The War in Context  
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Talks collapse in Iraqi holy city
BBC News, August 14, 2004

Talks to disarm militants in the Shia Iraqi holy city of Najaf have broken down, the Iraqi government negotiator has announced.

Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie said he was going to leave the city, where fighters loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr have been resisting US-led forces.

Mr Rubaie said the government would resume military operations against the militants - ending the uneasy truce.

A Sadr spokesman blamed the Iraqi prime minister for the talks' failure.

"You have to know, we had agreed with Rubaie on all points but [Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi called him back and he ended the issue," Ali Samseem told Arabic television network al-Jazeera. [complete article]

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A discreet and harrowing flight from Najaf
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, August 14, 2004

[Mohammad Jawad] Abbas, a taxi driver in Najaf, became increasingly worried for his family's safety as the situation there deteriorated in recent weeks. He said he lived about a mile from the shrine of Imam Ali, the focus of the conflict between Iraqi and U.S. troops and Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's militia force, the Mahdi Army. Electricity and water were becoming sporadic. Food and fuel were scarce; he often had to sit for an entire day in a gas station line to refill his taxi.

"There were snipers on the roofs. It became very difficult to walk down the street," Abbas said. "We were surrounded by armies: the Mahdi army, the American army, the Iraqi army. Because of all the bombing, Najaf is in very bad shape."

Hadeel [, Abbas' daughter,] told of a playmate who picked up what she thought was a pretty pen. It was an explosive, and it mangled her hand. Abbas said a pregnant neighbor was sleeping on her roof, a common practice during the hot summer, when shrapnel from a bomb ripped through her belly. She was in critical condition, he said.

"I didn't know how to get out. No gas. No cars running. No one will even take you to the hospital if you are wounded," he said. Finally, a brother-in-law who lives on the safer outskirts of Najaf took Abbas's wife and children on a perilous journey in his car. Abbas followed a day later, walking through the battle lines, hugging the sides of back alleys in fear of snipers.

"There is no future in Iraq," Abbas said. "This is worse than it was even in the war." [complete article]

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Those they can't co-opt, they destroy
By Kamil Mahdi, The Guardian, August 14, 2004

Having been appointed by the occupation authority under a corrupted UN oversight process, Ayad Allawi's interim government lacks any legitimacy whatsoever.

Its success could only be measured through its ability to address the needs of the Iraqi people, foremost among which is security.

The offensive against Najaf is the most crude and inept action possible, and it follows a long line of such actions by the occupation forces and their political leadership.

Some Iraqis hoped that the so-called transfer of power would permit a lessening of tension and a quick withdrawal of foreign forces from the cities, to be followed by greater cooperation between police and the population in tackling random violence.

It had been hoped that the police would become more effective in protecting doctors and other professionals from targeted kidnap and murder, and that homes, places of worship and other public places would become less insecure, and that efforts would be redoubled to address the abysmal failure to rebuild the infrastructure.

Instead, there is now a greater effort at involving the police and other new Iraqi armed forces in waging the United States' war-by-proxy against the political opponents of the occupation. [complete article]

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Al-Sadr supporters descend on Najaf
CNN, August 14, 2004

Thousands of people headed to Najaf on Saturday to show their support for Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia has engaged U.S. and Iraqi forces in several Iraqi cities.

Al-Sadr supporters throughout the country were trekking toward the Imam Ali Shrine in the center of Najaf, where they hope to protect the mosque, among the most sacred sites in the world to Shiites, against attacks.

Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said the Iraqis are welcome to visit the shrine, however, no one can be armed. [complete article]

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Rebel cleric emerges to urge fight to death
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, August 14, 2004

Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's leading rebel Shia cleric, emerged last night in front of hundreds of his fighters in the main shrine in Najaf calling for a fight to the death - despite a tentative truce with the US military after more than a week of clashes.

Mr Sadr, whose right arm was bandaged in three places from an apparent shrapnel wound sustained earlier in the day, denounced the Americans and the Iraqi interim government and urged his fighters to stand firm.

"I advise the dictatorial, agent government to resign ... the whole Iraqi people demand the resignation of the government," Mr Sadr told fighters holed up in the Imam Ali shrine.

"We will remain here defending the holy shrines till victory or martyrdom," he said, according to an aide. [complete article]

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U.S. bombers raid Sunni Iraqi city
BBC News, August 14, 2004

Air strikes by US planes on the largely Sunni Iraqi city of Samarra have killed at least 13 people and injured 84, a hospital official in the city said.

The US military said it had killed "about 50 insurgents" in strikes which began after midnight (2000 GMT Friday), following arms searches on the ground.

A truce is holding in Najaf, the Shia city at the centre of unrest this week.

But reports speak of at least 13 deaths overnight in another Shia city, Hilla, and unrest has affected oil exports. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda showing new life
By Dan Eggen and John Lancaster, Washington Post, August 14, 2004

In the more than two years since U.S. forces destroyed al Qaeda's haven and much of its leadership in Afghanistan, many U.S. intelligence officials and terrorism experts had come to believe that other Islamist extremist groups now posed the gravest threat.

From Istanbul to Madrid, local jihadists mounted daring and deadly attacks with little apparent support from Osama bin Laden's crippled network. President Bush and other U.S. officials boasted that two-thirds of al Qaeda's senior leadership had been captured or killed and that those who remained, including bin Laden, were desperate and on the run.

But the wave of arrests and intelligence discoveries in Pakistan in recent weeks that led to a new terrorism alert in the United States caught many U.S. officials and outside experts by surprise. It revealed a network of operatives connected to past al Qaeda operations and aligned with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the imprisoned mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The new evidence suggests that al Qaeda is battered but not beaten, and that a motley collection of old hands and recent recruits has formed a nucleus in Pakistan that is pushing forward with plans for attacks in the United States, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. [complete article]

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Is there any hope of avoiding catastrophe in Iraq?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, August 13, 2004

This is a terribly grim thing to say, but there might be no solution to the problem of Iraq. There might be nothing we can do to build a path to a stable, secure, let alone democratic regime. And there's no way we can just pull out without plunging the country, the region, and possibly beyond into still deeper disaster.

Much as the Bush administration hoped otherwise, the fighting didn't stop -- or so much as turn a corner -- after sovereignty passed from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the new government of Iraq. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi made a fine speech on the occasion about dealing with the insurgency, especially the need to isolate the foreign jihadists from the homegrown rebels who simply don't like being occupied. But the distinction has turned out to be muddy, and it will remain so until Allawi demonstrates he deserves their loyalty -- that is, until he proves that he's independent from his American benefactors and competent at restoring basic services.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military -- the only force in Iraq remotely capable of keeping the country from falling apart -- finds itself in a maddening situation where tactical victories yield strategic setbacks. The Marines could readily defeat the insurgents in Najaf, but only at the great risk of inflaming Shiites -- and sparking still larger insurgencies -- elsewhere. In the Sadr City section of Baghdad, as U.S. commanders acknowledge, practically every resident is an insurgent.

There are not enough U.S. and British troops now to create the conditions for order. Nor are there likely to be any time soon.

John Kerry says that, if elected president, he'd persuade our allies -- the ones Bush blew off -- to come help (or bail) us out. Kerry would certainly be an abler diplomat than Bush; he would repair tattered alliances, and the benefits would likely be substantial in many aspects of international politics. But it's unclear how even Kerry would lure reluctant leaders to send significant numbers of combat troops into what they see as the quagmire of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems to be muddling through with neither a military strategy for beating the insurgents nor a political strategy for securing Iraq's stability. [complete article]

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Sadr unhurt and negotiating: Iraqi govt
Reuters/AFP (via ABC-Au), August 13, 2004

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is unhurt and is negotiating with the interim Iraqi government to leave the Imam Ali shrine in the city of Najaf, Iraq's Interior Minister Falah al Naqib said on Friday.

Aides to Sadr said earlier the cleric was injured on Friday in the chest, leg and arm in an attack while he was inspecting fighting positions of his Mehdi Army militiamen.

"Sayyed Moqtada will not be touched if he leaves the shrine peacefully," Mr Naqib told Reuters.

"A truce has been in force since last night."

"We will go after the criminal elements which have penetrated the Sadr movement, but not Moqtada," he added. [complete article]

See also, Offensive operations halted in Najaf (WP).

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Many of nation's Shiites taking attack personally
By Mike Dorning, Chicago Tribune (via Yahoo), August 13, 2004

At the Al-Sadiq Bakery, where the hearth is decorated with a blue-tile verse from the Koran, hot air blasted from the oven Thursday and the staff seethed.

A few hours earlier, they had heard that U.S. forces had begun an assault on followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr who have holed up at a shrine in Najaf. Bombs fell in the center of the ancient holy city, and there were reports of rising numbers of civilian casualties in Najaf and elsewhere.

U.S. military commanders said they would stop short of the Imam Ali shrine, one of Islam's holiest places. And they promised that only Iraqi security forces would enter the mosque if there is an attack on the holy site.

But the owner of this small neighborhood bakery, Haidar Abbos, was not mollified. The 39-year-old Shiite's thoughts turned back more than a decade, when Saddam Hussein attacked the mosque while suppressing another Shiite rebellion, after the first Persian Gulf war.

"Saddam made mass graves in 1991," Abbos fumed. "Now the Americans are making mass graves in 2004, filled with Shiites again." [complete article]

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U.S. tactics seen raising Iraqi cleric's support
Reuters (via MSNBC), August 12, 2004

The Shiite merchants around Baghdad's Kazimain Mosque have historically opposed the ways of Moqtada al-Sadr and his father, but they condemned the U.S. offensive against the cleric and his followers Thursday.

Iraqis are becoming appalled by the U.S. use of bombers, tanks, helicopters, thousands of Marines and the surrounding of the Imam Ali shrine in a battle to dislodge Moqtada's lightly armed militiamen from the holy city of Najaf. They say such tactics will not help stabilize Iraq.

"If the United States kills Moqtada it will be a tragedy for Iraq and the whole of Shiism. I do not particularly like some of his criminal followers, but bloodletting should stop," said Mohammad Aziz, who imports textiles from Asia.

"The Americans do not realize that the Iraqis they are massacring are our cousins and relatives. They must use their brains. Sadr also has to realize that even Saddam could not fight them (the United States)." [complete article]

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Update -- Kidnapped UK journalist released (BBC)

Iraqi militants threaten to kill British hostage
Reuters, August 13, 2004

Iraqi militants kidnapped a British journalist in the southern city of Basra and threatened to kill him if U.S. forces did not pull out of the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf within 24 hours.

The kidnappers instructed a freelance cameraman working for Reuters to film the scene, which showed a hooded militant standing next to kidnapped journalist James Brandon from Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"We demand the American forces withdraw from Najaf within 24 hours or we will kill this British hostage," the militant is heard saying.

Witnesses said gunmen seized Brandon from a hotel in mainly Shi'ite Basra overnight.

"I'm a journalist, I just write about what is happening in Iraq ... " said Brandon, who looked shaken and was barechested with a bandage around his head.

