The War in Context  
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Bush wins big at Stupidity Awards
By Nelson Wyatt, Toronto Star, July 24, 2004

The November elections may still be ahead of him but U.S. President George W. Bush came out a big winner yesterday -- at the World Stupidity Awards.

Bush was a dominating presence at the second edition of the awards presented at the Just for Laughs comedy festival.

Host Lewis Black, whose biting satire is a highlight of TV's The Daily Show, took pride in the recognition the United States received at the awards, saying: "we are the gold standard."

Black said the awards "celebrate the pros" and "perfection in idiocy" because real stupidity is hard work.

"It's easy to fall down a manhole, it's easy to put the candles too close to the drapes, it's easy to launch a military invasion of another country based on a few blurry satellite photos," he observed.

"This year my people, we scaled the Everest of stupidity and we stand upon its peak." [complete article]

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Key piece of Iraq jigsaw wants out of picture
By Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian, July 24, 2004

Modernising, Western-leaning, European-accented Kurdistan is speeding on its course away from political connection with the troubled southern, Arab regions of Iraq.

Race theorists, of whom there are many among the Kurdish intelligentsia, love to explain that the Arabs are Semites and the Kurds are Aryans: two distinct civilisations forced into an unwieldy, and ultimately unfeasible, alliance.

For almost all Kurds, Iraq is an encumbrance, a piece of historical baggage they wish, at some point, to leave behind. But when, and how? Those are the shadowy questions everyone here dwells on. With the West, and Washington above all, seeking to engineer a stable, unitary Iraq, the key piece of the jigsaw has another outcome in mind.

Yet the Kurds have limited freedom to act, and must follow a slow, subtle path. They are only 5million, in a much larger, Arab-dominated Iraq. And beyond their little fief of Iraqi Kurdistan there are 20million more Kurdish people, living in hard conditions within the borders of other nations: Syria, Turkey and Iran. [complete article]

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Yesterday's heroes could soon be tomorrow's traitors
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, July 23, 2004

Short of leaving Iraq altogether, the only chance of escaping Baghdad's overwhelming heat and the constant risk of suicide bombs is to drive to Kurdistan. Little more than three hours from the capital there is a land of lakes and mountains, where you can venture outdoors in the afternoon without having to dash to the nearest spot of shade. Groves of slender date-palm, now starting to brim with clumps of fruit, give a certain dignity to the flatlands of Mesopotamia, but there comes a time when you long for some undulation in the landscape, a grassy knoll perhaps, or even a respectable hill.

Go east, south, or west and there is no chance of finding it. Travel north and you will. So it is no surprise that increasing numbers of better-off Iraqis who can afford a short holiday plump for the Kurdish area. For 12 years, it was effectively separate from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and Baghdadis had little idea what was going on behind the curtain. Many are stunned to discover a region which is not just different scenically but has a thriving economy, minimal unemployment and no serioussecurity problems. The word has gone out that cities such as Sulaimaniya are enjoying a boom in house-building. As a result, workers from the Arab south are also coming up in droves to take construction jobs.

But nothing is quite what it seems, and beyond the attractive landscape and the security calm, the Kurdish region has serious unsolved problems. Its leaders try to project a united front in Baghdad and abroad, but few Kurds in the north or Arabs in the south have forgotten that the region's two dynasties spent four of their Saddam-free years fighting a civil war. [complete article]

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Marsh Arabs get £6m to restore Eden
By Paul Brown, The Guardian, July 24, 2004

Japan is paying £6m to restore the marshlands of Mesopotamia, homeland of the Marsh Arabs, which the book of Genesis identifies as the probable site of the Garden of Eden.

A project to restore the marshlands, which once extended over 7,500 square miles but were systematically destroyed by Saddam Hussein, was announced yesterday by the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep).

Saddam ordered the draining of the marshes to destroy cover for rebel fighters, but this changed the weather patterns and turned a vast area into desert, releasing pollution into the Gulf.

The project will provide a haven for severely endangered wildlife, as well as decent living conditions for the 45,000 Marsh Arabs who clung on to the remnants of their homeland, and a further 40,000 refugees who have returned from Iran. [complete article]

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Bush's military records fail to dispel AWOL charges
By Adam Entous, Reuters, July 23, 2004

Some of President Bush's missing Air National Guard records during the Vietnam War years, previously said to be destroyed, turned up on Friday but offered no new evidence to dispel charges by Democrats that he was absent without leave.

His whereabouts during his service as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard in the United States during the Vietnam War have become an election-year issue. Bush's Democratic presidential challenger, John Kerry, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran.

The Pentagon, which had announced two weeks ago that the payroll records had been accidentally destroyed, blamed a clerical error for previous failure to find them.

In May 1972, Bush moved to Alabama to work on a political campaign and, he has said, to perform his Guard service there for a year. But other Guard officers have said they have no recollection of ever seeing him there.

Bush was the son of a U.S. congressman at a time when National Guard service was seen as a way for the privileged to avoid being drafted for Vietnam War duty. [complete article]

Comment -- In America's narcissistic national pastime, otherwise known as presidential politics, this is a story all about character. Will the facts ultimately reveal that George Bush honorably served his country as a pilot in the National Guard, or will they show that he was a flake taking advantage of his family connections? Everyone's obsessed with the records. Which have been found? Which have been lost? What do they reveal?

Meanwhile, what is really getting lost is the larger issue that doesn't hinge on whether or not Bush went AWOL. Back during the Vietnam war, just as now, it's the poor kids who die for their country while the privileged wax lyrical about the virtues of patriotism. Those who claim they have the moral clarity to see that war is unavoidable are also the ones who know how to avoid getting killed. It's just another expression of a "natural order" that makes it the duty of those in need to serve the interests of those in power.

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Who's in charge here?
By Gail Sheehy, Mother Jones, July 22, 2004

"Who's our quarterback" in case of a future terrorist attack? "Who's in charge?" That was the core question members of the 9-11 commission put to every government official they interviewed. "The reason that you're hearing such a tone of urgency in our voices is because the answer to the question was almost uniform," said commissioner Jamie Gorelick at the press conference following today's release of the 600 page final 9-11 Commission Report. The person in charge, she said the commissioners had been told over and over again, would be the president.

"It is an impossible situation for that to remain the case," Gorelick observed. Impossible, because the commission's report clearly shows that on the morning of September 11, 2001, the president and the other top officials in charge of the systems to defend the country from attack were, in essence, missing in action: They did not communicate, did not coordinate a response to the catastrophe, and in some cases did not even get involved in discussions about the attacks until after all of the hijacked planes had crashed.

Yet, even though the commission's report paints a stark portrait of opportunities lost in defending against terrorism, many observers -- especially the families of some 9/11 victims, who pushed hard for the commission's creation -- were disappointed in its failure to provide a timeline of the actions of the nation's top leaders that morning. Such an analysis, they believe, would have shown conclusively that blame for failing to defend against the attacks goes all the way to the top. [complete article]

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War on terror criticized for lack of focus
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, July 23, 2004

The Sept. 11 commission report offers a broad critique of a central tenet of the Bush administration's foreign policy -- that the attacks have required a "war on terrorism."

The report argues that the notion of fighting an enemy called "terrorism" is too diffuse and vague to be effective. Strikingly, the report makes no reference to the invasion of Iraq as being part of the war on terrorism, a frequent assertion of President Bush and his top aides.

"The first phase of our post-9/11 efforts rightly included military action to topple the Taliban and pursue al Qaeda. This work continues," the report said. "But long-term success demands the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland defense. If we favor one tool while neglecting others, we leave ourselves vulnerable and weaken our national effort." [complete article]

'Operational relationship' with al Qaeda discounted
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, July 23, 2004

One week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, White House counterterrorism director Paul Kurtz wrote in a memo to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that no "compelling case" existed for Iraq's involvement in the attacks and that links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government were weak.

Not only did Osama bin Laden resent the Iraqi government's secularism, Kurtz's classified memo stated, but there was no confirmed information about collaboration between them on weapons of mass destruction.

Yesterday, after a lengthy investigation, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States laid out a detailed body of evidence supporting Kurtz's view. Although recent polls have shown that more than 40 percent of the American public is still convinced that Iraq collaborated with al Qaeda and had a role in the terrorist attacks, the commission reported finding no evidence of a "collaborative operational relationship" between the two or an Iraqi role in attacking the United States. [complete article]

Effect of Iraq war, support for Israel go unaddressed
By Frank James, Chicago Tribune (via Yahoo), July 23, 2004

While the top Democrat on the Sept. 11 commission praised the comprehensiveness of its final report Thursday, experts said there were serious omissions in the document.

For instance, the report did not deal with the issue of whether the Iraq war had made the nation more or less safe from acts of terrorism, analysts said.

What's more, though the panel recommended that U.S. policymakers do more to win favor in the Muslim world, it spent little time assessing how U.S. support for Israel affects that effort.

The report acknowledged, "Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world."

But neither issue was examined in depth as to its effect on terrorism, experts noted. [complete article]

New plot details emerge
By Terry McDermott, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2004

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who conceived and directed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was motivated by his strong disagreement with American support for Israel, according to the final report of the Sept. 11 commission. [complete article]

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They're back: Neocons revive the committee on the present danger, this time against terrorism
By Jim Lobe, Foreign Policy in Focus, July 21, 2004

A bipartisan group of 41 mainly neoconservative foreign-policy hawks has launched the latest incarnation of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), whose previous two incarnations mobilized public support for rolling back Soviet-led communism but whose new enemy will be "global terrorism."

The new group, whose formation was announced at a Capitol Hill press conference July 20, said its "single mission" will be to "advocate policies intended to win the war on global terrorism -- terrorism carried out by radical Islamists opposed to freedom and democracy."

"The Committee intends to remain active until the present danger is no longer a threat, however long that takes," said CPD chairman R. James Woolsey, who served briefly as former President Bill Clinton's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director and has often referred to the battle against radical Islam as "World War IV."

Woolsey appeared with Senators Joseph Lieberman, a neoconservative Democrat who was former Vice President Al Gore's running-mate in 2000, and John Kyl, a Republican from Arizona with strong connections to the Christian Right. In a joint column published July 20 in the Washington Post, the two senators argued, "Too many people are insufficiently aware of our enemy's evil worldwide designs, which include waging jihad against all Americans and reestablishing a totalitarian religious empire in the Middle East." [complete article]

See also The present danger (Committee on the Present Danger).

Comment -- America forged its identity in response to what settlers perceived as a common threat: being subject to British rule. Within a few decades, once no longer threatened by the British, America was at war with itself. After the civil war, a succession of new foreign enemies helped bring the country together in waves of nationalism. The longest period of "peace" was sustained by an enduring antipathy for communism. Once the Cold War ended America's fragile unity again started to unravel. Divisions grew between rich and poor, believers and non-believers, conservatives and liberals, isolationists and internationalists. Then the divisions suddenly got papered over as the country shuddered from the violence of international terrorism. Is shared fear ultimately the only enduring bond that Americans share?

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Profits of war
By Dan Briody, The Guardian, July 22, 2004

[An extract from The Halliburton Agenda : The Politics of Oil and Money]
In the decade after the first Gulf war, the number of private contractors used in and around the battlefield increased tenfold. It has been estimated that there is now one private contractor for every 10 soldiers in Iraq. Companies such as Halliburton, which became the fifth largest defence contractor in the nation during the 1990s, have played a critical role in this trend.

