The War in Context  
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What went wrong in Iraq
By Larry Diamond, Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2004

Larry Diamond is Co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. From January to April 2004, he served as a Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

Any effort to rebuild a shattered, war-torn country should include four basic components: political reconstruction of a legitimate and capable state; economic reconstruction, including the rebuilding of the country's physical infrastructure and the creation of rules and institutions that enable a market economy; social reconstruction, including the renewal (or in some cases, creation) of a civil society and political culture that foster voluntary cooperation and the limitation of state power; and the provision of general security, to establish a safe and orderly environment.

These four elements interact in intimate ways. Without legitimate, rule-based, and effective government, economic and physical reconstruction will lag and investors will refuse to risk their capital to produce jobs and new wealth. Without demonstrable progress on the economic front, a new government cannot develop or sustain legitimacy, and its effectiveness will quickly wane. Without the development of social capital-in the form of horizontal bonds of trust and cooperation in a (re)emerging civil society-economic development will not proceed with sufficient vigor or variety, and the new system of government will not be properly scrutinized or supported. And without security, everything else grinds to a halt.

In postconflict situations in which the state has collapsed, security trumps everything: it is the central pedestal that supports all else. Without some minimum level of security, people cannot engage in trade and commerce, organize to rebuild their communities, or participate meaningfully in politics. Without security, a country has nothing but disorder, distrust, and desperation-an utterly Hobbesian situation in which fear pervades and raw force dominates. This is why violence-ridden societies tend to turn to almost any political force that promises to provide order, even if it is oppressive. It is a big reason why the CPA was unable to spend most of the $18.6 billion for Iraqi reconstruction appropriated by Congress last fall. And it explains why a country must first have a state before it can become a democracy. The primary requirement of a state is that it hold a monopoly on the use of violence. By that measure, the body that the United States transferred power to in Baghdad on June 28 may have been a government-but it was not a state. [complete article]

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Praying for Sistani's good health
Amatzia Baram interviewed by Marc D. Charney, New York Times, August 22, 2004

Prof. Amatzia Baram: [Moktada al-Sadr] has already begun transforming the way Shiite clerics operate in Iraq, having broken at least two boundaries on their actions: First, he has managed to attain the rank of "hojatolislam," the first major rank for a cleric on the path to becoming an ayatollah. At least, he is being publicly called that by his followers. But he achieved this without amassing any record of scholarship and publication; instead, he did so by playing a rebellious political role and basing his elevation not on the approval of a number of superior clerics, but on the basis of his grass-roots support from the city poor and lower-ranked mullahs.

Second, while rivalry or competition among ayatollahs and their followers has always been a feature of Shiism, Moktada al-Sadr has used his militia and thugs to introduce a level of violence between clerics and their followers that had not existed for centuries - a style of intimidation more akin to that of Saddam Hussein than to that of Shia tradition.

Finally, Sadr started announcing that the Shiite messiah, who is known as the Mahdi, is about to arrive any day now and that he will appear in Iraq. In Shia tradition, the Mahdi is the 12th and last ancient imam, who disappeared and is expected to reappear some day. Moktada al-Sadr claims that the Americans knew the reappearance was imminent, and that this is why they invaded Iraq: to grab the Mahdi and kill him. In rallies, Mr. Sadr's supporters often chant his name in a way that implies that he is the "son of the Mahdi," and he named his militia the Mahdi Army. Recently he even claimed that the army "belongs to the Mahdi" and thus he is not at liberty to disband it.

Raising expectations of an imminent appearance of the Mahdi is highly unusual in Shiite history because it can excite people to extreme and dangerous actions. And if the Mahdi does not appear, the disappointment could be devastating. As a result, other Shiite clerics have been very careful to avoid messianic ecstasy. But not Moktada al-Sadr. [complete article]

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Clashes resume in Iraq shrine city
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 21, 2004

Fighters loyal to Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have clashed with U.S. troops in Najaf after talks with religious authorities to end a siege at the city's holiest shrine ran into difficulties.

Explosions from mortar bombs and rocket propelled-grenades echoed through the alleyways of the old city in Najaf, wrecking a day of relative calm in a two-week Shi'ite Muslim uprising that has helped drive world oil prices to record highs.

Militiamen had earlier brandished weapons around the Imam Ali mosque, dampening hopes that an offer by Sadr to hand the shrine over to the clerical establishment would end the siege, the biggest challenge yet faced by Iraq's interim government.

"Bring those Americans here to fight hand to hand," one of Sadr's followers said before the latest outbreak of fighting.

"They are cowards. They stay thousands of feet away in their airplanes. They are scared, they know we will slaughter them," he said, biting his finger for emphasis. [complete article]

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Bombed from the air, surrounded on the ground, this city still belongs to the Mehdi
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 22, 2004

Recovering from the loss of three fingers from his right hand, Abu Muqtada, as he called himself, was eager to get back to the fighting.

Hit by US machine-gun fire in Najaf's large, hallowed and now badly damaged Wadi al-Salam cemetery a week ago, the 38-year-old Mehdi Army insurgent was relaxing, his hand bandaged, in the shade outside Kufa's mosque, the second oldest in Iraq. "My hand is finished but the other is still working," he said. "We are still fighting, and we will not stop."

Kufa is no doubt a sensible place for one of Muqtada al-Sadr's militants to convalesce. To visit this second holy city six miles to the north is to see what Najaf might be like if there were no American Abrams tanks or Bradley armoured vehicles surrounding and exchanging fire with the 1,000 or so Mehdi gunmen in the streets around the Imam Ali Shrine. Najaf is where the prophet's son-in-law was buried; Kufa is where he lived and was stabbed in AD661 as he prayed in the mosque, martyred in the schism that created Shia Islam.

And it is totally in the control of the Mehdi Army, who patrol the streets with AK-47s, rocket launchers and light machine-guns, many of them with ammunition belts draped over their shoulders. One armed insurgent had even dragged a chair into the middle of the road to monitor the Saturday morning traffic. [complete article]

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Iraq clears Iran of aiding Sadr uprising
AFP/Reuters (via ABC-Au), August 22, 2004

Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jafari says he has no evidence of Iranian support for an uprising by Shiite militia led by rebel cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

Sporadic gun and mortar fire continues in Najaf, with Sadr's Mehdi Army apparently still in control of their Najaf stronghold, the Imam Ali mosque.

"I have not learnt ... of any Iranian support, military or otherwise, for Moqtada Sadr... If I find documents (proving) armed support for Sadr, from Iran or any other country, I will say so ... and I will consider it a red line," Mr Jafari told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya television. [complete article]

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Sadr's men hold Iraq shrine
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 21, 2004

Fighters loyal to rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are firmly in control of Najaf's Imam Ali mosque, giving the lie to government claims that police had taken control of the shrine.

Militiamen brandished weapons defiantly and mocked Iraq's interim government around the mosque, at the centre of a confrontation with U.S. forces that has helped drive oil prices to record highs and presented the government with is biggest crisis yet.

Holding out hope for a peaceful resolution, one of Sadr's top aides said on Saturday the rebel leader wanted to hand over Iraq's holiest Shi'ite shrine to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most influential Shi'ite cleric, and that talks on the mosque's future were under way.

"We would like to hand over the shrine to the religious establishment which has the right to control it," Sheikh Ahmad al-Sheibani told reporters. "It is only natural that Ayatollah Sistani should accept it."

Sistani, who usually lives in Najaf, is now in Britain recovering from surgery.

But Sadr's aide later added that Sadr's militia would continue to guard the mosque after any handover, precisely the outcome that Iraq's interim government has vowed to prevent. [complete article]

Comment -- It looks like Sadr has again outsmarted his opponents. Placing a vulnerable force inside an invulnerable location was clearly a wise military tactic, even if it happened to be politically reckless. The question is, what would provide Sadr and his men with a sufficient incentive to give up this advantage? A deal with Allawi? Not likely. Why would Sadr -- who has made unwillingness to cooperate with Americans his signature -- turn around and cut a political deal with an American ally whose only interest is in seeing Sadr get marginalized? Instead, Sadr can cozy up to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. That makes sense. Sistani has also managed to keep his distance from the Americans even though he has actually entered into the political process by wielding veto power over every initiative. Though Sistani no doubt regards Sadr as troublesome, his preeminent interest is in protecting the Imam Ali shrine. If he plays the role of peacemaker it will perhaps serve the interests of Shia unity. The losers will then end up being Allawi and his American backers. And will that serve the long term interests of most Iraqis? Who knows?

