officer was blunter still: "I'm appalled at the [Army's] current heavy-handed use of air and artillery in Iraq. Success in a counter-insurgency environment is based on winning popular support, not blowing up people's houses."

Yet, over the past couple of weeks, this is precisely what the Marines have been doing: calling in air power, killing (unavoidably) innocent people, blowing up people's houses. [complete article]

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TORTURE IN IRAQ

Punched, kicked, then left to die
By Matthew Taylor, The Guardian, May 1, 2004

The British Army was at the centre of new torture allegations last night after pictures showed an Iraqi prisoner being battered with rifle butts, threatened with execution and urinated on by British soldiers.

The shocking images drew immediate condemnation from the prime minister and led the Ministry of Defence to launch an investigation.

The prisoner - thought to have been a thief - had his jaw broken and his teeth smashed during an eight-hour ordeal after being arrested near the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Bleeding and vomiting, he was eventually driven away from the army camp, still hooded, and thrown off the back of a moving vehicle. He was not charged with an offence and it is not known whether he lived or died. [complete article]

Iraq: Torture not isolated -- independent investigations vital
Amnesty International Press Release, April 30, 2004

"Our extensive research in Iraq suggests that this is not an isolated incident. It is not enough for the USA to react only once images have hit the television screens".

Amnesty International has received frequent reports of torture or other ill-treatment by Coalition Forces during the past year. Detainees have reported being routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention. Many have told Amnesty International that they were tortured and ill-treated by US and UK troops during interrogation. Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated by the authorities. [complete article]

Cumberland stands by 372nd
By Reginald Fields, Baltimore Sun, April 30, 2004

Just days ago, the Army's 372nd Military Police Company, based near Cumberland, was the source of unabashed pride in the city, the reason yellow ribbons are tacked to tree trunks and fences, and why the Wal-Mart posts pictures of the unit's young soldiers near its doors.

That changed somewhat Wednesday when the country found out what Cumberland-area residents had been whispering for weeks - that members of the unit, deployed in Iraq, have been accused of committing crimes against Iraqi prisoners in their custody.

"I'm disappointed that there is a black eye on this entire group for the actions of a few," said Becky McClarran-Mizak, whose son, Danny Mizak, is in the 372nd and returned home this month after being injured in a roadside attack. "We still have to support our troops." [complete article]

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Rebuilding aid unspent, tapped to pay expenses
By Jonathan Weisman and Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, April 30, 2004

Seven months after Congress approved the largest foreign aid package in history to rebuild Iraq, less than 5 percent of the $18.4 billion has been spent and occupation officials have begun shifting more than $300 million earmarked for reconstruction projects to administrative and security expenses.

Recent reports from the Coalition Provisional Authority, the CPA's inspector general and the U.S. Agency for International Development attest to the growing difficulties of the U.S.-led reconstruction effort. And they have raised concerns in Congress and among international aid experts that the Bush administration's ambitious rebuilding campaign is adrift amid rising violence and unforeseen costs.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, cited "bureaucratic infighting" and a "loss of central command and control" at a hearing yesterday as he sharply questioned top administration officials: "I have very serious concerns about the pace of assistance in Iraq and the management of those funds." [complete article]

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Death to those who dare to speak out
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, April 30, 2004

Even under Saddam Hussein, Saad Jawad spoke his mind. The mild-mannered, political science professor was one of only four people who dared to sign a petition asking Iraq's dictator for a more democratic form of government.

Today, Dr. Jawad still speaks out. But like other university professors across Iraq, he is increasingly afraid that saying what he thinks - or saying anything political at all - could get him killed. "To tell the truth, at the time of Saddam Hussein, we used to speak to our students freely," says Jawad. "Ministers, for example, were criticized all the time. But now, a lot of people are not willing to say these kinds of things because of fear."
Over the past year, Baghdad's intelligentsia has seen a wave of killings: scientists, professors, and academics, executed in carefully planned assassinations. [complete article]

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WITHDRAWAL FROM GAZA

Sharon's party may reject plan
By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore, Washington Post, April 30, 2004

Four separate public opinion surveys published Thursday reported growing opposition within the Likud Party of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to his plan to withdraw Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers from the Gaza Strip.

The party's 193,000 members are to vote Sunday in a nonbinding, advisory referendum. Only two weeks ago, Sharon was riding high after returning from Washington with a strong endorsement of his plan and promises from President Bush that the United States opposed the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel and supported Israel's eventual annexation of some Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A poll of Likud members published April 15 in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper showed supporters of what Sharon has called his disengagement plan holding a 22 percentage-point lead over opponents.

But the polls published Thursday revealed a marked shift. A poll published by the same newspaper showed 47 percent of Likud members who were questioned opposed the plan and 39 percent favored it; one by Maariv, another daily paper, showed 45 percent opposed and 42 percent in favor; Israel Radio's poll had 47 percent against and 43 in favor; and the Haaretz newspaper's poll registered 43 percent against and 36 in favor. [complete article]

God is on our side, say Gaza's Jewish settlers
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, April 30, 2004

... to understand just what Mr Sharon is up against, you have to come to Gush Katif, a central block of Israeli settlements ranged in well furnished houses and gardens along the southern strip of the Mediterranean Gaza coast line and surrounded, behind electric fences, by the 1.3 million inhabitants of dusty, overcrowded, and impoverished Palestinian Gaza. Gush Katif, where 70,000 demonstrators rallied earlier this week in opposition to the Sharon plan, is the spiritual nerve centre of the "no" campaign. And at the heart of it is Moshe and Raquel Saperstein's home, adorned with many of the Brooklyn-born English teacher Raquel's paintings, in the community of Neve Dekalim.

The couple came to Gaza after the Oslo accords which envisaged most of the West Bank returning to the Palestinians. Observing the "euphoria" of many of their fellow citizens that peace appeared to be breaking out, the couple had a much darker sense, said Mrs Saperstein, "of what was happening to our country. We are proud Jews and now our government was handing the country to murderers". So as a reaffirmation of their belief in "greater Israel" and in response to a Hamas bombing on a Jerusalem bus on which their daughter was travelling, they left their comfortable and culturally rich life running a classical record business in Jerusalem and headed for Gush Katif. And to say they have no plans to leave ? despite the regular rockets and mortar attacks launched on the community since the beginning of the intifada three and half years ago ? would be an understatement. [complete article]

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In front of your nose
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, April 30, 2004

"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield." That's from George Orwell's 1946 essay "In Front of Your Nose." It seems especially relevant right now, as we survey the wreckage of America's Iraq adventure.

Tomorrow a year will have passed since George Bush's "Mission Accomplished" carrier landing. Throughout that year -- right up to the surge in violence this month -- administration officials assured us that things were going well in Iraq. Living standards, they said, were steadily improving. The resistance, they insisted, consisted of a handful of dead-enders aided by a few foreign infiltrators -- and each lull in attacks brought pronouncements that the campaign against the insurgents had turned the corner.

So they lied to us; what else is new? But there's more at stake here than the administration's credibility. The official story line portrayed a virtuous circle of nation-building, one that could eventually lead to a democratic Iraq, allied with the U.S. In fact, we seem to be faced with a vicious circle, in which a deteriorating security situation undermines reconstruction, and the lack of material progress adds to popular discontent. Can this situation be saved? [complete article]

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Al-Sadr's rebellion nears collapse but his influence is assured
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, April 29, 2004

Muqtada al-Sadr's days of running this holiest of cities in the Shiite branch of Islam appear numbered. U.S. troops are closing in and residents are stepping up pressure on the radical Shiite cleric's gunmen to leave. They're still hanging on, though less visibly so and in reduced numbers.

But even with al Sadr's Mahdi Army militia likely to retreat, al-Sadr's influence on Shiite affairs in this epicenter of the faith can't easily be erased, clerics and experts in Najaf say.

Bolstered by his pedigree and mounting Iraqi anger toward American occupation, al-Sadr has successfully bucked a 1,300-year-old system in which religious authority over Iraq's majority Shiite population is wielded by elderly ayatollahs seasoned by decades of scholarly pursuit. Al-Sadr has fast-tracked his ascent by playing politics, using violence to subdue opponents and invoking the names of his father and uncle, famous ayatollahs who were killed by Saddam Hussein's agents.

"Even if he compromises and ends this peacefully, he will gain more power," said Adel al Bosaisi, the editor in chief of Faidh al Kawther, a monthly Islamic magazine based in Najaf. "People will believe he accomplished something in that he stood up to the foreign occupiers." [complete article]

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DEAD AND BEST FORGOTTEN?

U.S. TV blackout hits litany of war dead
By Patrick Barrett, The Guardian, April 30, 2004

Almost a quarter of households in the US will be prevented tonight from seeing an ABC TV network news programme that is to broadcast a list of American servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq.

Eight affiliate stations have refused to take the programme, which is due to go out tonight in America.

The decision to censor ABC's Nightline programme, which is to broadcast the names and pictures of more than 500 dead US service personnel, has been taken by Sinclair Broadcast Group - a regional company that owns ABC-affiliated TV stations across the country.

Maryland-based Sinclair, which owns 62 stations and covers 24% of US homes, is claiming ABC's decision to broadcast the show - dubbed "The Fallen" - was "motivated by a political agenda". [complete article]

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FALLUJA

'It's hell...everything will be destroyed'
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, April 30, 2004

After two nights of bombardment by US jet fighters, the Ahmed family had had enough. At 7am on Wednesday Fadhil Ahmed ate his last piece of flat bread before bundling his wife and children into their Chevrolet.

They set off out of Falluja and down a dusty unpaved track. The streets were empty. After avoiding the Americans the Ahmeds got stuck at a US roadblock, and had to sleep in a neighbouring village.

Some 24 hours later, Mr Ahmed made it to Baghdad. "It's hell," Mr Ahmed said, minutes after arriving at a refugee camp set up by the Iraqi Red Crescent on a roadside football pitch.

"The Americans have violated the ceasefire. They are attacking us with jet fighters, tanks and artillery. The US snipers are on every roof and minaret. They don't care who they shoot. They are shooting old people, women and children.Where is the UN in all this?"

After days of bombings and sniper fire, it was not surprising that Mr Ahmed and other refugees were sceptical that a new ceasefire deal under which US forces an 1,100-strong Iraqi force commanded by one of Saddam Hussein's former generals will take over security would hold. "By the time I get back to Falluja everything will be destroyed," Mr Ahmed said. In the meantime conditions for the civilian population still stuck in Falluja were hellish. [complete article]

U.S. wants Iraq guerrillas on payroll
By Jim Krane, Associated Press, April 29, 2004

A new Iraqi military force being proposed to tame Fallujah's guerrillas could bear a striking resemblance to the guerrillas themselves.

The band of about 1,000 Iraqis would be led by one of Saddam Hussein's generals, and its U.S.-funded payroll might include some of the same gunmen who have been fighting U.S. Marines.