The story behind America's "super contract" begins in 1992, when the department of defence, then headed by Dick Cheney, was impressed with the work Halliburton did during its time in Kuwait. Sensing the need to bolster its forces in the event of further conflicts of a similar nature, the Pentagon asked private contractors to bid on a $3.9m contract to write a report on how a private firm could provide logistical support to the army in the case of further military action.

The report was to examine 13 different "hot spots" around the world, and detail how services as varied as building bases to feeding the troops could be accomplished. The contractor that would potentially provide the services detailed in the report would be required to support the deployment of 20,000 troops over 180 days. It was a massive contingency plan, the first of its kind for the American military.

Thirty-seven companies tendered for the contract; KBR [Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root] won it. The company was paid another $5m later that year to extend the plan to other locations and add detail.

The KBR report, which remains classified to this day, convinced Cheney that it was indeed possible to create one umbrella contract and award it to a single firm. The contract became known as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Programme (Logcap) and has been called "the mother of all service contracts". It has been used in every American deployment since its award in 1992 - at a cost of several billion dollars (and counting). The lucky recipient of the first, five-year Logcap contract was the very same company hired to draw up the plan in the first place: KBR. [complete article]

Dan Briody's new book, The Halliburton Agenda : The Politics of Oil and Money, is available here.

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Accounting and accountability
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, July 23, 2004

Accountability is important. The nation will be ill served if officials who didn't do all they could to prevent a terrorist attack, or led the nation into an unnecessary war, manage to shift the blame to someone else.

But those weren't the only big mistakes of the last few years. Will anyone be held accountable for the mishandling of postwar Iraq?

Last month we learned that the United States, while it has spent vast sums on the war in Iraq, has so far provided almost no aid. Of $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds approved by Congress, only $400 million has been disbursed.

Almost all of the money spent by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq until late June, came from Iraqi sources, mainly oil revenues. This revelation helps explain one puzzle: the sluggish pace of reconstruction, which has yet to restore many essential services to prewar levels.

But it creates another puzzle: given that the authority was spending Iraq's money, why wasn't it more careful in its accounting? [complete article]

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Bush or Kerry? In Baghdad, political passions run high
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 2004

Call them Baghdad Dads: If America's presidential election were held tomorrow, on Iraqi soil, working-class Iraqis would be the crucial swing vote.

"The Democratic party is just a party of slogans: they only call for freedom," says Muath Karra, an eyeglass salesman. "But George W. Bush, he is brave, and he is a man of action. I hope he wins this election, because he is a genius - and brave."

Muhammed Shammari, a taxi driver, is a Kerry man. "We want John Kerry to win, because George W. Bush brought harm to America and all the world under the pretext of launching the war on terror," he says. "And generally, the Democratic Party is better than Republicans."

Thousands of miles from Boston and New York, the American horse race plays out in Iraqi terms: strongmen and wimps, doers and talkers, rulers and technocrats. Kerry has the advantage: He didn't invade their country, which counts for a lot. But while Bush is generally hated, his tough-guy image plays well on the street. "John Kerry has a good heart; he was against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," says Haidar Abdullah, a young electrician. "But the truth is, I'm a George W. Bush supporter." [complete article]

Comment -- George Bush likes to assert that freedom is not America's gift to Iraq but God's gift to humanity. It's a line that plays well with his Christian supporters. But consider this. No one needs to conduct an opinion poll in Iraq before concluding that if Iraqis were able to cast a vote in the coming American presidential elections, the turnout in Iraq would be far higher than the turnout in the US. This tells us two things.

Firstly, the citizens that live in the nation that has appointed itself as the global champion of democracy, don't have much interest in exercising their democratic rights and fulfilling their democratic responsibilities.

Secondly, while Iraqis' interest in American politics is comensurate with the impact that the US government has had on their lives they have in effect become disenfranchized American subjects. They have a voice but no vote; the freedom to shout without being heard. Is this what America democracy is all about?

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Security threat seen as rising
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2004

The security threat in Iraq has grown "undoubtedly more severe" since the beginning of the year and insurgents have become more sophisticated and dangerous in just the last few months, a former top U.S. security advisor in Iraq told a Senate committee Thursday.

David C. Gompert, who was senior security advisor to former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III, said the threat from loyalists of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein and from foreign fighters had become more deadly. He said that "the current threat … cannot be defeated militarily without much stronger support from the Iraqi people than we [in the coalition] experienced."

In his first public comments since the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded June 28, Gompert told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he was "guardedly upbeat" about Iraq's future, in part because of the new interim government. Yet his views were gloomier than those offered recently by U.S. officials, who have sought to emphasize the positive in Iraq. [complete article]

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Violence surges in Baghdad and Sunni area to the west
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times, July 23, 2004

Violence surged in the capital and in the restive Sunni triangle to the west on Thursday. At the same time, Kenya ordered its citizens to leave Iraq after kidnappers threatened to kill three Kenyan hostages.

The Kenyan action came two days after the Philippines withdrew its forces from Iraq ahead of schedule to meet the demands of kidnappers who had threatened to kill a Philippine hostage. It is unclear how many Kenyan citizens are in Iraq, but there are probably far fewer than the Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos who provide low-level services for soldiers and private contractors.

The pace of hostage-taking has quickened in recent weeks, challenging the new Iraqi government and reflecting an intensifying campaign against citizens whose countries provide troops or subcontracting work for the American-led military presence in Iraq. [complete article]

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Inside one day's fierce battle in Iraq
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 2004

Baqubah is as close to a front line as it gets in Iraq's messy, urban guerrilla war. A fiercely contested city of 292,000, it is a key stronghold and way station for insurgents headed 35 miles southwest to Baghdad and beyond. On the western edge of the Sunni Triangle, it lies just 60 miles from the Iranian border.

On June 24, hundreds of insurgents mounted a complex ambush unlike any the US military here had seen: a particularly lethal alliance between foreign Islamic extremists loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Baqubah's estimated 1,000-strong homegrown insurgency led by disgruntled Iraqi officers, Baathists, and Sunni tribesmen.

US commanders assert the bold attack backfired, leaving scores of insurgents dead and stirring a rift between local fighters and the Zarqawi network, which claimed credit.

Yet the drawn-out battle also shows the potential in troublespots like Baqubah for an unsettling stalemate between US forces unrivaled in firepower and a maturing network of insurgents able to manipulate a passive population, strike, and slip away to fight another day. US commanders acknowledge that as their troops pull back, insurgents in cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarra, and Baqubah will work to continue the cycle of violence, exploiting the weakness of Iraq's fledgling government and security forces while recruiting and intimidating the people. [complete article]

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The government rules only in the capital
By Robert Fisk, The Independent (via ZNet), July 22, 2004

For mile after mile south of Baghdad yesterday, the story was the same: empty police posts, abandoned Iraqi army and police checkpoints and a litter of burnt-out American fuel tankers and rocket-smashed police vehicles down the main highway to Hillah and Najaf. It was Afghanistan Mk2.

Iraqi government officials and Western diplomats tell journalists to avoid driving out of Baghdad; now I understand why. It is dangerous. But my own fearful journey far down Highway 8 - scene of the murder of at least 15 Westerners - proved that the US-appointed Iraqi government controls little of the land south of the capital. Only in the Sunni Muslim town of Mahmoudiya - where a car bomb exploded outside an Iraqi military recruiting centre last week - did I see Iraqi policemen. [complete article]

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The Sarajevo of Iraq
By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch, July 23, 2004

In July 2003, Israel's intelligence agencies swung into action after their political masters concluded that the US occupation of Iraq was going badly, wrote Semour Hersh, the prize-winning New Yorker investigative journalist, in Plan B last month (based on his interviews with his intelligence sources in the United States, Israel, and Turkey). A further impetus to Israeli planning came in December when Washington suddenly announced that it would hand over power to the Iraqis on June 30. Israel's leaders decided it was only prudent to take out an insurance policy in case the transfer of power went badly, resulting in chaos -- to the benefit of Iran.

While evidently assigning their Kurdish agents in Iran the task of gathering intelligence on the government's nuclear activities, in Iraq their agents have been encouraging Kurdish aspirations for an independent state. This, in turn -- and to their satisfaction -- inspired rioters in Syria's Kurdish-majority towns of Qameshli, Amuda, Hasaka, and Malikiya, where protestors burnt public buildings and raised the Kurdish national flag. Some 40 people were killed before the Syrian army restored order.

But Israel's strategy has a distinct downside, since encouraging desires for Kurdish independence runs dangerously counter to Turkey's long-standing policy on the Kurds and so has the potential of undermining Israeli-Turkish military cooperation that dates back to 1995. "The lesson of Yugoslavia is that when you give one country or component independence, everybody will want it," a Turkish official told Hersh. "Kirkuk will be the Sarajevo of Iraq. If something happens there, it will be impossible to contain the crisis." [complete article]

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A democratic, not demographic, threat
By Orit Shohat, Haaretz, July 23, 2004

The demographic demon has of late been working overtime. This week, the Knesset extended temporary orders prohibiting Arab citizens from marrying Palestinians from the territories (unless the couple decides to emigrate). The parliament also passed, on preliminary reading, a law that will stop relatives of non-Jewish, naturalized Israeli citizens from uniting with their families. The Interior Ministry is currently discussing whether to confer citizenship to adopted, non-Jewish children of immigrants. As though that is not enough, it now turns out that DNA testing is being utilized to streamline racism. The interior minister sometimes demands that parents seeking citizenship undergo such tests to prove that their children are really theirs.

The purpose of the Law of Return was never to create in Israel a racially pure society. On the contrary, its objective was to create a sanctuary for Jews who are persecuted by racists. After a million non-Jews immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union because of family ties to Jews, one might have expected that Israelis would relax, and grasp that it's impossible to establish a democratic state that is 100 percent Jewish. The "state of the Jews" long ago ceased to be a genetic or religious concept. In fact, had DNA tests been done on immigrants in the Second Aliyah at the turn of the 20th century (in fact, their bones can be exhumed), it is unlikely that they would reveal pure Jewish blood. [complete article]

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Jewish settlements, outposts expanding despite pledges
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, July 23, 2004

Jewish settlements and outposts are growing rapidly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite Israeli pledges to the United States to stop the expansion of such communities and dismantle some of them, according to Israeli government statistics and a report released Thursday by settlement opponents.

The growth is particularly pronounced in the Gaza Strip, where Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has proposed removing all Jewish settlers and the Israeli soldiers protecting them by the end of 2005. A little more than 8,000 settlers occupy approximately 40 percent of the land in the Gaza Strip; about 1.3 million Palestinians live on the remaining 60 percent.

According to a new report by the anti-settlement group Peace Now, Israeli settlements and outposts grew by more than 100 acres -- with at least 65 acres added in the West Bank and about 47 in the much smaller Gaza Strip -- in March, April and May this year. At least 3,100 apartments are being built in the settlements, "in addition to the preparation of areas for construction of thousands of further housing" units, the report says. [complete article]

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Film review: "Control Room" follows Al-Jazeera and shows the human side of war reporting
By Maureen Clare Murphy, Electronic Iraq, July 20, 2004

"This isn't just a military operation; it's also a media operation," a British journalist scolds an uncooperative U.S. Central Command press officer in Control Room, a documentary on the Arab satellite network Al Jazeera's coverage of the beginning of the Iraq war. A particularly troubling issue presented in the film is how the lines between media and military are blurred by the U.S. administration during wartime, demonstrated by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld discussing how the U.S. government hopes to change Al-Jazeera's coverage as though doing so is part of U.S. military strategy.