A spokesman for Iraq's radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for Brandon's release. Sadr and many of his followers have been holed up in holy sites in Najaf after nine days of fighting with U.S. forces. [complete article]

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How a Zionist hawk grew his new dovish feathers
By Joseph Berger, New York Times, August 13, 2004

Ehud Olmert, Israel's deputy prime minister, belongs to this country's right-wing aristocracy.

He was born on a settlement in British-administered Palestine that was named after Vladimir Jabotinsky, the uncompromising Zionist leader whose ideas of an expansive Israel were mother's milk to young Ehud. His father was a leader of the Irgun, the most die-hard of the underground militias that fought the British, and was later appointed by Menachem Begin to head the movement of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

So it was no surprise that Ehud, as a young member of the Parliament some 31 years ago, advocated the building of new settlements by religious groups.

But now Mr. Olmert has made a 180-degree turn. For the past half year, he has been leading the task of dismantling the 21 settlements in Gaza, four in the West Bank and many others to follow. [...]

He realized that Israel faced a choice "painful as it may be between a greater Israel or the Jewish nature of our state." With a sharply higher Palestinian birthrate, the demographic reality is that Palestinians will outnumber Jews in the greater Israel that includes the occupied territories within a few years, something Moshe Shahal, a former Labor Party minister, said he had warned Likud about as early as the 1980's. Israel, Mr. Olmert said, would then have to decide whether to lose its democratic character by making Palestinians citizens without a vote or lose its Jewish character as a state.

Mr. Olmert said he did not want to live in a nondemocratic country. So he began drawing the map of a narrower Israel. He decided the principle he would use would be "maximum Jews and minimum Arabs." [complete article]

Sharon's office furious over Olmert's pullout remarks
By Aluf Benn, Nadav Shragai and Gideon Alon, Haaretz, August 13, 2004

Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert spoke yesterday about wide-scale evacuations of West Bank settlements, drawing an irate response from the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Officials there were "extremely unhappy to hear the comments." Olmert yesterday visited the settlements of Nili and Na'aleh in the northern West Bank, telling residents "we are heading into a disengagement plan that includes the evacuation of four Samaria settlements. This process is critical to reducing friction with the international community. We will have to evacuate more settlements in the future for this reason.

"This isn't just, but it is necessary in order to remain a democratic Jewish state. The United States is virtually our only friend, but even the U.S. supports retreat to almost the 1967 borders." [complete article]

Comment -- Ehud Olmert might best be described as a pragmatic racist. His principle, "maximum Jews and minimum Arabs," makes it clear that he sees no inherent contradiction in the expression "Jewish democracy." What he and others who think alike are unwilling to acknowledge is that democracy is an intrinsically secular political principle. Allow the possibility that political rights can be assigned on the basis of religious or ancestral affiliations and the foundation for democracy has been ripped away. To grudgingly accept that Arab Israelis, so long as they remain a minority, should enjoy the same rights as Jewish Israelis, is the same as saying that their political freedom is contingent on their inability to exercise political power.

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Shias call for split from Baghdad
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, August 13, 2004

Shia leaders in southern Iraq yesterday called for a breakaway movement from the central government in Baghdad to protest against the heavy-handed approach to the insurgency.

As the health ministry said that at least 172 Iraqis had died and more than 600 had been injured since Wednesday in fighting across southern Iraq, at least two prominent Shia figures called for the separation of some southern governorates from Baghdad.

Basra's deputy governor, Salam Uda al-Maliki, said he backed a breakaway as the interim government was "responsible for the Najaf clashes."

In Nassiriya, meanwhile, Aws al-Khafaji, the representative of Moqtada al-Sadr, echoed the call. "We have had enough of Baghdad's brutality," he said. "The authorities in Nassiriya will no longer cooperate with Baghdad." He said it was a response to "the crimes committed against Iraqis by an illegal and unelected government, and occupation forces." [complete article]

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Shiite Muslims condemn U.S. for attacks on holy city
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, August 13, 2004

In Iran, a hard-line political party and Revolutionary Guards urged people to take part in a rally after Friday Prayer to "show their hatred toward inhumane acts of the United States."

In Cairo, the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Mussa, warned that any violation of sacred Muslim places could have "dangerous consequences," and he urged "all the warring parties to halt immediately military operations under way in Najaf to allow the evacuation of the dead and wounded." In Lebanon, a major Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, blamed the interim Iraqi government for permitting the offensive.

"It is the responsibility of all to take on the burden of expelling the occupiers from Iraq through any means possible," the ayatollah said in a statement issued in Beirut.

In India, where there are about 27 million Shiites, clerics and prominent Shiites said they had organized anti-American demonstrations, and some accused the United States of deliberately endangering holy sites in Najaf, Karbala and other Iraqi holy places. "This is a very grave situation for the sentiments of Shia community anywhere in the world," said Shamim Kazim, president of the All India Shia conference, a Shiite organization based in New Delhi.

"We will oppose this in whatever the manner we can," he said. "Even at the time of beginning of the war, the sanctity of Najaf and Karbala was safeguarded. But, God forbid, if something happens to these two places, then the whole Shia community, anywhere in the world, irrespective of the country, will react seriously."

Molvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, a Shiite religious leader in the disputed area of Kashmir adjoining Pakistan, said the Americans were "totally hellbent to destroy the Muslim sacred places." [complete article]

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Inside the shrine, wounded return from bloody battle
By Rory McCarthy at the Imam Ali mosque, Najaf, The Guardian, August 13, 2004

As the day wore on, more and more injured young men wrapped in bandages were being carried across the sun-baked tiles of the courtyard in the Imam Ali shrine.

In one alcove in the turquoise-tiled wall was a small makeshift hospital with two metal beds and a stack of drugs and bandages. On the far side of the building, behind a large wooden door, was another room, now a crowded ward chilled by two air coolers. Blood-soaked clothes floated in a metal bath outside.

For seven days the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, the rebel Iraqi Shia cleric, had been fighting the Americans on the edge of the holy city of Najaf. Yesterday, on the eighth day, the Americans finally advanced towards the narrow streets of the old city. The push began before 7am with a wave of heavy bombing, then dozens of tanks and Humvees drove in, blocking roads and fighting off the rag-tag militia.

The people of the old city had long ago fled, leaving their streets controlled by small, nervous groups from Mr Sadr's militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi.

This uprising, the second in five months, has delivered the most serious challenge yet to the new Iraqi government. Like the US military, Baghdad wants the militia crushed. But if they blunder into the heart of the old city and attack the Imam Ali shrine - Mr Sadr's headquarters and one of the holiest sites in the Shia faith - they risk increasing the size of the rebellion exponentially. [complete article]

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Fatwa forbids Iraq forces from helping U.S. troops
Middle East Online, August 12, 2004

Iraq's top Sunni Muslim body on Thursday warned the security forces against supporting the US military in the fight at the holy city of Najaf.

The Association of Muslim Scholars issued a fatwa, or religious edict, forbidding Muslims from offering any support to the forces of "occupation."

"It is forbidden for any Muslim to cooperate with the occupation forces and killing their own brothers and fellow citizens," it said.

"Iraqi police and members of civil defence (national guards) should fear God's punishment and wrath of the people as they battle with the occupation and participate in the shedding of their brothers' blood."

Calling the Najaf fight as an act of "genocide" by the US forces, the association said the clashes in the holy city were against both sharia Islamic law and civil laws. [complete article]

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Iraqi officials resign over U.S. 'aggression'
Aljazeera, August 12, 2004

Sixteen of Najaf's 30-member provincial council resigned in protest at the US-led assault on the Najaf as fighting between the Mahdi Army loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and US occupation forces entered its eighth day.

"We have decided to resign due to what has befallen Najaf and all of Iraq from the hasty US invasion and bombardment of Najaf," the council said in a statement to the press.

The council's resignations came several hours after the deputy governor of Najaf resigned in protest against the US offensive on the city.

"I resign from my post denouncing all the US terrorist operations that they are doing against this holy city," Jawdat Kadam Najim al-Kuraishi, deputy governor of Najaf, said on Thursday morning. [complete article]

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U.S. says Iraq hostilities not covered by Olympic truce
Agence France Presse, August 12, 2004

The United States said that its military operations in Iraq are not covered by the so-called Olympic truce that it signed on to last year at the United Nations.

On the eve of the opening of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the State Department said US soldiers now fighting in Iraq would not be bound by the terms of the truce that calls for all nations in conflict to observe a traditional ceasefire during the Games.

"I reject the notion that somehow we are violating any Olympic principles by what's going on in Iraq," deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said. "I don't think there's a connection between the truce and what's going on in Iraq."

On November 3, 2003, the United States was among 190 of 191 UN General Assembly members to co-sponsor and adopt a Greek-submitted resolution entitled "Building a Peaceful and Better World Through Sport and the Olympic Ideals," the key component of which was the truce.

The resolution "urges the member states to observe, within the framework of the Charter of the United Nations, the Olympic Truce, individually and collectively, during the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad to be held in Athens, Greece, from 13 to 29 August 2004."

Perhaps ironically, the US ambassador to the United Nations at the time was John Negroponte who is now Washington's top diplomat in Iraq, the lone UN member not to sign up to the truce because it was then under a US-led occupation government and not represented at the world body. [complete article]

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The Post on WMDs: An inside story
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, August 12, 2004

Days before the Iraq war began, veteran Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus put together a story questioning whether the Bush administration had proof that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.

But he ran into resistance from the paper's editors, and his piece ran only after assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, who was researching a book about the drive toward war, "helped sell the story," Pincus recalled. "Without him, it would have had a tough time getting into the paper." Even so, the article was relegated to Page A17.

"We did our job but we didn't do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder," Woodward said in an interview. "We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier" than widely believed. "Those are exactly the kind of statements that should be published on the front page."

As violence continues in postwar Iraq and U.S. forces have yet to discover any WMDs, some critics say the media, including The Washington Post, failed the country by not reporting more skeptically on President Bush's contentions during the run-up to war. [complete article]

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Unnamed sources: essential or overused?
By Randy Dotinga, Christian Science Monitor, August 12, 2004

To judge by America's top newspapers, the nation's capital is full of powerful and important people who live in dread of seeing their names in print. You know these folks - they're those mysterious "senior administration officials," "highly placed sources" and "government staffers familiar with the investigation."

Further down the journalistic food chain, smaller newspapers routinely cloak the identities of everyone from the police chief to the guy who thinks the Fourth of July parade was a lot better last year.

But even as reporters rally this week behind a Time Magazine reporter who's fighting to keep his sources private, there's a growing perception that the use of anonymous sources has run amok. Amid journalism scandals and hand-wringing about media credibility, editors across the county are evaluating their policies on the sources. The influential Washington Post and The New York Times issued new guidelines on their use earlier this year; one study found that 40 percent of Times A-section stories in December 2003 featured unnamed sources. "The problem is quite serious," says Louis Hodges, a professor emeritus of journalism ethics at Washington & Lee University in Virginia.

