The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Danger zone: Iran nears point of nuclear no return
By Ed Blanche, Daily Star, July 31, 2004

The general belief is that Iran is rapidly approaching the point of no-return in its clandestine nuclear program. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi declared in June that Iran must be recognized now as a member of the nuclear club and claimed that it is now able to operate the complete nuclear cycle, although it is not at present enriching uranium.

Tehran has since said it plans to resume the enrichment process. It is impossible to verify Tehran's claims, but Ray Takeyh, professor of national security studies at the Near East and South Asian Center at the US National Defense University, says it does appear that "Iran may be able to complete their nuclear program without further external assistance" - that is from Russia, North Korea and Pakistan.

If that is the case, then external efforts to prevent Iran achieving nuclear weapon status - such as sanctions or export controls on sensitive and dual-use material - can no longer be considered viable. That leaves a dangerous vacuum in which, with diplomacy faltering, hardliners in the United States and Israel start dusting off their plans for pre-emptive strikes. [complete article]

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No progress in nuclear talks with Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, July 30, 2004

A meeting yesterday between European and Iranian officials over Tehran's suspect nuclear program ended with the sides agreeing to continue discussions, but Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said it is increasingly likely the matter will have to be brought to the U.N. Security Council.

The Paris meeting, attended by French, German and British diplomats, was the first since Iran resumed nuclear work in June that it had promised to suspend 18 months earlier in exchange for European trade incentives.

The three European powers, trying to defuse a standoff over Iran's nuclear efforts, want Tehran to work with U.N. nuclear inspectors and halt activities that could lead to weapons development. [complete article]

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Deep divides halt key Iraq meeting
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, July 30, 2004

It was intended as a baby step into participatory democracy, the country's first foray into nation-building. But Iraq's national conference was postponed Thursday for the second time amid allegations of mismanagement and botched local caucuses.

Fuad Masoum, the official in charge of arranging the conference, announced that it would be delayed for two weeks. Mr. Masoum, who had earlier decided to go ahead with the conference, had faced relentless pressure from Iraqi leaders and the United Nations to postpone it.

"We told him that the caucuses must be nullified, that they would have to do another round, because no one knew about them," said Sheikh Fatih Kashif al-Ghitta, an independent Shiite political leader. "I am in Baghdad, and my neighbors are university professors, and they didn't hear about [the conference.] So what about the people in the provinces?"

The conference, required by law to take place in July, is now scheduled to start in Baghdad on Aug. 15. Its main purpose is to choose a 100-member council that will serve as the de facto parliament until January elections. Modeled after Afghanistan's loya jirga, the three-day conference was meant to draw in indigenous Iraqi leaders not represented in Iraq's new government. [complete article]

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Iraq funds are focus of 27 criminal inquiries
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2004

A comprehensive examination of the U.S.-led agency that oversaw the rebuilding of Iraq has triggered at least 27 criminal investigations and produced evidence of millions of dollars' worth of fraud, waste and abuse, according to a report by the Coalition Provisional Authority's inspector general.

The report is the most sweeping indication yet that some U.S. officials and private contractors repeatedly violated the law in the free-wheeling atmosphere that pervaded the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild the war-torn country.

More than $600 million in cash from Iraqi oil money was spent with insufficient controls. Senior U.S. officials manipulated or misspent contract money. Millions of dollars' worth of equipment could not be located, the report said. [complete article]

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Iraq's labor upsurge wins support from U.S. unions
By David Bacon, Foreign Policy in Focus, July 28, 2004

Once the U.S. occupation of Iraq began over a year ago, Iraqi workers lost no time in reorganizing their country's labor movement. Labor activity spread from Baghdad to the Kurdish north, with the center of the storm in the south, in the oil and electrical installations around Basra, and the port of Um Qasr.

Workers quickly discovered that the occupation authorities had little respect for labor rights, however. Once the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took power in Baghdad in March of 2003, it began enforcing a 1987 law banning unions in public enterprises, where most Iraqis are employed. On top of this, CPA head Paul Bremer added Public Order #1, banning pronouncements that "incite civil disorder, rioting, or damage to property." The phrase civil disorder can easily apply to organizing strikes, and leaders of both the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) and Iraq’s Union of the Unemployed have been detained a number of times. [complete article]

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"[The Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization has] done more lasting damage to the Iranian political possibilities than most other groups put together." (An insider's view of the Iranian political landscape.)

When President Bush addressed the UN General Assembly on September 12, 2002, in making his case for taking action against Saddam's regime, he said:

In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel, and Western governments.

In a supporting document released at the same time by the White House, "A Decade of Deception and Defiance," the section on "Saddam Hussein's Support for International Terrorism" says specifically:

Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians.

On July 21, 2004, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the deputy commanding general in Iraq, wrote to members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq under US detention to "congratulate each individual living in Camp Ashraf" on their new status as "protected persons."

Why the U.S. granted 'protected' status to Iranian terrorists
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, July 29, 2004

The US State Department officially considers a group of 3,800 Marxist Iranian rebels - who once killed several Americans and was supported by Saddam Hussein - "terrorists."

But the same group, under American guard in an Iraqi camp, was just accorded a new status by the Pentagon: "protected persons" under the Geneva Convention.

This strange twist, analysts say, underscores the divisions in Washington over US strategy in the Middle East and the war against terrorism. It's also a function of the swiftly deteriorating US-Iran dynamic, and a victory for US hawks who favor using the Mujahideen-e Khalq Organization (MKO) or "People's Holy Warriors," as a tool against Iran's clerical regime. [complete article]

See also Scott Peterson's earlier article, Inside a group caught between three powers.

Comment -- One of the most ironic moves in the shifting allegiances of Cold War warriors is that they now align themselves with Marxist terrorists in their crusade against international Islamic terrorism. First use the Islamic terrorists to topple the Marxist regimes, then enlist the Marxists to bring down the Islamic regimes. A devilishly cunning strategy? Or a recipe for unending war?

Richard Perle, one of the architects of the war in Iraq, is now a leading proponent of regime change in Iran. In a speech in Washington this January, he described the regime in Tehran as "without a question most single mindedly devoted to the propagation of terror in today's world. It is a terrorist regime second to none."

Perle later claimed that he was unaware of any connection between the fundraising event where he gave this speech and the terrorist organization, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Perle's address at a "Night of Solidarity" (hosted by Iranian-American Community of Northern Virginia), began with him expressing how "inspiring" he found the words of the preceeding keynote speaker, none other than Maryam Rajavi, leader of the MEK.

This is part of the U.S. State Department's description of the MEK's activities:

During the 1970s, the MEK killed US military personnel and US civilians working on defense projects in Tehran and supported the takeover in 1979 of the US Embassy in Tehran. In 1981, the MEK detonated bombs in the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier's office, killing some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. Near the end of the war with Iran during 1980-88, Baghdad armed the MEK with military equipment and sent it into action against Iranian forces. In 1991, it assisted the Government of Iraq in suppressing the Shia and Kurdish uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north.

Supporters of the MEK argue that the State Department should remove the group from its list of Designated Terrorist Organizations -- it is, after all, a long time since they killed any Americans. But how can people who currently cast themselves as the champions of Iraqi freedom, excuse their support for an organization that was an instrument of Saddam's brutality and partcipated in the slaughter of thousands of Iraqi Shia and Kurds? If Iraqi life is so cheap in the neoconservative mind, the people of Iran should pay heed: Freedom is an empty promise coming from those who have little respect for life.

(Note: The Mujahideen-e Khalq is variously known as the MEK, MKO, and the People's Mujahideen.)

(Correction/addtional information: A reader in Tehran points out that the MEK:
"...are not Marxists. Have never been. The closest they came in the 70's was a Shia version of Theology of Liberation. Some of the founders were in jail with members of a Maoist Iranian organization and they responded to their position by incorporating some anti-capitalist jargon. The Shah called them Marxist-Islamic to play the Soviet threat card and the traditional Shia clergy called them that plus "Eclectic"(Elteghati)... a particularly potent charge as Islam is supposed to be a unified World View providing answers to all questions for all time.
"A particularly odious organization in recent years as they have come to resemble a cult more than anything. The terror campaign they instigated in the eighties, even though it hardly ever targeted civilians came to cost tens of thousands of lives-- mostly some very dedicated, smart youngsters because of the very brutal and not so discriminating government crackdown. And then there were show trials, massive abuses, torture and executions, etc., They have done more lasting damage to the Iranian political possibilities than most other groups put together."

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Pakistan caught in terror tit-for-tat
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, July 31, 2004

On Thursday, in a statement posted on an Islamic Internet site known to carry messages from militant groups, the Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Islamiya Omar el-Mukhtar Brigade - the main title means Group of Islamic Monotheism - warned of attacks against any Islamic or Arab nation that contributed troops to the Saudi-proposed Muslim force.

"Our swords will be drawn in the face of anyone who cooperates with the Jews and the Christians. We will strike with an iron fist all the traitors from the Arab governments who cooperate with the Zionists secretly or openly."

Omar el-Mukhtar is the name of a Libyan nationalist who fought against the Italian occupation and who was hanged by the colonial authorities in 1931.