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Don't mind if I do
By Winslow T. Wheeler, Washington Post, August 22, 2004

We're in the middle of simultaneous wars against terrorism and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the outcomes are anything but certain. To help fight these wars, Congress passed a gigantic $416 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Defense in July, which President Bush signed into law on Aug. 5. The measure, the president declared, ensures that "our armed forces have every tool they need to meet and defeat the threats of our time."

Well, not exactly. If you look at the hidden details of the legislation, it's clear that Congress has failed dismally -- and deliberately -- to fulfill its constitutional mandates to "raise and support armies" and to "provide and maintain a navy."

Legislators have amply demonstrated that what they're really interested in is raising and providing some home-state pork to impress voters in an election year. To that end, they have busied themselves with squeezing funds for war essentials such as training, weapons maintenance and spare parts -- things troops in combat need more, not less, of -- to send extra dollars their constituents' way. And it's equal-opportunity raiding: Both Republicans and Democrats have been fully engaged in this behavior. Even Capitol Hill's self-proclaimed "pork buster," Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has made a regular practice of calling his colleagues on their gluttony, has essentially given the gorging a wink and a nod. [complete article]

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Republican Rep. says U.S. needs to leave Iraq as soon as possible
By Kristin Hoelscher, Quad Cities Times, August 19, 2004

Instead of focusing on his campaign like other stump speakers at the Iowa State Fair this week, U.S. Rep. Jim Leach emphasized the need for the United States to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.

Leach, who voted in 2002 against the resolution that gave President Bush the authorization to use force in Iraq, said, "Sometimes force is used to establish order, but sometimes force becomes a magnet for instability, and I'm afraid, with each passing week, the magnet aspect of the use of force in Iraq may be increasing."

He called the case for finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq frail and pointed to a worldwide consensus that the American-led hunt was unsuccessful.

Leach, a Davenport native who has represented parts of eastern Iowa in Congress for 28 years, believes the next step in Iraq should be a push for democratic elections in hopes of pulling out American troops by the end of the year. [complete article]

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'Death after death, blood after blood'
By Luke Harding inside the Imam Ali shrine, Najaf, The Guardian, August 21, 2004

Inside the pockmarked entrance of Najaf's Imam Ali shrine, there were no police to be seen yesterday afternoon.

Supporters of the rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr loafed on carpets in the pigeon-infested courtyard. A few smoked; others dozed. A couple of young students stood next to a makeshift infirmary; parked nearby was an empty pallet covered in blood.

"We haven't given up. This is a lie by the government," said Amar Al-Khaji, a 29-year-old civil engineer from Baghdad. "As you can see, we are still here."

Only hours earlier a senior Iraqi government official had claimed that Iraqi police had secured the shrine, apparently bringing to an end the two-week standoff with Mr Sadr's militia. At least 400 Mahdi army members had been arrested, and the bloodshed had ended.

By dusk, it was apparent that this was not the case. Hundreds of unarmed supporters of the cleric were bedding down for another night in the mosque. In the rubbish-strewn alleyways around the shrine, fighters armed with Kalshnikovs sat on metal chairs.

The evidence of withering American bombardment was all around: tangled electricity wires, pulverised remains of earth barricades and the smell of decaying human flesh. [complete article]

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Confusion persists over Imam Ali mosque
Aljazeera, August 21, 2004

Leading Shia cleric Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani's aides first confirm, then deny, reports that the Mahdi Army relinquished control of the Imam Ali mosque to religious authorities.

The discrepancy fueled speculation that Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters and intermediaries acting on behalf of both the interim Iraqi government and al-Sistani were engaged in fierce eleventh hour negotiations.

AFP first reported than an al-Sistani spokesman had confirmed the keys to the mosque were delivered to the leading Shia cleric's office in Najaf.

However, in an interview with Aljazeera, al-Sistani aide Hamid al-Khafaf said no keys had yet been delivered. [complete article]

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City of death
By Ahmed Mukhtar, Al-Ahram, August 19, 2004

The neighbourhoods of Baghdad's most impoverished shanty town -- Sadr City -- are draped in black. Scores of mourning banners bearing the names of those killed in recent weeks of fighting in Najaf hang from fences, balconies and buildings along Sadr City's dusty, garbage-strewn streets. One banner laments a son killed "defending his country". Some bear photographs of the dead. A few have two, three, even four names squeezed onto a single black banner with an Iraqi flag and the remarkable reference that they were killed in the showdown against "the Occupying American forces". Most of the Iraqi dead are young, unemployed men who joined Al-Sadr's militia. Others are bystanders caught in the crossfire, such as a 14-year-old boy killed Sunday by a roadside bomb targeting a passing US convoy.

The fallout of the fighting in Najaf has had its impact elsewhere in Iraq, particularly in Sadr City where Al-Sadr's supporters mainly come from. The city located on the outskirts of Baghdad was named after Al-Sadr's father who was killed in 1999. It is home to more than 2 million residents -- mostly Iraqi Shia. Fearing a backlash from the Najaf battles, the Iraqi government imposed a curfew from 4pm to 8am. This, however, did not deter the Sadrist militiamen from attacking more targets. Despite an initiative made by Hussein Al-Sadr at the Iraqi National Conference to send a mediation mission to negotiate with Al-Sadr, fighting continued in the holy city and spilled over to other cities in the south.

There are no gold-domed mosques here and no historical sites to draw the world's attention. As it has been for decades, residents routinely complain that the suffering in Sadr City, severely oppressed during Saddam Hussein's regime, goes largely unnoticed.

The new term coined for Sadr City by its residents is "the valley of death" since the city was declared a closed area for days. Getting in and out was not an easy undertaking. [complete article]

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Poll finds growing opposition to Iraq war
By Frank Davies, Knight Ridder, August 20, 2004

Americans' opposition to the Iraq war continues to grow, with 69 percent of the pubic now saying that the Bush administration launched the war based on incorrect assumptions, according to a survey released Friday.

In a finding that tracks other recent polling, half the public (49 percent) now says the decision to go to war was wrong, compared to 46 percent who say the administration was right, according to the survey for the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

A year ago, 63 percent said the decision to go to war was correct. [complete article]

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U.S. struggles to win hearts, minds in the Muslim world
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 20, 2004

The Bush administration is facing growing criticism from both inside and outside its ranks that it has failed to move aggressively enough in the war of ideas against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups over the three years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Sept. 11 commission last month called for a vigorous strategy for promoting the image and democratic values of the United States around the world, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the administration is working hard on those efforts.

But Middle East experts -- and some frustrated U.S. officials -- complain that the administration has provided only limited new direction in dealing with anti-American anger among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims and is spending far too little on such efforts, particularly in contrast with the billions spent on other pressing needs, such as homeland security and intelligence. [complete article]

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Senator? Terrorist? A watch list stops Kennedy at airport
By Rachel L. Swarns, New York Times, August 20, 2004

The meeting had all the hallmarks of an ordinary Congressional hearing. There was Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, discussing the problems faced by ordinary citizens mistakenly placed on terrorist watch lists. Then, to the astonishment of the crowd attending a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Mr. Kennedy offered himself up as Exhibit A.

Between March 1 and April 6, airline agents tried to block Mr. Kennedy from boarding airplanes on five occasions because his name resembled an alias used by a suspected terrorist who had been barred from flying on airlines in the United States, his aides and government officials said.

Instead of acknowledging the craggy-faced, silver-haired septuagenarian as the Congressional leader whose face has flashed across the nation's television sets for decades, the airline agents acted as if they had stumbled across a fanatic who might blow up an American airplane. Mr. Kennedy said they refused to give him his ticket. [complete article]

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Iraqi leader backs off from threat to storm shrine
Associated Press (via Houston Chronicle), August 20, 2004

Followers loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said today they were prepared to hand control of the revered Imam Ali Shrine to top Shiite religious authorities, and Iraq's interim prime minister stepped back from threats to storm the holy site.