But few, if any, journalists are calling for a complete ban. After all, a still-unnamed source famously guided Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein through the thicket of Nixonian wrongdoing. [complete article]

Comment -- Time's Matthew Cooper is facing jail time for resisting a subpoena. The prospect that he will be canonized for his stalwart defense of one of the most sacred principles of journalism (protecting your sources) is leading many journalists to rally to his support, express their admiration for his dedication and no doubt envy this boost to his reputation. What fewer journalists seem interested in talking about is their role as servants of the government.

When Robert Novak identified Joseph Wilson's wife as CIA operative Valerie Plame, he was acting as a messenger dutifully delivering an "unofficial" statement. The information came from sources who chose anonymity not simply because they needed to protect themselves (even though of course they clearly did), but because their anonymity served to protect the government. Anonymity can, as need dictates, so easily mutate into deniability.

Journalists have in truth prostituted themselves by becoming indispensable links in the process through which they oblige an administration by providing the means by which it can test and modify its message. Privileged access and the perpetual promise of a scoop so easily hooks reporters' greed and vanity that the deeper they penetrate inside the bastions of power, the more beholden they become to these precious unnamed sources who dangle in front of them yet another fix.

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Attacking neo-cons from the Right
By Jim Lobe,, August 5, 2004

Why did the Bush administration invade Iraq?

Most left-wing critics – epitomized perhaps by Michael Moore's blockbuster documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11– have rather reflexively argued that the economic factor, particularly the interests of Big Oil or "the ruling class," must have been decisive.

But many right-wing critics, who know the ruling class from the inside, lean to a different explanation, in part by pointing out that Big Oil, to the extent it took any position at all on the war, opposed it. As evidence, they cite the unusual public opposition to a unilateral invasion voiced quite publicly by such eminent, oil and ruling class-related influentials as the national security adviser under former President George H.W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft, and his secretary of state, James Baker.

While they do not deny that some economic interests – construction giants, like Halliburton and Bechtel, and high-tech arms companies – might have given the push to war some momentum, the decisive factor in their view was ideological, and the ideology, neoconservative.

Powered by both Jewish and non-Jewish neoconservatives centered in the offices of Pentagon Chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney and by White House deference to the solidly pro-Zionist Christian Right, the neoconservative worldview – dedicated to the security of Israel and the primacy of military power in a world of good and evil – emerged after 9/11 as the driving force in the foreign policy of current President George W Bush, as well as the dominant narrative in a cowed and complacent mass media. [complete article]

Bush tells U.S. Jewish voters: You've got a friend
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, August 12, 2004

President George W. Bush appealed directly to the American Jewish community this week, in a glossy booklet sent to American Jewish organizational leaders that highlights his good relations with the community, its leadership, and with Israel.

The appeal is considered another step in Republican efforts to win over Jewish votes from the Democratic party. [complete article]

Comment -- Although Retired General Tommy Franks acknowledged this week that the threat of a missile attack on Israel was one of the justifications for a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, the defense of Israel has not been among the Bush administration's most frequently cited reasons for the war.

As justifications have been modified to fit more readily with the facts they have also frequently been reduced to mindless slogans such as the one now favored by Franks himself, "we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here."

("Them" is of course the ubiquitous terrorists. No one bothers questioning the implication that Iraq -- that place "over there" -- is home turf for the terrorists, even though they're usually referrred to as "foreigners".)

The over-there-not-over-here line plays well on FOX but it doesn't explain why, in the run up to the war, there was actually only one country where the government and most of the people saw eye to eye on the issue of striking Saddam.

In late February 2003, when most Americans believed that Saddam not only possessed weapons of mass destruction but also had a role in 9/11, 66% of Americans polled favored military action against Iraq, but even then, only after UN weapons inspectors had been given more time. At the same time, in Israel, over 77% of those polled supported war.

While hundreds of thousands of Americans protested against imminent war, and around the world marchers took to the streets in their millions, in Israel there was little opposition. Pollsters there noted that "supporters [of military action against Iraq] have a majority among all the parties and in all the sectors of the Jewish public, without distinctions of ethnicity, religiosity, and the like." The strength of this support was attributed to the widespread belief that Saddam had the capability to use WMD against Israel and that Iraq posed a strategic threat.

Though it is clear that most Israelis believed that it would serve their interests if America toppled Saddam, the justification for war that resonated with most Americans was the threat to America posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction along with an implied connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks.

Now that Saddam is out of power, President Bush is more popular in Israel than he is at home.

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Najaf battle a crucial test for Allawi
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 13, 2004

"The attack in Najaf is a strategic one, with limited US costs, against Sadr's ragtag militia that doesn't enjoy local support," says Toby Dodge, a Middle East expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. "Sadr is a symptom of a security vacuum in Iraq. The US military does not have enough forces on the ground to take control of the country. Even if you defeat Sadr, that still leaves a majority of the population living under the control of militias and insurgents."

What's at stake is not just the control of Najaf, but perhaps Iraq's territorial integrity. Key territories in Iraq are controlled by armed groups opposed to central government control from Baghdad. Kurdish militias in the north are vying for control of the crucial oil field town of Kirkuk; Sunni insurgents, many of them loyal to Saddam Hussein, control much of the center and the Northwest, including the transit link to Jordan. And now, as Shiite militias in the south and Baghdad turn to armed confrontation, Prime Minister Allawi, a Shiite, has chosen to exert power where it seems most likely the government will prevail. [complete article]

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Gaza, land of lost lives
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, August 12, 2004

["Death in Gaza" airs tonight on HBO at 9.30 ET/PT]

... perhaps it's a good thing to have a movie that, despite its careful tone and balance, is ultimately devoted to Palestinian suffering. American news organizations have presented the conflict in this region primarily as one between democracy and terrorism, which is in part true, but is also a news filter with which Americans can quickly sympathize.

But the conflict is more than that. It is a conflict between prosperity and poverty, and between two peoples who have, for a century at least, been fighting a bare-knuckled battle over land that both claim, a conflict with immense shame on both sides. It is a conflict that Israel now fights with tanks and jet fighters and billions of dollars of assistance from the United States. Which, regardless of who is right, death by death, battle by battle, and in the long run of history, makes it ever more our conflict.

"Death in Gaza" makes clear what is happening on one side of the battle lines, the misery and zealotry. It is not the whole story, which the filmmakers acknowledge. But because the death of boys like Salem is increasingly attributed, throughout the world, to American support of Israel, it is essential that Americans watch this film, even if getting the other half of the story means going elsewhere. [complete article]

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U.S. marines take center of Najaf, protests erupt
By Khaled Farhan, Reuters, August 12, 2004

U.S. marines backed by tanks and aircraft seized the heart of the holy Iraqi city of Najaf on Thursday in a major assault on Shi'ite rebels, but they kept out of a site sacred to millions of Shi'ites around the world.

Warplanes and Apache helicopters pounded militia positions in a cemetery near the Imam Ali Mosque, igniting protests in at least two other cities as an uprising that has killed hundreds across southern and central Iraq entered its second week.

The assault against the Mehdi Army of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and growing anger among the majority Shi'ite community could spark a firestorm for interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi should holy sites be damaged or the death toll escalate. [complete article]

Comment -- As news reports now focus on details of the unfolding assault, it's worth keeping in mind that though this battle might lead to a much broader Shiite uprising, the trigger was apparently not pulled by Moqtada al-Sadr. Michael Young, writing for Lebanon's Daily Star, points out that the current campaign to stamp out the Mehdi Army is part of a broader strategy through which Iyad Allawi is attempting to consolidate his power as the uncontested Shiite political leader. It can hardly be coincidental that arrest warrants for Ahmad and Salem Chalabi were issued, Ayatollah Ali Sistani left Najaf and a final assault against al-Sadr has been launched, all within the space of a few days. Allawi's efforts, if successful, would moreover further marginalize the influence of Iran.

The image of a tough Iraqi leader capable of crushing an insurgency is no doubt very appealing to Washington as it would reinforce the perception (at least in America) that Iraq is now being governed by Iraqis and thus seemingly improve the prospects of American troops returning home. Nevertheless, the calculations of power politics almost always fail through the mismeasure of popular sentiment and the unpredictable consequences of the unforeseen. Allawi, Chalabi, Bush, and Rumsfeld see themselves as the key players, yet as events unfold no one can antipate what may be spawned by one captain's fear, the haphazard target of a single mortar shell, or televised images of American troops and tanks close to the Imam Ali Mosque.

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Sadr plays to power of martyrdom
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 12, 2004

Whatever one thinks of his politics, Moqtada al-Sadr is a man who understands the power of symbols.

By holing up inside the Shrine of Imam Ali - tomb of the Shiite faith's supreme leader after the prophet Muhammad - and promising to fight until his very last drop of blood, Mr. Sadr is trying to position himself in a long line of powerful populist Shiite martyrs. When he gives sermons at the mosque in nearby Kufa, he always dresses in white, a color that Muslims bury their dead in. It's as if he's saying, "I'm already dead."

Now, Sadr may have put himself into a classic win-win scenario. If he is killed while fighting in such a holy site, he would become a martyr, drawing thousands of Shiites to his cause. If American and Iraqi forces pull back from a final assault on Najaf - and indeed, intense negotiations have been conducted since the beginning - and create another truce with Sadr, Sadr may be seen by many as a man who stood up to the Americans. [complete article]

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Savior or thug? Iyad Allawi may ultimately prove to be both
By Michael Young, Daily Star, August 12, 2004

[Shiite cleric Moqtada al-]Sadr did himself little good by saying on Monday, "I am an enemy of America, and America is my enemy until the last day of judgment" - this despite the fact that US officers in Iraq had publicly expressed doubts that Sadr was the instigator of the violence [in Najaf]. Yet both Allawi and the US realize that now is the time to break the back of Sadr's Mehdi Army. The Iraqi prime minister in particular is gambling that he will be able to get away with this and begin a process of consolidating state authority, but also his own.

This last ambition was obvious in Allawi's decision to politically marginalize both Ahmad and Salem Chalabi on obviously spurious grounds. After all, if the men were guilty, the accusations against them could have awaited their return from Iran and London, respectively, to ensure they would be arrested. Allawi's mini-purge was probably motivated as much by the threat Chalabi posed to his authority in Washington, where the two men have been engaged for months in a political and public relations brawl, as inside Iraq.

Coincidentally or not, Allawi's simultaneous campaigns against Sadr and Chalabi may, if they are successful, eliminate two Shiite irritants (who have been cooperating with one another). Given that Allawi is himself a Shiite, and one with networks in the old Baath Party and military apparatus, this would conveniently position him as the trustworthiest Shiite interlocutor with the Sunnis and the leftovers of Saddam Hussein's state. Little wonder that one of Chalabi's first goals was to dissolve the pillars of the Baath order - the army, the party and the security services. His rivalry with the recycled Baathists in the opposition, particularly Allawi, demanded it.