In a move resembling U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the United States appears to be co-opting its enemies to end a siege that has drawn international condemnation.

A U.S. military officer privy to the negotiations said it was "very likely" that the Fallujah Protective Army, which would fall under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, could include some gunmen who joined the uprising in Fallujah -- particularly criminals who signed on for money, and former soldiers disgruntled at losing their jobs when the Americans disbanded the Iraqi army. [complete article]

War of perceptions
By Melinda Liu, Newsweek, April 29, 2004

Even as U.S. warplanes attacked targets in Fallujah again tonight, Marine officers were working up a proposal to end their month-long siege of the city. At first blush, the outlines of the "solution" seem dicey: up to 1,000 Iraqi soldiers, led by a former major general from Saddam Hussein's army, will enter Fallujah and provide security there. On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Marine units on the edge of town were packing up their gear and preparing to pull back to camps outside of the city. Bulldozers were flattening the 10-foot-tall sand berms that had been set up to mark their front lines.

Even if the plan gets off the ground -- a big "if" -- it underscores the Coalitionís challenges on the battlefield of public opinion. There was never any question that the U.S. Marines could prevail militarily in Fallujah. But in the war of perceptions, the Coalition has been losing ground. With each minaret destroyed (even if it had harbored armed insurgents), and with each injured woman or child (even if they'd been used as "human shields" by Iraqi insurgents), the U.S. military risked losing the sympathies of more and more ordinary Iraqis.

Even before the recent siege, Fallujah was a symbol of Iraqi resistance against U.S. occupation. Now, the city has evolved into an icon of Iraqi nationalism, and its images of civilian casualties are proving much more potent as a motivating force than loyalty to Saddam Hussein ever was. [complete article]

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Bush talks to media after 9/11 meeting
Washington Post, April 30, 2004

QUESTION: Mr. President...

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: ... don't you think that the families deserved to have a transcript or to be able to see...

BUSH: You asked me that question yesterday. I got the same answer.

QUESTION: Can you say with any confidence there are no Al Qaida operatives active in the country today?

BUSH: No, I can't say that.

QUESTION: Did the commission ask you about that?

BUSH: No, they didn't. But I'm not going to get into any more details about what they asked me. I told you I wasn't going to give any details about what they asked me and then I fell into your trap.

Let me talk about vulnerabilities, then I've got to get back to work. We are still vulnerable to attack. [complete article]

Comment -- Analyzing George Bush's predictably vacuous remarks to the press is generally a fruitless exercise, but while Bush revealed essentially nothing about his meeting with the 9/11 commission (or "nine-one-one" commission as he called it), he clearly reiterated his position on presidential-press relations. Firstly, talking to the press is not part of his job -- he needed "to get back to work" as soon as these boys and girls stopped pestering him with questions. Secondly, journalists who try to get him to provide information are trying to "trap" him.

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CRIMES OF INNOCENCE

U.S. military in torture scandal
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, April 30, 2004

Graphic photographs showing the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in a US-run prison outside Baghdad emerged yesterday from a military inquiry which has left six soldiers facing a possible court martial and a general under investigation.

The scandal has also brought to light the growing and largely unregulated role of private contractors in the interrogation of detainees.

According to lawyers for some of the soldiers, they claimed to be acting in part under the instruction of mercenary interrogators hired by the Pentagon. [complete article]

Iraqi abuse photos spark shock
BBC News, April 30, 2004

Images shown on American television of US soldiers allegedly abusing Iraqi prisoners at a notorious jail near Baghdad have sparked shock and anger.

Politicians in the US, Britain and the Middle East expressed disgust at the images and called for those responsible to face justice.

CBS News said it delayed the broadcast for two weeks after a request from the Pentagon due to the tensions in Iraq. [complete article]

Abuse of Iraqi POWs by GIs probed
CBS News, April 29, 2004

For decades under Saddam Hussein, many prisoners who were taken to the Abu Ghraib prison never came out. It was the centerpiece of Saddam's empire of fear, and those prisoners who did make it out told nightmarish tales of torture beyond imagining ? and executions without reason.

60 Minutes II talked about the prison and shared pictures of what Americans did there with two men who have extensive interrogation experience: Former Marine Lt. Col. Bill Cowan and former CIA Bureau Chief Bob Baer.

"I visited Abu Ghraib a couple of days after it was liberated. It was the most awful sight I've ever seen. I said, 'If there's ever a reason to get rid of Saddam Hussein, it's because of Abu Ghraib,'" says Baer. "There were bodies that were eaten by dogs, torture. You know, electrodes coming out of the walls. It was an awful place."

"We went into Iraq to stop things like this from happening, and indeed, here they are happening under our tutelage," says Cowan. [complete article]

Comment -- While US officials, such as Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, express disappointment in the behaviour of US soldiers and their commanders, and while outrage will be felt by most Iraqis, an important lesson for Americans comes from paying close attention to the expressions on the faces of those fellow Americans as they playfully abused their prisoners. These are not the expressions of vindictive torturers, but of people who lack the moral maturity to recognize their own capacity for evil. George Bush's war on evil -- his crusade to rid the world of evildoers -- persistently reinforces a sentiment, pervasive across America, that we can do no wrong. But the shadow of American optimism, always eager to show its well-intentioned face, is America's most dangerous cultural deficit: An unwillingness to engage in self-inquiry and self-criticism.

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Iraq's future: Dreams and nightmares
By Herbert Docena, Asia Times, April 30, 2004

... while anti-occupation sentiment runs deep, the Iraqis are in general unprepared for another long war. They neither have the resources to jump into a long-running confrontation with the world's only superpower; a widely accepted political leadership to lead it; nor the organizational structures to sustain it. This does not mean they won't, especially if the US keeps pushing. But the act of resistance itself will be carrying with it its own dynamic. Having emerged from three decades of repression and fragmentation, it has not been and will still not be easy building consensus among the various disconnected political forces fighting the US. Despite this, efforts to build a united front and a political leadership are expected to intensify. But still, as one former colonel who took part in an uprising against Saddam in the 1990s and who is now spearheading efforts to build a broad coalition pushing for a political process independent from the US: "We want to fight the US at a time of our choosing."

That is precisely what the US wants to forestall. The idea is to catch them while they're not ready, to make them use their bullets now, throw their grenades, and fire their mortars now so that they will have nothing later. "If we do not address these elements and these individuals and these organizations now," explained Senor, "we will rue the day because these organizations, these militia will rise up again another day and it is better to deal with them now than after June 30."

The aim is to draw the lines. The current uprising is now forcing Iraqi political forces to choose sides before the day of reckoning comes. On the one hand, they may be unwilling to take on the might of the US. But on the other, they wouldn't also want to totally lose legitimacy later if the resistance prevails. Unfortunately for the US, as the strength, spread and spontaneity of the resistance suggest, many Iraqis are taking a gamble on history and supporting the resistance. [complete article]

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Hussein's agents are behind attacks in Iraq, Pentagon finds
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, April 29, 2004

A Pentagon intelligence report has concluded that many bombings against Americans and their allies in Iraq, and the more sophisticated of the guerrilla attacks in Falluja, are organized and often carried out by members of Saddam Hussein's secret service, who planned for the insurgency even before the fall of Baghdad.

The report states that Iraqi officers of the "Special Operations and Antiterrorism Branch," known within Mr. Hussein's government as M-14, are responsible for planning roadway improvised explosive devices and some of the larger car bombs that have killed Iraqis, Americans and other foreigners. The attacks have sown chaos and fear across Iraq.

In addition, suicide bombers have worn explosives-laden vests made before the war under the direction of of M-14 officers, according to the report, prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The report also cites evidence that one such suicide attack last April, which killed three Americans, was carried out by a pregnant woman who was an M-14 colonel.

Its findings were based on interrogations with high-ranking M-14 members who are now in American custody, as well as on documents uncovered and translated by the Iraq Survey Group. While the report cites specific evidence, other important assessments of American intelligence on Iraq have been challenged and even proven wrong. [complete article]

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Mystery group wage war on Sadr's militia
By Colin Freeman, The Scotsman, April 29, 2004

For the past month they have been the rude young pretenders, a rag-tag slum army ruffling the quiet dignity of Iraq's holiest city.

For every day that the United States army fails to act on its threat to crush them, the Shiite militiamen of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have grown in confidence in their stronghold in Najaf.

Now, however, a shadowy resistance movement within might be about to succeed where the 2,500 US marines outside the city have failed.

In a deadly expression of feelings that until now were kept quiet, a group representing local residents is said to have killed at least five militiamen in the last four days.

The murders are the first sign of organised Iraqi opposition to Sadrís presence and come amid simmering discontent at the havoc their lawless presence has wreaked.

The group calls itself the Thulfiqar Army, after a twin-bladed sword said to be used by the Shiite martyr Imam Ali, to whom Najaf's vast central mosque is dedicated. [complete article]

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Why Iraq Governing Council failed
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, April 29, 2004

With daily gun battles between Sunni insurgents and US Marines in Fallujah, and the tense standoff between US forces and militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the southern city of Najaf, the United States was expected to turn to its appointed Governing Council to mediate a peaceful solution.

The much-vaunted council was supposed to put an Iraqi face on the occupation. "The Governing Council will be involved in all the significant decisions,'' Paul Bremer, the top US administrator here, said last July. "It will be a huge step forward."

But today, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN's Iraq envoy, is writing a transition plan for Iraq that, if he gets his way, will freeze Governing Council members out of Iraq's transitional government.

To council member Ghazi al-Yawar, the conclusion is simple. "We've failed,'' he says. With a trace of disgust, he complains that a sectarian council, more focused on survival than on serious issues, has simply added to the country's problems. [complete article]

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BP ready to quit in blow to rebuilding hopes
By Terry Macalister, The Guardian, April 29, 2004

BP's chief executive delivered a serious setback to hopes of rebuilding Iraq when he said that the oil company has no future there.

John Browne, one of Tony Blair's favourite industrialists, indicated he had given up on Iraq because the political and security situation in the country had deteriorated so much.

Yet only 18 months ago he was extremely enthusiastic about prospects, lobbying in Washington and London to ensure American rivals did not cut him out of the action.

"We need a government, we need laws and we need decisions. We have not got any of that yet. A whole range of steps need to be taken," said the BP boss as he unveiled new record profits this week.

"It's not obvious to me you need foreign oil companies to do that [redevelopment]." He added that private oil firms could destabilise an already sensitive situation and perhaps it should be left to local state-owned groups. [complete article]

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U.S. hurries to reinforce armour after casualties soar
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, April 29, 2004

The Pentagon is rushing more armour to Iraq to protect its troops after casualties reached record levels this month, it emerged yesterday.

More tanks and armoured vehicles - which had been left behind by units not expecting full-blown combat - are to be sent, and the production of reinforced Humvee patrol cars has been accelerated.