A top Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online that the administration of President General Pervez Musharraf was taking the threat extremely seriously, so much so that almost all official functions have been canceled and the country's leaders are lying low.

The authorities are also mindful of the case of Amjad Hafeez, a Pakistani who was abducted in Iraq. He was released, and in his debriefing in Rawalpindi he said that as a Muslim and a Pakistani he had been treated very well, but the only reason he had been freed was to convey the message to the Musharraf administration that should it even try to send troops to Iraq, militants will target Pakistani interests all over the world. [complete article]

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In Pakistan, turning grief into new political muscle
By David Rohde and Salman Masood, New York Times, July 30, 2004

For Pakistanis, it is difficult to imagine two more poignant victims. For Americans, it is difficult to imagine a clearer argument for a campaign against terrorists.

On Thursday, Pakistanis woke up to the brutal news that Raja Azad Khan, 48, and Sajjad Naeem, 26, two Pakistani workers kidnapped by Islamic militants in Iraq five days ago, had been beheaded. Sadly and suddenly, a technician and a truck driver employed by a Kuwaiti company that supplied American troops became the first Pakistanis killed by terrorists in Iraq. [...]

But while there was outrage at the killing of two innocent men, there was also something else. Pakistanis, from taxi drivers to pundits, expressed deep anger at their government and at Washington, and they urged President Pervez Musharraf not to dispatch troops to Iraq.

"General Musharraf should say that Pakistan will not send his troops to Iraq," said Tariq Pervez, a 33-year-old vendor in Rawalpindi. "When Arabs have themselves not sent their armies, why should Pakistan become a part of the American design?" [complete article]

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U.S. lacks records for Iraq spending
By Matt Kelley, Associated Press (via Yahoo), July 29, 2004

U.S. civilian authorities in Baghdad failed to keep good track of nearly $1 billion in Iraqi money spent for reconstruction projects and can't produce records to show whether they got some services and products they paid for, anew audit concludes.

The former Coalition Provisional Authority paid nearly $200,000 for 15 police trucks without confirming they were delivered, and auditors have not located them, the report from the CPA's Inspector General said. Officials also didn't have records to justify the $24.7 million pricetag for replacing Iraqi currency which used to carry Saddam Hussein's portrait, the report said.

The report, released in Iraq late Wednesday, is the first formal audit of contracting procedures under the CPA, which oversaw billions in reconstruction spending that critics say was doled out without proper controls. The agency's defenders say it did the best it could given the pressure of operating in a war zone and trying to get reconstruction going quickly. [complete article]

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Powell says U.S. will discuss Saudi plan for Iraq
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 29, 2004

After his first meeting with Iraq's new prime minister, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Thursday that the United States will soon begin "intensive discussions" with Islamic countries to explore Saudi Arabia's proposal to mobilize new forces from Arab and Islamic countries to help stabilize Iraq.

He described the Saudi proposal as "an interesting idea, a welcome idea." The United States had earlier tried to convince Islamic countries to join the coalition, but failed.

A Muslim force from Middle East and Arab countries is now more viable, Powell said, because two basic conditions have been met: The multinational force now has U.N. approval and the United States handed over political power to an interim Iraqi government a month ago. [complete article]

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Chalabi reinvents himself as a populist
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2004

The U.S. has encountered many surprises in its efforts to forge a democratic government in Iraq, but few have been more unexpected than the transformation of Ahmad Chalabi from patrician exile to deft populist.

Chalabi is a survivor. Snubbed by the Bush administration neoconservatives who once embraced him, and excluded from the interim government, he is building a grass-roots coalition of Shiite Muslim groups who lack a voice in the new Iraq.

At the same time, he's reaching out to Iraq's most prominent anti-American Shiite cleric, Muqtada Sadr, whose followers come mainly from Baghdad's urban underclass and the impoverished south of the country. Political analysts here believe that the new approach will eventually win support from a significant segment of Sadr's followers if Chalabi chooses to run for office -- and, as expected, Sadr chooses to wield his power from the pulpit instead. [complete article]

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Iraq 'is al-Qaeda battleground'
BBC News, July 29, 2004

Iraq has become a "battleground" for al-Qaeda with "appalling consequences" for the Iraqi people, MPs have warned.

The Commons foreign affairs committee says the failure to establish law and order has created a "vacuum" into which militias and criminals have poured.

In a report on the war on terrorism they urge ministers to encourage Muslim countries to send forces.

The wide-ranging report also questions whether there needs to be new rules on the use of pre-emptive military force. [complete article]

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Major violence back in Iraq
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, July 29, 2004

The scenario in Baquba Wednesday morning was all too familiar. As jobless men gathered outside a police recruiting center in one of the city's busiest shopping areas, a militant in an explosives-laden car drove into their midst, killing at least 68 Iraqis in the country's deadliest terror attack in months.

The strike underscores the fact that Iraq's interim government, scheduled to select an advisory council this weekend, is having no more success in quelling insurgent cells than the US had prior to installing this government on June 28. While there were some hopes that the motivation for such attacks would decrease with an Iraqi face on the country's interim leaders, those have now been laid to rest. [complete article]

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Iran: The next crisis?
By Paul Reynolds, BBC News, July 27, 2004

After Iraq, Iran is shaping up to be the next major crisis in the Middle East.

The question is whether Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

"Iran has decided to resume research and development in the enrichment of uranium," sources who track Iranian activities claimed to News Online. "It now has time on its side to acquire the capability. It is racing forward."

"There has been a pattern of cheating the world and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and of trying to disguise its true intentions under the pretence of needing energy for civilian purposes. Iran wants to produce nuclear weapons," asserted the sources, who spoke on condition that they were not identified. [complete article]

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U.S. fears Israeli strike against Iran
By Ori Nir, The Forward, July 30, 3004

With Iran warning that it will "overthrow the entire Zionist entity" if Israel strikes its nuclear facilities, American officials are seeking assurances that Jerusalem has no plans to launch a unilateral strike, the Forward has learned.

Recently a Bush administration official who deals with security affairs told the Forward that the administration is trying to obtain information regarding Israel's intentions. Israeli sources said that the administration is seeking assurances that Jerusalem will not act unilaterally against Iran. It is not clear if such assurances have in fact been given to the administration. [complete article]

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Sharon: U.S. recognizes Israel's need for weapons of deterrence
Associated Press (via USA Today), July 29, 2004

The United States backs Israel's right to weapons of deterrence, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday, an oblique reference to Israel's secret store of nuclear weapons.

Sharon told a political party gathering in Tel Aviv that the United States recognizes that "Israel faces an existential threat, and it must be able to defend itself by itself by preserving its deterrent capability."

Sharon noted that Iran is under U.S. pressure to stop its nuclear weapons program, and Libya took steps to halt its nuclear arms development, but "we have received here a clear American position that says in other words that Israel must not be touched when it comes to its deterrent capability." [complete article]

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Israel expands West Bank settlements
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, July 27, 2004

Months after Ariel Sharon announced his dramatic plan to pull Jewish settlers out of Gaza, portraying it as a sacrifice for peace, the government is grabbing more land for West Bank settlements.

Israeli peace groups and Palestinian officials say thousands of homes are under construction in the main settlements, in addition to an expansion of Jewish outposts that are illegal under Israeli law. Mr Sharon has promised the US he will dismantle the outposts, which are usually clusters of containers or trailer homes serviced by government-built roads, but has failed to do so.

One Israeli group, Settlement Watch, says in the three months to May, West Bank settlements expanded by 26 hectares (65 acres).The government has approved construction of thousands more homes in the three main settlement blocs on the West Bank, encouraged by an apparent endorsement by George Bush for their eventual annexation. [complete article]

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July surprise? No surprise
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, July 29, 2004

Until today you'd probably never heard of one of the most wanted al Qaeda suspects, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. Chances are if you hadn't heard of him, neither had Karl Rove. The question is, can the White House, the GOP and Fox News crank up their propaganda machine loud enough in the next few hours to persuade many Americans that this is a show-stopping victory in the war on terrorism? The show that it's meant to overshadow is of course John Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention.

Thanks to The New Republic, the US media had three weeks advance warning about this breaking news. No one seemed too impressed about the news about the news. It was treated as just another ripple in the ephemera of cyberspace -- a spectacle only for those unable to discern real news.

Nevertheless, John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman and Massoud Ansari's "July Surprise?" made some stunning allegations. They reported that the White House had gone far beyond being zealous in its war on terrorism and was clearly exploiting national security for political ends. An accusation that had previously not risen above the level of suspicion now acquired substance. Members of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and Interior Ministry said they had been pressured by the White House not simply to ramp up their efforts to kill or capture "high value targets", such as Osama bin Laden, but to deliver news of their success right when John Kerry's campaign stage show covets the media's full attention during the Democratic National Convention. The major US newspapers ignored the story.

Critics of the Bush administration have long assumed that if or when bin Laden is captured or killed, this popular victory in the war on terrorism will be exploited for partisan ends. Conspiracy theorists imagine that bin Laden is already interned and Karl Rove gets to decide when the secret will slip out.

Nevertheless, TNR didn't actually venture into any of this conspiratorial terrain. Nothing they reported suggested that either the US or Pakistani governments have the power to dictate the timing of such a wished-for event. That would presuppose that the whereabouts of bin Laden or his associates is already known and such a presupposition is indeed the stuff of conspiracy theories.