For the moment, Allawi has won. And he's done so by playing on a powerful triple American urge to derive legitimacy for the US venture in Iraq from Allawi's government, reimpose stability and show the American electorate some light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel. This has given the prime minister considerable wriggling room to take the fight to his enemies, reintroduce harsh legislation, including recently the death penalty, and centralize his power. Allawi has no intention of turning into another Hamid Karzai. [complete article]

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Buyer beware
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, August 11, 2004

The Iranians make no secret of their many interests in Iraq. One is to get reparations for the devastating eight-year war Saddam waged against them in the 1980s. After the dictator's first appearance before the tribunal that Salem Chalabi organized, the Iranians approached Salem and asked him to come to Tehran to help organize the evidence they wanted to present against the old regime. According to a source close to the tribunal, Allawi first approved, then rejected this idea, which could have been used to improve relations. Instead, Allawi and the Americans decided to go on the offensive.

Meanwhile Ahmad Chalabi has grown ever closer to Iran. One of the Bush administration's unofficial accusations against him is that he leaked critical intelligence to the Iranians informing them that an important code had been broken, after learning this tidbit from a drunken U.S. intelligence officer. Chalabi denies the story, and calls it wildly implausible. "The Iranians," says his aide, "have been doing subterfuge and espionage since before the United States existed. They're not such nincompoops."

What Chalabi has been doing is hanging out in Najaf. Chalabi played a key role negotiating the defunct truce that ended the fighting with Moqtada al-Sadr during June and July. At the same time, he's been trying to win the support of Al-Sadr's followers for himself. "He's reaching out to the young, poor, disaffected and dispossessed," claims his aide. "If you can mobilize them and bring them into the system, this is the majority of the Shia, and the Shia are the majority of the country." [complete article]

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Beside the ruined Valley of Peace, Sadr's men wait for martyrdom
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, August 12, 2004

Most who take up arms for the 30-year-old Mr Sadr are young and poor. A minority, like Ali, are also well educated.

They revile Saddam Hussein, who spent his time as leader persecuting them, but their eagerness to fight now is largely born out of frustration that the war and occupation has brought little material change to their lives.

Added to this is their avowed religious conviction. "I came for the defence of Islam," Ali said. He and the other 20 or so fighters in his platoon describe themselves as an "Islamic resistance".

The other Shia parties hold little appeal for the fighters. "They just use Islamic slogans to cover up what they are doing," said Ali. "Syed Moqtada is a nationalist and he demands the right of the Iraqi people and the rights of the poor. He is the only one who didn't betray the people and cooperate with the Americans." [complete article]

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Iran won't abandon atomic technology drive - Khatami
By Parinoosh Arami, Reuters (via Yahoo), August 11, 2004

Iran declared on Wednesday that threats to send its nuclear case to the U.N. Security Council would not make it drop its quest for peaceful nuclear technology.

The statement by President Mohammad Khatami came after U.S. officials expressed growing confidence in recent days that international resolve was hardening to deal with Iran's nuclear program and report it to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.

Iran has angered Britain, Germany and France -- who have sought to broker a diplomatic solution to Tehran's nuclear case -- by re-starting parts of its nuclear program and refusing to abandon efforts to master uranium enrichment. [complete article]

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Findings could hurt U.S. effort on Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, August 11, 2004

U.N. nuclear inspectors have determined that traces of enriched uranium found in Iran came into the country on contaminated equipment bought through middlemen and dealers, some of whom were connected to Pakistan's nuclear black market, according to experts and diplomats working on the investigation.

The findings do not rule out the possibility that Iran may be concealing a weapons program, but they do lend support to the country's contention that it unknowingly imported tainted equipment.

U.S. officials have cited the residue as proof that Iran was enriching uranium or importing the material as part of a program to build a nuclear bomb, but the new findings could complicate U.S. efforts to muster international pressure on the Islamic republic over its nuclear program. [complete article]

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U.S. planning assault in Najaf
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, August 11, 2004

Solemn-faced U.S. Marines and soldiers prepared for what appeared to be a decisive battle for Najaf, the holiest city in Iraq, while the supreme leader of neighboring Iran warned that American combat operations in Najaf constitute "one of the darkest crimes of humanity."

"The United States is slaughtering the people of one of the holiest Islamic cities and the Muslim world and the Iraqi nation will not stand by," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an address broadcast on Iranian state television, according to the official government news agency.

Najaf is home to the shrine of Imam Ali, the most revered saint to Shiite Muslims. Shiites constitute a majority in both Iraq and Iran, a theocracy where Khamanei holds ultimate power. The last time U.S. forces were in combat in Najaf, in April and May, a group in Iran began collecting names of volunteers for suicide bombings aimed at the Americans.

"These crimes are a dark blemish which will never be wiped from the face of America. They commit these crimes and shamelessly talk of democracy," said Khamanei. "Shame has no place in their vocabulary." [complete article]

Ongoing fighting threatens security, political stability in Iraq
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, August 10, 2004

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in a statement Tuesday night issued a stiff warning to al-Sadr's men - referring to them as "gangs" - to lay down their arms.

If they refused, he said, "in response to these criminal and destructive acts, your government has decided to hit back with an iron fist" with "courageous security services to teach these criminal outlaws the lesson they deserve."

Allawi's statement said that the shutdown of oil pipelines in the south, reportedly because of al-Sadr-related violence, had cut the country's oil export by 50 percent, costing Iraq $30 million a day.

It was unclear how Allawi would enforce the threat, with his authority facing widespread challenge.

A curfew imposed by Allawi's government Monday on the restive Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City was ignored by most. An al-Sadr spokesman reacted by calling for a curfew across all of Baghdad Tuesday, a demand that seemed to have more effect on the streets of the nation's capital, which were noticeably quieter than usual.

The powerful Shiite Muslim political bloc that brokered a peace deal between al-Sadr and, by proxy, the Americans in June has split, members said. On one side of the Shiite house are Allawi and his allies, including national security adviser Mouwaffaq al Rubaie. On the other is a group of leaders, many of them left out of the interim government, who have taken charge in the current negotiations with al-Sadr, undercutting Allawi's role as a Shiite statesmen. [complete article]

Cemetery fight haunts some U.S. soldiers
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, August 11, 2004

In the battle to control one of the world's largest graveyards, U.S. Marines and soldiers say they are coping with a lot, including lingering regret. The vast cemetery in Najaf is sacred to Shiite Muslims, perhaps 2 million of whom lie buried in miles of desert adjoining the shrine of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad.

Soldiers involved in the fighting described how many of the most recent graves are marked by photos, which crumble when U.S. forces shell the cemetery walls to reach the militiamen hiding within.

"Wives, daughters, husbands," said Sgt. Hector Guzman, 28, of the 1st Cavalry Division's 5th Regiment. "You just know you're destroying that tomb."

The Houston native shook his head. "It doesn't feel right sometimes."

"We feel bad that we're destroying, that we're desecrating graves and such," added Staff Sgt. Thomas Gentry, 29, of Altoona, Pa. "That's not what we want to do." [complete article]

Sadr forces push terror offensive
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 11, 2004

With American forces pressing ever closer to the holy sites of Najaf, militia of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are changing their military tactics, moving from defense to offense.

Over the past few days, Mahdi Army fighters have taken their fight deep into Baghdad, firing mortars and rockets at Iraqi government offices, coalition military positions, and even at living quarters where independent civilian contractors and journalists live.

In Basra on Monday, Mr. Sadr's men attacked a main pipeline, stopping the flow of oil. Repairs are under way, but the disruption is significant: About 90 percent of Iraq's exported oil moves through the southern port city.

By moving from guerrilla street warfare on their own turf to offensive attacks against the government, the Shiite militia may be signaling that it has abandoned hope of peaceful negotiation. [complete article]

High stakes showdown in Najaf
By Tony Karon,, August 10, 2004

The continuing violence on two fronts in Iraq forces the Allawi government to rely on U.S. military power to enforce its own writ, running the risk of leaving Allawi isolated and largely dependent on foreign backing. Such a scenario is as close as Iraq could get to Vietnam, where the U.S. waged war in defense of a government increasingly bereft of support and legitimacy among its own citizenry. But Allawi may also believe he has no option but to risk the consequences of an offensive to stamp out the Sadrist challenge if he is to establish the authority of the central government, and that delay would only make the task more difficult.

Of course, Vietnam is much in the U.S. headlines these days, although largely as the leitmotif of John Kerry's presidential campaign. But save for promising that he'd give more support to the troops in Iraq and spinning a fantasy about more foreign troops arriving to help out -- serious analysts would be hard-pressed to identify a single country whose decision over deployments in Iraq would change as a result of a Kerry victory -- there's very little daylight between Kerry and President Bush over what to do next in Iraq. Much as the candidates can disagree over how the decisions were made to go in, they share a commitment to "stay the course," suggesting that Iraq has already become what Bush administration officials call "a generational commitment," regardless of the choice American voters will make in December. [complete article]

Comment -- Ever since Samuel P. Huntington came up with the phrase "clash of civilizations" it has been reviled by liberals, yet in Najaf right now there definitely appears to be a clash, if not of whole civilizations, then at least between two groups of men, each representing a radically different view of death. On one side are armor-clad American soldiers with state-of-the-art weaponry facing their opponents in a human shooting gallery. On the other side scurry ill-equiped men whose fears are tempered or even erased by the promise of martyrdom. In as much as the two groups represent two outlooks they can perhaps best be thought of not as Islamic and Western but rather as one that is death-obsessed and the other death-denying. That the clash should be centered in one of the world's largest cememteries inevitably charges the battle with additional symbolism. An American committment to avoid damaging Najaf's shrine of Imam Ali will now count for little as reactions to images of US troops desecrating Muslim graves reverberate throughout the Middle East.

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From London to Iraq - the latest recruits to the Madhi army
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, August 11, 2004

The two young men sitting cross-legged in a small room off the courtyard of the Imam Ali shrine looked like any of the fighters around them.

Their beards were short and neat, their feet bare and their dress the simple dishdasha, the Arab robe. They were deferential to their militia commander and spoke idealistically of defeating the military might of America in Iraq's holy city of Najaf.

But both were from London, the first Britons known to have joined the Mahdi army, one of the most prominent fighting groups in the Islamic insurgency that has gripped Iraq in the year since the invasion.

Though the two men were born in Iraq - one in Najaf, the other in Baghdad - their families took them to England as children. They went to school and college in the capital, picked up strong London accents and British passports and finally returned to the country of their birth for the first time on Monday.

Their sole aim: to fight a "jihad" with a ragtag Shia militia loyal to the young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. [complete article]

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How much of a hack is Bush's CIA nominee?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, August 10, 2004

It is extremely doubtful at this late date that the [Senate Intelligence] committee would -- or physically could -- hold confirmation hearings before the November election. Even if hearings were somehow rushed (say, for "national security" reasons), and if Goss won the vote, he would be essentially powerless at least for a while: Any big changes he might order would be ignored until after the election, because everyone at Langley would know that Goss would get the boot if Kerry won.