The reinforcements come at a time of rising complaints from officers arguing that their troops have been sent into war zones without sufficient protection. A leaked army report revealed that up to a quarter of the US deaths so far could have been avoided if soldiers and marines had not been forced to rely on unarmoured Humvees and other "soft-skinned" vehicles. [complete article]

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Support for war is down sharply, poll concludes
By Richard W. Stevenson and Janet Alder, New York Times, April 29, 2004

Support for the war in Iraq has eroded substantially over the past several months, and Americans are increasingly critical of the way President Bush is handling the conflict, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

After initially expressing robust backing for the war, the public is now evenly divided over whether the United States military should stay for as long as it takes to stabilize Iraq or pull out as soon as possible, the poll showed. [complete article]

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Powers of the president
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, April 28, 2004

With pointed and often skeptical questions, Supreme Court justices today gave strong indications that they may reject President George W. Bush's most audacious claim in the war on terrorism: that he has the power to lock up indefinitely any U.S. citizen whom he suspects may have consorted with Al Qaeda or any of its allies.

Predicting U.S. Supreme Court decisions by listening to oral arguments is notoriously hazardous. But perhaps the most telling sign in today's historic arguments in the cases of Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, two U.S. citizens whom the White House has labeled "enemy combatants," came unexpectedly when even Justice Antonin Scalia, the court's most forceful conservative, seemed to challenge the Bush administration's claim of seemingly unlimited powers during wartime.

"Where does he get that power?" Scalia asked Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement to explain at one point.

The power of a president to wage war, Scalia said, is like "the George Washington-like" power to command armies in battle. "It doesn't mean he has the power to do whatever it takes..." [complete article]

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Thailand makes its mark in blood
By Marwaan Macan-Markar, Asia Times, April 30, 2004

The unprecedented scale of violence in Thailand's south, which resulted in more than 110 deaths on Wednesday, has placed the country's Muslim minority in dire straits.

"We are very worried about the situation. There is a lot of tension in the area," Niti Hassan, president of the Council of Muslim Organizations of Thailand, said in the aftermath of the bloodshed on Wednesday. "People are shocked by the attacks. They don't know who is behind it."

Most of those killed in the fighting were assailants, whom authorities have identified as young Thai Muslims. But equally as troubling as the bloodshed, said Niti, is the site of the heaviest fighting - the Kru Se Mosque in the southern province of Pattani. More than 30 assailants were killed there after a standoff with heavily armed security forces at the mosque, which is held in high regard by Thai Muslims for its historic value. [complete article]

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Jihad turns to Arab capitals
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, April 29, 2004

When suspected Islamic militants set off a bomb in the heart of Damascus Tuesday night and fought with Syrian security forces, it demonstrated that no Arab country can consider itself immune from terrorism.

The attack, the first of its kind in Damascus for over two decades, came days after Jordanian officials announced they had foiled a potentially devastating chemical-bomb plot in Amman. It also came a week after a suicide car bomb destroyed a Saudi security forces building in Riyadh, killing four people and wounding 150 others.

"This is a manifestation of a war led by these militants under a jihad that is not only outward but inward. It's a holy struggle not only against the United States and other allied countries but also against Arab regimes," says Nizar Hamzeh, professor of politics at the American University of Beirut. [complete article]

See also Michael Young on The unanswered questions of the Damascus attack.

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FALLUJA

Former Iraqi soldiers to replace U.S. Marines in Fallujah
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, April 29, 2004

A new agreement to end the siege of Fallujah was announced Thursday under which a force of former Iraqi soldiers and commanders will replace U.S. Marines in and around the embattled city.

The plan amounts to a reformation of a segment of the the Iraqi Army which was disbanded after U.S. forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. The force, composed of Sunni Muslim soldiers, would ultimately take responsibility for stabilizing the Sunni stronghold and subduing, if necessary, any insurgent activity.

In other developments Thursday, the military announced that a total of nine American troops were killed in two separate incidents. Eight of them died in a car bomb attack south of Baghdad.

The announcement of the Fallujah agreement followed nearly three days of intense combat in the city, including aerial attacks by U.S. warplanes and helicopters. [complete article]

Siege of Fallujah provokes second mutiny
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 29, 2004

A second unit of the Iraqi armed forces has mutinied at Fallujah after being involved in heavy fighting with insurgents Ali Allawi, the Iraqi Defence Minister, said yesterday.

Part of the 36th battalion of the paramilitary Iraqi Civil Defence Corps revolted last week after the unit had been fighting in the besieged city for 11 days, the minister told The Independent yesterday. Mr Allawi blamed the mutiny on "a failure of command. The commanding officer was absent, his deputy ... was seriously wounded and the number three faltered".

At the start of the siege of Fallujah three weeks ago, one of the five battalions of the newly formed Iraqi army refused to go to the city because many of its soldiers were not prepared to fight fellow Iraqis.

But news of the mutiny of a second Iraqi unit had not been released. Mr Allawi said US Marines "had to separate those who did want to fight from those who would not".

The battalion may have split along ethnic lines. Its soldiers were recruited from the militiamen of the Iraqi political parties which belong to the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, and about half were Kurdish soldiers, known as peshmerga. The Kurds were prepared to fight but Iraqi Arab soldiers said they had had enough. Those who refused to fight were withdrawn from the battlefield for retraining. [complete article]

A city that lives for revenge
By Sandra Mackey, New York Times, April 29, 2004

The United States is in a no-win situation in Falluja. Yesterday, fighting increased in and around the city of 300,000, the place where four civilian contractors were burned to death last month. Even if American forces storm and subdue the town, it is unlikely that there will be peace there anytime soon.

It didn't have to be this way. Had the United States taken more time to understand the city -- a place where even Saddam Hussein ventured cautiously -- it might have been able to avoid the current showdown. Part of the misunderstanding can be seen in the way the Pentagon talks about the situation in Falluja, describing those holed up there as either die-hards of Saddam Hussein's regime or foreigners promoting the ideology of Al Qaeda. What the Pentagon is neglecting is a third group, one that could prove more deadly to the occupation: the tribes of central Iraq. They are a tough lot with a long history of resistance to any outside authority.

Those tribes grew out of necessity. For hundreds of years, the people of the high desert north and west of Baghdad survived waves of conquerors by joining with their kin for defense. When the Ottomans arrived in the 16th century, Istanbul co-opted the tribes of Falluja and the Sunni Triangle rather than conquer them. They were left alone to herd their flocks, till their land and govern their own affairs within an empire glued together by orthodox Islam. When the British became the masters of Iraq at the end of World War I, the tribes revolted rather than submit to non-Muslim foreign rule. The British quelled the uprising but never gained control of the tribes. The monarchy that ruled from 1921 to 1958 spent much of its time and energy working to keep the tribes in check with grants of land and other financial incentives. But Baghdad succeeded only in renting the tribes around Falluja, not buying them. [complete article]

Battle for Fallouja seen as inevitable
By John Hendren and Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2004

The plans have been laid, the troops are positioned, and all is ready for a massive Marine assault on Fallouja -- and with it the long-dreaded prospect of major urban warfare in Iraq. [complete article]

Gunships pound Falluja despite ceasefire claims
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, April 29, 2004

US warplanes pounded Falluja with 500lb laser-guided bombs and marines battled with insurgents on the ground while commanders in Baghdad continued to insist a ceasefire still held. [complete article]

In Fallujah, a nightmare scenario of urban war
By Tom Bowman, Baltimore Sun, April 29, 2004

As Marines prepare to head back into the rebellious Iraqi city of Fallujah, the stage is set for the most dreaded type of ground combat: urban warfare. [complete article]

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Bush's big Iraq 'to-do' list
By Tony Karon, Time.com, April 27, 2004

With the planned hand-over of symbolic "sovereignty" to an Iraqi government only 10 weeks away, the U.S. "to-do" list in Iraq seems impossibly vast. The occupation authority has to find an Iraqi government; determine where its own authority will end and the Iraqis' will begin; win international backing for the new arrangement and placate those in Washington and Baghdad disappointed by the outcome. Oh, and also, prevail militarily against insurgent challengers at Fallujah, Najaf and elsewhere.

None of these things has yet been achieved, of course, and the result may be simply to limit the significance of whatever transpires on June 30. The violence had once been portrayed as the darkness-before-dawn spike to be expected before the hand-over starts Iraq's bright post-Saddam future; now nobody is expecting that the fighting will die down after a new government is installed. And running through the "to-do" list, it's not hard to see why: [complete article]

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"WAR IS PEACE" -- 1984, George Orwell

Bush: Most of Fallujah returning to ''normal''
By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), April 28, 2004

President Bush said Wednesday he believes most parts of Fallujah are returning to ''normal'' despite three days of battles with insurgents. Fighting and instability in Iraq will not force a delay in the June 30 transfer of power, he said.

''There are pockets of resistance and our military along with Iraqis will make sure it's secure,'' Bush told reporters in the Oval Office after a meeting with the prime minister of Sweden.

A series of explosions and gunfire rocked Fallujah, a city near Baghdad, in new fighting on Wednesday, a day after a heavy battle on Tuesday in which U.S. planes and artillery pounded the city in a show of force against insurgents holed up in a slum.

Still Bush insisted: ''Most of Fallujah is returning to normal.'' [complete article]

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From allied to alienated
By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2004

Ayatollah Sayed Mortada Al-Qazwini should be one of America's best friends in Iraq.

A tall, turbaned man with a candid manner and commanding presence, Al-Qazwini was one of the first Shiite Muslim religious scholars to speak out against Saddam Hussein. He lost 15 relatives to Hussein's brutality, and in 1971 he fled Iraq to escape a death sentence.

He settled in Diamond Bar and built Shiite religious, cultural and educational centers in Pomona, Irvine, San Diego and Detroit over the next 18 years. All the while, he marveled at the freedom he enjoyed to practice the faith of his persecuted sect. After U.S. forces toppled Hussein a year ago, Al-Qazwini was ecstatic and went home to help.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people are so happy that Saddam has been put down. The coalition forces saved us," he said then.

Now, a year after his emotional homecoming, Al-Qazwini, 75, is deeply disillusioned. U.S. forces have worn out their welcome by failing to fulfill their promises for democracy, political empowerment and reconstruction, the ayatollah said. He wants them to leave Iraq as soon as possible. [complete article]

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Burning with anger: Iraqis infuriated by new flag that was designed in London
By Patrick Cockburn and David Usborne, The Independent, April 28, 2004

For many Iraqis it was the final insult. Again and again they expressed outrage yesterday that Iraq's United States-appointed and unelected leaders had, overnight, abolished the old Iraqi flag, seen by most Iraqis as the symbol of their nation, and chosen a new one.