What TNR alleged was that the White House made efforts to enlist political support from the Pakistani government by shaping the war on terrorism to serve the interests of the Republican party. If the allegation ever had substance then it still has. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's capture might not have the same headline value as would Osama bin Laden's, but the timing of this story lends even greater credibility to TNR's original report.

When they released the story, The New Republic's editor, Peter Beinart, said on CNN, "We would hope that other people would pursue this story and do further reporting on it but we think when you have four Pakistani officials in positions in the government who are saying, who all say virtually the same thing that they've been receiving this pressure, pressure that they did not receive in 2002 and 2003, all pressure that they link to the election, in their words, we think it's a story that deserves to be told."

Three weeks ago most of the media thought they could play it safe and ignore this story. If they continue to ignore it now this will amount to a dereliction of duty.

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Victim of a forgotten war
Lead Editorial, The Guardian, July 29, 2004

Medecins Sans Frontieres doesn't scare easily. Its members first went into Afghanistan on donkeys under the Soviet occupation and have been there ever since through thick and thin - civil war, Taliban and Operation Enduring Freedom. So we should take notice when MSF announces that it is pulling out of a country it has been in for 24 years. The primary cause is an attack seven weeks ago on an MSF car in which five of its staff were killed. It took place in Badghis, a province in north-west Afghanistan that was considered safer than many others and where the Taliban does not usually operate. Although the attack was claimed by the Taliban, suspicions soon settled on a local warlord against whom Kabul has been reluctant to act. The MSF statement was unusually pointed for an organisation that cherishes its neutrality. It accused the US of blurring the boundaries between aid work and combat by co-opting humanitarian aid for political and military purposes. [complete article]

A 'heartbreaking' decision
By Sarah Left, The Guardian, July 29, 2004

Vickie Hawkins was the acting head of the Medecin Sans Frontieres mission in Afghanistan when a Toyota Land Cruiser that had been carrying five of her colleagues was dragged back to the agency's compound without them. The five aid workers had been gunned down in an attack that shocked MSF and ultimately led to the announcement today that the organisation is pulling out of Afghanistan. [...]

... while some NGOs have called for an expansion of peacekeeping troops to protect their employees, MSF has never made such a request, Hawkins said. She stressed that their doctors and nurses work without armed protection.

The US-led coalition has made the situation worse by blurring the line between humanitarian work and military operations. During the war in 2001, Hawkins said, US soldiers were driving around in civilian clothes in white cars, taking on the appearance of humanitarian aid workers. In May, the Pentagon was forced to apologise for dropping leaflets in southern Afghanistan which promised humanitarian assistance if local people gave the coalition information about the Taliban and al-Qaida.

She despaired that military campaigns were employing "hearts and minds" strategies more and more often, making it difficult for aid workers to maintain their aura of all-important impartiality. If armies are handing out food assistance and medical equipment, it becomes harder for locals to tell the aid workers from the occupiers.

Iraq was a prime example of this, she said. The campaign was branded as a humanitarian mission - to remove a tyrant suppressing the Iraqi people's human rights - from the beginning. With foreigners and Iraqis being targeted over the most mundane connections to US forces, the strategy puts legitimate aid workers with no political connections in danger. [complete article]

Comment -- The official response of the Bush administration to news of MSF's departure from Afghanistan is "regret." State Department deputy spokesman, Adam Ereli, yesterday said, "We hope they'll reconsider. They are doing important and valuable work there."

Nevertheless, though the loss of MSF represents a public relations blow as the administration struggles to tell its "success" story in Afghanistan, this event should be understood in the context of an ideological struggle within which neoconservatives see non-governmental organizations as a threat to American sovereignty and in particular, American sovereignty as it exercises itself on foreign soil.

As a measure of the "threat" that NGOs pose to the neoconservative agenda, the American Enterprise Institute, in collaboration with the Federalist Society, created its own "NGO Watch." And how do the neocons perceive the NGOs? Just over a year ago the AEI launched NGO-Watch with an event titled, "We're Not from the Government, but We're Here to Help You." They warned that "the growing power of supranational organizations and a loose set of rules governing the accreditation of NGOs has meant that an unelected few have access to growing and unregulated power."

Ideologues not known for their love of transparency, regulation or accountability, would have us believe that if governments don't reign in the NGOs, America will end up losing the power to govern itself and we'll soon end up being ruled by an unelected World Government.

Addressing the AEI, Jeremy Rabkin, from Cornell University, claimed that "non-governmental organization" is a term that was "planted" in the UN Charter by the Soviet government and quoted Irving Kristol, godfather of the neoconservative movement, saying "Peace is a Stalinist concept."

Clearly, to those who regard war as an indispensable tool of foreign policy, NGOs, with their meddlesome humanitarian left-wing agendas, though occasionally useful are more often a source of irritation. But the NGOs insistence on promoting peace is, the neocons would have us believe, nothing less than a threat to our freedom.

To learn more about the Bush administration's ongoing conflict with NGOs, see:
Relief groups have been told they must be an "arm of the US government" (Naomi Klein, The Guardian, June 23, 2003)

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Abductions spark debate over the right response
By Edmund Sanders and Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2004

An epidemic of kidnappings in Iraq has intensified an international debate over whether to negotiate with abductors or stand firm and risk more beheadings.

It is a dilemma that more than 20 nations have faced over the last four months as insurgents have kidnapped nearly 70 foreign workers here.

A Jordanian transportation firm, Daoud & Partners, on Tuesday became the latest foreign company to announce plans to withdraw its workers from Iraq, a move it hopes will secure the release of two drivers kidnapped this week.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have stepped up their appeals, urging foreign governments and contractors to stand firm against the threats. [complete article]

Powell remark angers many in East Europe
By Karl Peter Kirk, Associated Press (via Yahoo), July 28, 2004

Matyas Reisz doesn't get weak in the knees when he thinks about Hungary's 300 troops risking life and limb in Iraq. He just wants the troops out of harm's way and safely home.

Reisz, a 47-year-old accountant in Budapest, is among many people in mostly pro-America Eastern Europe who are bristling at Secretary of State Colin Powell's exhortation to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to "not get weak in the knees."

"I don't know what our politicians told Powell, but if he thinks we want to keep our soldiers there, he is very mistaken. No one wants friends and relatives in a war zone like that," he said Tuesday. "We're grateful to the Americans for a lot of things, but they can't expect us to sacrifice lives just to be friends."

Reisz's reaction underscores the challenges Washington faces as it works to keep the U.S.-led international coalition from unraveling after the Philippines' recent withdrawal of troops from an increasingly bloody Iraq. [complete article]

Freed Egyptian thinks remorse turned captors
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times, July 28, 2004

In the end, Muhammad Mamdouh Qutb figures it was his captors' remorse that led to his freedom.

Yes, they roughed him up and bundled him into a car, took him hostage for four days and told the world they would kill him. But then, said Mr. Qutb, an Egyptian diplomat, it dawned on them that he was far from an ideal target: he prayed five times a day, he fasted, and as they learned from a television report, he was known for teaching the Koran to children at the neighborhood mosque.

It did not hurt, Mr. Qutb added, that his captors, who called themselves the Lions of Allah Brigade and snatched him as he came out of a local mosque on Thursday night, had accomplished their mission without killing him. Taking him hostage and airing their demands on television was a cheap, efficient way to make their grievances known.

Judging from their accents, he said, he believed that his captors were all Iraqi. Their goal, he gathered, was to impress upon Egypt that the price of aiding the new Iraqi administration would be steep.

"They wanted to send a message to the Egyptian government," Mr. Qutb said during an interview on Tuesday inside the Egyptian Embassy. "They did that through the media."

Mr. Qutb's narrative offered a glimpse into what it was like, at least for one hostage, to be held captive by Iraq's terrifying insurgency. Hostage taking has emerged as a popular, powerful and often deadly tactic, yielding instant publicity for the captors and formidable political setbacks for the Iraqi government and its American-led supporters. [complete article]

In Iraq, growing number of foreign truckers refuse to brave dangerous roads
By Todd Pitman, Associated Press (via Boston Globe, July 27, 2004

On his first journey to Iraq in eight months, Jordanian truck driver Faisal Suleyman was followed, pulled over and robbed by four men in a sky-blue taxi brandishing automatic weapons.

The trip will be his last, he said Tuesday, placing him among a growing number of foreign drivers whose cargo is vital to Iraq's reconstruction refusing to brave the gantlet of kidnappings, robberies and other violence plaguing the country.

"Nobody wants to come here, it's not safe," Suleyman told The Associated Press in the cab of his 16-wheeler Mercedes at a wind-swept truck-stop on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Hitting home that point, black-masked, armed militants calling themselves "The Group of Death" threatened in a video Tuesday to sever the main highway linking Iraq to Jordan in 72 hours and target Jordanians to stop supplies from reaching U.S. troops. [complete article]

Comment -- It's easy for US officials to talk tough, though I doubt we'll hear any of them say how they'd respond if any family member of their own was held captive. The best indication we have of how this administration might deal with a future major hostage crisis is to remember Iran-Contra .