So, why is Bush nominating Goss now? One possible answer: to create the impression that he's moving forward -- that he's doing something -- in the war against terrorism. The president took a similar step last week when he announced with great fanfare the creation of a national intelligence director, as recommended by the 9/11 commission—but without giving this NID any of the statutory powers that the commission said would be needed to make the post meaningful.

Putting Goss' name on the table now -- even though he probably couldn't become the CIA director for at least three months -- has the same effect. Meanwhile, news stories will lay out Goss' credentials. Colleagues will attest to his seriousness. Goss himself will be accorded high respect, his words (many of them no doubt in praise of Team Bush) widely reported in national media. [complete article]

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Naeem's arrest 'Exposure jeopardised plan to nab suspects'
News International, August 11, 2004

The disclosure of the arrest of, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an alleged al-Qaeda computer expert jeopardised Pakistani efforts to capture more members of Osama bin Laden’s network, government and security officials said on Tuesday.

Two senior Pakistani officials said initial reports in Western media last week of the capture of 25-year-old Pakistani computer engineer had enabled other al-Qaeda suspects to get away, but declined to say whether the US officials were to blame for the leak. "Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardised our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away," one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.

"The exposure of Naeem’s name proved a blow to the investigations," a senior government official said, on condition of anonymity. The arrests also prompted a series of raids in Britain and uncovered past al-Qaeda surveillance in the United States. Reports said on Tuesday Naeem Noor Khan was trying to get into Canada when he was arrested. His application for a visitor’s visa that would have allowed him to stay in Canada for six months was pending at the time of his arrest, the Globe and Mail and National Post newspapers reported on Tuesday. [complete article]

Leak of Qaeda suspect name criticized
By Charlie Savage and Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, August 10, 2004

A key Democratic senator yesterday demanded that the Bush administration explain how the name of a valuable Al Qaeda double agent appeared in the press last week, adding to a bipartisan chorus raising questions about an unusual amount of sensitive intelligence that has recently been released about the terrorist network.

Those expressing concern included members of the administration itself. Yesterday, aides to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pointed to a little-noticed remark he made in a speech Friday warning of the dangers of providing too much information about intelligence findings.

Over the last week, administration sources were quoted as revealing details about uncovered terrorist cells in Pakistan and Britain and alleged plots to blow up key financial institutions, kill top congressional leaders, destroy the US Capitol, and use tourist helicopters in New York City for attacks.

The stream of information has generated largely flattering stories about the Bush administration's efforts against terrorism -- including ''exclusive" cover stories in two of the three major newsweeklies -- but also prompted complaints that the White House was jeopardizing national security by revealing too much about its undercover operations. [complete article]

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Why Israel probably won't attack Iran
By Mahan Abedin, Daily Star, August 8, 2004

Israel likely does have a plan to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities in the event they go "critical," and it is likelier still that there are many in Israel who would want to deal with the problem in a manner reminiscent of the destruction of Iraq's Osirak reactor. Notwithstanding the plausibility of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, this remains improbable for four reasons.

First, there are no solid assurances that a strike would do grievous damage to Iranian facilities and, perhaps, set Iran back at least a decade in its attempt to develop a nuclear infrastructure. Iran has developed robust defensive capabilities in recent years against any potential attack.

Moreover, striking at Iranian facilities poses serious logistical and geopolitical problems for Israel. Analogies with the Osirak facility are misleading: Israel's F-15I jets would have to fly much further to Iran. According to reports, the Israelis may also deploy commandos on the ground to complement the firepower and precision of their aircraft. It would be a difficult task indeed to penetrate the Iranian mainland and approach the heavily guarded facilities. Indeed it is worth remembering that the last time a foreign power attempted a raid of this kind was back in 1980, when the American plan to rescue its embassy hostages ended in failure. [complete article]

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Windfalls of war
Post-war contractors ranked by total contract value in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 through July 1, 2004

Center for Public Integrity

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Tommy Franks claims blame for Bush remark
By Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press (via Seattle PI), August 9, 2004

Retired Gen. Tommy Franks tried to take the blame Monday for President Bush's much-criticized comments declaring an end to major combat in Iraq more than a year ago.

"That's my fault, that George W. Bush said what he said on the first of May of last year, just because I asked him to," said Franks, former commander of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Less than two months after the invasion of Iraq, Bush flew to a U.S. aircraft carrier and declared an end to major combat with a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" in the background.

The event, Bush's words and the banner have been repeatedly criticized and mocked since that first day of May 2003. The Iraq occupation turned more violent, American deaths continued to mount and U.S. forces failed to find weapons of mass destruction, a main rationale for the war.

"I wanted to get the phase of military operation over as quickly as I could, because a lot of countries on this planet had said as soon as that major stuff is over, we'll come in and help with all of the peacekeeping," Franks said. [complete article]

Comment -- Is Franks just a loyal trooper or does he hope to get a place in a second Bush administration? This faux mea culpa doesn't account for Bush turning the May 2003 event into his fighter-pilot photo-op. Moreover, would Franks have us believe that he thinks that America's allies would base their assessment of the dangers in post-war Iraq on just two words from the president?

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Norman Mailer and John Buffalo Mailer discuss protests at the Republican National Convention
New York Metro, August 9, 2004

Norman Mailer: Do the activists really know what they're going into? That's my concern. Or do they assume that expressing their rage is equal to getting Kerry elected? It could have exactly the opposite effect. The better mode may be to frustrate the Republicans by coming up with orderly demonstrations. Now, when I was young, the suggestion to be moderate was like a stink bomb to me. An orderly demonstration? What were we, cattle? You have to speak out with your rage. Well, I'm trying to say, we would do well to realize that on this occasion, there are more important things than a good outburst. I wish we could remind everybody who goes out to march of the old Italian saying: "Revenge is a dish that people of taste eat cold." Instead of expressing yourself at the end of August, think of how nicely you will be able to keep expressing yourself over the four years to come if we win. Just keep thinking how much the Republicans want anarchy on the street. I say, don't march right into their trap. [complete article]

Comment -- The problem is, at this point a significant number of the protesters are so alienated from the political process that they don't actually care who wins the election.

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New generation of leaders is emerging for al Qaeda
By David Johnston and David E. Sanger, New York Times, August 10, 2004

A new portrait of Al Qaeda's inner workings is emerging from the cache of information seized last month in Pakistan, as investigators begin to identify a new generation of operatives who appear to be filling the vacuum created when leaders were killed or captured, senior intelligence officials said Monday.

Using computer records, e-mail addresses and documents seized after the arrest of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan last month in Pakistan, intelligence analysts say they are finding that Al Qaeda's upper ranks are being filled by lower-ranking members and more recent recruits.

"They're a little bit of both,'' one official said, describing Al Qaeda's new midlevel structure. "Some who have been around and some who have stepped up. They're reaching for their bench.''

While the findings may result in a significant intelligence coup for the Bush administration and its allies in Britain, they also create a far more complex picture of Al Qaeda's status than Mr. Bush presents on the campaign trail. For the past several months, the president has claimed that much of Al Qaeda's leadership has been killed or captured; the new evidence suggests that the organization is regenerating and bringing in new blood. [complete article]

Encounter on a train led Hamburg cell to bin Laden
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, August 10, 2004

Two years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the ringleaders of the plot had a different destination in mind: Chechnya. But a chance encounter with a stranger on a train in Germany led the conspirators in a new direction, eventually putting them in touch for the first time with Osama bin Laden and the leadership of al Qaeda.

The 1999 episode on the German train, disclosed in the final report of the U.S. commission that investigated the attacks, is based on interrogation reports that until recently were kept secret. According to the account, a mysterious passenger -- identified as Khalid Masri, a name that has not previously surfaced in public records of the investigation -- urged the Islamic radicals from Hamburg to put off their mission to Chechnya until they could speak with a Mauritanian businessman, who in turn arranged a personal introduction to bin Laden.

The circuitous path that led the group to Afghanistan is one key piece of evidence cited by the commission in concluding that members of the Hamburg cell had no intention of attacking the United States until they were recruited almost by happenstance by the al Qaeda leadership to become the field marshals of the Sept. 11 operation.

That finding contradicts a long-held theory advanced by German prosecutors, who have argued that the Hamburg radicals wholly conceived of the plot themselves in Germany and only later traveled to Afghanistan to seek the support and sponsorship of al Qaeda. [complete article]

9/11 retrial denied key witness
BBC News, August 10, 2004

The US says it will not allow its al-Qaeda suspects to testify at the retrial of a man charged with helping to plot the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The decision was announced as Moroccan Mounir al-Motassadek appeared in court in Hamburg, Germany, on Tuesday.

The stance is seen as a major blow for the prosecutors.

They had hoped to use testimony from Ramzi Binalshibh, an al-Qaeda suspect in US custody, to reverse the quashing of Mr Motassadek's earlier conviction. [complete article]

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U.S. calls for evacuation of Najaf
BBC News, August 10, 2004

US troops are asking civilians to leave parts of Najaf, raising fears of a new assault on the holy Iraqi city.

Clashes are raging for the sixth day running between forces loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr and foreign troops.

Announcements in Arabic warn residents near the front lines that there is no truce and asks them to evacuate. [complete article]

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Iraq on a knife-edge
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 10, 2004

The new Iraq was on a knife-edge last night as violence and political instability confronted the regime of Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister.

In Basra, a British soldier was killed yesterday and several others wounded. Land Rovers were set on fire in clashes with the militia of the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr, which now controls city's major junctions.

The world oil price climbed to a new high of $44.97 (£24.44) a barrel as oil facilities were targeted by the same militia and Iraq stopped pumping oil in its strategic southern oil fields.

In the Shia holy city of Najaf there were fierce clashes for a fifth day running between US soldiers and Sadr insurgents who have vowed to fight to the death. The fighting has claimed 360 lives since Thursday, according to the US military.

In Baghdad a curfew was imposed on Sadr City because of intense fighting between Sadr's militia and US forces, and in Baquba seven people were killed and 17 wounded, including the assistant governor of Diyala province, in a suicide car bomb attack as he left his house in the village of Balad Ruz. [complete article]

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Chalabi scandal mars Iraq tribunal
By Nicholas Blanford, Daily Star, August 10, 2004

Lawyers for Saddam Hussein will be rubbing their hands with glee at the murder charge leveled against Salem Chalabi, the Iraqi lawyer who heads the tribunal seeking to bring the former Iraqi dictator to trial.

The indictment, which accuses Chalabi, 41, of killing a government official, provides powerful ammunition to those seeking to undermine the tribunal's credibility and could lead to a delay in Saddam Hussein's trial.

"Those who believe in Saddam Hussein and think that he is being treated unfairly are very happy today when they heard the accusation against Salem Chalabi," said Saadoun Dulame, the executive director of the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies. [complete article]

See also, Chalabi links U.S. to charges against him and his nephew (NYT).