"What gives these people the right to throw away our flag, to change the symbol of Iraq?" asked Salah, a building contractor of normally moderate political opinions. "It makes me very angry because these people were appointed by the Americans. I will not regard the new flag as representing me but only traitors and collaborators."

The outburst of fury over the flag highlights the extraordinary ability of US leaders and the Iraqi Governing Council to alienate ordinary Iraqis, already angered by the bloody sieges of Fallujah and Karbala. And yesterday, in the hotbed of Iraqi rebellion, the flag was burnt in public in a demonstration of public anger. [complete article]

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Envoy details his plan for Iraq
By Maggie Farley, Tony Perry and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2004

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Tuesday that despite the ongoing violence in Iraq, a caretaker government could be named by the end of May to prepare for the planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty from the U.S.-led authority.

Brahimi sketched his vision for Iraq's transitional government to the U.N. Security Council in New York on a day that news stations across the globe televised live images of an American warplane raining cannon fire on insurgents' positions in Fallouja and the U.S. reported the deaths of more than 60 militiamen loyal to a radical Shiite cleric during battles near the holy city of Najaf on Monday.

Brahimi has called for peaceful solutions to the standoffs in Fallouja and Najaf, saying Tuesday that the U.S.-led forces know "better than everyone else that the consequences of such bloodshed could be dramatic and long-lasting."

But although the planned hand-over of power is bound to be difficult and dangerous, Brahimi argued before the Security Council that it remains "doable." [complete article]

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How pair's finding on terror led to clash on shaping intelligence
By James Risen, New York Times, April 28, 2004

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is investigating whether the unit [formed soon after September 11, 2001] -- named the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group by its creator, Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy -- exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq to justify the war.

The C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies found little evidence to support the Pentagon's view of an increasingly unified terrorist threat or links between Mr. Hussein and Mr. bin Laden, and still largely dismiss those ideas. Foreign Islamic fighters have sought haven in Iraq since the American-led invasion and some Sunnis and Shiites have banded together against the occupiers, but the agencies say that is the result of anger and chaotic conditions, not proof of prewar alliances.

And with criticism mounting in recent weeks as the conflict has become more bloody, President Bush has found himself forced to defend once more how the war on terror led to Baghdad. [complete article]

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SYRIA

Damascus hit by a bombing and a gunfight
By Susan Sachs, New York Times, April 28, 2004

Heavily armed assailants detonated a bomb near a cluster of foreign embassies in Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Tuesday, setting off an intense gun battle with state security forces that maintain exceptionally tight control over the society.

Syrian officials said the attack had been carried out by "a terrorist and sabotage group," broadly linking it to recent terrorist incidents in other Arab capitals, including deadly bombings in Saudi Arabia and a planned poison gas attack that Jordan said it foiled last week. There was no independent corroboration of that. Islamic militants associated with Al Qaeda's terror network have been blamed for the other incidents.

Early Wednesday, Syrian television reported that security forces had found a cache of arms and explosives in a raid in the upscale Damascus district where the police had clashed with the gunmen. [complete article]

Attack shows region's new terror reality
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, April 28, 2004

The official Syrian statement saying terrorists had carried out a series of attacks in Damascus against the Iranian embassy, the British ambassador's house and apparently a building belonging to the United Nations was highly unusual.

It was an admission of an intelligence failure in a country that prides itself on its complete control of what happens within its territory. As it turns out, Syria's reputation for maintaining iron-clad internal security exceeds realities on the ground.

Examples of breaches in Syria's strict security system are not hard to find. For example, two days ago, Jordan announced it had thwarted a major terrorist attack that apparently would have involved chemical substances. According to reports in Jordan, al-Qaida terrorists tried to smuggle the chemicals from Syria in trucks. A few months earlier, Jordan security men stopped armed assailants who infiltrated their country from Syria. [complete article]

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"REINVIGORATED" ROADMAP ALREADY DEAD

On Wednesday [April 14, 2004], the Prime Minister of Israel presented his plan to withdraw from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank. I support that plan. It's a good opportunity. It gives the Palestinians a chance to create a reformed, just and free government. Palestinian leadership must rise to the challenge. It gives all sides a chance to reinvigorate progress on the road map. -- George Bush, The White House, April 16, 2004

Roadmap is lost, says Sharon
News24.com, April 28, 2004

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Tuesday that the internationally backed "roadmap" peace blueprint that sought to create an independent Palestinian state by 2005 was dead.

"I would have preferred to negotiate an agreement (with the Palestinians) but several months ago I realised that it is not possible to move the roadmap forward because the Palestinians do not respect their commitments," he said in an interview broadcast on Israel's second television channel.

He confirmed that he decided to implement his own package of unilateral measures, including an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, after reaching this conclusion. [complete article]

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FALLUJA UNDER SIEGE

U.S. defends its Falluja onslaught
BBC News, April 28, 2004

US forces have defended their overnight bombardment of insurgent positions in the rebellious Iraqi city of Falluja.

In one of their most intensive uses of firepower, artillery barrages were accompanied by the deployment of a heavily armed AC-130 gunship.

There is no word yet on casualties in the city.

Commanders of US marines besieging the predominantly Sunni Muslim city said the assault was in response to several breaches of the local ceasefire. [complete article]

The siege of Falluja, a test in a tinderbox
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 28, 2004

The siege in Falluja is a case study in mistaken assumptions, dashed hopes, rivalry between the Army and the Marine Corps, and a tragedy that became a trigger, Pentagon officials, senior officers and independent military analysts said Tuesday.

The chain of decisions leading to the standoff that has made the city of nearly 300,000 people in the Sunni heartland a symbol of the insurgency also illustrates conflicting military strategies and shifting political aims. The fate of Falluja has become a possible harbinger for all of Iraq.

Some critics say the immediate showdown is a result of the Marines' overreaction to the killing and mutilation of four American private security contractors on March 31. "They've gone to the sledgehammer approach," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Even before the contractors' deaths, however, the marines ran into sporadic but stiff resistance last month as they took over responsibility for the area from departing Army soldiers. Marine commanders defended their response, which was to throw a cordon of troops, tanks and artillery around the city, try to avoid civilian casualties and prepare for an urban battle to root out some 2,000 insurgents. [complete article]

The Fallujah dilemma
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 27, 2004

If the U.S. Marines storm Fallujah in the next few days, as they seem to be preparing to do, the act would transform the occupation and almost certainly for the worse.

It would mean, first, a resumption of war. No longer could U.S. officials speak of conducting mere "security and stabilization operations" -- the Marines' declared mission last month when they took over the area from the Army's 82nd airborne division. SASO (the military's acronym for such operations) is essentially police work with heavy armaments in a war, or postwar, zone. It is not an accurate term for invading a city of half a million people or strafing it with gunship fire.

Full-scale warfare would also likely mean postponing the June 30 handover of sovereignty. The transfer -- which the Bush administration considers "limited" to begin with -- could not occur in any measure if American armed forces are engaged in "major combat operations" (as the president called them when he proclaimed that they were over last May Day). Some have dismissed this deadline as arbitrary and the transfer itself as symbolic. But symbols are important in the Middle East. A delay, for whatever reason, will confirm suspicions that Americans simply wants Iraqi oil and will never loosen their grip. A delay caused by an American escalation of conflict will clinch the matter and, as a result, strengthen popular support for the insurgents. [complete article]

Siege defined on stones set in haste in the dirt
By Christine Hauser, New York Times, April 28, 2004

The place where the new dead lie in this city west of Baghdad was once a soccer stadium called the Falluja Sports Club.

But now, after more than three weeks of fighting between American marines and insurgents, it is known as the Falluja Martyrs Cemetery.

In handwritten Arabic lettering on the stone markers are the names of two children, Amal and Mustafa Alawi, killed in Jolan, a poor neighborhood here where much of the fighting has taken place.

"There are 250 people buried here from American strikes on houses," said a gravedigger who gave only his first name, Nasser. "We have stacked up the bodies one on top of the other."

The headstones in this makeshift cemetery were silent witnesses to part of the Iraqi side of the battlefield story. [complete article]

Remember Falluja
By Orit Shohat, Haaretz, April 28, 2004

During the first two weeks of this month, the American army committed war crimes in Falluja on a scale unprecedented for this war. According to the relatively few media reports of what took place there, some 600 Iraqis were killed during these two weeks, among them some 450 elderly people, women and children.

The sight of decapitated children, the rows of dead women and the shocking pictures of the soccer stadium that was turned into a temporary grave for hundreds of the slain - all were broadcast to the world only by the Al Jazeera network. During the operation in Falluja, according to the organization Doctors Without Borders, U.S. Marines even occupied the hospitals and prevented hundreds of the wounded from receiving medical treatment. Snipers fired from the rooftops at anyone who tried to approach.

This was a retaliatory operation, carried out by the Marines, accompanied by F-16 fighter planes and assault helicopters, under the code name "Vigilant Resolve." It was revenge for the killing of four American security guards on March 31. But while the killing of the guards, whose bodies were dragged through the streets of the city and then hung from a bridge, received wide media coverage, and thus prepared hearts and minds for the military revenge, the hundreds of victims of the American retaliation were practically a military secret. [complete article]

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THE UPRISING

Huge U.S. attack to crush Iraq rebels
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, April 28, 2004

Najaf and Falluja are presenting the Bush administration with big problems with little more than two months to go before sovereignty is to be transferred to Iraqis: by resorting to force to crush the rebellions, the military risks generating further alienation and opposition.

"We were determined to stop them," said Abu Mathan, a member of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia, as he waved traffic over Kufa's bridge and across the Euphrates river.

He said the Americans tried to enter Najaf on Monday evening: "We attacked them with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. They bombed us with jet fighters. We put up fierce resistance. At 2am they left."

The encounter - in which the US military says it killed 64 members of Mr Sadr's militia - marks a defining moment in the war in Iraq.

Until now, the US has avoided launching an all-out offensive against Najaf for fear of antagonising Iraqi Shias. In recent weeks, however, US officials in Baghdad have been repeatedly threatening to kill or capture Mr Sadr, who has led an uprising against the US occupation.

On Monday US troops killed dozens of his supporters instead. The move is likely to inflame Shia opinion against America, making enemies of the people who initially welcomed the invasion because it rid them of Saddam Hussein.

Yet if there is any strategic thinking on the US side about how to deal with the Najaf standoff, it was hard to find it there yesterday. [complete article]

Insurgents in Iraq show signs of acting as a network
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, April 28, 2004

Far from limited to a small group of "dead-enders" and Saddam "thugs" as Pentagon officials claim, the armed opposition to the US occupation in Iraq has reached the point where some experts say it threatens to become a full-fledged nationalist insurgency.

Bolstered by former Iraqi military and security personnel, today's insurgents are at the least conducting increasingly sophisticated coordinated attacks. In addition, they have built networks to recruit fighters, make weapons, and funnel funds from Iraqi businesses and charitable groups, military experts say.