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Women fighters among Mahdi Army militia signal cleric building military might
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, July 27, 2004

Umm Muhammad's green eyes flashed one day last week as she listened to the imam at a rundown Baghdad mosque preach about how women should be silent and unseen, traveling only "from the home to the grave."

She knew the edict didn't apply to her; the same imam had blessed her before battle when she became one of the first female commanders in rebel cleric Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

"Even my husband didn't know I was fighting, or he pretended not to know," Umm Muhammad, 34, said. "He tells me, 'One day you're going to go and never come back.' I tell him I dream of martyrdom."

The presence of women in the ranks of al Sadr's militia is another troubling sign that al Sadr, who has said he's considering forming a political party, is building his military capability. Already, his militia has shown itself to be adaptable - surprising U.S. military commanders with a broad insurrection in April and continuing to flourish in many areas of Baghdad despite a determined U.S. effort to crush it. [complete article]

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Iraq sets up committee to impose restrictions on news reporting
By Nicolas Pelham, Financial Times, July 27, 2004

Iyad Allawi, Iraq's prime minister, has established a media committee to impose restrictions on print and broadcast media, a government official announced yesterday. The step underlines an aggressive new attitude towards press freedoms, in spite of US efforts to nurture independent media.

Ibrahim Janabi, appointed to head the new Higher Media Commission, told the FT the restrictions - known as "red lines" - had yet to be finalised, but would include unwarranted criticism of the prime minister. He singled out last Friday's sermon by Moqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shia cleric, who mocked Mr Allawi as America's "tail".

Outlets that broadcast the sermon could be banned, he said.

The formation of Mr Janabi's committee appears to mark a step back from Washington's democratic vision for postwar Iraq. Before last month's handover of sovereignty, US officials boasted that Iraq enjoyed the Arab world's least regulated media. One of Paul Bremer's first acts as US administrator was to abolish the information ministry, prompting a profusion of non-government newspapers, radio stations and television stations to emerge. [complete article]

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Key Iraqi conference on track to open
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, July 28, 2004

A national conference viewed as a crucial step in Iraq's postwar democratic development will open on Saturday, two days later than expected, despite a flurry of last-minute problems that could still jeopardize its success.

In the latest threat by Islamic militants, meanwhile, four masked men calling themselves the Group of Death said in a televised videotape that they would cut off the highway to Jordan, Iraq's major trade and supply route, unless Jordan's government stopped cooperating with U.S.-led military forces here.

The warning, broadcast on the al-Arabiya satellite television network, came as a Jordanian company decided to halt construction work at a U.S. military base in Iraq in hopes of saving two kidnapped Jordanian drivers. In the past several weeks, there have been a rash of kidnappings in Iraq, with foreign workers seized and an Egyptian diplomat taken hostage and released.

The national conference chairman, Fuad Masoum, said U.N. officials had asked to delay the gathering, in which 1,000 delegates from a range of political, ethnic and religious groups are scheduled to participate. The delegates are to choose 100 members to form an assembly that will oversee Iraq's interim government until national elections are held next year. Neither the delegate list nor the conference site has been announced. [complete article]

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Scores killed in Iraq bomb attack
BBC News, July 28, 2004

At least 68 people have been killed in a car bomb explosion outside a police station in Iraq, exactly one month after the transfer of sovereignty.

Witnesses said a suicide bomber drove a car into a crowded market area, as men queued to join the police.

Dozens of people were also injured in the morning attack in Baquba, 65km (40 miles) north-east of Baghdad.

More than 160 Iraqis have been killed in attacks since the interim Iraqi government took power on 28 June. [complete article]

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The 800lb gorilla in American foreign policy
By Isabel Hilton, The Guardian, July 28, 2004

The delegates gathered in Boston for the Democratic convention are now reported to be overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq. But if their belated opposition is to change the policy of a future Kerry administration, it will require a return to respect for the law.

The delusion that officeholders know better than the law is an occupational hazard of the powerful and one to which those of an imperial cast of mind are especially prone. Checks and balances - the constitutional underpinning of the democratic idea that no one individual can be trusted with unlimited power - are there to keep such delusions under control.

The Abu Ghraib photographs awakened many in the US to the abuses that lie beneath the rhetoric of the global war on terror but the institutions responsible have not taken the message on board. On the day the Congressional report into 9/11 was published, another document was quietly released - a military report that exonerated the high command for the Abu Ghraib abuses. The implications go beyond Abu Ghraib: without a repudiation of the administration's actions, there will be no remedy for the even more sinister treatment of the unknown number of prisoners not captured on camera - those who have been kidnapped and disappeared by US forces across the world. [complete article]

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U.S. general witnessed abuses, Iraqi says
Associated Press (via WP), July 27, 2004

The American general who headed the U.S. military prison at Abu Ghraib personally witnessed abuses there, an Iraqi man alleged in a federal lawsuit protesting his treatment.

In a videotaped deposition from Iraq played yesterday, Saddam "Sam" Saleh Aboud said he endured beatings at the prison. During one session, he said, his hood was removed and he saw Army Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski.

Aboud identified Karpinski in a news magazine photograph that his lawyer, Michael Hourigan, showed him.

"He was adamant that there was an occasion when he was being tortured, in Tier 1A, when she was present and watching and laughing as he was being tortured," Hourigan said. He said Aboud did not know Karpinski's identity until he told him. [complete article]

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Radical Islam grows among Iraq's Sunnis
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, July 28, 2004

Sheikh Mahdi Ahmed al-Sumaidi was detained in Abu Ghraib prison early this year after a weapons cache was found in his Ibn Taymiyyah mosque. Since released, his anti-US fervor is undiminished. "Neither the occupation forces nor the government they installed is acceptable," he says. "The legitimate power is the resistance."

Even so, he is grateful for the US invasion. "God uses many tools," he says. "America's brutality has caused many to understand that Islam is the answer to our problems. The only solution is Islamic government."

Sheikh Sumaidi is one of a cadre of Sunni preachers whose star has risen sharply in the past year. No longer constrained or exiled by a repressive regime, they are preaching jihad at key mosques and pushing to make Iraq an Islamic state. [complete article]

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Terrorists spread their messages online
By Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, July 28, 2004

One Al Qaeda website offers chilling details on how to conduct private and public kidnappings. It points out the number of cells essential to target and and hide victims. It details how to handle hostages - force them to taste the food first, for instance. It gives advice on negotiating tactics (gradually kill the hostages if "the enemy" stalls) and on releasing captives (be alert to tracking devices planted in the ransom money).

The Al Qaeda site, called Al Battar, which means The Sword, is posted on the Internet twice a month. It's one of several websites that the terrorist group and its supporters built after the US successfully routed them from Afghanistan in late 2001.

And it is one of some 4,000 websites that, experts say, now exist to carry on a "virtual" terror war - and plan actual attacks. [complete article]

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Opium trade booms in 'basket-case' Afghanistan
By Colin Brown and Andrew Clennell, The Independent, July 28, 2004

The opium harvest in Afghanistan this year will be one of the biggest on record, the Foreign Office said yesterday, and it has triggered a flood of heroin on Britain's streets.

The revelation will prove highly embarrassing for Tony Blair, who cited cutting the supply of heroin as one of the main reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, in addition to removing the Taliban regime and rooting out al-Qa'ida from the training camps run by Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban had cracked down on drugs cultivators but the regime's fall led to an increase in production and this year's harvest will be the largest since the invasion.

Health workers warned yesterday that the consequences of the rise were already evident: cheaper, better quality heroin was arriving in Britain, luring thousands more youngsters into addiction than ever before. [complete article]

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The silent majority must speak
By Nazir Majali, Haaretz, July 27, 2004

Quite a lot has been written in Israeli newspapers against the Knesset's passage of a legislative amendment that prevents Palestinians from the territories from becoming naturalized citizens, thereby severely restricting the freedom of Arab citizens to marry. Many also came out in opposition to other expressions of racism against Arabs - both on the part of political parties and public bodies and on the part of Jewish citizens. Many didn't buy the security excuse that the government and its faithful followers tried to sell to the public to justify displays of racism.

These condemnations are important not only for Arab ears, but also, primarily, for a Jewish conscience. They inspire appreciation in every humane person.

But that is not enough. The Knesset passed the racist law by a crushing majority, and the Attorney General, who is supposed to stand guard and block any racist phenomenon, took it upon himself to minimize the damage inflicted by the law without harming its essence. Shinui, the party that is the standard bearer for liberal values, folded and abstained from voting. The people's elected representatives defended the law with gusto.

This is merely one of the expressions of racism that are multiplying in Israeli society. The Education Ministry bans Arab students in Haifa from enrolling at the city's state schools because they are reserved for Jews only. TV's Channel 2 runs a promo for a segment on disabled Arab children being thrown out of their special-ed school in Hadera. And the ink is still wet on results of a Haifa University survey that found that some 60 percent of Jews believe the government should encourage Arabs to leave the country (just two years ago the rate of support for transfer was 31 percent).