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Abuse claims rock Iraqi regime
By Associated Press (via The Australian), August 8, 2004

Iraq's interim Government faces fresh allegations of brutality against its own people after US soldiers reported seeing dozens of prisoners being abused at the Interior Ministry in Baghdad.

The soldiers, members of the Oregon National Guard, reportedly intervened to stop the abuse, but were ordered to back off and return the prisoners to their Iraqi jailers.

The claims were reported yesterday in US newspaper The Oregonian. The paper also published photographs purporting to be of the abused prisoners, including one of a 14-year-old boy.

The incident allegedly occurred on June 29, one day after the US-led coalition in Iraq transferred power to the interim Government headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. [complete article]

Ordered to just walk away
By Mike Francis, The Oregonian, August 8, 2004

The national guardsman peering through the long-range scope of his rifle was startled by what he saw unfolding in the walled compound below.

From his post several stories above ground level, he watched as men in plainclothes beat blindfolded and bound prisoners in the enclosed grounds of the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

He immediately radioed for help. Soon after, a team of Oregon Army National Guard soldiers swept into the yard and found dozens of Iraqi detainees who said they had been beaten, starved and deprived of water for three days.

In a nearby building, the soldiers counted dozens more prisoners and what appeared to be torture devices -- metal rods, rubber hoses, electrical wires and bottles of chemicals. Many of the Iraqis, including one identified as a 14-year-old boy, had fresh welts and bruises across their back and legs.

The soldiers disarmed the Iraqi jailers, moved the prisoners into the shade, released their handcuffs and administered first aid. Lt. Col. Daniel Hendrickson of Albany, Ore., the highest ranking American at the scene, radioed for instructions.

But in a move that frustrated and infuriated the guardsmen, Hendrickson's superior officers told him to return the prisoners to their abusers and immediately withdraw. It was June 29 -- Iraq's first official day as a sovereign country since the U.S.-led invasion. [complete article]

Senator seeks inquiry into abuse report
Associated Press (via Washington Post), August 9, 2004

A senator sent the Pentagon a letter Sunday seeking an investigation into a report that U.S. soldiers were ordered to abandon an effort to prevent Iraqi jailers from abusing prisoners.

The request from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld followed a report by the Oregonian newspaper that guardsmen saw dozens of Iraqi prisoners being abused on June 29, one day after Iraq's interim government assumed power.

The newspaper reported Sunday that Oregon National Guard soldiers tried to stop Iraqi jailers from abusing the prisoners but were ordered to return the prisoners to the jailers and leave.

Wyden said the incident suggests that "the policy of the U.S. is that we will no longer engage in torture, but we will turn a blind eye as it is committed by others." [complete article]

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New U.S. strategy: 'lily pad' bases
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, August 10, 2004

With its tall weeds, collapsed and rusted light towers, and an aircraft graveyard that includes Soviet-era wooden biplanes, Manas International Airport [Kyrgyzstan] lacks the aura of a pioneering US military facility.

Yet its generous, 14,000-foot runway is packed with US Air Force KC-135 refueling jets and C-130 transport planes flying multiple daily missions in support of American missions in Afghanistan and beyond.

A stone's throw from the airport, the US Air Force is busy replacing the bare "tent city" it built here in late 2001 with hard-walled structures made out of metal shipping containers - a sign the US military is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. [complete article]

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Will America watch while its athletes are booed?
By James Mann, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 8, 2004

A caller to KRON-TV anchor Gary Radnich's KNBR Radio show in San Francisco one morning recently raised a disturbing prospect -- one that's more than a bit worrisome to NBC-TV.

Television coverage of the Athens Olympics start at 8 p.m. Friday on NBC; the well-informed, seasoned traveler who called Radnich wanted to discuss something that hasn't been talked about much in the U.S. media. So far.

"I wonder how many Americans," said the caller, "have any idea how our athletes are going to be booed in Athens at the Olympics." Probably not many, given this country's dismaying lack of interest in anything outside U.S. borders.

In a recent letter to the editor in The Press Democrat, a Santa Rosa teacher who'd just returned from a year in Norway as a Fulbright Scholar wrote of the widespread anti-American sentiment she encountered because of the unpopular war in Iraq.

Last spring, on a visit to British Columbia, I found the Canadian press filled with a level of anti-American sentiment I'd never seen, even having lived up there.

It's not a pretty picture facing U.S. Olympic athletes.

The specter of widespread boos in Athens every time "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played is not far-fetched -- and is much on the minds of the people at NBC. The possibility of the American team's being lustily booed as it enters the Olympic Stadium on Friday night also makes NBC cringe. [complete article]

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More Israelis killed in past 4 years than in previous 53
By Gideon Alon, Haaretz, August 8, 2004

The number of Israeli casualties since the start of the intifada, including both deaths and injuries, exceeds the total number of casualties due to terror attacks during the previous 53 years, Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter told the cabinet yesterday.

Over the last four years, Dichter said, Israel has suffered 11,356 casualties, compared to 4,319 terror-related casualties between November 1947, when the United Nations voted to establish Israel, and 2000. [complete article]

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U.S. television premiere, HBO, Thursday August 12 at 9.30 ET/PT

In May 2003, James Miller was shot dead by an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip. Miller and his close friend, reporter Saira Shah, had set out to follow up their award-winning films Beneath The Veil and Unholy War with a documentary about children caught in the crossfire of the bitter territorial dispute at the heart of the Middle East's troubles.

Attempting to unravel the vicious circle of violence that perpetuates the conflict, Shah and Miller focus on three children in the border town of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. The children face violence on both sides. The Israeli army has built a network of sniper towers, which often claim civilian lives. The Palestinian paramilitaries use every victim to recruit kids and groom them for martyrdom.

When the shooting was over my friend lay dead
By Dan Edge, The Guardian, February 12, 2004

When the first shot rang out, I instinctively crouched down. Twenty yards away from me, James froze so the soldiers could get a good look at him. Like me, he thought they had fired a warning shot. Thirteen seconds later, there was a second crack of gunfire, and our translator, Aboud, cried out. Before I knew what was happening, there were more shots - evenly spaced, calculated, chilling. A bullet zipped off the porch where I was kneeling. I hid behind a wall and waited for the shooting to stop. It seemed to last for ever. In fact, it lasted just over a minute, and when it was over my friend lay dead. The second bullet had hit him in the neck. [complete article]

Learn more about James Miller here.

Comment -- Victor Kattan's review of Death in Gaza in Electronic Intifada concluded that this film "will not inform its audience of anything that they don't already know about the conflict, except to inflame passions and further entrench deeply rooted prejudices. The average viewer will be more bewildered after having seen this film than before watching it, and for that reason alone one would be better off not watching it at all."

Kattan may be right and I haven't seen the film, but I'll assume that the average reader of The War in Context is, like me, capable of forming their own opinion about the film's merits. After all, when was the last time a film about the impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian children aired on American television?

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U.S. leak 'harms al Qaeda sting'
CNN, August 9, 2004

The effort by U.S. officials to justify raising the terror alert level last week may have shut down an important source of information that has already led to a series of al Qaeda arrests, Pakistani intelligence sources have said.

Until U.S. officials leaked the arrest of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan to reporters, Pakistan had been using him in a sting operation to track down al Qaeda operatives around the world, the sources said.

In background briefings with journalists last week, unnamed U.S. government officials said it was the capture of Khan that provided the information that led Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to announce a higher terror alert level.

Khan is a computer expert who officials said helped Osama bin Laden communicate with his terror network. [complete article]

Comment -- When the Bush administration's credibility has fallen so low that it is willing to risk undermining its own intelligence operations in order justify dramatic security measures, those Americans who have little concern about "world opinion" should pause to consider what this means. The importance of foreign perceptions goes further than whether America and Americans are liked overseas. If foreign intelligence services fear that information they share with their American counterparts is going to be used for the wrong purposes they will become more cautious about what they divulge. The cooperation of these services isn't just helpful; it's indispensable. Though America has demonstrated its ability to go it alone in its military adventures, the idea that it can "go it alone" in intelligence operations is sheer fantasy.

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Suspect arrested in Pakistan may hold al-Qaeda's secrets
By Jason Burke, Paul Harris and Martin Bright, TheObserver, August 8, 2004

It was a searingly hot summer day in the Pakistani city of Lahore. At the airport, the usual chaos of relatives, taxi drivers and hotel touts stood and sweated outside the concrete concourse. Broken baggage trolleys lay skewed to one side. Bored traffic policemen wearily searched vehicles.

In the throng, no one noticed the clean-cut, slightly chubby young man on his way to the airfreight offices to pick up a package. Nobody, that is, except the men who had been watching Muhammad Khan, a key al-Qaeda target, for six weeks.

They had begun surveillance following the arrest a month earlier of a man identified as Musaad Aruchi. Aruchi was picked up by Pakistani paramilitary forces, with CIA help, in Karachi. He had been in touch with Khan regularly. Street maps of New York were found in his apartment, as were some computer disks containing information on other American buildings.

It was CIA telephone and internet intercepts that led to Aruchi's arrest. He was held by Pakistani intelligence for three days, before being flown out of the country in an unmarked CIA plane.

Then the agents pounced on their next target. Khan was surrounded and swept off the pavement into a waiting vehicle to a high-security prison. The Pakistani security forces, which had resisted American pressure to allow the CIA to run the operation, had reason to be pleased with themselves. The 13 July arrest did far more than take down a one-man communications hub for al-Qaeda.

When American intelligence experts arrived in Pakistan and started trawling through the 25-year-old's computers and documents, they were astonished. Khan had been in touch with dozens of other activists all over the world, passing on messages given to him by more senior al-Qaeda figures. [complete article]

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The stealth nuclear threat
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, August 16, 2004

Who could have imagined that alliance management would be a hot election issue in America? But it is. John Kerry's repeated pledge to restore relations with America's allies has struck a chord. The trouble is, if he is elected president, Kerry is going to find that promise hard to keep -- at least with America's allies in Europe. Most of them would be delighted to see Kerry win, but that doesn't mean they will be more cooperative on policy issues. Terror is understandably on everyone's mind, but there is yet another growing danger over the horizon. Early into a Kerry administration, we could see a familiar sight -- a transatlantic crisis -- except this time it wouldn't be over Iraq but Iran.

The threat to America from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, if they ever existed, is in the past. Iran, on the other hand, is the problem of the future. Over the last two years, thanks to tips from Iranian opposition groups and investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has become clear that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. In the words of the agency, Iran has "a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle," which leads most experts to believe it is two to three years away from having a nuclear bomb. [complete article]

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Iran says developing new missile as measure against Israel
By Gideon Alon, Haaretz, August 8, 2004

Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said Saturday that Iran is developing its Shihab-3 missile as a measure against Israel's missile power, which Tehran concluded tests of last year.

The missile is thought to be capable of carrying a 1,000-kilogram warhead over a distance of some 1,300 kilometers, allegedly bringing Israel within missile range.