Director Jehane Noujaim's footage includes an Al Jazeera head, in the days before the aerial bombardment of Baghdad on March 20, 2003, explaining that he had notified the U.S. military of the station's whereabouts, giving them the exact coordinates of their Baghdad headquarters. However, weeks later, a U.S. plane drops a missile directly onto Al Jazeera's headquarters, killing Jordanian journalist Tarek Ayoub (Al-Jazeera's stations were also bombed by the U.S. during the invasion of Afghanistan). That same day, U.S. forces killed three more reporters when it attacked Abu Dhabi T.V.'s location, and fired upon the Palestine hotel, which was housing many journalists. We see the reactions of the Al-Jazeera staff to these casualties, and because we've gotten to know the satellite channel's affable journalists through the documentary, the loss becomes personal for us as well. [complete article]

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Tehran maintains 'strategic ambiguity' towards al-Qaeda
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, July 22, 2004

As a state based on Shia Islam with mainly Sunni countries to its north and east, Iran has never been comfortable with the fierce brand of Sunni Islam followed by al-Qaeda.

Leaders of al-Qaeda have often attacked Shia Islam's veneration of long-dead imams - those believed by Shia to be the legitimate successors to the Prophet Mohammad - as a violation of monotheism.

Within Iran, a militant Sunni group based in Pakistan and possibly linked to the al-Qaeda network was suspected of the 1994 bombing of the shrine of the seventh Shia imam, Reza, in Mashad, killing 26 people.

Iran supported the Northern Alliance against Afghanistan's Taliban government, which was allied to al-Qaeda, and in 1998 massed troops on the border after the Taliban executed 11 Iranian diplomats and journalists.

But Tehran has pursued what diplomats in Iran call "strategic ambiguity" with regard to al-Qaeda. [complete article]

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Red Cross named jail before alleged killings by Iraq's PM
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, July 23, 2004

The International Committee of the Red Cross had urged an investigation of the brutal treatment of prisoners at the Baghdad prison where Iraq's new Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, is alleged to have executed as many as six suspected insurgents.

The Red Cross request was made six months before the killings were said to have taken place at the maximum security Al-Amariyah police station prison.

Almost a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a report by the Red Cross to the US occupation forces named the station as one of six run by Iraqi authorities in Baghdad at which detainees were subjected to the same coercive interrogation tactics used on prisoners by the fallen regime.

The report says that one group of prisoners "allegedly had water poured on their legs and [then] had electrical shocks administered to them with stripped tips of electrical wires". Others had shown scars that they said were from burns inflicted by cigarettes.

Two informants who said they had witnessed the alleged executions last month confirmed that the practices - including the use of electrical shocks - were still used on detainees at Al-Amariyah. [complete article]

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Army finds 94 cases of Iraq, Afghan prisoner abuse
By Will Dunham, Reuters (via Yahoo), July 22, 2004

A long-awaited Army report on Thursday found 94 cases of abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan but blamed "a few individuals" and not the military leadership -- a finding Senate Democrats called hard to believe.

The report represented the Army's official evaluation of prisoner detention and interrogation operations in the two countries that produced the physical and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail and at least three dozen deaths of detainees.

Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek, the Army's inspector general who conducted the report and appeared before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, described a series of shortcomings, including ambiguous policies and unclear responsibilities for troops.

But the report stated, "We were unable to identify system failures that resulted in incidents of abuse." [complete article]

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Fallujah parallels in Ramadi
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 2004

Some of the heaviest fighting in months erupted on Wednesday in the troubled city of Ramadi. Throughout the day, the thud of mortars, bombs, and machine-gun fire echoed down desolate streets as insurgents battled hundreds of US Marines.

An estimated 25 insurgents were killed, and 25 people - including two Iraqi police - were detained in a day of clashes, which saw 13 US soldiers lightly wounded in firefights and multiple ambushes.

At sunset, as American helicopters swooped over central Ramadi, a small funeral procession for Iraqis killed in the fighting moved slowly through town. But stores remained locked behind metal gratings and few residents ventured onto streets littered with debris and cratered by bombs.

The escalation of violence in this Sunni city about 70 miles west of Baghdad presents a difficult Catch-22 for US commanders here who are working to reduce the visibility of US troops, empower Iraq's new government, and get security forces to take charge. [complete article]

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Fearing big battle, residents flee
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, July 22, 2004

Tens of thousands of people have fled Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, in recent weeks, expecting a showdown between U.S. troops and heavily armed groups within the city, according to U.S. and Iraqi sources.

Residents of the city said guerrillas told people to leave neighborhoods in anticipation of a larger battle after a clash on Tuesday in which U.S. warplanes bombed two houses, killing at least four people, according to military authorities.

"I will not go back to Samarra," said Mohammed Mohammed, 37. He brought his extended family of more than 70 brothers, cousins and children to Baghdad this week because of the dangers. "We expect the resistance will be very strong when the Americans go in. And the Americans have no mercy." [complete article]

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Panel: U.S. underestimated pre-9/11 threat
By Hope Yen, Associated Press (via WP), July 22, 2004

The United States government could not protect its citizens from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because it failed to appreciate the threat posed by al Qaeda operatives who exploited those lapses to carry out the deadliest assault ever on American soil, the chairman of the Sept. 11 commission said Thursday.

In issuing the panel's final report, commission chairman Tom Kean said none of the government's efforts to thwart a known threat from al Qaeda had "disturbed or even delayed" Osama bin Laden's plot.

"(They) penetrated the defenses of the most powerful nation in the world," Kean said. "They inflicted unbearable trauma on our people, and at the same time they turned the international order upside down." [complete article]

Comment -- To suggest that al Qaeda succeeded in "turning the international order upside down" is the kind of rhetoric that has become predictable in the post 9/11 era. Yet even if in the long run there is no disputing that the international order has been upturned, a war in Iraq inspired by but unconnected to 9/11 may prove to have been far more instrumental in bringing about this global upheaval than the attacks themselves.

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War funds dwindling, GAO warns
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, July 22, 2004

The U.S. military has spent most of the $65 billion that Congress approved for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is scrambling to find $12.3 billion more from within the Defense Department to finance the wars through the end of the fiscal year, federal investigators said yesterday.

The report from the Government Accountability Office, Congress's independent investigative arm, warned that the budget crunch is having an adverse impact on the military as it shifts resources to Iraq and away from training and maintenance in other parts of the world. The study -- the most detailed examination to date of the military's funding problems -- appears to contradict White House assurances that the services have enough money to get through the calendar year.

Already, the GAO said, the services have deferred the repair of equipment used in Iraq, grounded some Air Force and Navy pilots, canceled training exercises, and delayed facility-restoration projects. The Air Force is straining to cover the cost of body armor for airmen in combat areas, night-vision gear and surveillance equipment, according to the report. [complete article]

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State Dept. criticizes focus of Iraq effort
By Mary Curtius and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2004

The Pentagon's $18.4-billion Iraq reconstruction plan puts too much emphasis on big-ticket construction projects and not enough on creating jobs for Iraqis, State Department officials who have taken control of the program have concluded.

U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte is reviewing the program and hopes to come up with new priorities next month, State Department officials said. The department will then have to seek approval from the House and Senate appropriations committees to shift funds.

The move to redirect resources is likely to further delay some of the rebuilding, which already has been hampered by sabotage, red tape and infighting. U.S. officials see the reconstruction effort as critical to stabilizing Iraq and fostering democracy there. [complete article]

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Sharon's troubled search for 1 million new Jewish immigrants
By Tony Karon,, July 21, 2004

Ariel Sharon's belief that the Jews of France belong in Israel and ought to get there as soon as possible lest they fall victim to anti-Semitism gone wild has opened a major diplomatic row between France and Israel. But it's also a signal of deeper tensions on the question whether it is the "manifest destiny" of the almost two-thirds of the world's Jewish population who live outside of Israel to emigrate to that country to help maintain a Jewish majority.

The furor began when, in a speech to U.S. Jewish leaders, Sharon said that while he wanted all the world's Jews to move to Israel, in the case of France where they face "the wildest anti-Semitism" such a move was urgent and essential. France is home to Western Europe's largest Jewish community, numbering some 600,000. The condemnation of Sharon was swift and shrill, not only from the French government, but also from leaders of France's Jewish community who accused Sharon of pouring gasoline on the fire.

Still, despite Sharon's claim that "wild" anti-Semitism leaves French Jews no option but to flee to Israel, the Anti-Defamation League's own study of European anti-Semitism released in April suggests that there has actually been a 10 percent decline in anti-Semitic attitudes in France over the past two years. (Sharon himself commended the French government for taking steps to fight it.) To be sure, anti-Semitic attacks have become a worrying reality for many Jews in France, and a tiny, but growing minority have taken Sharon's advice. Still, the reason French Jewish leaders have been particularly dismayed by Sharon's comments is not hard to see: One of the questions asked in the ADL survey as a measure of anti-Semitic attitudes was whether the survey's respondents agreed with the statement "Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country." Sharon left no doubt about his belief that they ought to be. [complete article]

See also, Sharon to France: Send me your Jews (Slate)

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Bush zeroes in on Jewish vote
By Adam C. Smith, St. Petersburg Times, July 22, 2004

President Bush's re-election campaign thinks it has a secret weapon for winning Florida's 27 electoral votes: the usually solid Democratic Jewish vote.

In a dead-even state, where an election can be won slicing off a few votes here and there, Republicans see Florida's roughly 500,000 Jewish voters as among their ripest opportunities.

Democrats warily acknowledge they could be right.

"I'm very worried about it," said Ginger Grossman, a Democratic activist in north Miami-Dade who said many Jewish voters are ready to reward Bush for his staunch support of Israel. "These are Democrats who are going to vote for Bush unless Kerry can turn this around."

Which is why John Kerry's brother spent much of this week meeting with Jewish voters across Florida.

"I'm here to tell you that John Kerry will stand up for Israel and he will not walk away," Cameron Kerry told nearly 100 people gathered Wednesday for a meeting in Tampa organized by attorney Barry Cohen. "George Bush has nothing on John Kerry when it comes to standing by Israel and being able to be an effective friend to Israel." [complete article]

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'Refusenik' campaigns for change
By Ali Abunimah, Daily Star, July 22, 2004

Peretz Kidron is an Israeli who has been fighting battles all his life, but many of them with the country he emigrated to as an idealistic young man in 1951. Now campaigning to spread the messages of Israeli military personnel who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories, Kidron was one of the founders of Yesh Gvul ("There is a limit"), the movement of soldiers that sprang up in 1982 to oppose Israel's invasion of Lebanon.

Kidron, who has been touring the US promoting his new book "Refusenik!: Israel's Soldiers of Conscience," (Zed Books, 2004) was recently in Chicago and spoke to The Daily Star about the movement and the political situation in Israel. Since Israel's violent crackdown on the intifada began in September 2000, Kidron says that a total of 1,400 Israeli soldiers, officers and reservists have refused orders to serve in the Occupied Territories - a group that includes extreme right-wingers, communists, Zionists, anti-Zionists and religious and anti-religious Israelis. [complete article]

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Iran's neoconservatives poised to take charge of political agenda
By " Kamal Nazer Yasin", Eurasianet, July 20, 2004

In response to deepening domestic and social challenges, a neo-conservative movement is fast gaining influence in Iran, and now appears poised to take charge of shaping the country’s political agenda. This new force in Iranian politics features a blend of old-style devotion to the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution with new-found pragmatism on nagging domestic issues.