Perhaps most important, insurgents are now motivated primarily by nationalism and Islam, rather than by loyalty to Saddam Hussein, they say. [complete article]

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White House accused of mishandling fund targeting terror
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, April 27, 2004

Two leading Democrats yesterday accused the Bush administration of mishandling $40 billion provided by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, alleging that hundreds of millions of dollars were secretly diverted to help finance the war with Iraq before Congress approved the military action.

Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrats on the appropriations committees, requested a full accounting for how the money was spent and are seeking answers as to why Congress has not received regular reports on the management of the fund -- as required by law -- in nearly a year.

''We have numerous concerns about the administration's stewardship of these funds," the senior Democrats told President Bush in a letter yesterday, noting that the money was approved expressly for providing assistance to the families and victims of the Al Qaeda attacks and to strengthen national security. [complete article]

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The Muslim renovatio and U.S. strategy
By Michael Vlahos, Tech Central Station, April 27, 2004

For two years and more this war has had only two definitions. Think of them as working models to explain what is going on, and thus, frameworks for strategy and policy. However each, in fundamental ways, is wrong.

Most Americans, and their president, subscribe to the explanatory model of "terrorism." The terrorism model describes the enemy as small groups that are marginal in their own world - generally accepted at this point as the Muslim World. They may have political objectives but within their own societies they are considered no more than criminal. They can thus be addressed as criminals through eradication. However, their persistence suggests that broader societal ills are responsible for their emergence. Thus, encouraging democratic reform within societies that produce terrorism is indicated.

Others in contrast describe a Muslim "civil war." This explanatory model says that terrorism is the expression of a broad struggle within Islam between moderates and radicals. Radicals have chosen the path of violence - hence, terrorism - while moderates, including most governments in the Muslim World, would prefer to pursue political contention peacefully. Thus the US should oppose "Radical Islam" generally and support moderate Muslim regimes. This model by implication suggests that US strategy cannot merely encourage, but must insist upon the adoption of Western civic values in order to successfully defeat the vision of Radical Islam.

But there is a third explanatory model, and it exposes what is wrong with the two prevailing frameworks. This model describes neither terrorism nor civil war, but rather a "world-historical" movement of Islamic revival. Terrorism in this reality-framework is an expression neither of criminal evil nor of an evil vision. Rather, violent radical elements are only a small part of a much broader movement for Islamic restoration, or in the traditional sense inherited from Late Antiquity, of renovatio. [complete article]

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Al-Qaida men planned bomb, gas attacks
Associated Press (via The Star), April 26, 2004

Al-Qaida plotted bombings and poison gas attacks against the U.S. Embassy and other targets in Jordan, two conspirators said in a confession aired today on Jordanian state television.

Azmi al-Jayousi, identified as the head of the Jordanian cell of al-Qaida, appeared in a 20-minute taped program and described meeting Jordanian militant Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi in neighbouring Iraq to plan the foiled plot.

A commentator said the plotters wanted to kill 80,000 Jordanians and had targeted the prime minister's office, intelligence headquarters and the U.S. Embassy. [complete article]

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Dubious threat, expensive defense
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, April 26, 2004

By now it's common knowledge that before Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration's attention was focused not on terrorism but on other national security priorities -- most notably missile defense. The administration's more reasonable defenders argue that this was a forgivable miscalculation, and that after al Qaeda's attack on New York and Washington, President Bush utterly remade his agenda.

Only he didn't -- at least not in one large respect. The president may have declared war on terrorism and launched invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But for the past 21/2 years, his Pentagon has quietly but implacably persisted in pursuing, without alteration, the previous No. 1 mission. The result is a breakneck, hugely expensive and quite risky attempt to build and activate a national missile defense before the November election. [complete article]

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Push to guard arms in Russia at risk
By David Filipov and Anna Dolgov, Boston Globe, April 26, 2004

In 2002, the United States and other leading industrial nations announced ''a global partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction" and with it, an unprecedented $20 billion pledge to help Russia prevent its nuclear, chemical, and biological materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Two years later, tons of lethal Russian stockpiles remain as vulnerable as ever, and the global partnership is in danger of collapse, Russian and Western weapons specialists warn.

Only a fraction of the funding pledged by the Group of Eight nations in June 2002 has materialized, the specialists said over the weekend. Much of the money has been held up by legal disputes, bureaucratic hang-ups, Russia's reluctance to allow access to sensitive sites, and public resistance in Russia to cooperation with the United States and the West.

As a result, Russians, many of whom think Western assistance in securing and eliminating weapons of mass destruction is just a pretext for spying, are considering doing without the aid. [complete article]

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Anti-Semitism falls in Europe but hostility to Israel grows
By Bertrand Benoit, Financial Times, April 27, 2004

While anti-Semitism has decreased in most of Europe over the past two years, Europeans harbour increasingly hostile views towards Israel, according to a survey released yesterday by the Anti-Defamation League, the US civil rights organisation.

The survey, coinciding with a fall in reported anti-Semitic incidents in several countries last year, suggests governments are succeeding in preventing violence in the Middle East spilling over into Europe through the continent's large Muslim communities.

The poll's findings could also undermine the argument, supported by some civil rights movements including the ADL itself and think-tanks in Israel and the US, that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. [complete article]

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Sadr the agitator: like father, like son
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2004

Sadr enters the mosque at Kufa where he's led Friday prayers for nearly a year denouncing the authorities and warning of an "imperialist" conspiracy against Iraq's majority Shiites.

The thousands fill the vast open courtyard, chanting the name of their hero when he strides through the gate, and they take up his call during the sermon. "No, no to America! No, no to Israel! No, no to imperialism!" In Baghdad, the authorities worry about how to handle this militant cleric, his rising profile and his willingness to flex the street muscle he's built up in Iraq's slums.

But the Sadr in question is not Moqtada, the young cleric whose gunmen now occupy Kufa and the neighboring shrine city of Najaf. Instead, the year is 1998 and the man leading the prayers is Ayatollah Mohammed Sadek Al-Sadr, Moqtada's father.

While Moqtada's religious credentials are weak, his family's political standing is as deep as the modern history of Iraq. His grandfather was the prime minister in 1932. And this young, militant cleric didn't spontaneously emerge after the fall of Saddam Hussein. US forces now entering the city of Najaf, are up against a man who has donned the well-cultivated mantle of his father, the leading Shiite thorn in the side of the Hussein regime in the 1990s. [complete article]

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U.S. forces battle Shia militiamen
BBC News, April 27, 2004

US forces in Iraq say they have killed 43 Shia Muslim militiamen in clashes near the holy city of Najaf.

They also say that an anti-aircraft weapon in the area was destroyed by an AC-130 gunship.

The clash took place on Monday night, hours after US troops had moved into a base in Najaf being vacated by Spanish troops withdrawing from Iraq. [complete article]

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Mosque targeted in Fallouja fighting
By Tony Perry and Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2004

A fierce battle Monday in a rubble-strewn neighborhood of this Sunni Muslim stronghold left one Marine and at least eight insurgents dead, casting a new shadow over prospects for a peaceful solution to the military standoff here.

During the two-hour midday fight, in which at least eight U.S. troops were wounded, a Marine tank demolished the 150-foot-tall minaret of a mosque, from which machine-gun fire had been raining onto Marines 200 yards away.

At one point, the combatants exchanged rifle fire 30 yards apart.

The insurgents were close enough to hurl grenades on top of a building where Marines were briefly pinned down.

Farther back, on the roof of a U.S. military compound, Marine snipers cranked up the volume on their CD player so they could listen to the music of Metallica as they fired at their foes. [complete article]

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The lasting wounds of war
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, April 27, 2004

While attention remains riveted on the rising count of Americans killed in action -- more than 100 so far in April -- doctors at the main combat support hospital in Iraq are reeling from a stream of young soldiers with wounds so devastating that they probably would have been fatal in any previous war.

More and more in Iraq, combat surgeons say, the wounds involve severe damage to the head and eyes -- injuries that leave soldiers brain damaged or blind, or both, and the doctors who see them first struggling against despair.

For months the gravest wounds have been caused by roadside bombs -- improvised explosives that negate the protection of Kevlar helmets by blowing shrapnel and dirt upward into the face. In addition, firefights with guerrillas have surged recently, causing a sharp rise in gunshot wounds to the only vital area not protected by body armor. [complete article]

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Great foreign aid puzzles
By Tim Colebatch, The Age, April 27, 2004

James Wolfensohn is puzzled. Why, he asks, do governments spend $1250 billion a year to defend themselves against potential enemies, yet just $80 billion a year in development aid so that other countries become partners, not enemies?

Wolfensohn sounds not just puzzled, but a bit frazzled. In nine years as head of the World Bank he has travelled the world endlessly, cajoling, persuading, arguing and pleading with ministers to re-order priorities, to lift foreign aid, and create a world in which countries no longer need to spend $1250 billion a year to feel secure. [complete article]

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Administration says a 'zone of autonomy' justifies its secrecy on energy task force
By Linda Greenhouse, New York Times, April 25, 2004

The Bush administration's effort before the Supreme Court to shield the names of private citizens who helped devise its energy policy might appear on the surface unrelated to its defense, in cases also before the court, of the detention of those the administration has classified as enemy combatants.

But the legal arguments are strikingly similar, projecting a vision of presidential power in both war and peace as far-reaching as any the court has seen and posing important questions of the constitutional separation of powers.

Just as the administration is arguing in the detainee cases for the exercise of presidential authority without judicial interference in policies related to the war on terrorism, it is making sweeping claims in the energy case for the existence of a constitutionally protected "zone of autonomy" for presidential advice received in the ordinary course of proposing legislation. [complete article]

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Former ambassadors unite to condemn Blair's foreign policy
By Ben Russell, The Independent, April 27, 2004

Tony Blair was facing a severe crisis of confidence in his foreign policy yesterday after an unprecedented attack from dozens of the most senior figures in the British diplomatic service.

The letter from 52 former ambassadors and heads of mission who held the most senior postings in the Foreign Office, lambasted Mr Blair for abandoning his principles over the road-map to peace in the Middle East and criticised the United States-led coalition in Iraq for failing to plan for the post-Saddam era.

In a damning verdict on Mr Blair's special relationship with President George Bush, they called for a "fundamental reassessment" of British policy towards the White House and the Middle East, urging Mr Blair to exert real influence over American policy as "a matter of the highest urgency".

They added: "If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure." [complete article]

See the British diplomats' letter, Doomed to failure in the Middle East.

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Italy told hostages will die in five days
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, April 27, 2004

An Iraqi armed group released video footage yesterday of three Italian hostages seized more than two weeks ago and said they would be killed in five days' time unless Italians protested publicly against their county's involvement in the occupation.