These figures, and many like them, send a clear message to Arabs in Israel: "Your existence is in jeopardy." Existence is something you fight for. You don't remain silent. You don't sit idly by. [complete article]

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Scorched earth in Gaza
Editorial, Haaretz, July 27, 2004

With local, tactical rationales - like removing theats to Israeli settlements and roads - the IDF has for years been justifying collective punishment in the Gaza Strip. That's how hundreds of houses were demolished along the Philadelphi route in Rafah, and in February that's how some 100 Palestinian shops on the Palestinian side of Erez were destroyed after two terrorists tunneled into the Israeli side and managed to kill a soldier.

While in Jerusalem, in a decision about the route of the separation fence, the High Court of Justice is emphasizing the importance of proportionality of the harm done to Palestinian human rights as a basic principle for consideration of military actions, the IDF repeatedly violates the principle over and over in Gaza. [complete article]

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Is Jewish terror next?
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, July 27, 2004

It has been argued, and persuasively, that the movement to settle and hold land captured in 1967, in particular the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has changed Orthodox Judaism more profoundly than any event since the Holocaust.
Respected rabbis based in New York have issued Halakhic decrees forbidding any Jew from ceding even an inch of soil of the Old Testament land of Israel.

Orthodox pupils from Melbourne to Mexico City and Marseilles idolize settlers as the revolutionary vanguard of contemporary Judaism's most sacred and burning cause.

In Israel, yeshiva students tied to ultra-Orthodox movements which were formed specifically to fight the concept of Zionism and which still hesitate to fully embrace concept of Jewish statehood, are among the most fervent participants in protests against territorial compromise.

Now, as a vexed Israeli right faces the prospect of the first evacuations of established settlements in the territories, opponents of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan have begun to go public with a view that has long circulated quietly in Greater Israel circles, a perspective that draws a link between the Nazi annihilation of European Jewry and the forced expulsion of Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. [complete article]

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U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: "A member of a terrorist organization is not necessarily a terrorist"

U.S. sees no basis to prosecute Iranian opposition 'terror' group being held in Iraq
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, July 27, 2004

A 16-month review by the United States has found no basis to charge members of an Iranian opposition group in Iraq with violations of American law, though the group is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States government, according to senior American officials.

The case of the group, the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, or Mujahedeen Khalq, whose camp was bombed by the United States military in April 2003, has been watched closely as an important test of the Bush administration's policy toward terrorism and toward Iran.

About 3,800 members of the group are being held in de facto American custody in Camp Ashraf, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. The group remains on the United States terrorist list, though it is not known to have directed any terrorist acts toward the United States for 25 years. But it does stage attacks against Iran, which has demanded that the Iraqi government either prosecute its members or deport them to Iran.

But senior American officials said extensive interviews by officials of the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had not come up with any basis to bring charges against any members of the group. In a July 21 memorandum, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the deputy commanding general in Iraq, said its members had been designated "protected persons" by the United States military, providing them new rights. [complete article]

Armed Iranian group gets protected status
Associated Press (via Yahoo), July 26, 2004

Fighters from the main Iranian armed opposition group, who are under U.S. military guard in Iraq, have been granted protected status as noncombatants, the State Department said Monday.

Spokesman Adam Ereli said the 3,800 People's Mujahedeen fighters must remain in Camp Ashraf, near Baqubah 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, so they "cannot pose a threat to individuals inside or outside Iraq." [complete article]

Tehran warns Washington after armed opposition claims protected status
Agence France Presse (via Daily Star), July 27, 2004

The Iranian government gave a cautious warning to the United States on Monday after the main Iranian armed opposition group claimed the US-led coalition had granted its militants in Iraq protected status.

"I have no information about the truth of such a thing," government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh told reporters, the day after its public enemy No. 1 boasted it was now immune from being handed over.

But even though Ramazanzadeh said the "hypocrites" - as the People's Mujahideen are referred to by the Iranian regime - have "never told the truth," he did warn Washington against making any concessions toward the group.

"The attitude toward the hypocrites in Iraq will show the truth of the claims from anybody who claims to be fighting terrorism globally," he said. [complete article]

Comments -- Come the day that "enemy combatants" held at Guantanamo Bay get legal representation and are able to appear in court, we can expect that the US government will be asked to explain how it differentiates between "enemy combatants" and "noncombatant" terrorists. One also wonders, are there any plans to offer enemy combatants an opportunity to sign a declaration of non-violence and thus have the same means to redeem themselves as has been provided to members of the People's Mujahedeen.

Meanwhile, we can assume that "hypocrites" is a term the Iranians will not reserve just for members of Mujahedeen Khalq. Those in America who have been quick to assume that Tehran aided the 9/11 attacks, also no doubt regard a force of terrorists-in-waiting as a valuable asset to hold close to the Iranian border while they continue working on their plans for regime change for Iran. Does this amount to a double standard or does it just require a different perspective?

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Iran starts atom tests in defiance of EU deal
By Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph, July 27, 2004

Iran has broken the seals on nuclear equipment monitored by United Nations inspectors and is once again building and testing machines that could make fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Teheran's move, revealed to The Daily Telegraph yesterday by western sources, breaks a deal with European countries under which Iran suspended "all uranium enrichment activity".

It will also exacerbate fears that the regional power is determined to make an atomic bomb within a few years.

Enrichment is the most controversial part of Iran's "peaceful" nuclear programme because the same technology used to make low-enriched uranium to fuel nuclear reactors can be used to refine material for bombs. [complete article]

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Iran warns Israel of harsh retaliation
Aljazeera, July 26, 2004

Public relations head of the Revolutionary Guards, Commander Seyed Masood Jazayeri, was quoted by the Iranian student news agency ISNA as saying Iran would not initiate a conflict.

However, he said that in retaliation to any attack Iran has proved itself to be "harsh, assertive, hard-hitting and destructive".

"The United States is showing off by threatening to use its wild dog, Israel," he said.

"They will not hesitate to strike Iran if they are capable of it. However, their threats to attack Iran's nuclear facilities cannot be realised. They are aware Tehran's reaction will be so harsh that Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth and US interests will be easily damaged," he warned.

Iran's effort to generate nuclear power is seen by Israel and the US as a cover for nuclear weapons development, allegations that Iran denies. [complete article]

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Iraq eyes renewed oil exports via Lebanon after 20-year break
Agence France Presse (via Daily Star), July 27, 2004

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in Lebanon Monday raised the prospect of resuming oil exports via Lebanon through a pipeline disused since 1980, as part of increased ties with Arab states in the energy sector.

"Iraq is ready to resume its crude exports via Lebanon but this needs negotiation and an accord with Syria because the pipeline passes through its territory," Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri said after talks with Allawi.

The Iraqi premier, confirming the offer, told reporters that he discussed oil and gas cooperation in Damascus on the previous stop of his Middle East tour.

The Syrian government daily Tishrin said Sunday a barter agreement was signed during the visit. Under the accord Syria is to supply kerosene, benzine and liquefied gas in exchange for Iraqi crude, it said. [complete article]

Comment -- Times change. In April 2003, The Observer reported that plans "to build a pipeline to siphon oil from newly conquered Iraq to Israel are being discussed between Washington, Tel Aviv and potential future government figures in Baghdad."

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Iraq waits on normalization with Israel
By Sam F. Ghattas, Associated Press (via Yahoo), July 26, 2004

Baghdad will not make any moves to normalize relations with Israel before other Arab nations do so as part of a Mideast settlement, Iraq (news - web sites)'s interim prime minister said Monday.

The U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, speaking to reporters at a joint news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, also dismissed Arab press reports that Israelis established a presence in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion.

"Future relations with Israel are determined by two issues: international resolutions and a just and comprehensive peace that has been adopted by Arab leaderships, including the Palestinian leadership. Iraq will not take any unilateral action on a settlement with Israel outside those two frameworks," Allawi said. [complete article]

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Kurds wonder where they fit in the new Iraq
By John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2004

Sitting on the top of Azmar Mountain, looking down on the twinkling lights of this Kurdish city with a whiskey in his plastic cup and a skewer of roasted lamb on his plate, Bahdai Ahmad Hassan could be forgiven for thinking that Iraq, with all its problems, might as well be another country.

Here in Iraqi Kurdistan, government buildings are barely barricaded, an effective police force and a proud army provide security, and the hundreds of families who drive up to these heights to picnic on a balmy weekend evening can sit without fear of gunfire or mortars. As for the terrorized Iraq to the south, in Hassan's view, who needs it?

Since the hand-over of power to a new Iraqi government, many Kurds are asking themselves whether the bargain made by their political leaders to rejoin the rest of Iraq after 13 years of semi-independence is really worth it. At the very least, Hassan said, Kurds must demand more equality and autonomy than is on offer. To him, independence would be better. [complete article]

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Iraqis doubt move towards democracy
By Mark Turner, Financial Times, July 25, 2004

One of Iraq's first steps towards representative democracy was greeted with widespread scepticism yesterday. Baghdad notables chose delegates to this month's 1,000-strong national conference through a process few understood, and which many feared gave undue influence to members of the former US-backed governing council.

The procedure seemed simple: a caucus of several hundred dignitaries assembled in Baghdad University to choose 40 representatives (including 10 women) for the city's Al-Rusafa district, via a simple paper ballot.