Many leaders of Iran's neo-conservative movement, including Tehran mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, maintain close connections with the Revolutionary Guards, the chief enforcer of the Islamic Revolution. For much of the Islamic republic's existence, there has been an effective taboo on the Revolutionary Guards' involvement in politics. This taboo now appears to have been broken. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Neo-conservatives have grown increasingly assertive in recent months, especially after the controversial parliamentary elections in February that gave conservatives a stranglehold on the legislature. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In March, a prominent neo-conservative and former Revolutionary Guards commander, Ezatollah Zarghami, was named to head Iran's state television and radio network. Meanwhile, the head of the country's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmud Shahroudi, named a former Revolutionary Guards commander to be his legislative liaison. [complete article]

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Iran: Time for a new approach (PDF format)
Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the
Council on Foreign Relations, July 2004

Over the past quarter century, relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been trapped by legacies of the past. The aftermath of the 1979 revolution transformed Iran from a staunch ally into one of the most intractable opponents of the United States in the region and beyond. Today, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have positioned American troops along Iran's borders, making the United States and Iran wary competitors and neighbors who nonetheless possess some overlapping interests. All of this is occurring against a backdrop of the problems posed by Iran's nuclear program and its involvement with terrorism. Clearly, contending with Iran will constitute one of the most complex and pressing challenges facing the next U.S. administration.

The Council on Foreign Relations established this Independent Task Force to consider both Iran's domestic reality and its foreign policy and to examine ways the United States can foster a relationship with Iran that better protects and promotes American interests in a critical part of the world. [complete article (PDF format)]

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Growing concerns in Baghdad about Iranian meddling
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2004

Iraq, with a Shiite majority that was brutally oppressed under Saddam Hussein and a history of warfare with Iran, has long looked askance at its larger Shiite neighbor.

With bellicose rhetoric against Iran rising in some quarters of the US government, and allegations by some Iraqi officials of Iranian efforts to destabilize their country, the key question becomes this: What role, if any, is Iran playing in Iraq's political future?

So far, there is almost no evidence of Iranian government involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, dominated as it is by nationalist groups and Sunni jihadists, both foreign and local, who US officials say are responsible for the suicide bombings and kidnappings that have terrorized Iraq for more than a year.

But there is growing suspicion among some Iraqi officials and political leaders that Iran is playing a role here. They claim that Sunni jihadists with ties to Al Qaeda have been allowed to travel through Iran on their way to make mischief here and also worry about Iran's ties to Shiite political groups that have their own militias. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda relationship with Iran is debated
By Terry McDermott, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2004

Opponents of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq have seized upon the Iran information as evidence that the administration was misguided in its fixation on Iraq. Iran, they say, appears to have ties to terrorists at least as close.

Intelligence officials, however, downplay the significance of the travel route. One senior U.S. intelligence official who has seen the commission report, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Islamic jihadists, particularly Saudis, "routinely were allowed to transit Iran without being impeded or without being questioned carefully or without having their documents marked in any way."

The official stressed that "this was not unique to Al Qaeda" and that the travel was not evidence of special Iranian collaboration with the terrorist network.

U.S. communications intercepts revealed the use of Iran routes months after the Sept. 11 attacks. This information was bolstered by data from wiretaps of an Al Qaeda cell in Milan in early 2001. Tunisians in the cell discussed the Iranian route during a conversation wiretapped by Italian police, according to court papers. The Tunisians, who have since been convicted on terrorism-related charges, said their contacts in Iran ensured quick and safe passage, but the wiretaps did not suggest the involvement of Iranian officials, Italian authorities said. [complete article]

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More evidence of an Iran-al Qaeda connection
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, July 21, 2004

Just eight months before the September 11 terror attacks, top conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh received a four-week visa to Iran and then flew to Tehran -- an apparent stop-off point on his way to meet with Al Qaeda chiefs in Afghanistan, according to law-enforcement documents obtained by Newsweek.

German government documents showing the previously undisclosed trip by bin al-Shibh, a captured Al Qaeda operative who played a crucial coordinating role in the 9/11 plot, is the latest evidence that the World Trade Center conspirators frequently used Iran as a safe transit point in their travels to and from Afghanistan.

The final report of the 9-11 Commission, which is due out tomorrow, contains significant new information about a possible "Iran connection" to the plot, including a U.S. intelligence analysis indicating that Iranian border inspectors were instructed not to stamp the passports of Al Qaeda members entering and exiting their country. Although the information has been known to the U.S. intelligence community for some time, President Bush told reporters this week that the U.S. government was “digging into the facts to determine if there was” a possible Iranian connection to the September 11 attacks. [complete article]

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New links between Iran, al Qaeda cited
By Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, July 22, 2004

Even before its official release today, the final report by the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks reignited the political debate over Iraq and whether al Qaeda had a significant relationship with Saddam Hussein, as President Bush and other administration officials have alleged over the past two years.

The report, to be released at a Washington news conference this morning, echoes earlier findings by the Sept. 11 commission's staff that Iraq and al Qaeda had no "collaborative relationship" and dismisses as unfounded reports of a meeting between an Iraqi intelligence officer and Sept. 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta, said officials familiar with the document.

On Iran, by contrast, the report concludes that al Qaeda's relationship with Tehran and its client, the Hezbollah militant group, was long-standing and included cooperation on operations, the officials said. It also details previously unknown links between the two, including the revelation that as many as 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers may have passed through Iran in late 2000 and early 2001 because Iranian border guards were instructed to let al Qaeda associates travel freely, sources familiar with the report have said. [complete article]

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Anti-Iran sentiment hardening fast
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2004

Iran's governing mullahs may feel uneasy at the prominent attention they are attracting in the US as the 9/11 investigations conclude.

But a bigger worry for them may well be the growing signs that the US Congress - even without the 9/11 reports of Iran's ties to Al Qaeda - is pressing for a tougher approach toward Tehran.

With US interests in a reformed Middle East as strong as ever - even with Saddam Hussein out of the picture - Iran is emerging as the new Satan for some forces in Washington. That is particularly true on Capitol Hill, where pro-Israel and anti-Iran hard-liners are calling for an Iran policy advocating regime change - much like what happened with Iraq in the late 1990s. [complete article]

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U.S. report: Israel should not strike Iranian nuclear facilities
By Janine Zacharia, Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2004

The US should urge Israel not to strike Iranian nuclear facilities since such a move would adversely affect US interests, and America would be blamed for the attack, a task force assessing US policy toward Iran said Monday.

Israel has not declared whether it would launch a raid on Iranian nuclear sites under construction, which unlike the Iraqi Osarik reactor – destroyed by Israel in 1981 – are scattered throughout the country. But Israel has made veiled threats, with Israeli officials pledging not to allow Iran to go nuclear.

US President George W. Bush, whose administration, many in Washington say, has yet to flesh out a coherent policy on Iran since he grouped Iran in an "axis of evil," has warned several foreign leaders privately that "Israel will deal with Iran" if the US does not do something to head off the Iranian nuclear program, according to one source briefed on the exchanges. [complete article]

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Iraqi diplomat eyes good Iran relations
By Ken Guggenhaim, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), July 20, 2004

Iraq's new government said it expects to have good relations with neighboring Iran despite President Bush's characterization of Iran as part of an "axis of evil," Iraq's top diplomat in the United States said yesterday.

Iran so far has had a positive role in Iraq, and the Iraqi government recently asked it to cooperate even more on security, including sharing more intelligence, Rend al-Rahim Francke, chief of Iraq's diplomatic mission in Washington, said in an interview with the Associated Press. [complete article]

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Another square-off over Iran
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times, July 22, 2004

A new round in the ongoing battle between realists and neo-conservative and other hawks over Iran policy began this week as a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) published a report urging Washington to engage Tehran on a selected range of issues of mutual concern.

The task force, co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under former president Jimmy Carter (1977-81), and including Robert Gates, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under past president George H W Bush (1989-93), argues that neo-conservative and other analysts who are urging that Washington pursue "regime change" in Iran underestimate the staying power of the current government there. [complete article]

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Grand jury steps up inquiry into possible Halliburton ties to Iran
By T. Christian Miller and Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2004

A Halliburton controversy erupted Tuesday, fueled by a grand jury investigation into whether the oil services giant violated federal sanctions by operating in Iran while Vice President Dick Cheney was running the company.

The investigation centers on Halliburton Products and Services Ltd., a subsidiary registered in the Cayman Islands and headquartered in Dubai that provided oil field services in Iran. The unit's operations in Iran included Cheney's stint as chief executive from 1995 to 2000, when he frequently urged the lifting of such sanctions. [complete article]

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Allawi gambles on appeasement
By Jeffrey Donovan, Asia Times, July 21, 2004

On Sunday, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, himself a Shi'ite, issued a decree allowing the [al-Hawza] paper [, mouthpiece of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's radical movement,] to be reopened. Allawi's office said the move was part of an effort to show the premier's "absolute belief in the freedom of the press".

Yahia Said, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that Allawi's move is part of a broader strategy to strengthen support for the government as it copes with growing violence, including a car bombing that killed at least nine people and wounded another 60 outside a Baghdad police station on Monday.

According to Said, that strategy represents a rejection of the one taken by Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, which stepped down on June 28. "In general, it's part of a broader strategy by the new government to, if you like, split the insurgency and offer those who are in it for allegedly nationalist motives a chance to join the political process, to lay down their arms, and participate in the process that will ultimately lead to elections and eventual full sovereignty or full independence, and then isolate the terrorists this way." [complete article]

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In the face of stubborn insurgency, troops scale back Anbar patrols
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, July 20, 2004

After more than a year of fighting, U.S. troops have stopped patrolling large swaths of Iraq's restive Anbar province, according to the top American military intelligence officer in the area.

Most U.S. Army officers interviewed this week said the patrols in and around the province's capital, Ramadi - home to many Iraqi military and intelligence officers under Saddam Hussein - have stopped largely because the soldiers and commanders there were tired of being shot at by insurgents who've refused to back down under heavy American military pressure.

Asked for comment, officials from the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines in Ramadi - which makes up about one-fifth of the forces there - provided a 21-year-old corporal, who confirmed that the Marines have discontinued patrols, but said it was because of the hand-over of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government.

While American officials in Ramadi wouldn't provide exact figures for the change in numbers of patrols, there's obviously been a significant drop.

After losing dozens of men to a "voiceless, faceless mass of people" with no clear leadership or political aim other than killing American soldiers, the U.S. military has had to re-evaluate the situation, said Army Maj. Thomas Neemeyer, the head American intelligence officer for the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, the main military force in the Ramadi area and from there to Fallujah. [complete article]

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Evolving tactics of Islamic militants
By Gordon Corera, BBC News, July 21, 2004

The video footage published on an Islamist website of American Paul Johnson and the subsequent image of his severed head and body represents another step in the evolution of Islamic extremist tactics in Saudi Arabia.

It also serves to emphasise once again the degree to which the militants have a sophisticated understanding of how violence, the media and public opinion can interact. [complete article]

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Saudi Arabia's double-edged amnesty
By Sudha Ramachandran, Asia Times, July 21, 2004

With Saudi militants ignoring the government's offer of a limited amnesty to those who turn themselves in, a confrontation between the Saudi security apparatus and the militants, far more violent than the one witnessed over the past year in the kingdom, is likely in the coming weeks. Saudi militants fighting in Iraq and elsewhere appear to be returning home in preparation for just such a confrontation.