Al-Arabiya TV, which broadcast the footage, quoted an accompanying statement as saying: "We will show good faith and free them and ask that they leave the country if you sympathise with our cause, show solidarity with us and publicly reject the policy of your prime minister by staging a big demonstration in your capital to protest against the war and call on your government to withdraw from our country." [complete article]

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U.N. Iraq resolution a tough sell
By Robin Wright and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, April 26, 2004

... what some U.S. officials have already dubbed the "mega-resolution" may be in trouble even before a draft is finalized. "This could be the last big diplomatic battle over U.S. Iraq policy," said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy.

Security Council envoys are concerned that the new resolution will convey only partial sovereignty to Iraq, leaving a new government with little legitimacy and ultimate power in the hands of the United States and its military allies. Russia, China, Pakistan and other council members insist that the transfer of power mark a real end to U.S. control and that the United Nations be given wider powers -- more than the world body appears prepared to assume. [complete article]

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War in Iraq aims a bullet at the heart of the economy
By James K. Galbraith, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2004

However badly the war is going in Iraq, on the home front it is still a good thing for George Bush -- so far.

A year ago, the push to Baghdad doubled the economic growth rate and got a recovery started. Now, the literally untold billions in military payrolls and equipment purchases that keep the war going also help to propel our economy along.

This is normal. All wars bring cheerful economic news at first. They stimulate production. They raise capacity utilization, which helps business cover costs and improve earnings. This is good for the stock market. Wars create jobs and also usually draw young men and women away from the labor force, cutting unemployment. (So far, this war has been fought by a handful of overstretched professional soldiers, so the job effects have been small. That could change, especially if the draft is resurrected, as some would like.)

But the good news doesn't last.

Soon enough, profiteers see their chances. Bottlenecks happen. Prices go up. Long before unemployment disappears, wars generate inflation. Indeed, inflation -- and the depreciation of private wealth and public debt that it brings -- is the ages-old way in which governments pay for war. [complete article]

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Our hidden WMD program
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 23, 2004

The budget is busted; American soldiers need more armor; they're running out of supplies. Yet the Department of Energy is spending an astonishing $6.5 billion on nuclear weapons this year, and President Bush is requesting $6.8 billion more for next year and a total of $30 billion over the following four years. This does not include his much-cherished missile-defense program, by the way. This is simply for the maintenance, modernization, development, and production of nuclear bombs and warheads.

Measured in "real dollars" (that is, adjusting for inflation), this year's spending on nuclear activities is equal to what Ronald Reagan spent at the height of the U.S.-Soviet standoff. It exceeds by over 50 percent the average annual sum ($4.2 billion) that the United States spent -- again, in real dollars -- throughout the four and a half decades of the Cold War.

There is no nuclear arms race going on now. The world no longer offers many suitable nuclear targets. President Bush is trying to persuade other nations -- especially "rogue regimes" -- to forgo their nuclear ambitions. Yet he is shoveling money to U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories as if the Soviet Union still existed and the Cold War still raged. [complete article]

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THE UPRISING

Insurgents fortify positions in Najaf
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2004

As U.S. troops await orders to enter this Islamic holy city, militant Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr and his militia are strengthening their control here, stockpiling weapons, seizing key religious sites and arresting or detaining those who challenge him.

In the last two weeks, Sadr's followers -- many rushing here from Baghdad, Fallouja and other areas of Iraq -- have fortified their positions in the city and the neighboring town of Kufa, including at Najaf's gold-domed shrine of Imam Ali, one of the most revered mosques in the world.

Sadr's forces have evicted more than 100 rival Shiite clerics and shrine employees, replacing them with their own armed militiamen, who roam the rooftops and courtyards of the shrine with rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers hung over their shoulders.

The cleric's followers also were stockpiling weapons in mosques, schools, graveyards and private houses around the city, according to U.S. intelligence reports and local residents.

The open challenge to the U.S.-led administration in a city seen as sacred to Shiite Muslims, who make up 60% of Iraq's population, has put coalition authorities in a quandary. Two weeks ago, U.S. military officials amassed 2,500 troops on the outskirts of Najaf and declared their intention to restore order to the city and kill or capture Sadr. Last week, they softened their stance, saying they wanted to allow more time to reach a peaceful settlement in Najaf.

But on Sunday, L. Paul Bremer III, the civil administrator of Iraq, called Sadr's growing weapons cache "an explosive situation." Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, deputy commander of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division, said soldiers probably would advance into an area on the edge of Najaf being vacated by withdrawing Spanish troops. He said that although the Americans would not interfere with religious institutions, the move would further squeeze Sadr's forces.

"We're going to drive this guy into the dirt," he said. [complete article]

Sadr threatens U.S. troops with 'fires of hell'
Middle East Online, April 26, 2004

Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr warned the US military in an interview published on Monday that they would feel the "fires of hell" if they carried out their threat to kill or capture him.

"The Americans should know that the people will unleash the fires of hell against them if anything happens to me," he told the Rome daily La Repubblica in a telephone interview from the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.

The top US administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, said on Sunday that "a dangerous situation is developing in Najaf, where weapons are being stockpiled in mosques and shrines and schools," and that "this explosive situation threatens the general population there."

Sadr confirmed a previous threat to use suicide bombers if US forces entered Najaf, or another holy city, Karbala.

"It is true, but it was not my idea," he said. "Very many men and women have come to me to offer their lives to defeat the Americans and their allies." [complete article]

'Political arm' of Falluja militants claims key role
By Nicolas Pelham, Financial Times, April 26, 2004

A little known but controversial Iraqi group has risen to prominence this month as key intermediators between the US-led Coalition and Sunni Arab militants. Claiming to speak on behalf of guerrilla groups who until now have had no political representation, the Muslim Scholars' Council is presenting itself as the key to a political solution to the turmoil in Iraq.

"We are the political arm of the resistance fighting to evict American forces from Iraq," says Muthanna Dhari, spokesman of the council, and son of its leader. The council was formed after the war to speak for Iraq's 3,000 Sunni Muslim preachers.

It started to receive international attention when it interceded to win the release of three Japanese aid workers kidnapped earlier this month, and then more than a dozen other hostages.

Basking in the publicity, the council has since held daily press conferences on the unfolding crisis in Falluja. It has hosted foreign diplomats seeking the release of their nationals and bolstered its control over the most palatial of the Sunni mosques Saddam Hussein constructed in Baghdad in the final years of his rule. [complete article]

Digging in for a fight
By Nancy Gibbs, Time, April 25, 2004

However a government may try to hide them, there are ways to measure the costs of war, and last week people could take their pick. You could see, for the first time, the coffins of dead soldiers, wrapped tight like a gift in the flag for which they fought. You could mourn the one whose name was familiar, the football star who took a million-dollar pay cut to defend his country after 9/11. You could listen, for the first time, to the Pentagon leaders admitting that they would need both more troops and more money to get the job done. A year ago, the war planners figured that 200 armored humvees would be enough for the invasion and occupation of Iraq; now they want 20 times that many. The U.S. death toll in April 2003, the month Baghdad fell, was 37; the number killed in hostilities in April 2004 climbed to 107 last week, a reminder that winning a war can be deadlier than fighting it in the first place. "There's a rumor that Bush is going to redeclare war here. Have you heard it?" asks a 1st Cavalry Division private on patrol as he mans a machine gun in a Baghdad slum. "It's a good idea. Right now we drive around just enough to get people really angry and let them take shots at us. We should just roll over Sadr City and take out all the bad guys." [complete article]

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Apartheid assassins meet match in Iraq
By Gavin du Venage, The Australian, April 27, 2004

Some of the worst human rights violators of the apartheid era, including a man who helped kill 14 civilians while they slept, have been employed as security contractors in Iraq.

A South African killed in Iraq two weeks ago once worked for a secret apartheid death squad known as the Civil Co-operation Bureau. The CCB specialised in assassinating civilians who sympathised with black liberation movements.

Gray Branfield, 55, was the latest South African casualty with a record of human rights abuse to have obtained lucrative employment with one of the many private security companies operating in Iraq. His decapitated and mutilated body was found after a gunfight between Shi'ite radicals and Ukrainian forces in Kut, 185km southeast of Baghdad.

Author Peter Stiff says Branfield spent most of his life working for various covert units and developed a fearsome reputation. [complete article]

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THE COMING STORM

Think again: Al Qaeda
By Jason Burke, Foreign Policy, April, 2004

Although bin Laden and his partners were able to create a structure in Afghanistan that attracted new recruits and forged links among preexisting Islamic militant groups, they never created a coherent terrorist network in the way commonly conceived. Instead, al Qaeda functioned like a venture capital firm -- providing funding, contacts, and expert advice to many different militant groups and individuals from all over the Islamic world.

Today, the structure that was built in Afghanistan has been destroyed, and bin Laden and his associates have scattered or been arrested or killed. There is no longer a central hub for Islamic militancy. But the al Qaeda worldview, or "al Qaedaism," is growing stronger every day. This radical internationalist ideology -- sustained by anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric -- has adherents among many individuals and groups, few of whom are currently linked in any substantial way to bin Laden or those around him. They merely follow his precepts, models, and methods. They act in the style of al Qaeda, but they are only part of al Qaeda in the very loosest sense. That's why Israeli intelligence services now prefer the term "jihadi international" instead of "al Qaeda." [...]

Islamic militancy predates bin Laden's activities. He was barely involved in the Islamic violence of the early 1990s in Algeria, Egypt, Bosnia, and Kashmir. His links to the 1993 World Trade Center attack were tangential. There were no al Qaeda training camps during the early 1990s, although camps run by other groups churned out thousands of highly trained fanatics. Even when bin Laden was based in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, it was often Islamic groups and individuals who sought him out for help in finding resources for preconceived attacks, not vice versa. These days, Islamic groups can go to other individuals, such as Jordanian activist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who set up his al Tauhid group in competition with bin Laden (rather than, as is frequently claimed, in alliance with him) to obtain funds, expertise, or other logistical assistance.

Bin Laden still plays a significant role in the movement as a propagandist who effectively exploits modern mass communications. It is likely that the United States will eventually apprehend bin Laden and that this demonstration of U.S. power will demoralize many militants. However, much depends on the manner in which he is captured or killed. If, like deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he surrenders without a fight, which is very unlikely, many followers will be deeply disillusioned. If he achieves martyrdom in a way that his cohorts can spin as heroic, he will be an inspiration for generations to come. Either way, bin Laden's removal from the scene will not stop Islamic militancy. [complete article]

Militants in Europe openly call for jihad and the rule of Islam
By Patrick E. Tyler and Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times, April 26, 2004

The call to jihad is rising in the streets of Europe, and is being answered, counterterrorism officials say.

In [Luton,] this former industrial town north of London, a small group of young Britons whose parents emigrated from Pakistan after World War II, have turned against their families' new home. They say they would like to see Prime Minister Tony Blair dead or deposed and an Islamic flag hanging outside No. 10 Downing Street.

They swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden and his goal of toppling Western democracies to establish an Islamic superstate under Shariah law, like Afghanistan under the Taliban. They call the Sept. 11 hijackers the "Magnificent 19" and regard the Madrid train bombings as a clever way to drive a wedge into Europe. [...]

"Iraq dramatically strengthened their recruitment efforts," one counterterrorism official said. He added that some mosques now display photos of American soldiers fighting in Iraq alongside bloody scenes of bombed out Iraqi neighborhoods. [complete article]

Suicide bombings driven more by politics than religious zeal
By Riaz Hassan, YaleGlobal, April 23, 2004

At a time when the Western world worries about weapons of mass destruction in terrorist hands, a more basic device has emerged as the weapon of choice - a life itself. This use of life as a weapon - now exercised mainly by Islamic youth - is frequently presented as the manifestation of Islamic fanaticism. But studies by serious scholars and recent surveys show that the spate of suicide attacks in the Middle East is linked more to politics than to religion.

Data shows that the incidence of suicide attacks has increased from 31 in the 1980s to 98 in 2003 alone. The war in Iraq and escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have led to such an increase. Furthermore, American foreign policy may be contributing to an acceleration of this trend.

In particular, suicide attacks are now plaguing the occupying forces in Iraq. They are escalating among the Iraqi resistance groups because of their lethality and media impact. Suicide attacks are also being used by Iraqi Shiite and Sunni Muslim militants in their bloody sectarian conflict. In general, suicide attacks constitute about three percent of all terrorist incidents, but they account for almost half of the deaths due to terrorism. [complete article]

Many things wicked this way come
By Patrick Seale, The Daily Star, April 26, 2004

Recent actions and statements by US President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have been so grossly offensive to a large segment of Arab and Muslim opinion that they seem bound to trigger a violent response. By resorting to force and by ruling out a peaceful settlement of regional disputes, whether in Iraq or Palestine, these leaders have legitimized terror. Consciously or not, they have in fact provoked it.

It is no exaggeration to say that both Bush and Sharon rely on "terror" to bolster their positions. Without the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush would have remained a feeble president, tarred with having won the White House by questionable means. His "tough guy" image may yet be his best bet to win a second term. In Israel, too, "terror" brought Sharon to power and keeps him there.

Tiny straws in the wind point to the coming storm. When a Jordanian police sergeant in Kosovo opens fire on a bus carrying American prison wardens, killing two and wounding eight, the world should sit up and take notice. In Amman, a "chemical" bomb was discovered which, according to the authorities, could have killed 20,000 people, as well as devastating the US Embassy and Jordan's intelligence headquarters. [complete article]

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JERUSALEM AND WASHINGTON

Kerry jumps on Sharon bandwagon in favoring Gaza disengagement plan
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, April 25, 2004

Some two weeks before President Bush warmly received Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House, and declared a shift in U.S. policy toward fundamental issues in the Israel-Palestinian dispute, the Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry held consultations of his own about the Middle East. The discussions, held in Senator Kerry's home in Massachusetts, involved three former advisers to President Bill Clinton - Dennis Ross, the veteran peace negotiator; Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel; and Sandy Berger, former U.S. national security adviser.

Some of those present at this meeting report that Kerry asked to hear his guests' positions concerning the Israel-Palestinian dispute, particularly in light of present realities on the ground and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

Kerry's preparations notwithstanding, Bush is the leader who set the agenda regarding U.S. support for Israel when he stood alongside Sharon at the White House, and fervently endorsed the disengagement plan. The Washington Post declared immediately after the meeting that Bush had made some headway in the race to win American Jewish support; so Kerry didn't waste a minute, and jumped on the bandwagon, announcing his support for Sharon's plan. [complete article]

Comment -- George Bush's popularity among his supporters stems from his image as a resolute, kick-ass president. Does John Kerry really believe that when he acts like a me-too, spineless opponent he's going to peel away any of Bush's support? Kerry claims that he wants to salvage America's standing in the world, yet his knee-jerk support of Sharon's plan to impose a unilateral solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just a cynical attempt to avoid alienating American Jewish voters. Ironically, by refusing to challenge the implication that it is anti-Israeli to criticize Sharon, Kerry is bolstering the mirror position: that it is patriotic for Americans to support Bush.

If Kerry wants to show that he has the strength to lead, he needs to develop and promote a US-Middle East policy in which US relations with the Arab states are no longer treated as subordinate to an uncritical alliance with Israel. If Kerry is genuinely interested in the well-being of Israel perhaps he should go there and also visit the occupied territories. Having directly witnessed the degree to which Israel has become a failed state (from which more Israelis are emigrating than ever before) and the damage that has been wrought by Sharon with Bush's support, is it possible that Kerry could have the political vision to acknowledge that peace in the Middle East is an American domestic political issue; that the road to Jerusalem runs not through Baghdad or Tehran but Washington?

What have Bush and Sharon wrought?
By Henry Siegman, International Herald Tribune, April 26, 2004

Bush administration officials maintain that President George W. Bush's acceptance of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's intentions to annex large clusters of West Bank settlements to Israel, as well as his rejection of the Palestinian refugees' "right of return," represent nothing more than a recognition of realities long obvious to everyone.

They argue that these realities were recognized by President Bill Clinton and even by the authors of the recent Geneva Accords, since they also proposed deviations from the 1967 border and largely limited the "right of return" to the new state of Palestine. They note further that Bush and Sharon declared continued devotion to the road map peace plan and its provision that all final status issues be subject to agreement among the parties themselves.

The suggestion is that developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are being driven by the road map, whereas one would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to be unaware that they are being driven by Sharon's efforts to bypass, undermine and bury the road map. [complete article]

Bantustan plan for an apartheid Israel
By Meron Benvenisti, The Guardian, April 26, 2004

When George Bush referred to Ariel Sharon's unilateral separation plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip as a historic event, he wasn't exaggerating - even if it is not clear that he grasped the implications of his words for the future of the Jewish state.

Nor did the Palestinians err when they compared his statement to the Balfour Declaration (the British government's first world war promise to establish a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine) - even if they perhaps failed to grasp that the statement is liable to have implications yet more grave than the 1917 pledge, and will compel a substantive strategic change in their struggle.

And Sharon - crowned by victory and convinced that he has unveiled a daring new initiative that will foil all schemes - will be surprised to discover that in Washington he was pushed into embracing an accelerated process of founding the state of Israel as a binational state based on apartheid. [complete article]

Reality intrudes on U.S. vision for Mideast
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 2004

National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice says that if there's one thing she sees President Bush become passionate about, it is reform in the Middle East. For the president, political and economic progress in a vast region of Arab and Muslim population he calls the "greater Middle East" is one of the keys to winning the war on terror.

But just weeks before the Bush administration plans to roll out its greater Middle East initiative at a series of international summits, the plan is in trouble.

Three factors - worse-than-expected violence in Iraq, the president's surprise alignment last week with Israeli leader Ariel Sharon on West Bank settlements and other sensitive issues, and the continuing deterioration of America's image among Arabs - have thrown the plan off and punctured enthusiasm for pursuing it. [complete article]

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How do you cover events like this?
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, April 26, 2004

The US authorities call it the "green zone", the vast area in central Baghdad where occupation officials live and work behind blast-proof concrete walls, endless coils of razor-wire, and machinegun-toting watchtowers. It takes in Saddam Hussein's gigantic presidential compound, and then some.

Buildings like the Rashid Hotel and the Convention Centre which were accessible in the dictator's days are now inside the fortifications. Even the "green zone" is not totally safe, and mortar rounds regularly thud in.

We hacks loved to sneer at the wimps inside it, many of whom never dared to leave their man-made cocoon for weeks on end. "Come on out to the red zone, the whole of the rest of Iraq," we taunted.

In recent weeks the smiles have faded. Threat levels have been rising remorselessly, and within the space of a month it has become virtually impossible for journalists to function. Initially, the danger was mainly outside Baghdad. We had to be on our guard for car-jackings and drive-by shootings. Then came the menace of hostage-taking at unexpected, unofficial checkpoints. [complete article]

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U.S. public beliefs on Iraq and the presidential election
Program on International Policy Attitudes, University of Maryland, April 22, 2004

Much has changed in the year or more since the US began its military action in Iraq. But one thing has changed very little: the beliefs in the American public that just before the war, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda and had weapons of mass destruction. These beliefs have been evidenced in numerous polls
conducted by other organizations, as well as by PIPA/Knowledge Networks. Given that neither of these beliefs has been borne out by long and costly investigations into the activities of the fallen regime, and given the assessments challenging these views by high-profile figures like David Kay (former head of the US government's Iraq Survey Group), Hans Blix (head of UNMOVIC, the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq before the war), or Richard Clarke (a previous national coordinator for counterterrorism and then White House advisor on the subject), it would seem that this might be a moment when these beliefs would begin to change.

To the extent that they have not changed, this raises the question of "why?" Is it because people's political biases are so strong that they do not receive new information? Is it because they are not aware of what most experts are saying? Do they perceive administration figures as confirming these beliefs? Perhaps most significant, if these perceptions changed, is it likely that Americans would modify their beliefs or their attitudes about the decision to go to war?

Of course, another key issue is how all these dynamics might interact with intentions to vote for the president or his challenger. Do people who side with one or the other candidate differ in their beliefs and perceptions? If these perceptions or beliefs changed, might this have an impact on voting? [complete article] (PDF format)

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Bush's oratory helps maintain support for war
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, April 25, 2004

With skillful use of language and images, President Bush and his aides have kept the American public from turning against the war in Iraq despite the swelling number of U.S. casualties there.

Even with the loss of more than 700 U.S. troops in Iraq, recent uprisings against the U.S.-led occupation there, a dwindling number of allies and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, a majority of Americans still believe that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do. By 52 percent to 41 percent, Americans trust Bush more than Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) to handle the Iraq situation, according to last week's Washington Post-ABC News poll -- a double-digit improvement for Bush from a month before.

Political strategists and public-opinion experts say a good part of this resilience of public support for Bush and the Iraq war stems from the president's oratory. They say Bush has convinced Americans of three key points that strongly influence overall support for the war: that the United States will prevail in Iraq; that the fighting in Iraq is related to the war against al Qaeda; and that most Iraqis and many foreign countries support U.S. actions in Iraq. [complete article]

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Why the White House likes Bob Woodward's book
By Daniel Sneider, Knight Ridder, April 22, 2004

Here's an interesting question. Why is the White House actively promoting Bob Woodward's latest book, "Plan of Attack," offering his behind-the-scenes account of the decision to go to war in Iraq?

On the surface, the book is hardly flattering to President Bush. It makes it clear that planning for war began within weeks of Sept. 11, when the war in Afghanistan had barely begun. It reveals that the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was given access to top-secret war plans and told that the war was a go on Jan. 11, 2003. This was before Secretary of State Colin Powell was told. And it was while the president was still assuring the nation and the world that he hoped diplomacy would work.