The moves came after a day and night of fighting in Najaf that killed 77 people and wounded 70 others, as al-Sadr militiamen mortared a police station and U.S. warplanes carried out bombing raids.

By daylight today, however, the holy city south of Baghdad appeared the quietest it has in weeks.

"We are not going to attack the mosque, we are not going to attack Muqtada al-Sadr and the mosque, evidently we are not going to do this," interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told BBC radio today. "We are not going to attack the shrines at all."

A day earlier, Allawi had threatened to send a crack force of Iraqi troops into the shrine to root out the militants, a move that could damage the holy site and further enrage the nation's majority Shiites.

But today, he said a peaceful end to the crisis was still possible.

"We have extended the olive branch, the olive branch is still extended, he can take advantage of the olive branch," Allawi said. "We want a peaceful solution." [complete article]

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Balancing the risks in holy Najaf
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, August 20, 2004

Ayad Allawi's ultimatum yesterday to the rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr - who is holed up with his fighters in the holy city of Najaf - was notable for one thing: the lack of a deadline.

Reporters who gathered for a news conference in Baghdad were expecting the prime minister to announce that the final military push to remove Mr Sadr from the Imam Ali shrine had begun.

But while he made it clear that the time for negotiation was over, Mr Allawi positioned himself behind the peace plan that emerged from this week's national conference, which calls for Mr Sadr to vacate the holy shrine, disarm his militia and join the political process.

"A solution is needed and soon, and we want to use all peaceful means to preserve the holy shrine," he said.

It was an indication that the prime minister, who has been cultivating his image as a no-nonsense leader, is aware of the risks involved if he or the US forces make a false move in Najaf. [complete article]

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U.S. confused by Al-Sadr's motives in Iraq
By Ken Guggenheim, Associated Press (via Yahoo), August 19, 2004

What's clear about radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is that he wants power, U.S. officials say. What's less certain is what he wants to do with that power or how far he'll go to get it.

As the U.S. government struggles to understand al-Sadr and his motives, that uncertainty is complicating efforts to end one of the greatest threats to stability in Iraq.

Al-Sadr, whose loyalists have been fighting a U.S.-Iraqi force throughout Najaf for two weeks, wants U.S. forces to leave the country and opposes Iraq's interim government, but doesn't say what he wants in its place, U.S. officials say. He has close ties to Iran, but it's not known whether he wants Iraq to have a clerical government like Iran's. He says he's ready to become a martyr, but that may be just talk. [complete article]

Comment -- The one thing that's perfectly clear about Muqtada al-Sadr it is that he wants the Americans to get out of Iraq. If his wider objectives are a little less clear there are surely many people in Washington who must identify with his predicament. After all, when it started this war the only thing the Bush administration was clear about was its desire to get rid of Saddam.

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As oil prices boil ...
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, August 20, 2004

You wouldn't know it from the running-on-empty rhetoric of the U.S. presidential campaign, but crude oil prices hit an all-time high this week of more than $48 a barrel. Some economists are warning about a full-blown energy crisis, with prices rising to $65 or more until they bring on a global recession that finally slows demand.

The oil market right now is a sort of inverse bubble, propelled by its own momentum of anxiety and bad news. Wherever analysts look for reliable sources of oil, they see trouble -- in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia, in Russia, in Venezuela. And on the demand side, they see the inexorable rise of the Chinese economy and its new hunger for oil imports. So traders bid up the price of crude.

It's a one-way market at the moment, with prices crashing through the previous barriers. "The $50 level is acting like a magnet," energy consultant Peter Beutel told the Associated Press on Wednesday, after prices for U.S. light crude topped $47 per barrel.

No market goes up forever. But Philip Verleger, a respected energy economist, warns that over the next several years, the price pressure will probably get worse. "Prices may rise to $50 per barrel, or $60 per barrel, or even $70 per barrel," he writes in a recent report to clients. "They will likely remain there until growth in petroleum demand slows down enough to match available refining, logistical and productive capacity." [complete article]

See also Oil nears key $50-a-barrel mark.

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Iraqi soccer players angered by Bush campaign ads
By Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated (via CNN), August 19, 2004

Iraqi midfielder Salih Sadir scored a goal here on Wednesday night, setting off a rousing celebration among the 1,500 Iraqi soccer supporters at Pampeloponnisiako Stadium. Though Iraq -- the surprise team of the Olympics -- would lose to Morocco 2-1, it hardly mattered as the Iraqis won Group D with a 2-1 record and now face Australia in the quarterfinals on Sunday.

Afterward, Sadir had a message for U.S. president George W. Bush, who is using the Iraqi Olympic team in his latest re-election campaign advertisements.

In those spots, the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan appear as a narrator says, "At this Olympics there will be two more free nations -- and two fewer terrorist regimes."

"Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," Sadir told through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. "He can find another way to advertise himself."

Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush's TV advertisement. "How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?" Manajid told me. "He has committed so many crimes." [complete article]

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Kerry deals away his ace in the hole
By Helen Thomas, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 18, 2004

It appears American voters have little choice between the presidential candidates in the November election when it comes to the disastrous war against Iraq.

Both President Bush and his rival, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seem to think it was worth the 932 American lives (so far) and thousands of U.S. wounded to get one man behind bars -- Saddam Hussein.

There also are the untold thousands of Iraqis dead and wounded as well. But, as one Pentagon spokesman told me, "They don't count."

Kerry has made a colossal mistake by continuing to defend his October 2002 vote authorizing President Bush's invasion of Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- As events in Iraq turn from bad to worse the ranks of the anyone-but-Bush segment of voters will inevitably swell -- irrespective of anything Kerry says. At this point it looks unlikely that either candidate will make any meaningful statements about the future and the election will simply boil down to who does a better job at putting on a performance that looks "presidential."

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Audit shows $8.8 billion in Iraq funds missing
Reuters (via MSNBC), August 19, 2004

At least $8.8 billion in Iraqi funds that was given to Iraqi ministries by the former U.S.-led authority there cannot be accounted for, according to a draft U.S. audit set for release soon.

The audit by the Coalition Provisional Authority's own inspector general blasts the CPA for "not providing adequate stewardship" of at least $8.8 billion from the Development Fund for Iraq that was given to Iraqi ministries. [...]

Among the draft audit's findings were that payrolls in Iraqi ministries under the control of the Coalition Provisional Authority were padded with thousands of ghost employees.

In one example, the audit said the CPA paid for 74,000 guards even though the actual number could not be validated. In another, 8,206 guards were listed on a payroll but only 603 people doing the work could be counted.

Three Democratic senators -- Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota -- demanded an explanation from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the use of the funds by the CPA, which handed over authority to the Iraqis in June.

"The CPA apparently transferred this staggering sum of money with no written rules or guidelines for ensuring adequate managerial, financial or contractual controls over the funds," said the letter sent by the senators on Thursday. [complete article]

Comment -- Let's not forget that the CPA was staffed in large part by inexperienced Republican operatives whose only "qualification" for getting hired was the fact that they had posted their resumes on the Heritage Foundation web site.

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CIA study on Iraq weapons is off course, officials say
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2004

Having failed to find banned weapons in Iraq, the CIA is preparing a final report on its search that will speculate on what the deposed regime's capabilities might have looked like years from now if left unchecked, according to congressional and intelligence officials.

The CIA plans for the report, due next month, to project as far as 2008 what Iraq might have achieved in its illegal weapons programs if the United States had not invaded the country last year, the officials said.

The new direction of the inquiry is seen by some officials as an attempt to obscure the fact that no banned weapons -- or even evidence of active programs -- have been found, and instead emphasize theories that Iraq may have been planning to revive its programs.

The change in focus has angered some intelligence officials and at least one key Democrat in Congress and has brought charges of political motivation. [complete article]

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Israel admits training elite U.S. forces
By Richard Beeston, The Times, August 19, 2004

US forces fighting in Iraq have been accused of secretly training in Israel, where they have been taught tactics used over the past four years against Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A senior Israeli military expert confirmed that elite American troops were regularly trained in Israel.

Tal Tovy, an expert in guerrilla warfare who teaches at Israel's military staff college, said that US Marines and Army Rangers frequently visited the country on exercise and there was close co-operation on tactics.