The limited amnesty offered in the name of King Fahd gave militants one month to surrender or face the "full might" of the state. Under the amnesty, militants who turn themselves in will face trial if they have been involved in attacks, but they will not be awarded the death penalty. Al-Qaeda responded with scorn, saying the offer was a "desperate attempt to halt the jihad in the Arabian Peninsula" and that it was doomed to "inescapable failure".

Only four militants have turned themselves in since June 23, and Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef has ruled out any extension of the July 23 deadline, claiming that Saudi rulers expect "large numbers", or "all militants to return to their senses and give themselves up". [complete article]

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Thousands of Afghans flee fighting in Pakistan
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, July 21, 2004

The Pakistani Army, backed by United States intelligence and surveillance, has stepped up its operations against supporters of Al Qaeda in the area near the Afghan border in recent weeks, displacing thousands of Afghan refugees.

Some 200,000 Afghan refugees have been living in the remote border areas of Pakistan, in poor and insecure conditions. In the past few weeks, as the Pakistani operations in the tribal area of South Waziristan have risen in strength and, according to some reports, prompted a matching increase in militant resistance, 25,000 people have poured back into Afghanistan, refugee officials said.

In the past five months, the Pakistani Army, at the behest of the United States, has pushed into the normally autonomous tribal areas, in an attempt to capture or kill an estimated 500 foreign fighters - many of them hardened Uzbek and Central Asian militants - and supporting tribesmen, and to search for Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who are often rumored to be sheltering in the area. [complete article]

Comment -- The subtext of this report -- the part that Carlotta Gall neglects to spell out -- is that Pakistan has adopted Israel's crude approach for "dismantling the terrorist infrastructure" as it sends in bulldozers to flaten refugees' homes. We are told that the Pakistani army is "backed by US intelligence." Does "backing" include recommending bulldozing houses? And what exactly is the message being sent from whom to who? "We will not differentiate between the terrorists and those who harbor them"? Or, "The suffering of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is the same as that of Palestinian refugees in Gaza"?

If the message being sent will so predictably be contradicted by the message as it is received, the underlying message becomes simple and unambiguous: we will crush you! It is a message that flows freely off the lips of many a general, yet in the military mind the focus is on the crushing. Their targets, however, identify themselves as people whose individual vulnerability does not undermine their collective will to survive. Buildings cannot rebuild themselves, but people, when pushed down, have a habit of rising back up. Having been hit, they hit back.

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This malign spell has yet to be broken
By Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, July 21, 2004

Earlier this month, it was announced that the elections in Afghanistan were to be delayed for a second time, with the country now supposedly choosing a president in October and a new parliament next spring. The announcement made few waves. Afghanistan is the day before yesterday's story. Nearly three years after Operation Enduring Freedom was launched to remove the Taliban regime and bring liberty and prosperity to one of the world's most impoverished countries, not much of the operation endures and many basic freedoms - from insecurity, from fear, from poverty - remain elusive.

The timing of the election, one month before George Bush goes to the polls himself, has as much to do with American as Afghan politics. With Iraq in turmoil, a newly elected Afghan president will be offered as proof that at least some of the administration's foreign policy objectives have been met.

Many Afghans, particularly in Kabul, clearly welcomed the removal of the Taliban. But the one thing that the Taliban did provide was security, so that people could travel in the countryside without fear of ambush and so that the plunder, rape and corruption of the warlord era that preceded them became largely contained. [complete article]

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Karzai 'shuffles' Afghan warlords
By Andrew North, BBC News, July 20, 2004

The Afghan government has announced new jobs for three provincial militia leaders, widely known as warlords.

The move is aimed at reducing their power ahead of October presidential elections, but many are sceptical.

Under the deal, militia leaders in Nangarhar and Kandahar provinces become police chiefs. Powerful commander Atta Mohammad becomes Balkh governor.

Regional militia chiefs are widely seen as the main obstacle to progress in Afghanistan and a successful vote. [complete article]

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Support for war wanes among military families facing redeployment
By Hanna Rosin, Washington Post, July 21, 2004

[Hinesville, Georgia:] Yes, sir, this is Bush country: Real pit barbecues, yellow ribbons on church doors, wild boar in the woods. Fort Stewart 10 minutes away. And one teenage party loyalist greeting guests for his mother's Party for the President, on National Party for the President Day, a boy with impeccable manners who, when peppered with questions by the adults in the living room, blurts out things such as "Condi Rice speaks, like, three languages!"

So why does hostess Michele Bourque sound as defensive as if she were living in Berkeley?

"There's just so much negativity around," she says, explaining her decision to host this party. "There's not a lot of positive affirmation about why George W. Bush should be president. We just want to let people know, he's not as bad as people think." [complete article]

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Alarm at U.S. drift over Middle East
By Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, July 21, 2004

The United States is losing interest in the Middle East peace process with the result that the prospects of creating a viable Palestinian state are gradually disappearing, a new British government assessment of the Palestinian crisis warns.

The analysis, written by the Department for International Development (DfID) in consultation with the Foreign Office, reveals the alarm within Whitehall at the disengagement of the Bush administration from events in Israel and the occupied territories.

It warns: "The role of the USA, the country with the most leverage over Israel, is key. Frustration with aspects of the Palestinian leadership, preoccupations in Iraq, presidential elections and security concerns for US citizens may risk USA disengagement at the highest levels from the peace process when it is most likely to start collapsing." [complete article]

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Israel rejects U.N. vote on barrier
BBC News, July 21, 2004

Senior advisers to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have said work will continue on the West Bank security barrier despite condemnation at the UN.

The General Assembly in New York voted by an overwhelming majority to demand that Israel dismantle the barrier in line with a UN world court ruling.

Palestinians have hailed the vote as a major diplomatic victory.

But the resolution has no legal force and Israel insists the barrier is needed to protect its citizens.

The non-binding resolution was passed on Tuesday with 150 in favour, six opposed [Australia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and the United States] and 10 abstentions. [complete article]

Comment -- Ever wonder why the Marshall Islands (population 58,000), Micronesia (population 108,000), and Palau (population 20,000) have a perspective on Middle East affairs that so frequently coincides with that of the United States? It probably has something to do with the so-called Compact of Free Association under which these Pacific islanders enjoy US military "protection." Whether this latest expression of support for the US advances the Marshall Islands' stalled $2 billion claim for compensation for the massive damage caused by 67 US nuclear tests, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, as a speaker on the floor of the US House of Representatives said earlier this year, the Marshall Islands has been "one of the staunchest allies of the United States during the cold war and the war on terrorism, and the voting record of the Republic of the Marshall Islands as a member state in the United Nations General Assembly is unparalleled by any other country, further demonstrating the shared commitment of the two nations to promote democracy and global peace."

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Poverty fuels anger in Gaza amid battle for power
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, July 21, 2004

As gunfire crackled nearby between between groups of Palestinian gunmen disputing who should head the police in Gaza, Ahmed Kaskin could only wonder at the cost of the ammunition and what the money could do for his family.

If one of his six sons was drawing a policeman's wage, he might have been more partisan.

"If I was employed or one of my sons was employed, I might think differently. But I can only look from the outside and all I can see is angry people around me cut off from that money," he said.

Mr Kaskin, 57, has six adult sons and he has tried repeatedly to get one of them a job with the Palestinian Authority's dozen security agencies.

After the last failed attempt, last month, a neighbour told him to stop complaining. "You know how it works. You have $500 or $1,000 and you pay the right person. You don't have the money so forget about it," he recalled. [complete article]

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Arafat faces generational crisis
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 2004

Zakaria Zubeidi was preparing a bomb two years ago when it blew up, leaving his anger written all over his face in the form of small black pockmarks.

In his circle, Mr. Zubeidi's startling appearance makes the 28-year-old leader of this city's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - a militant offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction - more commanding, like wearing his stripes across his face instead of on his epaulets.

Despite his youth, Zubeidi is widely considered the most powerful man in Jenin, or at least the most feared. The Al Aqsa Brigades are a network of guerrilla groups which sprang up after the start of the new intifada in September 2000. The self-set agenda of such groups, as well as countless other militant cells, constitutes part of the challenge to Mr. Arafat's authority now coming to a crescendo in the Gaza Strip. If Zubeidi's defiance is any sign, the aging Palestinian leader can expect a more youthful generation of compatriots increasingly fed up with almost everything.

"I don't take orders from anyone. I'm not good at following," Zubeidi says in an interview at one of the militant group's hideouts in Jenin. As he speaks, comrades - some carrying M-16s - filter in and out of the room. For a young man who dropped out after the 9th grade - he says the Israeli army threw him in prison for throwing a Molotov cocktail and he never went back to school - he speaks with the fluidity and confidence of someone who expects the world to listen closely. [complete article]

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Long guerrilla war is feared in Iraq
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, July 19, 2004

Nearly as many US soldiers lost their lives in Iraq in the first half of July as in all of June, even as Iraqi insurgents seem to have shifted focus from attacking US targets to aiming instead at Iraqi security forces and government officials.

The relatively high rate of US military casualties has dimmed hope that the handover of power to the Iraqi government would help stabilize the country and reduce pressure on US soldiers.

June was substantially less violent for US and coalition troops than the two preceding months, fueling hopes that US casualties were on the downswing. However, military officials and defense specialists are increasingly concerned that the guerrilla war could last for years and the number of dead could climb into the thousands. [complete article]

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The war of ideas -- Part 1
By Michael Vlahos, UPI, July 19, 2004

... the U.S. propaganda campaign in this war has failed because:

-- It was too self-referent -- it's all about us, and what we want

-- Its vision of the situation and cultural context was just plain wrong

-- It permitted the enemy to turn our own work against us

The situation requires that the United States explicitly address the fundamental problem of "message authority" rather than continue to pretend that the normal (and initially expected) prescription for a "war of ideas" still applies. It doesn't.

Right now there is no "war of ideas" because U.S. ideas have no authority among Muslims. [complete article]

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Stage set for final showdown
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, July 21, 2004

A recent report by US think-tank Strategic Forecasting suggested that since "sovereignty" had now been transferred to Iraq, the United States would give its full attention to the problem of al-Qaeda fugitives in Pakistan's rugged tribal areas. Already this year, at the instigation of Washington, the Pakistani army has launched two military offensives into South Waziristan to track down foreign elements, with marginal success.

All signs now point to another offensive, but this time Islamabad and Washington have agreed that US troops stationed across the border in Afghanistan will take an active part in the action on Pakistani soil, rather than wait for suspects to be flushed out into their waiting arms. Similarly, Pakistani troops will be able to engage in hot-pursuit operations into Afghan territory. [complete article]

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The legacy of Nek Mohammed
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, July 20, 2004

The name of Nek Mohammed made international headlines in the middle of last month when the charismatic former Taliban commander was killed in a Pakistani army raid near Wana, the district headquarters of the South Waziristan tribal area.

Nek was a key figure in the area, acting as a rallying point for the Afghan resistance, and as a procurer and facilitator for the many foreign and al-Qaeda fighters sheltered in the region.

Nek was a wanted man, and his death marked a significant victory for Islamabad, which is under relentless pressure from Washington to get rid of the foreign militants from the sensitive Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas from where they have declared war on US interests in Afghanistan. The foreigners include Arabs, Chechens and Chinese Muslims who have set up base camps in remote areas.