What the White House likes - and why Bush in fact collaborated with Woodward - is that the book portrays Bush as the man in charge, as a resolute and decisive leader. It continues the portrait Woodward drew in a previous tome, "Bush at War," about the response to Sept. 11. In this election year, Woodward's book, despite some damaging revelations, is almost a campaign biography.

Woodward counters a more damning and widely held image of the Bush administration: that when it comes to foreign policy and national security, Vice President Dick Cheney runs the show.

The book does conclude that Cheney was a driving force for war with Iraq. It details the battle between Cheney, with Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld at his side, and Powell, who warned against war. But Woodward insists that ultimately, the president made the really tough calls. [complete article]

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Writing for Godot
By Nancy Shepherdson, Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2004

In the beginning of the end, as Tim LaHaye tells it, millions of people will disappear off the face of the earth, "raptured" up to heaven. Over the following seven years, tribulations of all kinds -- demon locusts, seas of blood, nuclear war -- will claim billions more. The city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq will be rebuilt, as will the first temple in Jerusalem, on land now occupied by one of the most sacred sites in Islam, the Dome of the Rock. By then, though, all of the Muslims in the world will have been eliminated, either horrifyingly killed or converted to Christianity. Nearly all Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and other "unbelievers," even some Christians, face the same fate. Finally, after all the carnage, when the world is ready for Jesus to walk the earth again, the savior's very words will cause the last of the unfortunates to fall gruesomely dead.

LaHaye, an early organizer of the Moral Majority and a longtime activist in conservative politics, has brought that vision vividly to life in an astonishingly popular series of page-turning action novels collectively known as the "Left Behind" series. Co-authored with Christian novelist Jerry B. Jenkins (Jenkins does the writing, LaHaye supplies the biblical underpinnings), the books so far have sold about 62 million copies, according to their publisher. [complete article]

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The multilevel marketing of the president
By Matt Bai, New York Times, April 25, 2004

For 2004, Rove's team has devised the most ambitious grass-roots model in the party's history.

Up close, what Bush is assembling on the local level looks less like a political campaign than what is known in business as a multilevel marketing scheme. In an MLM, like Mary Kay Cosmetics or Tupperware, each independent entrepreneur who joins the sales force -- a Betty Kitchen, say -- also becomes a recruiter who is responsible for bringing in several new entrepreneurs underneath her. The result is a pyramid-like sales structure that broadens to include more and more recruits with each descending level.

The notion of translating the MLM concept into politics is visionary -- and also a little disquieting. Pyramid-based companies have proved amazingly successful at raising up armies of enterprising Americans; Amway, the world's most successful MLM, has more than 3.6 million distributors. But some MLM's thrive by imposing their own strange and insular cultures on their recruits, and while they offer the illusion of self-employment, those at the top of the pyramid often demand a rigid kind of uniformity and loyalty. Amway has often been compared to a cult -- so often, in fact, that on its own Web site the company feels the need to answer such frequently asked questions as ''I've heard rumors that Amway is a cult; is this true?'' and ''Why do Amway meetings appear to some people like a cult?'' When I met with Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager, in suburban Washington, and suggested that the Bush campaign could fairly be compared to Amway in its approach, he agreed without hesitation. ''Amway, no question,'' he said. [complete article]

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Political split is pervasive
By David Von Drehle, Washington Post, April 25, 2004

From Congress to the airwaves to the bestseller lists, American politics appears to be hardening into uncompromising camps, increasingly identified with the two parties. According to a growing consensus of political scientists, demographers and strategists, the near-stalemate of 2000 -- which produced a virtual tie for the White House, a 50-50 Senate and a narrow Republican edge in the House of Representatives -- was no accident.

This split is nurtured by the marketing efforts of the major parties, which increasingly aim pinpoint messages to certain demographic groups, rather than seeking broadly appealing new themes. It is reinforced by technology, geography and strategy. And now it is driving the presidential campaign, and explains why many experts anticipate a particularly bitter and divisive election. [complete article]

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U.S. shifts position on Fallujah
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, April 25, 2004

Backing away from warnings that a new U.S. offensive on the city of Fallujah may be imminent, U.S. officials on Sunday announced that the occupation authority has shifted to a "political track" in an attempt to defuse the month-long crisis.

"The end state is what we need to be focused on. If it can be achieved through a political track, that's always good," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy director of operations, told a news conference. "I think we are going to show some combat patience and see if we can deliver this on a political track."

The shift in approach followed high-level discussions in the White House and at least one weekend meeting between leaders of the volatile community and U.S. officials led by L. Paul Bremer, the occupation administrator on Saturday.

By day's end, the coalition was announcing projects totaling $60 million between Fallujah and Ramadi, a nearby city that has also been an insurgency hotbed. [complete article]

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Fallouja defies simple solution
By Patrick J. McDonnell and Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2004

The strategy appears simple enough.

"What we'd like to do is have the good people of Fallouja who see their country has a future -- who want to be a part of that -- to separate themselves from those who have nothing to live for," said Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which has encircled this city of 300,000.

If only it were that easy.

Counter-insurgency warfare seldom is, experts say, as U.S. forces learned painfully in Southeast Asia and the Soviet Union discovered in Afghanistan. Now Iraq is the arena -- and to make matters more difficult, the battlefield is urban. The guerrillas' strength is that they can hide among the populace when confronted with superior forces.

Little headway has been made in U.S. demands that insurgents turn in their arms, although talks continue. L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, traveled here Saturday to assist in the negotiations involving clerics, Fallouja city officials and other Iraqi intermediaries, a spokesman said. President Bush was spending the weekend at Camp David, where administration officials said he was reviewing his options. No decision had been made about U.S. military action, the officials said.

Few doubt the Marines, with their superior firepower and air dominance, could overrun the Sunni Muslim stronghold in 48 hours or so -- just as U.S. forces were able to swiftly overtake the country a year ago.

Despite the sense of a brutal inevitability closing in around Fallouja, U.S. officials remain torn about the possibility of a bloodbath among Iraqi civilians -- and the revulsion among Iraqis at the inevitable images of dead women and children. The great fear is that a swift and decisive victory in Fallouja could make things worse. [complete article]

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Family follows Shiite cleric into holy battle for Iraq
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, April 21, 2004

Nassir al Asadi is angry that Americans are running his country. He's upset that the police force he works for does nothing to oppose them. And the 35-year-old father has lost patience with the Iraqi holy men of his Shiite Muslim faith who fail to condemn the occupiers.

So when rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr last July called on Iraqis to join the armed resistance, al Asadi didn't hesitate. Nor did his siblings. They believe that should they be martyrs while in al Sadr's Mahdi Army - named after the Shiite messiah - it would be a ticket to heaven, a far better fate than serving any foreign master on earth.

The Mahdi Army is the key threat to American-led forces in central and southern Iraq, and the anger of al Asadi and his family offers a glimpse into why many Shiites the United States had counted on as allies are enemies instead. [complete article]

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Iraqi nationalism takes root, sort of
By Edward Wong, New York Times, April 25, 2004

For the moment, a tentative sense of Iraqi nationhood has been forged from the roiling caldron of anti-American sentiment here.

With Sunni and Shiite Arabs working together to attack the American occupiers, either through force or tough talk, the phrase "Iraqi first; Sunni or Shiite second" has become an often heard refrain on the streets.

American officials here inadvertently created this sense of unity early this month when they chose to send the Marines to invade the volatile Sunni town of Falluja, while simultaneously trying to corner a rebel Shiite cleric in Najaf, the holy city in the south. [complete article]

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Tripping up on Iraq's crossed wires
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, April 22, 2004

There still is no sense that the Americans know who they are talking to in Iraq. It's as if two dialogues are taking place - one in which Iraqis tell the Americans what they want to hear; and another, among Iraqis themselves as they set the scene for a post June-30 carve-up of the country and probably of each other.

And the outcome of that divergence spells increasing isolation and failure for Washington. [complete article]

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U.S., U.N. seek new leaders for Iraq
By Robin Wright and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, April 24, 2004

The United States and the top U.N. envoy to Iraq have decided to exclude the majority of the Iraqi politicians the U.S.-led coalition has relied on over the past year when they select an Iraqi government to assume power on June 30, U.S. and U.N. officials said yesterday.

The latest shift in policy comes as the U.S.-led coalition has to resolve some contentious and long-standing issues before the transfer takes place. Earlier this week, the coalition moved to allow former Baath Party members and military officers to return to government jobs.

At the top of the list of those likely to be jettisoned is Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite politician who for years was a favorite of the Pentagon and the office of Vice President Cheney, and who was once expected to assume a powerful role after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials acknowledged. [complete article]

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Why did Bush take my job?
By Saeb Erekat, Washington Post, April 25, 2004

President Bush apparently has taken my job.

Until the Bush-Sharon press conference on April 14, I was the chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, the only internationally recognized entity that has a mandate to negotiate a permanent peace with Israel. But then Bush appeared on television, standing at the White House next to a beaming Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, and announced that he had accepted Israel's claim to illegally occupied Palestinian land. He further determined that Palestinian refugees would never be allowed to return to their homes in Israel and would instead have to be resettled in a Palestinian state, vast tracts of which he had just given away.

In so doing, Bush reneged on the 1991 U.S. Letter of Assurances provided to the Palestinians by his father's administration; the letter said that "no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues" and that "the United States has opposed and will continue to oppose settlement activity in the territories occupied in 1967." Bush, as the self-appointed Palestinian negotiator, finally exposed the "Middle East peace process" for the charade that it has become -- a mechanism by which Israel and the United States impose a solution on the Palestinians. [complete article]

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The wrong debate on terrorism
By Richard A. Clarke, New York Times, April 25, 2004

The last month has seen a remarkable series of events that focused the public and news media on America's shortcomings in dealing with terrorism from radical Islamists. This catharsis, which is not yet over, is necessary for our national psyche. If we learn the right lessons, it may also prove to be an essential part of our future victory over those who now threaten us.

But how do we select the right lessons to learn? I tried to suggest some in my recent book, and many have attempted to do so in the 9/11 hearings, but such efforts have been largely eclipsed by partisan reaction.

One lesson is that even though we are the world's only remaining superpower -- as we were before Sept. 11, 2001 -- we are seriously threatened by an ideological war within Islam. It is a civil war in which a radical Islamist faction is striking out at the West and at moderate Muslims. Once we recognize that the struggle within Islam -- not a "clash of civilizations" between East and West -- is the phenomenon with which we must grapple, we can begin to develop a strategy and tactics for doing so. It is a battle not only of bombs and bullets, but chiefly of ideas. It is a war that we are losing, as more and more of the Islamic world develops antipathy toward the United States and some even develop a respect for the jihadist movement. [complete article]

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