Around the country, 550 regional delegates are being chosen in a similar manner, for a conference designed to offer a broad cross-section of Iraqis their first opportunity to debate the future. Another 350 will be chosen from political parties and civic leaders and the balance from the pre-selected preparatory committee.

But in practice, many of the academics, professionals and politicians who thronged the Baghdad campus said they had been left in the dark until the last minute. They suspected political skullduggery and denounced the process as a sham. [complete article]

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Abductions surge in Iraq
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 2004

In the past week, car bombings and other insurgent attacks against US and Iraqi forces have returned to pre-June 28 handover levels. But kidnapping, too, is emerging as one of the most effective weapons for eroding confidence in the interim Iraqi government and slowing reconstruction.

The low-cost and low-risk tactic is being used to barter lives for political goals.

Such blackmail has already driven the Philippines and a number of private contractors, including Russian and Turkish firms, from the country. It is also driving up security and insurance costs for companies doing everything from fixing Iraq's sewers to providing mail service to US troops, leaving far less money for the infra- structure improvements that Iraq so desperately needs.

"People here are demanding improvements in basic services, water, and electricity, not to mention jobs,'' says Wamidh Nadhmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University. "They're not seeing any improvements, so the prospects for instability and violence go up."

It's a simple, ugly cycle that neither the US nor its Iraqi partners have been able to break. [complete article]

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How Chechnya inspired the Iraqi kidnappers
By Robert Fisk, The Independent (via Counterpunch), July 26, 2004

The pictures are grainy, the voices sometimes unclear. But when Kim Sun-il shrieks "Don't kill me" over and over again, his fear is palpable. As the heads of Iraq's kidnap victims are sawn off, Koranic recitations--usually by a well-known Saudi imam--are played on the soundtrack. At the beheading of an American, the murderer ritually wipes his bloody knife twice on the shirt of his victim, just as Saudi officials clean their blades after public executions in the kingdom. Terror by video is now a well-established part of the Iraq war. [complete article]

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9/11 report says plotter saw self as superterrorist
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, July 27, 2004

The report portrays [Khalid Sheik] Mohammed, now 39, as a flamboyant and zealous operative who was continually hatching grandiose plans for terrorist attacks, even as bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders urged him to stay focused on the Sept. 11 plot. The document also acknowledges doubts about Mohammad's credibility and reveals that he viewed himself as an independent contractor beholden to no one -- including bin Laden.

"No one exemplifies the model of the terrorist entrepreneur more clearly than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," the commission wrote. "Highly educated and equally comfortable in a government office or a terrorist safe house, KSM applied his imagination, technical aptitude and managerial skills to hatching and planning an extraordinary array of terrorist schemes. These ideas included conventional car bombing, political assassination, aircraft bombing, hijacking, reservoir poisoning and, ultimately, the use of aircraft as missiles guided by suicide operatives." [complete article]

Comment -- Conventional wisdom says that on 9/11 America woke up to the reality and peril posed by a global jihad aimed at this nation's destruction. But history may tell that twelve hours after the attacks, when President Bush made this pledge: "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them," the global jihad received its greatest boost.

The report from the 9/11 commission reveals, among other things, the vanity of individuals such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed. It suggests that for many members of al Qaeda the specific acts of terrorism that they planned and executed were indistinguishable from the cause that they were attempting to advance. The deed was itself the goal. As such, this was a "cause" that would always struggle to advance into a movement. It might appeal to a small number of individuals with a fascination for violence, yet its ideological vagueness necessarily undermined its popular appeal.

In the absence of ideological clarity, the one thing that could make the jihad become global would be a broad front of opposition; an opposition that treated the jihad as coherent, even if it was not; a response that viewed a fragmented, localized network as a highly organized global entity. Thus the Bush administration, in declaring that it would fight terrorism instead of terrorists, in refusing to distinguish between individuals and those around them, and by subsequently invading two Muslim nations (in the name of its own global cause), has done more to bring about a clash of civilizations and fuel a global jihad than any horrific act that Khalid Sheik Mohammed or Osama bin Laden could ever have dreamt of.

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The terror web
By Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, July 26, 2004

The day of the bombings [in Madrid on March 11, 2004], analysts at the Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, a Norwegian think tank near Oslo, retrieved a document that they had noticed on an Islamist Web site the previous December. At the time, the document had not made a big impression, but now, in light of the events in Madrid, it read like a terrorist road map. Titled "Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers," it had been prepared by a previously unknown entity called the Media Committee for the Victory of the Iraqi People (Mujahideen Services Center).

The document, which is forty-two pages long and appears to be the work of several anonymous authors, begins with the proposition that although Coalition forces in Iraq, led by America, could not be defeated by a guerrilla insurgency, individual partners of the Coalition could be persuaded to depart, leaving America more vulnerable and discouraged as casualties increased and the expenses became insupportable. [...]

"In order to force the Spanish government to withdraw from Iraq, the resistance should deal painful blows to its forces," the writer proposes. "It is necessary to make utmost use of the upcoming general election in Spain in March next year. We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows, after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows, the victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured, and the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral program." Once Spain pulled out of Iraq, the author theorizes, the pressure on Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, to do the same might be unbearable -- "and hence the domino tiles would fall quickly."

The document specifies that the attacks would be aimed at Spanish forces within Iraq -- there is no call for action in Spain. Nonetheless, the authors' reading of the Western political calendar struck the Norwegian researchers as particularly keen. "The relation between the text and the bombings is unclear," Thomas Hegghammer, a researcher at Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, told me. "But, without the text, we would still be asking, 'Is this a coincidence?'"

That day, Hegghammer forwarded a copy of the document to Haizam Amirah Fernandez, a colleague at Madrid's Real Instituto Elcano. Amirah was shocked. Until now, the announced goals of Al Qaeda had been mainly parochial, directed at purging the Islamic world, especially Saudi Arabia, of Western influences; overturning the established Arabic governments and restoring the clerical rule of the ancient caliphate; and purifying Islam by returning it to the idealized time of the Prophet. In an audiotape aired on the Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera in February, 2003, Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, had identified Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen as "the most qualified regions for liberation." (Iraq was notably absent from his list.) And yet he offered no political platform -- no plan, for instance, for governing Saudi Arabia on the morning after the revolution. As for the rest of the world, bin Laden's goals seemed to be motivated mainly by revenge. In 1998, he had decreed that it was the "duty of every Muslim" to kill Americans and their allies. The spectacular violence that characterized Al Qaeda's attacks was not a means to a goal -- it was the goal. Success was measured by the body count, not by political change.

The Internet document suggested that a new intelligence was at work, a rationality not seen in Al Qaeda documents before. The Mujahideen Services Center, whatever that was, appeared to operate as a kind of Islamist think tank. "The person who put together those chapters had a clear strategic vision, realistic and well thought out," Amirah says. He told Hegghammer, "This is political science applied to jihad." [complete article]

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How to lose the war on terror
The American Conservative, August 2, 2004

One of the striking things about the Iraq War is the extent to which American foreign-affairs professionals -- intelligence analysts, diplomats, and high-ranking military officers -- recognize it is a tragically misguided venture. Among the most recent to speak out is the CIA officer formerly charged with analyzing Osama bin Laden. Known only as "Anonymous," he is the author of the new book Imperial Hubris -- a scathing look at the way the United States has conducted the War on Terror thus far. TAC editors Philip Giraldi (a CIA veteran with extensive Mideast experience), Kara Hopkins, and Scott McConnell recently visited with the author. Here are excerpts of the conversation. [complete article]

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Questions persist despite 9/11 investigations
By Terry McDermott, Los Angeles Times, July 26, 2004

With countless police, intelligence and journalistic examinations and two special congressional inquiries, the Sept. 11 attacks have been among the most investigated criminal acts in history.

The release last week of the final report of the independent 9/11 commission offered the nation a comprehensive overview of the origin and execution of the attacks. What the nation does not have are answers to all the outstanding questions, some of them fundamental:

Who provided the nearly half a million dollars it cost to carry out the attacks? How could the man who is alleged to have recruited several of the hijack pilots have done this while under investigation by at least three intelligence services -- those of the United States, Germany and Morocco? Who, if anyone, assisted the hijackers during their time in the United States? [complete article]

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Manipulating U.S. elections is not an Al-Qaeda goal
By Shibley Telhami, Daily Star, July 26, 2004

The warning by the US Department of Homeland Security that Al-Qaeda may be preparing to disrupt the presidential election has been sounded with little assessment of the terrorist organization's aims.

Some have questioned the extent to which the Bush administration may be using such warnings for political reasons, but few have challenged the notion that Al-Qaeda seeks to replicate its Madrid attack on the eve of the Spanish election for the presumed goal of defeating President George W. Bush.

In fact, while Al-Qaeda is constantly trying to prepare massive acts of horror on US soil, replacing the Bush administration is not likely to be one of its objectives. [...]

... it is difficult to imagine that Al-Qaeda would view the record of the past three years as having been anything but successful. Public opinion today in every Muslim country is far more resentful of the United States than it was three years ago. Four years ago, over 60 percent of Saudi citizens expressed confidence in the United States. Today, less than 4 percent expressed a favorable view of the United States in a recent survey I conducted.