By killing Nek, though, the authorities have not been able to erase his legacy and the profound influence he has had in the area. [complete article]

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Inside the Iraqi resistance
Part four: All power to the sheikh

By Nir Rosen, Asia Times, July 21, 2004

On Friday, March 14, I pulled up to the mosque of Sheikh Dhafer al-Ubeidi, a key cleric in organizing the resistance in Fallujah, along with Abdallah Janabi. Hadhra Mosque lies inconspicuously across the street from the Rahma Hospital, where two days before I had attended a poetry festival staged to celebrate US forces pulling out of the city after a month-long siege. Fallujah is known as medinat al-masajid or the city of mosques, for its 80 mosques, but Hadhra Mosque is small and modest compared with others in the city, its colors faded, its dome small. But if there is a final authority for the resistance in Iraq, a command and control center, this is it.

I had been warned that Dhafer ran the city, and to operate in it I would need his "clearance". Other journalists who had not done so were held up by armed gangs. A writer for a leading US newspaper was caught at a checkpoint attempting to disguise his face with a woman's black veil. Another writer for a top US magazine was held after coming out of the marine base in an armored car, with an armed driver, bulletproof vest, US passport with Israeli stamps and a receipt from the Israeli-Jordanian border crossing in his pocket. My contact in Fallujah was asked by Dhafer to confirm whether these and other foreigners held by local militias were in fact journalists. I was hoping to get a piece of paper from the sheikh that would be a license to work in the city. [complete article]

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Inside the Iraqi resistance
Part three: The Fallujah model

By Nir Rosen, Asia Times, July 20, 2004

With Fallujah being touted by Iraqi fighters as a successful example of how to liberate their country from the US-led occupation, and by the occupation leaders as a successful example of how to hand over the country to its people and avoid further bloodshed, I set out to discover the reality behind the "Fallujah model".

What I found was a city run by the Iraqi resistance, itself divided between those who supported the ceasefire with occupation forces in May that ended a month's heavy fighting in the city and those who sought to continue the struggle throughout Iraq "and all the way to Jerusalem". [complete article]

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How has the U.S. been spending other people's billions?
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, July 20, 2004

Henry Waxman is an awkward customer. For 30 years, this California congressman has probed, badgered and embarrassed US administrations of every hue.

As the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives' government reform committee, Congress's principal standing investigative panel, he is a difficult man to ignore.

Right now, Mr Waxman has a question on Iraq. In fact, he has several - and in typically robust fashion, he is demanding answers. What he wants to know is whether the Bush administration has been fiddling with Iraq's oil revenues.

He wrote to the Republican chairman of the reform committee on July 9, suggesting there was a serious case to answer. Subpoenas should be issued, he said, "to investigate potential mismanagement of the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) by the United States". [complete article]

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U.N. demands Israel scrap barrier
BBC News, July 20, 2004

The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution demanding that Israel comply with a world court ruling to dismantle its West Bank barrier.

The vote was passed with 150 in favour, 6 opposed and 10 abstentions.

All EU countries voted in support after agreeing changes to the text with Arab states, but the US opposed it.

The resolution, which is non-binding, was drafted after the International Court of Justice ruled the barrier illegally cut into Palestinian land. [complete article]

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Can Israel be saved?
By Gary Kamiya, Salon, July 19, 2004

Richard Ben Cramer is not afraid of sacred cows. He bulldozed one of America's icons, Joe DiMaggio, in a bestselling biography, and peeped into the stinky hopper in which the sausage of democracy is ground in his classic study of the 1988 presidential campaign, "What It Takes." With "How Israel Lost: The Four Questions," Cramer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Middle East reporting in 1979, has taken on perhaps the most explosive, emotion-laden subject in America: Israel.

"How Israel Lost" is a mournful, passionate, hilarious lament for the endangered soul of a nation he loves. In a style that slips from the wisecracking cadences of a Miami Beach hondler to the dispassionate observations of a veteran journalist to the moral outrage of a world-weary humanist, Cramer argues that in the 20-plus years since he originally lived there, the Jewish state has suffered a cataclysmic sea-change, a blow to its spirit all the more tragic for being self-inflicted.

The cause of Israel's malaise, Cramer writes, is very simple: Its 37-year occupation of Palestinian land. The occupation, Cramer argues, is a gross and continuing injustice that has coarsened Israel's moral fiber, corrupted her politics and economy, and split Israeli Jews into bitterly opposed, self-interested tribes who have lost all sense of allegiance to anything beyond their own needs. The occupation has also had a deadly effect on Palestinians, stomping out the last embers of hope and creating a generation of sad, hardened children who know Israelis only as soldiers with guns. [complete article]

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Unsafe for Jews? France is shaken by Sharon's jibe
By John Lichfield and Audrey Jacquet, The Independent, July 20, 2004

Ariel Sharon should consider a career in French politics. It is difficult to imagine anyone else who could have united the political forces of such a truculent, quarrelsome nation in the space of a few sentences. Left and right, government and opposition, French Jewish leaders and French Muslim leaders: all agreed yesterday in condemning a weekend statement by the Israeli Prime Minister. They said that his words - whether cynically and deliberately or stupidly and accidentally - could encourage the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism in France. [complete article]

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Who needs friends when you have a special relationship?

In the upcoming presidential debates, there is one issue that George Bush and John Kerry will not be arguing about: America's special relationship with Israel. If they have anything to contest on this issue it will simply be, who can outdo the other in expressing the depth of their commitment to Israel's security.

Given the importance of the bond between the United States and the Jewish state, it's interesting that when New Zealand froze diplomatic relations with Israel last week, this snippet of news apparently didn't warrant a single mention in the Washington Post or the New York Times.

Two Israeli spies were jailed for attempting to obtain New Zealand passports. Whether Mossad's blunder was to infringe on New Zealand's sovereignty (and also put bona fide New Zealand passport holders at risk) or simply to get caught in the act, the consequence, in the words of an editorial in one of Israel's leading newspapers, has been to "cause serious damage to the foreign relations of Israel, its reputation, and the operational capabilities of Israel's intelligence agencies." New Zealand is still waiting for an apology.

Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon's directive to 600,000 French Jews to leave France "immediately" and move to Israel, might have suggested a quick solution to Israel's "demographic problem", but it clearly soured French-Israeli relations.

Would the US government not be acting as a friend if it counseled Israel on the value of good foreign relations? Or would it be more realistic to assume that Israel has simply been following the example of its American role model?

Perhaps the true spirit of America and Israel's special relationship in its current form is best summed up by US Senator Sam Brownback, who addressed the Christian Allies Caucus in Israel's parliament yesterday. "The war for western civilization is being fought in Baghdad, Kabul, and Jerusalem," said Brownback (a member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee). The Jerusalem Post reports that Brownback went on to say "that it was 'past time' for the US to move its embassy [from Tel Aviv] to Jerusalem, and suggested that with both US President George W. Bush and the Democratic challenger John Kerry competing for Jewish votes, pressure may mount for a debate on this issue in the near future."

Even though Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, both presidents Clinton and Bush avoided implementing it, citing security concerns. While the security concerns may be real, the overriding concern is diplomatic since such a move would be guaranteed to inflame Arab anger.

The question is, are candidates Bush and Kerry willing to assume any position that wins favor with swing Jewish voters even if it make the prospects of peace in the Middle East that much more remote? Both candidates earlier expressed misgivings about Israel's security barrier yet now defend its construction. Will the prospect of more votes push both candidates to pledge that once elected (or re-elected) they will follow the lead of Costa Rica and El Salvador and set up an embassy in Jerusalem -- diplomatic consequences be damned?

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Five days in the life of an invisible war
By James Meek, The Guardian, July 19, 2004

One morning earlier this month a fan turned too slowly to stir the air much in a dark little room in al-Karmah, a town west of Baghdad between Abu Ghraib and Fallujah. In one corner of the room, a US marine corporal sat counting out new dollar bills, balancing them on the toe of his desert boot as he prepared each slender wad.

An armed American lawyer sat at a desk in a straight-backed chair, facing a succession of Iraqi claimants who took their place opposite on a two-seater sofa. The sofa put the claimants, dressed in long white Arab tunics - dishdashes - at a lower level than the lawyer, and they stretched to gain height, eyes flicking between the lawyer's face and hands. The lawyer wore a pistol strapped to his thigh, a flak jacket and glasses. He was sweating heavily. The claimants spoke little, and the lawyer's speeches were brief. What was said was translated by a marine interpreter. The interpreter was armed, too, with an M16 automatic rifle. Everyone in the room was scared.

"Coalition forces regret the loss of your brother," said the lawyer. His name was Captain Jonathan Vaughn. "We understand it is a great loss to your family. We wish to offer something to you by way of sympathy and sorrow to help your family to rebuild after the loss of your brother. My commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Buhel, has authorised me to pay you $500 as sympathy for your loss. We understand that it is not enough money and nothing can replace the loss to your family. We wish that this small gift will help in some way. Much of the money that we had previously, the coalition forces have transferred to your government to help rebuild. We wish the best for you and your family and your country as you do rebuild. Thank you very much."

Vaughn stood up and the claimant stood up. The corporal handed Vaughn the dollars and Vaughn gave them to the claimant, who took them. They shook hands and the claimant left. The transaction took less than a minute.

The marines don't like to call it blood money, but it is money paid for human blood spilled. A lot of blood, Iraqi and American, has been spilled in Karmah and Fallujah, in the heart of rebel country. The marines in this area have paid out roughly $3.5m in compensation for damage, death and injury since April. The money is paid at the local marine commanders' discretion, and since it comes from the same funds that buy fresh food or air conditioners for the commanders' troops, and since it is possible that at least some of the Iraqi casualties were part of the armed resistance to the American presence, the incentive to pay out is not great. There is a limit of $2,500 per death but now the marines are paying much less. [complete article]

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Inside the resistance
Part two: The fighting poets

By Nir Rosen, Asia Times, July 17, 2004

On May 11, one day after US marines conducted their last patrol into Fallujah following their decision to pull back and hand over to a Fallujah Brigade after a bloody month-long siege, hundreds of dignitaries gathered under a long tent in the city 50 kilometers west of Baghdad for a poetry celebration organized by the National Front of Iraqi Intellectuals. It was staged in front of the unfinished Rahma Hospital, and a podium was placed on top of the rough gray stairs at the hospital's entrance, with the front's emblem and Iraqi flags draped on the podium. Tall columns and arches framed the background. Graffiti on the walls of the hospital read, "Long live the mujahideen and the loved ones of Mohammed", "Victory is Fallujah's and defeat for the infidel America" and "the Fallujah martyrs are the lights for the way to the complete liberation of Iraq". [complete article]

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Kneeling in judgment
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, July 17, 2004

By late morning on a Friday, the streets of the Hada'ek al-Zaytoun neighborhood [in Cairo] are already clogged with vendors, women in full veils and men in white robes and traditional beards. They come, every Friday, for weekly prayers at the al-Aziz Billah mosque, which has a reputation for attracting old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone sheiks whose preaching and rhetoric push the limits of the Egyptian government's strict control of religious expression. Conservative Muslims -- angry at a fallen world, contemptuous of their own government's secular leanings and convinced that behind much of what is wrong with Egypt is a failure to stand up to the United States and its client, Israel -- flock to the streets outside this thoroughly unprepossessing mosque. Undeterred by the blistering summer sun, they lay out prayer mats on the dusty ground, and wait for the hour of 1 o'clock. [...]