While Shamkhani denied any kind of nuclear military activity by Iran, he said his country would not leave its people without defense.

"That's why we have to invest on nuclear defense preparation," he added without elaborating. [complete article]

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U.S. out to sabotage Iran's atom bomb programme
By David Rennie, The Telegraph, August 9, 2004

The Bush administration is trying to find covert ways to sabotage or delay Iran's nuclear weapons programme believing that diplomatic deals struck with European nations have barely slowed Teheran's rush towards the bomb.

Intelligence and administration officials are urgently trying to find secret means "to disrupt or delay as long as we can" the development of an Iranian bomb, one said. The urgency stems, in part, from "increasingly strong private statements" by Israeli counterparts that they may be forced to take military action to stop Iran achieving its dream of a nuclear arsenal. [complete article]

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Al-Jazeera closure 'a blow to freedom'
By Lisa O'Carroll, The Guardian, August 9, 2004

The Iraq prime minister's decision to throw al-Jazeera out of Baghdad and ban it from operating for 30 days is "a serious blow to press freedom", Reporters Sans Frontieres has said.

The Paris-based media watchdog demanded "an immediate explanation" for the move on Saturday, saying it was "extremely concerned about persistent episodes of censorship in Iraq".

Police ordered al-Jazeera's employees out of their newsroom and locked the door on Saturday night after the prime minister accused the pan-Arab satellite channel of inciting violence.

"They have been showing a lot of crimes and criminals on TV, and they [send] a bad picture about Iraq and about Iraqis and encourage criminals to increase their activities," Iraq's interior minister, Falah al-Naqib, said. [complete article]

Comment -- Iraq's prime minister, Ayad Allawi, might want to consider following the example of one of the US's other allies in the war on terrorism, Saparmurad A. Niyazov, ruler of Turkmenistan. His solution to bad news is to make it illegal.

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'I will fight them, even with my bare hands'
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, August 9, 2004

In one of Najaf's oldest religious schools there were no classes to attend nor turbaned clerics to teach. Instead the old building, a few yards away from the main Imam Ali mosque, had been converted into a makeshift hospital and morgue.

In the hands of clerics, books and prayer beads had been replaced by AK-47 assault rifles. Wounded fighters lay on the floor, some with their backs against the walls. In one corner there was a pile of used, bloodied bandages, stretchers and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The transformation was the result of an intense three-day firefight between the Shia militia loyal to the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the US marines, the worst violence in Iraq for months. [complete article]

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You show yours, I'll hide mine
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, August 6, 2004

George Bush was not pulling his punches. In a definitive policy speech earlier this year on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the US president declared: "The greatest threat before humanity today is the possibility of secret and sudden attack with chemical or biological or radiological or nuclear weapons.

"America will not permit terrorists and dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most deadly weapons," he went on. "We're determined to confront those threats at source. We will stop these weapons from being acquired or built. We'll block them being transferred. We'll prevent them ever being used."

The US position, it seems, could hardly be clearer. So how to explain, and how conceivably to justify, a little-noticed demarche last week by Mr Bush's officials at the UN conference on disarmament in Geneva? What the US did, in effect, was to torpedo a new global treaty banning the production and supply of materials essential to the building of nuclear weapons.

It is known as the fissile material cut-off treaty. It has been under discussion for years, strongly supported by Britain and the EU. Its main aim is to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), the cornerstone of the international effort to curb the spread of WMD. It is specifically aimed at nuclear-armed states such as India, Pakistan and Israel which are not party to the NPT.

But by seeking a global halt to the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons, its wider overall aim is to reduce the chance of such materials being obtained by irresponsible regimes or non-state terror groups. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda's pre-election plot
By Daniel Klaidman and Evan Thomas, Newsweek, August 16, 2004

In mid-July, the Pakistanis, working with the CIA, had arrested a Qaeda operative named Mohammed Neem Noor Khan and "flipped" him -- turned him into an undercover agent who could lead investigators right into the Qaeda network. The 25-year-old computer engineer was a Qaeda facilitator, a midlevel logistics man who knew and communicated with the top operatives meeting to plan an attack on the United States. In an interview with Newsweek, [Fran] Townsend [President Bush's homeland-security adviser and counterterror chief for the national-security staff] recalled thinking, "This is the real deal" -- a chance to crack the plot.

It was the break the Feds had been praying for, but, unfortunately, also a chance to further bewilder the American public, who have been made fearful, cynical or just plain dizzy by trips up and down the threat ladder. In an effort to sort out what to believe, Newsweek spoke with most of the senior intelligence officials involved in assessing what they call the "pre-election" plot. Constrained by secrecy and a desire to put a positive spin on the story, these officials were not entirely forthcoming, but they did reveal enough to gauge the seriousness of the Qaeda plot. The more difficult question is whether the public revelations not only unduly frightened the American people but, in the long run, made them less safe. U.S. officials firmly deny it, but a knowledgeable British source argues that, by going public, Bush administration officials compromised an ongoing surveillance operation that ultimately could have uncovered more about Al Qaeda operations around the world. [complete article]

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Blunkett issues rebuke to Bush on terror alerts
By Francis Elliott, The Independent, August 8, 2004

David Blunkett has issued a barely coded rebuke to President George Bush for issuing a terror alert that resulted in "ridicule".

The Home Secretary went on the offensive to explain why Britain did not follow suit when the US administration issued a warning on information that turned out to be four years old.

Ministers and senior figures in the security service are known to have been dismayed at the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.

There was widespread irritation in Whitehall at last Sunday's warnings, repeated by Mr Bush, based on information captured by Pakistani intelligence agencies on al-Qa'ida's preparations for attacks on British and US targets. [complete article]

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Safety second
By Michael Pan, Amanda Terkel, Robert Boorstin and P. J. Crowley, New York Times, August 8, 2004

Here's how the $144.4 billion for Iraq could have been spent to safeguard Americans.
[complete article]

Comment -- These ideas don't get far beyond thinking about how to make America a better fortress but if nothing else they make it clear there's a lot you can get for $144 billion if you don't waste it on a war.

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What, us worry? The new state of disbelief
By Todd S. Purdum, New York Times, August 8, 2004

The capital was a strange blend of spy movie and slapstick last week. Public news conferences raised alarm, private background briefings raised doubts and every answer seemed to raise more questions. Barricades went up, confidence went down and political recriminations suffused the scene as high officials and average citizens struggled to come to grip with a maddenly elusive threat.

Perhaps no moment since Sept. 11 has better captured a new reality: When the Terrorist Era meets the Information Age, a Time of Confusion results. The latest ill-explained upswing of the government's yellow-orange yo-yo of terror warnings showed just how much uncertainty and suspicion have become constants in the political and civic culture here - and how much worse things may yet get before they get better. [complete article]

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Iraq issues arrest warrants for Chalabi, nephew
Associated Press (via Los Angeles Times), August 8, 2004

Iraq has issued an arrest warrant for Ahmad Chalabi, a former governing council member, on counterfeiting charges and another for Salem Chalabi, the head of Iraq's special tribunal, on murder charges, Iraq's chief investigating judge said today.

The warrant was a new sign of the fall of Ahmad Chalabi from the centers of power. Chalabi, a longtime exile opposition leader, had been a favorite of many in the Pentagon but fell out with the Americans in the weeks before the U.S. occupation ended in June.

His nephew, Salem Chalabi, heads the tribunal that is due to try Saddam on war crimes charges.

"They should be arrested and then questioned and then we will evaluate the evidence, and then if there is enough evidence, they will be sent to trial," said Judge Zuhair al-Maliky. [complete article]

Chalabi says will return to Baghdad to face fraud charge (AFP).

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Risky bid to stem Shiite insurgency
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 9, 2004

In the face of renewed fighting with the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's prime minister has embarked on a risky strategy for neutralizing one of the biggest challenges his interim government has faced since taking nominal control of Iraq at the end of June.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is extending a tentative olive branch to Sadr, indicating a political role will be found for the renegade cleric if he convinces his militia to lay down their arms and quit Najaf. On the other side of the equation, he announced the return of the death penalty and left an implied threat of crushing the militia with US forces if Sadr doesn't comply.

On Saturday, Allawi declared a broad amnesty for low-level criminals and those assisting the insurgency, and welcomed militant Shiite Muslim leaders such as Sadr to take part in January elections. "I believe gunmen should leave the holy sites ... quickly, lay down their weapons and return to the rule of order and law," Mr. Allawi said in a brief visit to Najaf Sunday. He did not meet with Sadr or any of his aides. But with signs of continued defiance from Sadr's camp, Allawi also runs the risk of losing the initiative in a war that is as much about propaganda as it is about military force. Though Sadr's militia is no match for the US military, his men are dug in around one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam and mixed among civilians. A full crackdown therefore runs the risk of large civilian casualties and blowback throughout Iraq. [complete article]

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Sadr avoids arrest
By Henry Chu and Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2004

Iraqi security forces mounted an unsuccessful raid Saturday to seize rebel cleric Muqtada Sadr, the Shiite Muslim leader blamed by the United States for a surge in violence in this holy city that has claimed scores, perhaps hundreds, of lives.

In their first such move against Sadr, members of the Iraqi National Guard and police tried to arrest him at his home in Najaf near the Imam Ali shrine, the base from which he had urged followers to rise up and eject U.S. forces. But the militant leader was not at home.

Fighting eased Saturday after two days of battles between his supporters and U.S. troops.

Even as Iraqi forces made their move against Sadr, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said at a news conference in Baghdad that the government had received "positive messages" from the cleric and concluded that, in effect, he was not to blame for the violence. [complete article]

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Al-Jazeera 'no more biased than other TV channels'
By David Usborne, The Independent, August 8, 2004

The lead story yesterday on the English-language website of al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based television news channel, was not about the closing of its office in Baghdad for 30 days by the interim government in Iraq. It focused instead on new Iraqi legislation to grant amnesty to minor criminals in the country.

What is telling, however, is how the story begins: "The US-installed interim Iraqi PM, Iyad Allawi ..." The phrasing is just one fragment in what American critics of the station say is a pattern of deliberately slanting its presentation of the news against Western and American interests, notably in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq.

Sometimes, the complaints are more forceful. In April, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, accused al-Jazeera of "consistently lying" and "working in concert with terrorists". The same month, Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, acknowledged he had had "intense and candid" discussions with the Qatar government about al-Jazeera's reporting standards.

The attention that the station garners in this way is in some ways flattering to it. When the organisers of the Democratic National Convention in Boston last month ordered an al-Jazeera banner to be removed from its sky-box just to the side and above the speakers' podium, the publicity it created helped only to burnish the network's reputation as being unfairly put upon. Its status among its 40 million Arab-language viewers will only be enhanced by the Baghdad ban. [complete article]

Military spokesman silenced after candid comments about Al Jazeera and Iraq war
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2004

For most of the central figures in the documentary film "Control Room," the grisly images that emerged from last year's U.S. invasion of Iraq were no cause for a change of opinion.