He was speaking after The Jerusalem Post reported that some American soldiers serving in Iraq have been trained at the counter-terrorism school in the Adam military base, near Modi'in, outside Jerusalem.

The Israeli Defence Force declined to comment yesterday about co-operation with foreign forces. The American Embassy in Tel Aviv said that from time to time the two countries did conduct joint exercises but denied that there were US forces in Israel at present. [complete article]

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When time isn't on Israel's side
By Leonard Fein, The Forward, August 19, 2004

Some 20 years ago, Ehud Olmert -- now deputy prime minister of Israel, recently mayor of Jerusalem, back then a rising star in Israel's right-wing firmament -- was among the principal speakers at a United Jewish Appeal event in Silverado, a lovely retreat center in northern California. One day, the two of us took a long walk, during which we discussed and debated the wisdom of Israel's policies vis a vis its Palestinian neighbors. "What's your hurry," Olmert asked. "Time is on our side. Who can say whether conditions in the region won't make peace on our terms easier 20 or 30 or even 50 years from now?"

These days, Olmert has become the right wing's most active champion of disengagement from the zones of occupation, of a withdrawal from more than the token four West Bank outposts that Sharon has pledged to abandon some- time next year: "The four settlements we evacuate in Samaria will not be the last. If the process develops, we will evacuate many more -- not because we want to, but to reduce our daily altercations with the rest of the world. This is necessary if we want to remain a democratic, Jewish state. The occupation of Palestinian territory is eroding Israel's international standing.... The United States is virtually our only friend, so we must remember that it, too, supports a withdrawal almost to the borders of 1967."

A growing number of Israelis have lately and, alas, belatedly, like Olmert, come to understand that if Israel is to remain in any meaningful sense a Jewish and democratic state, it cannot continue to include within its boundaries the more than 3 million Palestinians who live in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel's options today are even more stark than they were 20 and more years ago: Retain the territories and their inhabitants, and you end up with either an apartheid state or, if you grant all those Palestinians Israeli citizenship, a state with a thin and receding Jewish majority. Or: Let go of the territories. And the questions that now preoccupy not only Israel's strategic thinkers, but also many of its citizens, is how to get out of Gaza and the West Bank -- to let go of the territories -- in a way that does not force Israel to withdraw from the larger settlement blocs and cities it has built there and that does not rend Israeli society itself. [complete article]

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U.S. military doctors accused of role in torturing Iraqi prisoners
By Emma Ross, Chicago Sun-Times, August 20, 2004

Doctors working for the U.S. military in Iraq collaborated with interrogators in the abuse of detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, profoundly breaching medical ethics and human rights, a bioethicist charges in the Lancet medical journal.

In a scathing analysis of the behavior of military doctors, nurses and medics, University of Minnesota Professor Steven Miles calls for a reform of military medicine and an official investigation into the role played by physicians and other medical staff in the torture scandal.

He cites evidence that doctors or medics falsified death certificates to cover up homicides, hid evidence of beatings and revived a prisoner so he could be further tortured. No reports of abuses were initiated by medical personnel until the official investigation into Abu Ghraib began, he found. [complete article]

Abu Ghraib probe points to top brass
By Josh White and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, August 20, 2004

An Army investigation into the role of military intelligence personnel in the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison reports that the scandal was not just caused by a small circle of rogue military police soldiers but resulted from failures of leadership rising to the highest levels of the U.S. command in Iraq, senior defense officials said.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the report has not yet been completed, said the 9,000-page document says that a combination of leadership failings, confounding policies, lack of discipline and absolute confusion at the prison led to the abuse. It widens the scope of culpability from seven MPs who have been charged with abuse to include nearly 20 low-ranking soldiers who could face criminal prosecution in military courts. No Army officers, however, are expected to face criminal charges.

Officials also said that the report implicates five civilian contractors in the abuse, and that Army officials plan to recommend that their cases be sent to the Justice Department for possible prosecution in civilian courts. [complete article]

Prison abuse whistleblower living in protective custody
By David Dishneau, Associated Press (via NC Newsobserver), August 17, 2004

The Army reservist credited with tipping off investigators to prison abuse in Iraq is living in protective military custody while waiting to testify in more legal proceedings, family members said Tuesday.

Spc. Joseph M. Darby, 24, received death threats, and some family members endured vandalism after his role in the scandal was publicly revealed in May, his sister-in-law, Maxine Carroll, said. [complete article]

U.S. soldiers kill 2 detainees in quelling riot at Abu Ghraib
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, August 19, 2004

U.S. military police killed two detainees at Abu Ghraib prison early Wednesday after a riot broke out in a tent camp at the sprawling facility west of the capital, a military spokesman said.

The brawl was one of the deadliest skirmishes at Abu Ghraib since the U.S. Army began holding suspected insurgents, or security detainees, there last year. Five detainees were wounded by other detainees, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, spokesman for detention operations in Iraq. [complete article]

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A journey into the epicenter of the Sadr standoff
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 2004

Thursday, several journalists and I began organizing a delegation to enter the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf.

We had two goals: First, to seek what may be the final comments of the top leadership of Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, who were taking shelter in the holy site. Second, we wanted to help two colleagues, freelance photographer Thorne Anserson and freelance reporter Philip Robertson, get out of the shrine after they had spent a harrowing three days at the epicenter of this armed showdown.

Between us and the shrine were two US military checkpoints, countless snipers, and hundreds of Mahdi Army fighters who had already committed themselves to die for their cause.

For a brief period on Wednesday afternoon, it appeared that a peaceful resolution might be achieved. Representatives of the National Conference assembled in Baghdad read a letter from Mr. Sadr saying that he had agreed to the government's conditions, namely to put down their weapons, leave the shrine, and become a mainstream political movement. But hours later, fighting erupted here again. And the Iraqi government announced that there would be no more peace negotiations. Ominously, the Iraqi minister of defense announced that the final assault would begin within hours.

At his press conference, Minister of State Qasim Daud made it clear that there would be no new peace talks, and in fact, added more conditions for Mr. Sadr to meet. As journalists, we usually scribble our notes and file our stories and then head to lunch. But this time it was personal. We had friends inside, who were asking us via satellite phone for help. We decided to attempt a rescue mission. We alerted the Iraqi government, the US military, and the Mahdi Army and ask them not to fire on us; we were planning to go to the shrine.

"You realize that what you are doing is risky," said a US Army major, whose last name was Robertson. "That shrine might not be around much longer." We assured him that we did, and made our way back to the hotel to set up our convoy. [complete article]

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Moving from bombed shops to burning markets, I saw Sadr's soldiers dig in for the final assault
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 20, 2004

Along the 200-yard alleyway leading from Medan Square to the shrine of Imam Ali, the Mehdi Army gunmen were clustered, many of them smiling or waving. They stood in groups of three or four every 10 yards or so, with their Kalashnikovs and their rocket launchers.

Even as shells and mortars exploded elsewhere in the old city, many of the insurgents were half chanting, half singing: "Muqtada [Sadr] we are your soldiers... Muqtada never hid his head." If they were nervous at the imminent prospect of Iraqi and US forces carrying out the Iraqi interim government's latest threat, issued three hours earlier, to storm the shrine if Sadr did not agree "in a few hours" to its terms, they gave no sign.

In this narrow street ­ once walked by Shia pilgrims from Iraq and Iran but now populated only by the Sadr militia ­ the damage to the shops that line it was notably less than on the approach to the square itself. Much of the commercial district was ravaged, the walls of shops and offices punched through by shelling, the stalls flattened or burnt out. Through the jagged holes made in the southern walls of the Wadi al-Salam cemetery you could see the damage to the tombstones inflicted by two weeks of fighting. [complete article]

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Sadr deal may be too late to protect shrine
By Adrian Blomfield and Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, August 19, 2004

The radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr appeared last night to have accepted an ultimatum by the Iraqi government to end his insurgency and disarm his Mahdi army militia.

But confusion surrounded his terms for acceptance and there were indications that his offer may have come too late to stave off a military assault on the sacred Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. It is occupied by him and the Mahdi army but surrounded by American tanks.