[Sheik Abu-Amar] Masry begins by evoking a world of peril. The day of judgment can come at any time. Few are ready. Few are sufficiently without shame that they would dare invite the Prophet into their homes. The arc of his speech, which flows in increasingly rapid and urgent tones for an hour, with only one short pause, is a long crescendo. From the certainty of death and imminent judgment, the sermon, as it is translated by an interpreter, grows in force and scope, taking in more particulars of this world, moving from the abstractions of sin and death to the failure of contemporary Muslims to lead their lives with the purity of the first generation of Islam. When he reaches the traditional prayers for the defenders of Islam, Masry cites the victims of Iraq, Palestine and Chechnya, a commonplace troika of anger in this part of the world.

He refers to America and Israel only glancingly before concluding, but he has, like so many other people in this society, been talking about them the entire time. There is a code, in these prayers, that allows preachers to reach their audience without speaking in particulars.

There is no doubt, for example, that when he mentions the cities of Ad and Thamud, he is talking about the United States. Like the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, Ad and Thamud were renowned in the Koran for their wickedness, though their particular sin seems to have been arrogance. Ad, a city famous for the strength of its people, was destroyed by a storm that raged for eight days; Thamud was swallowed up in an earthquake. Masry uses Ad and Thamud to stand for the hollow achievements of America. The catastrophic fate of these ancient people comforts those who wish to see America, "the second Ad," brought to account. [complete article]

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In Jenin, seven shattered dreams
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, July 19, 2004

As Mahmoud Kaneri, 25-year-old stonemason, traced the name across the polished tombstone in the Jenin Martyrs Cemetery, he was transported to another time and another place -- a theater stage where he and his closest childhood friends once stood in shimmering robes and delivered lines imbued with optimism.

The boy whose name spilled across the white limestone beneath his fingertips had played the prince. Kaneri had been a wise man. It was the hopeful year of 1994, just after the Oslo peace accords.

"We were so happy," said Kaneri, a towering man with limpid eyes the color of rich toffee. "We fell in love with acting. We thought we'd continue and become something. The sky was the limit."

They were seven neighborhood boys who bonded on the stage of an experimental theater group that won international recognition for bringing a sliver of peace and hope to an impoverished Palestinian refugee camp.

Of the seven boyhood friends, today only two have eluded death or imprisonment. Each time he creates a tombstone for another friend, Kaneri said, he replays the tortuous journey from childhood ambitions acted out on a stage of dreams to manhood in a secret society of Palestinian suicide attackers and armed fighters.

Their lives and deaths offer an intimate glimpse into the murky network of militancy that has transformed the nature of warfare between Palestinians and Israelis and altered the everyday lives of both peoples. The path each young man chose helps explain the roots of the nearly five-year-old Palestinian uprising, or intifada, and why it remains resilient. [complete article]

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If it were the reverse
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, July 18, 2004

What would happen if a Palestinian terrorist were to detonate a bomb at the entrance to an apartment building in Israel and cause the death of an elderly man in a wheelchair, who would later be found buried under the rubble of the building? The country would be profoundly shocked. Everyone would talk about the sickening cruelty of the act and its perpetrators. The shock would be even greater if it then turned out that the dead man's wife had tried to dissuade the terrorist from blowing up the house, telling him that there were people inside, but to no avail. The tabloids would come out with the usual screaming headline: "Buried alive in his wheelchair." The terrorists would be branded "animals."

Last Monday, Israel Defense Forces bulldozers in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, demolished the home of Ibrahim Halfalla, a 75-year-old disabled man and father of seven, and buried him alive. Umm-Basel, his wife, says she tried to stop the driver of the heavy machine by shouting, but he paid her no heed. The IDF termed the act "a mistake that shouldn't have happened," and the incident was noted in passing in Israel. The country's largest-circulation paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, didn't bother to run the story at all. The blood libel in France - a woman's tale of being subjected to an anti-Semitic attack, which later turned out to be fiction - proved a great deal more upsetting to people. There we thought the assault was aimed against our people. But when the IDF bulldozes a disabled Palestinian to death? Not a story. Just like the killing, under the rubble of her home, of Noha Maqadama, a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, before the eyes of her husband and children, in El Boureij refugee camp a few months earlier. [complete article]

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Arafat faces rising challenge in Gaza
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 2004

Yasser Arafat has weathered many crises in his 35 years as the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), but this is one storm from which he may find it difficult to recover.

President Arafat is caught in a whirlwind that began to spin out of control over a weekend of near anarchy in the Gaza Strip. His chief police commander there was kidnapped Friday, as were four French aid workers. On Saturday, his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, tendered his resignation. By Sunday, Mr. Arafat's decision to appoint his cousin as head of Gaza's security in place of the deposed police chief was met with outrage by young activists and members of his Fatah faction of the PLO.

Slipping toward a new nadir, Palestinians say that their leader will survive only by forcing a sea change in his 10-year-old Palestinian Authority, not by simply shifting around members of the same crew. [complete article]

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Tiny agency's Iraq analysis is better than big rivals'
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, July 18, 2004

On Iraq and illicit weapons, the intelligence agency that got it least wrong, it now turns out, was one of the smallest -- a State Department bureau with no spies, no satellites and a reputation for contrariness.

Almost alone among intelligence agencies, this one, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or I.N.R., does not report to either the White House or the Pentagon. Its approach is purely analytical, so that it owes no allegiance to particular agents, imagery or intercepts. It shuns the worst-case plans sometimes sought by military commanders.

"They are willing to take on the accepted analysis and take a second, harder look," said Alfred Cumming, a former staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee who is now an intelligence and national security specialist at the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress.

With just 165 analysts, the bureau is about one-tenth the size of the Central Intelligence Agency's analytical arm. But its analysts tend to be older (most are in their 40's and 50's), more experienced and more likely to come from academic backgrounds than those at other agencies, and they are more often encouraged to devote their careers to the study of a particular issue or region. [complete article]

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The price of valor
By Dan Baum, The New Yorker, July 5, 2004

In November, 1943, a bespectacled United States Army lieutenant colonel named S. L. A. Marshall waded ashore with the troops attacking the Japanese on Makin Island. Marshall, who was known as Slam, had fought in the First World War, and had then left college to report news and sports stories for the El Paso Herald. In 1940, he published "Blitzkrieg," the first of his many military histories, and earned good reviews from prominent war historians. After Pearl Harbor, Marshall returned to the Army, as one of twenty-seven officers in a new historical branch. On Makin, where the fighting lasted four days, he toted a carbine and tagged along with the infantry -- once collapsing from dehydration under a pandanus tree -- all the while taking notes for an official account of the battle. Shortly after the island had been secured, Marshall was stymied by a dispute between a lieutenant and a private named Schwartz over whether Schwartz, who helped hold off eleven Japanese attacks with a machine gun, had taken charge of the gun on his own initiative or on the lieutenant's. To sort it out, Marshall lined up the battalion and asked every man what he'd seen and done. No single soldier had a sense of the entire incident, but each added a piece, as in a jigsaw puzzle, until a detailed account emerged, not only of the Schwartz question -- as it turned out, Schwartz was the hero -- but of the whole gruelling campaign. Delighted with this G.I.'s view of battle, Marshall used his technique -- which he called the "after-action interview" -- throughout the Pacific and European theatres for the next nineteen months, buttonholing soldiers immediately after firefights: "Did [your squad] rush or did it crawl?" "What fire was delivered against you?" "Did you lose any equipment?" He produced his accounts so quickly and in such detail that the Army mined them for tactical lessons and distributed them to commanders in the field. By the end of the war, Marshall had become the Army's chief historian in Europe.

In 1947, in a slim volume entitled "Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War," Marshall took the military by surprise. Throughout the war, he declared, only about fifteen per cent of American riflemen in combat had fired at the enemy. One lieutenant colonel complained to Marshall that four days after the desperate struggle on Omaha Beach he couldn't get one man in twenty-five to voluntarily fire his rifle. "I walked up and down the line yelling, 'God damn it! Start shooting!' But it did little good." These men weren't cowards. They would hold their positions and willingly perform such tasks as delivering ammunition to machine guns. They simply couldn't bring themselves to aim a rifle at another human being -- even an armed foe -- and pull the trigger. "Fear of killing, rather than fear of being killed, was the most common cause of battle failure in the individual," Marshall wrote. "At the vital point, he becomes a conscientious objector." [complete article]

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Regime change in Iran now in Bush's sights
By Jenifer Johnston, Sunday Herald, July 18, 2004

Bush named Iran as part of the Axis of Evil along with North Korea and Iraq almost three years ago. A US government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that military action would not be overt in changing Iran, but rather that the US would work to stir revolts in the country and hope to topple the current conservative religious leadership.

The official said: "If George Bush is re-elected there will be much more intervention in the internal affairs of Iran."

The Iranian government announced this weekend that it had successfully eradicated all al-Qaeda cells operating in the country, but the statement comes as leaked reports from the US September 11 Commission show definite links between Iran and the September 11 terrorists.

The final report from the cross-party inquiry, which is examining the origins of the September 11 attacks, is believed to contain concrete evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iran. [complete article]

(Newsweek reports on the alleged connections between Iran and al Qaeda, while the Iranian government asserts that it is no better than the US in controlling its own long borders.)

Comment -- Neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen have long been agitating for the overthrow of the Iranian regime, but before the Bush administration or a future Kerry administration starts getting hypnotized by descriptions of another Middle Eastern country ripe for democratization, they would do well to listen to a few thoughtful observers much more familiar with the Iranian mood than anyone in Washington. The "Brooding Persian" provides one such voice. He asserts that "ours is not the profile of a petrified, defeated citizenry -- docile and passive. For an authoritarian society, we are some of the most belligerent, pigheaded, unyielding and lawless citizens you'll encounter anywhere on the planet."

"A populace ripe for revolution!" thinks the neoconservative -- but think again.

This Persian commentator continues, "Iranians have also become cynical. Most have had it with endless babble and ideological campaigns. Revolution promised heavenly justice and prosperity for all, and instead, created a wretched, abusive society, delivering only to the obscene gluttony/avarice of a minority. Then there was the reform movement whose leaders rode the wave of enthusiasm for change only to stuff their own pockets delivering in return almost zilch. So in a sense we have all become, quite literally, Americans here."

Most Iranians may well dispise their own theocratic regime, but if they want to anticipate the consequences of its removal all they need do is look at neighboring Iraq. "Just as Iranians thought it couldn't possibly get any worse; all were reminded again that war, terrorism, blackouts, photographed torture, plundering expats, and troops roaming the streets with tanks and numerous checkpoints aren't really anyone's idea of a better future."

(To learn more about Iran's complex political system, the BBC provides a link-annotated chart that explains the relationship between the Parliament, the Guardian Council, the Supreme Leader, the Expediency Council and Iran's other political institutions.)

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Iraq's new S.O.B.
By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, July 26, 2004

Baghdad's streets are as mean as any in the world, and since Ayad Allawi took office, the stories people tell in them are even meaner. Soon after he became prime minister of the interim government last month, many Iraqis whisper, he ordered two suspected insurgents shot in front of him. Or, goes another account, he shot seven captive terrorists himself, one after another. Or he personally chopped off the hand of a suspect with an ax.