Over the length of the film, director Jehane Noujaim's inside look at the war through the eyes and lenses of Al Jazeera's journalists based at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, the chasm only widens between the U.S. military officials who speak about the "liberation" of Iraq and the Al Jazeera reporters skeptical of the invasion.

The exception is a young Marine lieutenant named Josh Rushing. [...]

The Marine's role in the film turned him into a minor celebrity among the art-house-cinema crowd. But the candid comments he made in the documentary and in interviews after its release ran afoul of his superiors in the Marine Corps, which he now plans to leave.

On camera midway through the film, Rushing spoke of being disturbed that footage Al Jazeera, an Arabic-language satellite television channel, broadcast of civilian Iraqi casualties had not affected him as much as images shown the following night of dead American soldiers.

"It upset me on a profound level that I wasn't bothered as much the night before," Rushing said. "It makes me hate war. But it doesn't make me believe we can live in a world without war yet."

Rushing, now a captain assigned to the Marine Corps Motion Picture and Television Liaison office in Los Angeles, has been prohibited from giving any more interviews about his part in the film.

Marine officials at the Pentagon have even asked Rushing to keep his wife, Paige, from giving interviews after she made comments critical of how the military handled her husband's situation. Because of this, several of Rushing's friends say the 31-year-old Marine plans to leave the military in October. [complete article]

Control Room
Magnolia Pictures

"It benefits Al-Jazeera to play to Arab nationalism because that's their audience, just like Fox plays to American patriotism, for the exact same reason... because that's their audience... the big thing for my generation is for these two perspectives - my perspective, the Western perspective, and the Arab perspective - to understand each other better... because, truly, the two worlds are colliding at a rapid rate." - Lt. Josh Rushing, Central Command Press Officer, U.S. Army.

CONTROL ROOM, by Jehane Noujaim (, an award-winning Arab-American filmmaker who has lived within and embraced both worlds, provides an opportunity to re-examine what is perhaps the most pressing question of international relations today: "is America radicalizing or stabilizing the Arab world?" Without miring itself in shadowy conspiracy theories, CONTROL ROOM provides a balanced view of Al-Jazeera's presentation of the second Iraq war to their worldwide Arab audience, and in so doing calls into question many of the prevailing images and positions offered up by the U.S. news media. [complete article]

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EMAIL UPDATES -- Click here to sign up for weekly email updates -- a digest of key articles from the last seven days. (Please include your name in the message and put "subscribe" in the subject line.)
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Leadership is about respect, not just fear
By Robert Wright, New York Times, August 2, 2004
John Kerry, tough-talking war hero, cut an impressive figure at last week's convention, maybe impressive enough to threaten the Republicans' time-honored dominance of the manliness issue - that is, national security. But you can already hear the Republican reply taking shape: O.K., you've shown us your muscles, but where's the beef? What exactly is your strategy for the war on terrorism? [...]

... [H]owever steep the rhetorical challenge posed by the fact that real men don't need love, the Democrats have already gone a ways toward meeting it, and they've done so on the strength of a single word: respect. [...]

We Americans don't need to be loved in the Muslim world, but we need to be respected. And even real men want respect. After all, strength can command respect. In fact, instilling fear can help instill respect. It's just that fear isn't enough. (This could be the epitaph of Bush's foreign policy: Apparently fear wasn't enough.)

For a nation to be thoroughly respected, the perception of its strength needs to be matched by a perception of its goodness. It helps to be thought of as just, generous, conscientious, mindful of the opinion of others, even a little humble. In lots of little ways, Bush has given the world the impression that we're not these things. [...]

The plummeting regard for America in Muslim nations like Indonesia over the last few years is a well-documented fact. If voters can see the link between this and the security of their children - see that for every million Muslims who hate America, one will be willing to fly an airplane into a shopping mall - then Bush will have a lot of explaining to do.

Protect Sharon from the Right
By Jeffrey Goldberg, New York Times, August 5, 2004
Not long ago, at a West Bank settlement outpost surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by dyspeptic German shepherds, I attended a joyful event: a brit milah, the circumcision of an eight-day-old boy. This outpost was home to just a handful of families, but more than 100 people came to celebrate with the boy's parents.

Many of the visitors made the rough trek through Arab villages to get to this hill. These young settlers are the avant-garde of radical Jewish nationalism, the flannel-wearing, rifle-carrying children of their parents' mainstream settlements, which they denigrate for their bourgeois affectations -- red-tile roof chalets, swimming pools, pizzerias -- and their misplaced fealty to the dictates of the government in Jerusalem. These new pioneers set out for the Samarian mountains and the hills of Hebron, where they live in log cabins and broken-down trailers, in settings sufficiently biblical and remote to allow for the cultivation of a new variant of apocalyptic zealotry. [...]

Over the past year, I've heard at least 14 young Orthodox settlers - in outposts, and in yeshivas in the West Bank and Jerusalem - express with vehemence a desire to murder Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his men, in particular the deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the defense minister, Shaul Mofaz. I've met several more who actively pray - and, I suspect, work - for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. And I have met dozens more who would not sit shiva, certainly not for the Dome, but not for their prime minister, either.

The threat of the radical right has become a matter of terrible urgency in the Israeli government. Avi Dichter, the chief of the Israeli internal security service, has been for months running around - to borrow a phrase from George Tenet - with his hair on fire over the threat. He has warned of the potential for attacks against the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa Mosque, on the Temple Mount; such a strike, he said, would set off global war between Muslim and Jew - a goal the radical yeshivas of the West Bank share with Al Qaeda.

Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay - the story of three British detainees
By Tania Branigan and Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, August 4, 2004
The Britons Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul were detained in northern Afghanistan on November 28 2001 by forces loyal to the warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The three, from Tipton in the Midlands, were handed over to US forces before being sent to Guantanamo Bay as suspected terrorists.

The "Tipton three" were released from Guantanamo in March this year, and after being flown back to Britain they were released without charge.

Today the Guardian publishes extracts from a 115-page report based on lengthy interviews they gave about their treatment by US and UK officials and military.

When released, they took payment from the media for interviews in which they alleged ill treatment. Their accounts were dismissed in some quarters, but since the revelations about the abuses at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, there has been renewed questioning about how far the US is willing to go in the "war on terror".

The report, Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, has been compiled by the three men's lawyers, and is being released in the US today. It makes new allegations and gives extensive details about the treatment they suffered, which led them to make false confessions about their involvement in terrorism.

The Guardian paid no money to the three men or any of their representatives to publish these extracts from the report.

The complete report can be read here (PDF format).

How the administration is obstructing the Supreme Court's terror decisions
By Phillip Carter, Slate, August 3, 2004
In the first two years after Sept. 11, whenever its terrorism or detention policies were challenged in the courts, the Bush administration waged a scorched-earth legal campaign in its own defense. Justice Department lawyers routinely deployed an arsenal of procedural motions and legal delay tactics to keep the federal courts from ever hearing a terrorism case on the merits. When the Supreme Court stepped in last June with the last word on the legality of such wartime practices, observers (including me) had a right to hope that the administration would cease its foot-dragging and finally conform its policies to the demands of the justices and the rule of law.

The Bush administration dashed that hope last month with a series of actions concerning detainees from the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. In a court filing on Friday, the administration announced its intention to deny Guantanamo Bay detainees full access to counsel to prepare their habeas corpus petitions and signaled that it would resume its relentless legal tactics to fight the detainees in the courts on a host of procedural issues. The administration also started to move forward with two sets of legal proceedings -- Combatant Status Review Tribunals and military commissions -- to adjudicate the status of Gitmo detainees. These hearings purport to benefit the detainees, but may, in fact, end up hurting more than helping them. And in a separate but related development, the Army finally released its much-awaited investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuses. Not surprisingly, it laid the blame on a few bad apples, rather than any systemic problems in the military -- and exempted the top ranks of the Army and Pentagon from any legal or moral culpability.

Claims in conflict: Reversing ethnic cleansing in Northern Iraq
Human Rights Watch Report, August 3, 2004
A crisis of serious proportions is brewing in northern Iraq, and may soon explode into open violence. Since 1975, the former Iraqi government forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians from their homes, and brought in Arab settlers to replace them, under a policy known as "Arabization." With the overthrow of that government in April 2003, the Kurds and other non-Arabs began returning to their former homes and farms. Ethnic tensions between returning Kurds and others and the Arab settlers escalated rapidly and have continued to do so, along with tensions between the different returning communities -- particularly between Kurds and Turkomans -- over control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. In the absence of a speedy implementation of plans to address the conflicting land and property claims and the needs of the different communities, ownership disputes may soon be settled through force.

Americans want a new policy towards Israel
Findings of a report by the Council for the National Interest, Electronic Intifada, July 30, 2004
A new Zogby International poll commissioned by CNI found that half of all likely American voters agree that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry "should adopt an entirely new policy, different from the present administration, towards Israel."

The poll, conducted during the Democratic Convention, showed that 51% of likely voters somewhat or strongly agreed that a policy change was necessary. Only 34% strongly or somewhat disagreed. The number who supported Kerry adopting a new policy towards Israel was even higher among Democrats: 70% of Democrats, Kerry's voter base, supported such a change.

Experts agree that turnout by independent voters, which could make up as much as a quarter of the likely voters in November, will be a crucial determinant in the outcome of this year's presidential election. A plurality of independent voters agree (50% to 35%) that there should be a change in U.S. policy towards Israel. It appears that one of the obvious strategies for the Kerry ticket to win the election would be to demonstrate a sharp turn away from the Bush policies on the Middle East, especially with regard to Israel.

The secret file of Abu Ghraib
By Osha Gray Davidson, Rolling Stone, July 28, 2004
The new classified military documents offer a chilling picture of what happened at Abu Ghraib -- including detailed reports that U.S. troops and translators sodomized and raped Iraqi prisoners. The secret files -- 106 "annexes" that the Defense Department withheld from the Taguba report last spring -- include nearly 6,000 pages of internal Army memos and e-mails, reports on prison riots and escapes, and sworn statements by soldiers, officers, private contractors and detainees. The files depict a prison in complete chaos. Prisoners were fed bug-infested food and forced to live in squalid conditions; detainees and U.S. soldiers alike were killed and wounded in nightly mortar attacks; and loyalists of Saddam Hussein served as guards in the facility, apparently smuggling weapons to prisoners inside.

The files make clear that responsibility for what Taguba called "sadistic, blatant and wanton" abuses extends to several high-ranking officers still serving in command positions. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is now in charge of all military prisons in Iraq, was dispatched to Abu Ghraib by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last August. In a report marked secret, Miller recommended that military police at the prison be "actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees." After his plan was adopted, guards began depriving prisoners of sleep and food, subjecting them to painful "stress positions" and terrorizing them with dogs. A former Army intelligence officer tells Rolling Stone that the intent of Miller's report was clear to everyone involved: "It means treat the detainees like shit until they will sell their mother for a blanket, some food without bugs in it and some sleep."

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