American forces have surrounded the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf

Police in Najaf used loudhailers to warn the holy city's residents to stay indoors after Sadr aides signalled acceptance of peace terms offered by a government delegation that travelled to the shrine on Tuesday. Fighting continued around the shrine and militiamen mortared a police station. [complete article]

An elite Iraqi unit waits, with Sadr in its sights
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2004

If the time ever comes to oust Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr from the gold-domed Imam Ali Mosque, Lt. Hassan will be riding the first wave of the assault.

A bald, 34-year-old Iraqi living at a barren U.S. military camp north of Najaf, Hassan is part of an elite, U.S.-trained military unit -- modeled on the Army's Special Forces -- that arrived here a week ago to help put an Iraqi face on efforts to quash Sadr's militia.

Hassan is also a Shiite Muslim. As he's trained in 115-degree heat and blistering sandstorms for a mission that may never occur, Hassan -- who didn't want his full name used -- has been grappling with whether he can participate in an attack on a mosque that his religion considers one of its holiest places.

Ultimately, he decided his first duty was as a soldier. [complete article]

Comment -- Justifiable skepticism about Moqtada al-Sadr's agreement to cease fighting and withdraw from the Imam Ali Shrine means that there remains a great risk that Iyad Allawi will be foolhardy enough to authorize an assault. Concern should focus not only on the possible damage to this highly venerated shrine, but also who will be held responsible. Statements from US officials that the US military would strictly be in a supporting role will be unlikely to quell suspicions that Americans may end up entering the shrine. It's reasonable to assume that whoever is involved in such an assault will enter and leave the scene masked. Masks not only protect identities but also open the door to speculation about whether the combatants are Iraqis or Americans. Even if they are an exclusively Iraqi force, the presence of Sunni Arabs or Kurds or non-Muslim Iraqis in the Shias' holiest shrine adds yet another potentially explosive element to the equation.

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U.S. pushes into Baghdad Shia area
BBC News, August 19, 2004

US forces say they have made a major advance into a mainly Shia area in Baghdad that is a stronghold of the radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Residents of Sadr City told the BBC there was fierce fighting overnight between the Americans and Shia militia.

And in Najaf, where Mr Sadr's armed supporters are locked in a stand-off with US and Iraqi troops, gunfire reverberated on Thursday.

The cleric has offered to end the uprising if there is a truce.

Iraq's government says he and his Mehdi Army militiamen have "only hours" to leave the Imam Ali shrine. [complete article]

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Rebel cleric in Najaf sends messages of conciliation
By John F. Burns, New York Times, August 19, 2004

Displaying the brinkmanship that has made him one of the United States' most powerful adversaries in Iraq, the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr sent last-minute messages of conciliation on Wednesday that appeared to have staved off an imminent assault on his fortress in the country's holiest Shiite shrine.

For two weeks, Mr. Sadr has led his militia force, known as the Mahdi Army, in some of the deadliest fighting with American troops since the invasion 16 months ago. But faced with a deadline of hours from Iraq's interim government to back down or face attack by Iraqi troops, he abruptly signaled a change of course, and suggested he would accept demands to vacate Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, disband his militia and transform it into a political party. [...]

Mr. Sadr's offer was met with applause by delegates gathered in Baghdad to select a national assembly.

Among senior officials in Washington and Baghdad, however, Mr. Sadr's move was met with deep skepticism.

"I don't think we can trust al-Sadr," said Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser. Iraq's defense minister, Hazim al-Shaalan, issued a statement calling Mr. Sadr's initiative "strange," after his earlier intransigence, and demanding that he substantiate his offer by having his militiamen "immediately deliver their weapons" to Iraqi forces around the shrine.

Even as American and Iraqi officials were weighing Mr. Sadr's intentions, a menacing new dimension was added to the Najaf crisis by a report on Al Jazeera television that Iraqi militants calling themselves the Martyrs' Squad had captured an American journalist, Micah Garen, and threatened to kill him within 48 hours if United States forces did not pull out of Najaf. [complete article]

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How U.S. fares in Iraq may sway swing voters
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 19, 2004

Foreign policy and national security concerns are considered more important by Americans this campaign year than at any time since the Vietnam War, and perceptions of success or failure in Iraq could be dominant in swaying swing voters in November, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

About 41 percent of those surveyed considered international issues such as the war in Iraq and terrorism the most important problems facing the country, while about 26 percent felt economic issues were most vital, according to the Pew survey, conducted in association with the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Barring a sizable shift in public opinion over the next few months, the 2004 election will be the first since the Vietnam era in which foreign affairs and national security issues are a higher priority than the economy," the Pew report concluded.

But like much of the electorate, swing voters -- those who are not committed to either candidate, including many in battleground states -- were split over which candidate is stronger on foreign policy and terrorism, the survey found. Swing voters tended to agree more with Democrats on foreign policy issues, but their opinions were closer to Republican positions on combating terrorism, pollsters said. [complete article]

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Iran warns Israel on pre-emptive strikes
By Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph, August 19, 2004

Iran warned America and Israel last night that it was ready to launch pre-emptive strikes to stop them attacking its nuclear facilities.

Ali Shamkhani, the Iranian defence minister, said the presence of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was not a threat to Teheran. On the contrary, American soldiers were now "hostages" to Iran.

His comments came as America and Britain decided to increase diplomatic pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear programme. However, they agreed to delay any move to impose sanctions until after November's presidential election in America. [...]

On Monday, it threatened to attack Israel's nuclear reactor at Dimona if Israel tried to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities as it did Saddam Hussein's Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981 - often held up as the model for effective pre-emptive action.

In the latest outburst, Mr Shamkhani told the al-Jazeera satellite television network: "We will not sit (with our arms folded) to wait for what others will do to us.

"Some military commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations which the Americans talk about are not their monopoly.

"America is not the only one present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf and we can be present in Iraq." [complete article]

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Sadr bids a farewell to arms but fighting on streets of Najaf tells a different story
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 19, 2004

Fighting continued in Najaf late last night despite an earlier declaration that the Shia leader Muqtada Sadr had accepted a peace plan designed to end the two-week battle for control of the city.

In an unexpected development, Sadr sent a letter to a delegate attending the national conference of politicians in Baghdad saying that he was accepting peace terms laid down the previous day by a mission from the conference.

But amid serious doubts over whether his conditions for implementing the plan ­ reportedly including a demand that US troops should withdraw ­ would satisfy the interim Iraqi government, explosions continued around the old city. Police imposed a curfew for the first time. Shelling and automatic gunfire had earlier been clearly audible from points close to the old city after reports spread of the putative truce and at least one mortar was fired in the direction of a main police station. [complete article]

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Retiring Republican House Intelligence vice chairman says war in Iraq was unjustified
Associated Press (via Boston Globe), August 18, 2004

A top Republican congressman has broken from his party in the final days of his House career, saying he believes the U.S. military assault on Iraq was unjustified and that the situation there has deteriorated into "a dangerous, costly mess."

"I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action," Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., wrote in a letter to constituents.

"Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action," he said.

Bereuter is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee and vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is stepping down after 13 terms to become the president of the Asia Foundation, effective Sept. 1. [complete article]

Read Rep. Doug Bereuter's letter.

Comment -- Rep. Bereuter writes: "Knowing now what I know about the reliance on the tenuous or insufficiently corroborated intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial WMD arsenal, I believe that launching the preemptive military action was not justified."

Why can't John Kerry make the same statement?

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Chaos and farce as Iraq chooses first assembly
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, August 19, 2004

Iraq's national conference finally chose the country's first post-Saddam assembly last night.

After a day of wrangling and confusion, the presiding judges at the conference declared that a government-backed list should be adopted.

An alternative list was offered by independent delegates but this was later withdrawn, leading to claims that the 81 members of the new council had only been agreed by default.

The conference, which has drawn more than 1,000 delegates from across Iraq, has been hailed as the country's first step to democracy. [complete article]

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Desert hospitality, honor, and the war outside the door
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 18, 2004

For two weeks now, Ahmed and Sameer al-Najafi have lived on the front lines of a deadly fight between the US military and a Shiite militia named the Mahdi Army.

They are not fighters, although they are clearly of fighting age. They are Iraqi civilians, protecting their house from looters in Najaf's Old City. They sit indoors, cook their shrinking supply of food, and judge from the sounds outside whether they will live another day.