Did he? Officials in Washington say they've heard the amputation story but have no details. White House officials dismiss it as "urban legend." The Australian newspaper The Age reported last week that two anonymous witnesses saw Allawi shoot seven suspected insurgents as his American bodyguards looked on. Asked by NEWSWEEK if he had killed anyone since taking office, Allawi chuckled and said, "This is a big lie, this is not true, I deny it categorically, No. 1. No. 2, we will spare no effort to secure our people." [complete article]

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'Here you go. Here's Iraq. Take it'
By Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, July 17, 2004

Leaning in close, the mid-level American administrator speaks more in a hiss than a whisper. His tone is confessional, drenched in frustration.

"We didn't hand over power to the Iraqis. We threw it at them," he confides, casting a guilty glance toward the many eyes filling the chandelier-lit room. Nobody else heard him. Good. This kind of talk could cost him his job.

"There was no orderly transition. Nothing gradual. Just, `Here you go. Here's Iraq. Take it'."

"None of us had any idea sovereignty was going to switch two days early," he continues, speaking on the promise of anonymity. "So we didn't even get the last contracts finished. It was chaos. More than a billion dollars in plans never went through. Huge appropriations were just left on the table, undone." [complete article]

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Never again, no longer?
By James Traub, New York Times, July 18, 2004

Though the Bush administration has been seriously engaged with the situation in Darfur, it is, after all, supremely preoccupied by Iraq and, more broadly, by the war on terror. And the truth is, so are we all. We simply do not think as much as we used to about the vulnerability of distant people now that we are so consumed by our own vulnerability. And the war in Iraq has hopelessly muddied the waters on the legitimacy of intervention. Darfur is the first case of large-scale human rights abuse since 9/11; what it tells us about our emerging system of collective security is not pleasant.

It's hard to remember now, but the question of when states were obliged to prevent or limit catastrophic harm was a burning question in the 1990's. Among the defining events of that time were the disasters in Somalia, Rwanda and the Balkans. The great, if very tardy, successes of the international order were the interventions in Kosovo and East Timor. The old cold-war conflict between hawk and dove was shuffled and re-formed, with liberal (and neoconservative) interventionists on one side and "realists" on the other. The debate between the two sides was perfectly captured in an anecdote that both Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright recall in their memoirs, though to very different effect. After Powell, still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993, described the dangers of sending troops to stop the slaughter in Bosnia, Albright, then the ambassador to the United Nations, burst out, "What are you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can't use it?" Powell thought the story was about recklessness; Albright thought it was about moral timidity. [complete article]

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Palestinian Authority offices burned down
By Ibrahim Barzak, Associated Press (via The Guardian), July 18, 2004

Gunmen angry over Yasser Arafat's overhaul of his security forces burned down Palestinian Authority offices in Gaza on Sunday.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Arafat met with his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, to discuss the political crisis that erupted over continuing violence in Gaza and Qureia's attempt to resign as head of the Palestinian government.

"I totally reject your resignation and consider it nonexistent," Arafat told Qureia at a meeting Sunday, according to Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat. Qureia told his Cabinet on Saturday he was firm in his decision to quit. [complete article]

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Arafat's premier tries to resign
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2004

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Korei, citing a "state of chaos" in the Gaza Strip and in the fractious Palestinian security services, submitted his resignation Saturday to President Yasser Arafat, who refused to accept it.

Korei's bid to step down, which he insists he will not rescind, throws the Palestinian political scene into disarray. He would be the second prime minister to quit in less than a year -- and the second to try without success to get Arafat to accept reforms demanded by international mediators and, increasingly, by Palestinians themselves.

The backdrop of this latest upheaval is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull out from Gaza by the end of next year. Already, a power vacuum appears to be emerging in the narrow, crowded seaside strip. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Debacle increases WMD risk
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, July 16, 2004
The massaging, mangling and magnification of intelligence on Iraq's elusive weapons of mass destruction, officially confirmed by the Butler report and by this month's US Senate inquiry, has left Tony Blair's principal justification for last year's invasion in tatters.

But this is no mere matter of historical record. For these same embarrassing misconstructions by British and US spy agencies and their political masters may also jeopardise global efforts to prevent the spread of WMD.

Just as the war intensified rather than diminished the al-Qaida terrorist menace, so an increased risk of WMD proliferation may also be a lasting legacy.

Israel's wall, a victory for the logic of war
By Roger Cohen, International Herald Tribune, July 13, 2004
Opinions diverge on the reasons for the precipitous fall in Palestinian bombings this year. Is the intifada exhausted after almost four years? Was Yasser Arafat cowed by the Israeli killing of Hamas leaders? Did the removal of those leaders throw Palestinian militants into disarray? Have the ceaseless patrols by more than 12,000 Israeli soldiers in the West Bank blocked attacks?

Perhaps each theory has its share of truth. But whoever espouses these ideas also tends to see the barrier as an effective, additional guarantee of some semblance of normal life in Israel. Sure, the price is high - the defeat of hope - but so be it.

What is missing, of course, from such Israeli musings is any real grasp of the life of the person on the other side of the barrier, the Palestinian. On those war-room screens the most common sight is a Palestinian in a donkey cart trundling along a dirt track beside the barrier.

The contrast between the high-tech Israeli cameras that deliver these images and the abject existence of the Palestinians photographed provides an apt summation of the divergence of the societies: a first-world Israel forging ahead as best it can, a third-world Palestinian society going backward. [...]

To move through the West Bank today is to witness the growth of parallel networks. Israelis drive on highways to their settlements spreading like garrisons on hills. Palestinians are increasingly confined to dirt tracks beside these roads. The impression of colonizer and colonized is inescapable.

Michael Moore and Richard Perle combine forces
By Tanya C. Hsu, Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, July 4, 2004
Michael Moore's new film "Fahrenheit 9/11" has done a tremendous favor for some proponents of a war upon the Arabian Peninsula. The film achieves what endless pages of conservative think-tank studies and panel discussions, hours of PR time and books can not: spill gasoline on the anti-Saudi sparks already ignited within the United States. Moore's film lambastes the Saudis not only for their business relationships but also for leaving the US after the attacks of September 11th 2001 as did other non-Saudi officials on the same day when specific flights were permitted. The overwhelming popularity of this documentary takes the anti-Saudi message to a whole new market. It is the latest manifestation of a rationale for war that could finally execute a long-term plan to invade and occupy the Kingdom. In spite of its progressive producer and target audience, "Fahrenheit 9/11" falls lock-step in line with the stated agenda of neoconservative hawks: rid Arabia of the House of Saud thereby granting the US and allies full access to the Middle East's biggest prize.
[Note: The Jerusalem Post this week quoted John Kerry's brother Cameron, who is currently visiting Israel, saying that the Bush administration "has not been aggressive enough toward Saudi Arabia."]

Old sailors never die: 9/11 commissioner John Lehman on the war path
By Tom Barry, Right Web, July 12, 2004

One of the most vocal critics of the CIA's performance has been John F. Lehman Jr., former Navy secretary under President Reagan and member of the independent 9/11 commission, which will release its final report later this month. Lehman is also a leading candidate to replace Tenet as director of central intelligence.

Over the past four decades Lehman has been a consistent advocate of U.S. military supremacy and ever-increasing military budgets. During his tenure as Navy secretary, he oversaw the expansion of the U.S. naval fleet in opposition to many in the Navy who believed that the young hot-shot -- who took over the job at the age of 38 -- vastly overestimated the Soviet threat. He pushed out highly regarded officers such as Adm. Hyman Rickover, while winning the admiration and friendship of the most ideologically driven members of the administrations, such as assistant defense secretary Richard Perle and national security adviser Robert McFarlane. [...]

Lehman's ideological and class origins have catapulted him into national politics and into the center of the military-industrial complex. A scion of one of Philadelphia's oldest and wealthiest families, Lehman owns his own investment firm and sits on the board of directors of numerous corporations, many of which are major defense contractors. His credentials as a Navy secretary dedicated to expanding the fleet and technological capabilities of the Navy, combined with his family background in investment banking, have made Lehman a major figure in the new frontier of private equity investing in aerospace and defense industries.

Logging on to
By Sudha Ramachandran, Asia Times, July 14, 2004
While militant and terrorist groups have been using the Internet for almost a decade, its growing popularity as a meeting place for terrorist groups over the past few years has made cyberspace a key battleground in the "war on terror". Far from successful at "smoking out terrorists" from their hideouts in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan, counter-terrorism strategists are finding the task of tracking terrorists and their activities in cyberspace even more daunting. [...]

Not only have the number of terrorist websites increased, but also the uses to which terrorists put the Internet have diversified. Its use as a propaganda tool is perhaps the most overt. Terrorist websites typically outline the nature of the organization's cause and justifications for the use of violence. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) website, for instance, carries accounts of the LTTE's "freedom struggle", the legality of its demand for an independent Tamil Eelam and the legitimacy of its armed struggle. The website carries interviews given by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran and his speech on "Heroes Day". It also carries press releases that provide the media with its take on events in Sri Lanka.

But use of the Internet as a propaganda tool is just the tip of the iceberg. Terrorists are using the Internet as a weapon in psychological warfare, to raise funds, recruit, incite violence and provide training. They also use it to plan, network and coordinate attacks. Thomas Hegghammer, who researches Islamist websites at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, says that "in a sense, [the Internet has] replaced Afghanistan as a meeting place". Groups with links to al-Qaeda used the Internet as a weapon in psychological warfare in the recent spate of kidnappings and beheadings that they carried out. Gruesome videos of the killing of Daniel Pearl and the beheadings of Nick Berg, Paul Johnson, Kim Sun-il and others were posted on the Internet. By doing this, the terrorists were able to reach out to a global audience, and in the process amplify many times over the terror generated by a single terrorist incident.

The militarist and messianic ideologies
By Neve Gordon, Middle East Report Online, July 8, 2004
Two weeks after 60,000 Likud Party members voted against a pullout from the Gaza Strip, about 150,000 Israelis filled Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, calling on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to proceed with the withdrawal plan. Those opposing the pullout from Gaza support the vision of a Greater Israel, while those favoring the pullout support the state of Israel. The first group believes that without Gaza, Israel will be destroyed; the second believes that with it, Israel will be destroyed. [...]

Tragically, many of the 150,000 peaceniks who demonstrated in support of Sharon's withdrawal plan also back the separation barrier and do not really care where it passes. Whereas Sharon may have given up on holding 100 percent of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, and therefore abandoned Gush Emunim's version of the Greater Israel ideology, many liberal Israelis are willing to support Sharon's 50 percent plan for a Greater Israel, replacing the two-state solution mantra with a new buzzword -- "separation." The details about how to separate are not important. All these liberals want is an immediate divorce, and Sharon, they think, can perform the ceremony. In terms of militarist ideology, certain elements within Peace Now hold views that are in many ways similar to Sharon's.

Wise trade policy can address the roots of terrorism
By Edward Gresser, YaleGlobal, July 8, 2004
Many people believe economic growth, development, and job creation in the Muslim world could help drain support from radical and fundamentalist groups. Few seem willing to do much about it.

Ask Pakistan. In 2001, then-Commerce Minister Abdul Razak Dawood told a newspaper that "if you want Pakistan to be a liberal and modern state, you are not going to get that unless you've got people employed," and requested an exemption from American textile tariffs. He never got his wish. Three years later, Pakistan's bedsheets and sweaters still get tariffs five to ten times those applied to the chips and cars coming to the US from Japan and Europe.

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