The hope voiced immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks, that a country such as Turkey, a secular Islamic democracy and a long-term ally of the United States, would provide the alternative to the puritanical Taleban model in Afghanistan, has not completely died. But today, instead of pictures demonizing Osama bin Laden on Turkish walls, the streets are filled with posters aimed instead at George W. Bush. [complete article]

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It's more than a war
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, August 2, 2004

It is increasingly clear that the conflict in Afghanistan falsely fed the idea that the war against terrorism was a real war. In fact, Afghanistan was an exception. The reality of this threat, the very reason it is so difficult to tackle, is precisely that it cannot be addressed by conventional military means. Yet the prism of war has distorted the vision of important segments of Washington, especially within the Bush administration. This has produced bad strategy. The Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis has written on the Bush administration's strategy and describes its three pillars as hegemony, preemption and unilateralism. All three approaches seem justifiable if you believe that we are in a war that can be won militarily. All are counterproductive in a struggle that seeks to modernize alien societies, win over Muslim moderates and sustain cooperation on intelligence and law enforcement across the world. [complete article]

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Sept. 11 commission purposely avoided judgments on Iraq war
By Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, July 25, 2004

Conspicuously absent from Thursday's final report of the Sept. 11 commission was any judgment on the most pressing policy debate of the Bush presidency: Was the invasion of Iraq a crucial part of -- or a distraction from -- the fight against terrorism?

This was no oversight. Commissioners quickly concluded in their deliberations that any judgment on the wisdom of the Iraq war would scuttle their hope to present unanimous judgments. "Iraq was a third rail," said Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste. The war couldn't be discussed "without dissolving into divisions" -- so the commission dropped the question, reasoning that it was not part of its mandate.

But that left a gaping hole in the commission's report. By the report's own logic, the United States must do a better job of defining the enemy. The "enemy is not just 'terrorism,' some generic evil," the commissioners wrote. "This vagueness blurs the strategy." The report complains about "an amorphous picture of the enemy" and says Americans are "given the picture of an omnipotent, unslayable hydra of destruction. This image lowers expectations for government effectiveness." [complete article]

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Honorable commission, toothless report
By Richard A. Clarke, New York Times, July 25, 2004

News coverage of the [9/11] commission's recommendations has focused on the organizational improvements: a new cabinet-level national intelligence director and a new National Counterterrorism Center to ensure that our 15 or so intelligence agencies play well together. Both are good ideas, but they are purely incremental. Had these changes been made six years ago, they would not have significantly altered the way we dealt with Al Qaeda; they certainly would not have prevented 9/11. Putting these recommendations in place will marginally improve our ability to crush the new, decentralized Al Qaeda, but there are other changes that would help more.

First, we need not only a more powerful person at the top of the intelligence community, but also more capable people throughout the agencies - especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. In other branches of the government, employees can and do join on as mid- and senior-level managers after beginning their careers and gaining experience elsewhere. But at the F.B.I. and C.I.A., the key posts are held almost exclusively by those who joined young and worked their way up. This has created uniformity, insularity, risk-aversion, torpidity and often mediocrity. [complete article]

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U.S. struggles in war of ideas, panel says
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2004

In calling for a sweeping overhaul of American diplomacy in the Middle East, the Sept. 11 commission last week joined a growing consensus that the United States had not done enough to win over the world's huge Muslim population.

The bipartisan panel urged in its final report that the government engage more deeply in a "struggle of ideas" against Islamic radicalism and develop a preventive strategy that was at least as political as it was military.

"We need short-term action on a long-term strategy, one that invigorates our foreign policy with the attention that the president and Congress have given to the military and intelligence parts of the conflict against Islamic terrorism," the report said.

The fight against terrorism needs to be "balanced," involving "diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy and homeland defense," the report said. [complete article]

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Bin Laden's inner circle eludes CIA
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, July 24, 2004

The CIA has intelligence agents inside Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network -- as it did before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- but they are not within the terrorist leader's inner circle where key information about any future attack would be discussed, a senior intelligence official said yesterday.

"They are beyond foot soldiers but not in the inner circle," the official said. The agents -- Afghans, Pakistanis, Uzbeks and others recruited and run by CIA case officers -- "are more senior than the agents [the U.S. had] three years ago who were on the periphery," the official said.

Aided by these agents, electronic intercepts, satellite imagery, and extensive help from foreign intelligence services, the United States over the past two years has captured or killed two-thirds of bin Laden's top aides and broken up plots against U.S. embassies, U.S. and foreign aircraft, and ships and other targets worldwide.

Although the U.S. intelligence community believes that al Qaeda today is far less capable than the team that put together the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden "looks to the United States still as the brass ring," another senior intelligence official said. "They still want to continue to attack us in the ways they did three years ago," he said during a Wednesday briefing, which was held on the condition that reporters not disclose his name or the identity of two other senior intelligence officials who spoke.

This is the first time that CIA officials have publicly described with such specificity the placing of agents and other steps aimed at cracking al Qaeda -- the sort of information that the agency generally guards very closely. [complete article]

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Militant Muslims find a haven in 'Londonistan'
By Lynne O'Donnell, San Francisco Chronicle, July 24, 2004

"Osama bin Laden is a good man. Osama bin Laden wants the same as me -- he wants to see the implementation of God's law," says Khalid Kelly as he sips coffee in a sun-filled London cafe and expounds on his allegiance to the man who has declared war on the West.

Kelly, an Irishman, converted to Islam two years ago while imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for distilling and selling alcohol. Since then, he has become the public face of the tiny London-based organization called Al-Muhajiroun. The radical organization is led by Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, who has long been linked to bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.

The presence of militants like Bakri has earned the British capital the sobriquet "Londonistan" among diplomats and terrorism experts, who see London as a worldwide center of Islamic terrorism. [complete article]

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How the zealots are killing a dream
By Will Hutton, The Observer, July 25, 2004

It seems a long time ago now, but there was a time when Israel was not only the Middle East's only democracy but a source of liberal inspiration. The kibbutz movement was a living example of how to build a new society based on genuine equality of opportunity and mutuality of respect in collective democratic communes that actually worked. I remember friends who had spent their gap year working on them eulogising about the experience.

That was then.Today, Israel's kibbutz movement is in crisis as a succession of right-wing governments has redirected subsidies to support settling the West Bank, where settler numbers are now double those working on kibbutzim.

The movement is paying the price for clinging to outdated nostrums, like belief in caring, equality and collective action, building Israel within its pre-1967 borders while recognising a Palestinian state and valuing the endless possibility of human development.

Like the rest of what constituted the once noble Israeli Labour movement, it has been shattered by the cruel marriage of religious and free-market fundamentalism. There is no more room for visionary ideas about building an Israel that will be a beacon for humanity whatever their faith. Israel is engaged in a fight to the death. [complete article]

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An Army whitewash
Editorial, Washington Post, July 24, 2004

The Army's attempt to hold itself accountable for the abuse of foreign prisoners is off to a terrible start. On Thursday, while the media and political worlds were focused on the report of the Sept. 11 commission, the Army inspector general released a 300-page summary of an investigation of "detainee operations" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though it identified 94 cases of confirmed or possible abuse, including 20 prisoner deaths, the probe concluded by sounding the defense offered up by the Pentagon ever since the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison were published: that the crimes did not result from Army policy and were not the fault of senior commanders but were "unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals."

This conclusion is contradicted by the independent investigations and reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross, by an earlier Army investigation undertaken before the scandal became public, and by testimony given to Congress. Oddly, it doesn't even square with some of the findings buried in the inspector general's own report, which confirm that commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan ordered "high-risk" interrogation procedures to be used on prisoners without adequate safeguards, training or regard for the Geneva Conventions.

No matter: The report effectively communicates the strategy of the military brass on the detainee affair, which is to focus blame on a few low-ranking personnel, shield all senior commanders from accountability, and deny or bury any facts that interfere with these aims. In that sense, the signal it sends to Congress is clear: The Pentagon cannot be counted on to reliably or thoroughly investigate the prisoner abuse affair. An independent probe by an outside authority is desperately needed. [complete article]

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New Iraqi government facing its first big test
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 25, 2004

Iraq's fragile new government faces its first big political test this week: holding a national conference that is a pivotal element of the country's postwar evolution but that U.S. and Iraqi officials fear may be boycotted by key players, hijacked by religious parties, targeted by insurgents or simply overwhelmed by bickering.

The three-day conference of 1,000 Iraqis is scheduled to begin Thursday, Iraqi officials said. Its goal is to select a council of 100 members that would oversee the interim government and have the power to overturn its decisions.

But uncertainty over who would attend the conference has exacerbated tensions among Iraq's disparate ethnic, political and religious groups while also raising questions about what effect the final 100-member body would have on the country's future governance. It also remains unclear how the conference would select the council. [complete article]

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Sadr boycotts upcoming polls in Iraq
Agence France Presse (via Daily Star), July 26, 2004

Radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr boycotted polls held here Sunday to elect participants in an upcoming Iraqi national conference that will in turn select a legislative council.

Sadr, who re-emerged Friday in Kufa, near the holy city of Najaf, after keeping a low public profile for the past two months, has dismissed interim Premier Iyad Allawi as an instrument of the US-led occupation.