Sameer laughs, as my interpreter, my driver, and I flinch when a mortar explodes nearby. "Today, the fighting is so easy, they're just kidding with us," he says. "On Sunday, the fighting was so heavy and so close, we said our shahada prayer [the Muslim prayer of the dying]."

On Monday, we were unexpected witnesses to a day in the life of the Najafi home - a large brick townhouse built around an open-air courtyard. We ducked into their doorway, and the fighting drew too close for us to leave. We saw a surprising resilience and spirit. Their moods shifted constantly: Sometimes, when bombs fell around them, they turned sober and cool-headed to decide the best way to survive. Other times they told jokes or recited poetry to lift their spirits and remind themselves that life is worth living. [complete article]

From street bards to Saddam, everyone's a poet in Iraq
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, August 17, 2004

In Iraq, there is a saying that beside every palm tree, you will find a poet. To give you some idea of how many poets that is, there are 25 million people in Iraq, and 38 million palm trees.

In this country, poetry is like national therapy, a cure for ills in the body politic.

"As Iraqi people, we like to celebrate our state, our country," says Harith Ismail Turki, a professor of English literature who is, of course, also a poet. "People sometimes resort to poetry, not as a way to escape, but as a way to mitigate the agony inside themselves." [complete article]

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'Star Wars': Pie in the sky
By William M. Arkin, Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2004

This year, more than two decades after President Reagan delivered his "Star Wars" speech and initiated a crusade to protect America against missile attacks, the United States will finally deploy the first component of a national missile defense.

If ever there was a case of wasted defense spending, missile defense is it.

The idea of making the United States impervious to missile attack got its start in the years just before the Soviet Union began to totter. The end of the Cold War might have killed the idea but for an influential band of ideological true believers who kept it alive by reorienting the program toward the potential threat posed by such "rogue states" as North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, dealt what also could have been a mortal blow to the missile defense dream. Al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington led President Bush to change the fundamental paradigm of national security. No longer would the United States wait for terrorists or others to strike. Instead, it would act preemptively whenever a threat began to develop.

The United States would develop offensive capabilities to strike anywhere on the globe to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And the frontline of this active defense would be far "forward," meaning overseas. In other words, under the Bush Doctrine, the U.S. would intervene militarily long before any potentially hostile regime could develop missiles or other weapons capable of reaching American soil.

So it might seem a little strange that -- on July 22 -- the first 55-foot-long antimissile missile was placed in an underground silo in the foothills of an Alaskan range 107 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Seemingly stranger still, the Bush administration acted as if the U.S. had deployed something that was as workable, innocuous, consistent with its policy and necessary as air bags on automobiles. [complete article]

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Pakistan turns on itself
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, August 19, 2004

Under immense pressure from the United States, a slow and gradual operation has begun in Pakistan against the strongest political voice of Islamists and the real mother of international Islamic movements, of which Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front is the spoiled child.

In a surprise move this week, Pakistan's federal minister of the interior, Faisal Saleh Hayat, listed a number of incidences in which members of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the premier fundamentalist party in the country, had been tied to al-Qaeda, and called on it to "explain these links".

"It is a matter of concern that Jamaat-e-Islami, which is a main faction of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal [MMA], has neither dissociated itself from its activists having links with the al-Qaeda network nor condemned their activities," Faisal said, adding that "one could derive a meaning out of its silence". [complete article]

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British say US gave terror suspects a heads up
By Mark Rice-Oxley, Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 2004

A counterterror operation that started in Pakistan last month and rippled through the United States culminated in Britain Wednesday when eight suspects appeared in court charged with involvement in an alleged terrorist plot.

The eight, arrested earlier this month on the basis of intelligence gleaned from arrests in Pakistan, face charges of conspiracy to murder and to use hazardous materials to cause disruption or harm. Significantly, one was also charged with possessing reconnaissance plans of several public buildings in the US, including the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On the surface, the development suggests successful coordination of international counterterror efforts: A pair of suspected Al Qaeda lynchpins are nabbed in Pakistan; a few megabytes of intelligence retrieved from a computer point to a conspiracy and several plotters; the US raises its terror alert and warns the public; the British police and counterterror units swoop.

But intelligence experts say that privately there is great concern that the operation was jeopardized by US public pronouncements that were made before the British suspects were even apprehended. [complete article]

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New face of Bush terror team
By James Gordon Meek, New York Daily News, August 15, 2004

President Bush's newest counterterror spin doctor was a top Clinton administration lawyer sacked by Attorney General John Ashcroft three years ago.

Blond, bejeweled Frances Fragos Townsend has emerged in recent weeks as the new face at the White House to wax stoic about the nation's most depressing concern: pre-election terrorism. [...]

One possible explanation for her dramatic reversal of fortune: Husband John Townsend, a prominent D.C. lawyer, graduated from Yale in 1968 with Bush. She also has been a registered Republican since at least 1995. [complete article]

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CIA officer denounces agency and Sept. 11 report
By Eric Lichblau, New York Times, August 17, 2004

A senior officer for the Central Intelligence Agency who led the unit that tracked Osama bin Laden has written a blistering letter to the Sept. 11 commission, attacking both the C.I.A. and the commission itself over what he sees as a failure to punish "bureaucratic cowards" in the intelligence agencies.

The officer, Michael F. Scheuer, has written a best-selling book under the pseudonym "Anonymous" that is sharply critical of the way the United States has pursued its global campaign against terrorism.

In a signed e-mail letter sent to the commission, he lashed out in angry and highly personal tones at the failure by the commission and the C.I.A. to hold anyone directly accountable for Sept. 11 failures and aimed sharp criticism at George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, without mentioning his name.

In the Sept. 11 commission's final report, "you never mention that the D.C.I. starved and is starving the bin Laden unit of officers while finding plenty of officers to staff his personal public relations office, as well as the staffs that handled diversity, multiculturalism, and employee newsletters," he wrote in a letter that was sent July 31. [complete article]

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New cooperation and new tensions in terrorist hunt
By Amy Waldman and Eric Lipton, New York Times, August 17, 2004

Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan walked into the Lahore International Airport on the morning of July 13, in search of a package that had been sent to him by his father in Karachi, some 600 miles away.

But something other than his package was awaiting him. A group of Pakistani security officers detained Mr. Khan, a tall, heavy-set 25-year-old computer engineer, on suspicions that he was the same elusive operative for Al Qaeda whom United States intelligence sources had tipped them off to two months earlier.

The apprehension of Mr. Khan, in this ancient Punjab city not far from the Indian border, was wrapped up with almost no notice; his arrest did not even make the local papers. But before the end of the month, that single act would have enormous global repercussions.

The government's alert level would be raised in the financial sectors of Washington, New York and Newark, warning that financial buildings might be the targets of an attack. Commandos elsewhere in Pakistan, using information gathered after Mr. Khan's detention, would apprehend one of the suspected masterminds behind the bombing of two United States Embassies in East Africa in 1998. And a string of arrests would be made in Britain, rounding up 13 men who the authorities there suspected might be terrorists.

Just how imminent any threat related to Mr. Khan might have been and how much progress was made in defeating Al Qaeda as a result of his arrest remains unclear. The synchronicity of the arrests may have also given the impression that an organized crime ring has been broken up on two continents; that too remains unclear.

But the rush of activity demonstrates the extraordinary interconnection among international intelligence services that has surfaced since the Sept. 11 attacks. It also exposes the awkward and at times clearly testy antiterrorism partnership between the United States, Britain and Pakistan - tension that has been so evident in the past few weeks that the British have suggested that undisciplined acts by their two partners may have compromised the ultimate success of the operation and unnecessarily alarmed the public. [complete article]

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Israel and the American elections
By Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, August 18, 2004

Once upon a time, an assistant to Levy Eshkol, our late Prime Minister, rushed up to him and cried: "Levy, a disaster! A drought has set in!"

"Where?" the Prime Minister asked anxiously, "in Texas?"

"No, here in Israel!" the man replied.

"Then there's nothing to worry about," Eshkol said dismissively.

Right from the beginning, the State of Israel has been critically affected by events in the United States. "If America sneezes, Israel catches cold," is the local version of the universal saying.

This is particularly true in the run-up to American elections. They can be as important for Israel as our own, since the occupant of the White House can influence the fate of Israel in many significant ways. But they have an additional significance: the months before the American elections are a kind of open season for Israel.

The basic assumption is that no candidate for the White House would dare to provoke the American Jewish voters at election times. They are an extremely well organized and highly motivated political bloc, ready to donate heaps of money, which gives them political clout well beyond their numbers. [complete article]

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U.S. doesn't condemn Israel for new settlement tenders
By Nadav Shragai and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, August 18, 2004

The United States on Tuesday refrained from condemning Israel for publishing tenders earlier in the day for the construction of some 1,000 new housing units in existing West Bank settlements.
Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters that the administration was studying the details of the tenders and looking into exactly what is involved and where the new units with be built. He said that he could not say whether the tenders constituted a breach of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s commitments to freeze settlement construction.

He added that the U.S. view is that Israel has committed itself to an entire freeze on construction in the territories, including to accommodate “natural growth.”

Housing and Construction Minster Tzipi Livni said Tuesday afternoon that the tenders do not contradict commitments to the U.S. administration to freeze settlement construction.

"The tenders were issued according to necessity and based on the blueprints. These are settlement blocs at the very heart of the consensus. This has nothing to do with the disengagement plan, this is part of government policy and is not to connected to the American declarations." [complete article]

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Would Israel strike first at Iran?
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, August 18, 2004

Moments before dispatching Israeli pilots to bomb Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in June, 1981, army Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan is said to have depicted the importance of the mission in stark terms: "The alternative is our destruction.''

In ordering the lightning knockout, Israel served notice to its Middle Eastern foes that the Jewish state would act - even preemptively - to deprive them of a nuclear option.

Two decades later, the Osirak precedent endures. As the Bush administration steps up its rhetoric against Iran's nuclear program, the possibility of Israel following through on veiled threats to hit Iranian sites remains a wildcard.

But several Israeli experts say that the Osirak experience bears little relevance in the case of Iran and that the chances of a repeat strike are very low. [complete article]

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An elusive peace in Najaf
By Tony Karon,, August 17, 2004

The method in Moqtada Sadr's madness can best be seen in the list of people lining up to mediate an end to the standoff in Najaf. At last count, they included not only a delegation from the national conference in Baghdad convened to appoint an interim legislature, but also UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and even Pope John Paul II. Sadr may be vowing to fight to the finish against a combined U.S.-Iraqi force that vastly outnumbers and outguns his own, but in the process he's taken center-stage in the battle to shape post-Saddam Iraq. Indeed, the national conference called to create an interim legislature found its main business eclipsed by concern over the standoff, and responded with great relief to an announcement Wednesday that Sadr had purportedly agreed to heed government demands to put down their weapons, leave the Imam Ali Mosque and join the political process. But the delegates' relief may be premature: Sadr's spokesman made clear that he was going nowhere until U.S. and Iraqi government forces pulled back from around the shrine and a cease-fire was in force. And while the latest truce announcement looks set to forestall, once again, a direct assault on his militia forces, it's far from clear that the promised disengagement will occur along the lines announced in Baghdad on Wednesday. [complete article]

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Sadr agrees to end Najaf crisis
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 17, 2004

The leader of a Shi'ite uprising in Iraq has agreed to leave a holy shrine encircled by U.S. marines, hours after the interim government threatened to storm it and drive out his fighters.

Raising hopes for a peaceful resolution to the standoff, Iraqi delegates to a conference to choose a national assembly said on Wednesday that the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had agreed to accept their demands to resolve the crisis.

But even after the announcement, explosions and gun fire echoed through the streets as U.S. forces battled Sadr's Mehdi Army militiamen, whose two-week-old uprising poses the biggest challenge yet to Iraq's interim government.

Sadr's fighters are taking shelter in Najaf's Imam Ali shrine, hoping their opponents will not dare to attack one of the holiest sites for Iraq's majority Shi'ites.

Defence Minister Hazim al-Shaalan had some six hours earlier said an assault was imminent on the golden-domed mosque. [complete article]

Comment -- If, as this report indicates, the standoff in Najaf is close to a resolution, at least for now, a doomsday scenario will have been averted. Nevertheless, Baghdad's nascent political leaders and their counterparts in Washington would be well advised to remember the consequences of an earlier assault on a golden-domed temple whose purpose was to stamp out a troublesome insurgency.

Indira Gandhi's decision to launch "Operation Bluestar" in 1984, is noteworthy both because of the similarities to the current standoff and also because of the disimilarities. Insurgents led by militant Sikh leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, were holed up in the holliest site for Sikhs, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Bhindranwale, like al-Sadr, was regarded as a political upstart -- a village preacher turned separatist leader. Gandhi calculated that she could go after him without precipitating a massive Sikh backlash. Nevertheless, after the Indian army not only wiped out the Sikh insurgents but also destroyed much of the Golden Temple, Gandhi's fate was sealed. Four months later she was assassinated. Keep in mind, Indira Gandhi, unlike Iyad Allawi, had at that time been a powerful leader of what -- the Punjabi insurgency notwithstanding -- was a relatively stable democracy.

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Al-Sadr, Kerry, and Bush
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, August 17, 2004

Muqtada al-Sadr, John Kerry, and George Bush have at least one thing in common: Their influence surpasses their personal flair. What each demonstrates is that talent in politics does not depend on talent.

Many a seasoned political observer finds it difficult to avoid burnishing their own vanity by treating the political figures who garner so much of their attention as somehow worthy of the pivotal roles they occupy in society. Does history not unfold in accordance with some sort of underlying design, even if it is one that at times appears quite indecipherable? As flawed as our leaders or aspiring leaders so often appear, are those who succeed in politics not endowed with at least a few virtues that qualify them to govern?

The implication that a nation with an idiot for a president must be a nation of idiots is hard to escape. Preferable then does it become to assume that behind a foolish facade lurks some wit or cunning, not so much because this redeems the president but that it credits his supporters with a modicum of intelligence able to discern who might serve their interests or those of the nation.

In spite of this I'm inclined to believe that, as they are frequently characterized, George Bush has no greater intellectual depth than he displays, Muqtada al-Sadr is a dangerous rabble-rouser, and John Kerry would make just as carefully a measured and dull president as he is a candidate. The political influence of each of these men derives not from their personal appeal but the widespread sentiment for which each has become a locus.

George Bush connects with middle America not in spite of his verbal clumsiness but because, among other things, that's what makes him a regular guy. Even as he mangles his words he conveys the impression that this is a straightforward man speaking his mind. His power derives not from some Clintonian talent of communication but from a broad current of popular attitudes onto which he has effectively hooked. These are not beliefs that cleave to a coherent political program; both their appeal and their weakness consists in their ability to be formulated in simple sentences with unqualified affirmations. On terrorists: "We must be resolute and we must be steadfast in the face of these cold-blooded killers. [...] The only way to deal with them is to bring them to justice." Aye! On national security: "I will never turn over America's national security decisions to leaders of other countries." Aye!

Then we have John Kerry, a man whose principle qualification for the role of president is that he is not George Bush. Among the other Democratic presidential candidates it was perhaps only Joseph Lieberman who went the extra distance in attempting to liken himself to Bush, but what distinguished Kerry from the other not-Bush candidates was that he captured the impersonal essence of not being Bush. He is not Bush by virtue of being something else but is, pure and simple, not Bush. Again, what observers saw as a weakness -- his lack of a clear identity -- may turn out to be his strength. Kerry's power, in as much as he succeeds in harnessing it, comes not from any ability to inspire but from the ability to sustain a unified and passionate opposition to the Bush administration. To the extent that Republicans imagine that Democratic antipathy for the Bush administration parallels their own prior (and in many cases remaining) revulsion for the Clintons they are liable to underestimate the depth of the opposition. Kerry's strength comes from the passion of those who will lend him their support not because of what he inspires but because the prospect of a second Bush administration invokes such a profound sense of dread.

And then we come to Muqtada al-Sadr. This is a man held in such disdain by American officials that his name has still yet to enter the lexicon of most newspaper headline writers. But see the word "firebrand" and anyone who has been at all attentive will know at once that the story is about al-Sadr. In recent months his status in the western media has been elevated above the level of purveyor-of-hot-air so that he now has the status of a "rebel cleric." Nevertheless, the message remains the same: This is a figure destined to be excluded from Iraq's political future; a marginal cleric supported by an uneducated and impoverished Shia minority. But just as is the case with Bush and Kerry, measure al-Sadr's political strength by assessing the man and you miss the mark.