Earlier this month, Sadr's main spokesmen both in Baghdad and the southern city of Najaf said his supporters would snub the conference because of disagreements over the way the participants were being chosen. [complete article]

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Baghdad-Damascus ties improve despite US-Syria rift
By Cilina Nasser, Daily Star, July 26, 2004

Iraq's interim Premier Iyad Allawi said Sunday his country's relations with Syria improved during the two days he spent there, denying that hostility between Washington and Damascus would affect Iraq's ties to its western neighbor.

"Saying that (Iraqi-Syrian) relations have only improved is much less than the truth," said the prime minister during a news conference at the Bristol Hotel in Beirut, suggesting that Iraq's ties with its old arch-foe has shifted significantly to the better.

Allawi, who arrived in Lebanon earlier in the day to discuss security and economic cooperation, said he worked with Syrian officials on establishing long-term strategic foundations for bilateral relations between Iraq and Syria.

He dismissed suggestions that US sanctions on Syria would negatively affect Iraq's relations with its neighbor.

"It is an American affair," he said about the Syria Accountability Act, which bans all US exports to Syria except food and medicine. [complete article]

Comment -- What happened to the promise of Iraqi-Israeli relations? Any thoughts on this Messrs. Perle, Frum and Krauthammer?

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Official warns of Iranian infiltration
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, July 26, 2004

Hazim Shalan, Iraq's defense minister, charged in an interview that Iran has taken over Iraqi border positions, sent spies and saboteurs into the country and infiltrated the new government -- including his own ministry. Iran remains "the first enemy of Iraq," he declared.

Shalan's comments were the clearest sign the new government is concerned that the country's open borders are being exploited by old enemies, turning Iraq into a battleground for Middle Eastern opponents of the United States.

"I've seen clear interference in Iraqi issues by Iran," Shalan said Saturday. "Iran interferes in order to kill democracy." [...]

Shalan bluntly warned Iran: "We can send the death to Tehran's streets, like they do to us. But we can't do it if we are a democracy. But if my people say do it now, I will do it." [complete article]

Comment -- It seems like many of the official statements coming out of Baghdad these days need to be taken with a grain of salt. Even so, in "new Iraq," it's surprising how little attention the western media is giving to the minister of defense, Hazem al-Shalan. A threat to "send death to Tehran's streets" sounds like a threat to fight terrorism with terrorism. Shalan has previously said that he is willing to be tough with insurgents and "We will cut off the hands of those people, we will slit their throats if it is necessary to do so." And when he suggests that he is currently constrained by democracy but will abandon such constraints "if my people say do it now," one has to wonder, who exactly are Shalan's people?

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Iraq hints at blocking Arab satellite stations
Reuters (via Boston Globe), July 26, 2004

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari of Iraq accused regional satellite channels of inciting violence and hinted that Iraq may block Al-Jazeera from operating in the country.

''Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, al-Manar, and al-Alam have all become channels of incitement and opposed to the interests, security, and stability of the Iraqi people," Zebari told Al-Jazeera television.

''There is strong talk from some Iraqi government officials about closing Al-Jazeera. Unfortunately it is being manipulated by terrorist groups, and we will not tolerate this biased coverage."

Al-Manar is owned by Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, al-Alam is Iran's Arabic-language television channel, and Dubai-based Al-Arabiya is mostly Saudi-owned. [complete article]

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Officers question visibility of Army in Iraq
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, July 26, 2004

Some top U.S. military officers are questioning whether the practice of keeping U.S. troops highly visible in Iraq is doing more harm than good, challenging a key tenet of the Army's approach to occupying the country.

Advocates of the new approach say U.S. troops would be more effective if they were kept out of view of the Iraqi public, and even removed to remote desert bases, appearing only when needed to conduct operations beyond the capacity of Iraqi security forces.

For most of the Iraq occupation, the U.S. military has assumed -- based on lessons drawn from peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo -- that maintaining "presence" through extensive patrols, large-scale raids and other highly visible operations would increase stability. Now, however, some officers are saying that such operations are doing more to inflame anti-American feelings among Iraqis than to secure the streets, and the resulting debate may shape the military's future structure and tactics in Iraq. [complete article]

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U.S. using cash as a defensive weapon
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, July 26, 2004

Cash has become the U.S. military's first line of defense in some parts of Iraq, where U.S. soldiers are distributing money to encourage goodwill and to counter their enemies' offers of money to unemployed Iraqis willing to attack Americans, according to officers here.

Even patrol leaders now carry envelopes of cash to spend in their areas. The money comes from brigade commanders, who get as much as $50,000 to $100,000 a month to distribute for local rehabilitation and emergency welfare projects through the Commanders Emergency Response Program.

There are few restrictions on the expenditures, and officers acknowledge they consider the money another weapon. The targets at which it is aimed are the restless legions of unemployed Iraqi men, many of them former soldiers, policemen and low-level members of the Baath Party of the ousted president, Saddam Hussein. They were put out of work when the U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, ordered a de-Baathification of Iraq. U.S. soldiers say those men are vulnerable to entreaties to carry out an attack on the Americans for pay. [complete article]

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No shortage of fighters in Iraq's wild west
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2004

Hunkered down in the turquoise-domed Islamic Law Center, a dozen Marines wait for the enemy to make its inevitable move. Insurgents equipped with Soviet-made sniper rifles keep the building in their cross hairs. Assailants with AK-47s and grenade launchers regularly peer from nearby alleys and roofs. Attacks can come from any direction.

The wait is unnerving, but it's better than being in the streets of this turbulent western city. A Marine convoy was attacked here Wednesday with a roadside bomb and as many as 100 insurgents unleashed a barrage of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in rolling firefights that lasted for much of the day. Thirteen Marines and one soldier were injured, and the U.S. military reported killing 25 fighters.

"When you walk on the streets, they can hide in every nook and cranny and you can never find them until they start shooting," said Marine Cpl. Glenn Hamby, 26, who heads Squad 3 of Golf Company. "Here, they have to come right to us."

This is what the war has come down to in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland, where providing tenuous security harks back to America's 19th century Indian Wars -- a time when the cavalry set up outposts and forts in decidedly hostile territory. Ramadi is Indian Country -- "the wild, wild West," as the region is called. [complete article]

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Sunni Muslims in Iraq are still loyal to Saddam Hussein
By Ken Dilanian, Knight Ridder, July 23, 2004

Omar Masood is no religious extremist from the provinces. He's a well-dressed, impeccably coiffed, university-educated 27-year-old who co-owns a computer and video business in Iraq's capital.

As he tells it, his cousin was executed for drawing a political cartoon that lampooned Saddam Hussein's regime. Yet he now calls the fallen leader a symbol of Iraqi pride and reveres the resistance fighters who kill Americans.

"Saddam Hussein made his mistakes," Masood said. "But I can justify to you most of the mistakes." [complete article]

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Inside the Iraqi resistance
By Nir Rosen, Asia Times, July, 2004

Part One: Losing it
Fallujah had always been a little different from the rest of Iraq. An American non-governmental organization project manager told me with bewilderment of his meeting with a women's group from the town who shocked him by being more radical than the men. "We must be willing to sacrifice our sons to end the occupation," they told him.

Part Two: The fighting poets
"I came from Najaf to praise the heroes of Fallujah!" [a 12-year-old boy from Najaf] shouted, and ended by calling to God, screaming, "Ya Allah! Ya Allah," and then burst out sobbing. Older men escorted him off as he wiped away his tears, and he was embraced and kissed in succession by the dignitaries in the front row. He returned to recite another bellicose poem, this time brandishing a Kalashnikov as long as he was tall.

Part Three: The Fallujah model
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".

Part Four: All power to the sheikh
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.

Part Five: The tongue of the mujahideen
Sheikh Dhafer was waiting inside for me. He would be interviewing me as well, to decide if I should be given permission to visit and work in Fallujah. The sheikh was respected for having vocally criticized Saddam Hussein, resulting in several occasions of imprisonment, but Saddam never dared execute him because he was from Fallujah. A friend of Dhafer's described him to me as "the tongue of the mujahideen", meaning he was their voice.

Part Six: Mean and clean streets
Uwe Sauerman, a very tall, pale 55-year-old freelance journalist and his assistant, Manya Schodche, 24, herself very pale, had driven to Fallujah that morning. After being warned not to go to Najaf because it was too dangerous, Uwe obeyed his hotel manager's instructions and took a dishdasha with him and set off with a driver and translator. On entering Fallujah, Uwe donned his dishdasha, but was seen doing so. The German couple were stopped at the checkpoint where four US contractors had earlier been killed after being spotted by young informants posing as street sellers. They were forced out at gunpoint by six armed men, one of them in a policeman's uniform, and accused of being an American general and female soldier.

Part Seven: Radicals in the ashes of democracy
The day two German journalists, Uwe Sauerman and Manya Schodche, nearly experienced sahel, the Iraqi lynching made famous by the death in Fallujah of four American contractors employed by US company Blackwater, the city's Mujahideen Council banned all journalists from the city and warned that those who entered might be killed.

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

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."

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.

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

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.

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.

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."

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archives prior to April 21, 2002
Not In Our Name
A Statement Of Conscience