To the extent that most Iraqis felt that they were being held hostage by Saddam's regime, the full enjoyment of the freedom of liberation has always been contingent on the departure of the liberators. And in as much as the timing of their departure is still uncertain, occupation remains a fact while liberation is just a promise. This has created a political climate in which all dealings with the Americans are regarded with suspicion and Muqtada al-Sadr is thus far the only political leader who is untainted. He thereby lays claim to an undiluted Iraqi nationalist sentiment and his power derives not from his personal attributes but from the depth of that sentiment. In assessing al-Sadr the focus should therefore be placed not on the strength of the man but on the strength of Iraqi nationalism itself. From this vantage point the battle in Najaf can be seen as an object study in political folly. Attacking al-Sadr and his ragged militia only fuels nationalist fervor. Those who are intent on marginalizing al-Sadr may instead end up marginalizing themselves.

Al-Sadr, Bush, and Kerry, each casts a reflection. How much power each of them possesses depends on how many people catch a glimpse of themselves as they glance into the political mirror of their choice.

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8-Day battle for Najaf: From attack to stalemate
By Alex Berenson and John F. Burns, New York Times, August 18, 2004

Just five days after they arrived here to take over from Army units that had encircled Najaf since an earlier confrontation in the spring, new Marine commanders decided to smash guerrillas loyal to the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Acting without the approval of the Pentagon or senior Iraqi officials, the Marine officers said in recent interviews, they turned a firefight with Mr. Sadr's forces on Thursday, Aug. 5, into a eight-day pitched battle, one fought out in deadly skirmishes in an ancient cemetery that brought them within rifle shot of the Imam Ali Mosque, Shiite Islam's holiest shrine. Eventually, fresh Army units arrived from Baghdad and took over Marine positions near the mosque, but by then the politics of war had taken over and the American force had lost the opportunity to storm Mr. Sadr's fighters around the mosque.

Fighting here continues, and what the Marines had hoped would be a quick, decisive action has bogged down into a grinding battle that appears to have strengthened the hand of Mr. Sadr, whose stature rises each time he survives a confrontation with the American military. It may have weakened the credibility of the interim Iraqi government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, showing him, many Iraqis say, to be alternately rash and indecisive, as well as ultimately beholden to American overrule on crucial military and political matters.

As a reconstruction of the battle in Najaf shows, the sequence of events was strikingly reminiscent of the battle of Falluja in April. In both cases, newly arrived Marine units immediately confronted guerrillas in firefights that quickly escalated. And in both cases, the American military failed to achieve its strategic goals, pulling back after the political costs of the confrontation rose. Falluja is now essentially off-limits to American ground troops and has become a haven for Sunni Muslim insurgents and terrorists menacing Baghdad, American commanders say.

The Najaf battle has also raised fresh questions about an age-old rivalry within the American military - between the no-holds-barred, press-ahead culture of the Marines and the slower, more reserved and often more politically cautious approach of the Army. Army-Marine tensions also have surfaced previously, notably when the Marines opened the Falluja offensive.

As they replay the first days of the Najaf battle, some commanders are wondering if a more carefully planned mission would have had a better chance to succeed.

"Setting conditions for an attack requires extensive planning and preparations," said Lt. Col. Myles Miyamasu, who commands an Army battalion that arrived to reinforce the Marine unit here two days after the fight began. "If you don't have those things in place and you attack, a lot of times it fails." [complete article]

Comment -- Lt. Col. Myles Miyamasu sounds like he might be playing a bit more Army-Marines one-upmanship by suggesting that the Marines are simply the victims of poor planning. The Marine-led assault on Fallujah back in April was described by Robert Kaplan as a process as complex as "writing and performing a symphony." Kaplan went on to write that,
Prior to the assault, nine TCPs (Traffic Control Points) would be set up around Fallujah, preventing, the Marines hoped, insurgents from leaving or entering. Following that, the two battalions would occupy the city's outskirts, using new forward operating bases to prosecute raids on HVTs (High Value Targets). IO (Information Operations) would be tasked with convincing the city's inhabitants that the Marines now represented the "superior tribe" there.

One officer told me, "This is a flash-bang strategy. Stun the bad guys with aggressive fire, then Psy-ops the shit out of them, always coming back to the theme of the inevitability of the superior tribe." (Atlantic Monthly, July/August, 2004)

This would be funny if the results had not been so tragic. Should the fate of Iraq now hang in the balance because so much power has been given to men who describe their actions in the language of a comic book?

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Fighting rages in Najaf after peace bid fails
By Khaled Farhan, Reuters, August 18, 2004

Heavy fighting broke out between U.S. troops and Shi'ite militiamen in the Iraqi city of Najaf, where Iraq's interim defense minister said he expected a "decisive battle" to take place on Wednesday.

Al Arabiya television quoted Defense Minister Hazim al-Shalaan as making the remarks in Najaf, where hopes of an end to nearly two weeks of fighting faded after an Iraqi peace delegation failed to make headway on Tuesday.

The comments were flashed up by Dubai-based pan-Arab satellite, one of only three television channels permitted by the interim government to film official proceedings in Najaf. It gave no further details. [complete article]

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U.S. public now evenly split on Iraq war
By Will Lester, Associated Press (via Yahoo), August 17, 2004

Nine months of chaos and casualties in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's capture have taken a heavy toll on American opinion of President Bush's decision to go to war. Last December, when Saddam was caught, public support for Bush was 2-to-1 in favor. Now the public is evenly divided on whether the war was the right thing to do or whether it was a mistake.

Older people, minorities, people with lower incomes, residents of the Northeast and Catholics are among those increasingly skeptical of the war effort, according to Associated Press polling.

These shifts in public sentiment reflect the difficulties in Iraq -- including a death toll nearing 1,000 U.S. soldiers, the violent insurgency against the new Iraqi government and U.S. forces and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, which was among the central justifications for Bush's decision to go to war. [complete article]

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Iraqi peace mission snubbed by Sadr
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 17, 2004

Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday refused to meet an Iraqi peace delegation because of "American aggression" as U.S. troops pounded militia positions in Najaf near the country's holiest Islamic sites.

The failure to hold face-to-face talks raises the possibility of a U.S.-led offensive to crush Sadr's Mehdi Army in the city.

Braving U.S. bombardment and militia sniper fire, the group of eight political and religious leaders drove to al-Sadr's office seeking to end a rebellion in the holy city and other parts of Iraq.

A Sadr aide told reporters accompanying the delegation that Sadr refused to meet them "because of continued aggression by the Americans." [complete article]

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Iraqi peace mission in Najaf; U.S. pounds militia
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 17, 2004

An Iraqi peace delegation urged a radical Shi'ite cleric Tuesday to call off his uprising in the city of Najaf where U.S. troops pounded militia positions near the country's holiest Islamic sites.

Braving U.S. bombardment and militia sniper fire, the group of eight political and religious leaders drove to the office of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, not far from the Imam Ali Mosque where the firebrand and his Mehdi Army are holed up.

They met Sadr's top aides and then waited at the shrine for a meeting with Sadr as fighting raged in a nearby ancient cemetery, witnesses said.

The delegation flew in on U.S. Black Hawk helicopters from a meeting in Baghdad where 1,300 delegates sought to select an interim national assembly to oversee the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Heated debates over Najaf and selecting members to the assembly have dominated the unprecedented gathering in Baghdad, a step on Iraq's tortured road to democracy. [complete article]

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A unifying factor across Iraq
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, August 18, 2004

Imagine a Muslim army about to bomb the Vatican with the help of a few Christian mercenaries while the Pope is away, recovering from an angioplasty in London and silent about the whole drama. This is roughly what is happening in Najaf, Iraq, where the forces of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the United States stand eyeball to eyeball pending a "final showdown".

First, let's take a look at where the main players currently stand. Contrary to widespread media perception, Muqtada is not a punk: he is probably one of the most popular figures in the complex Iraqi political spectrum, certainly at the grassroot Shi'ite level. During the first American siege of Najaf four months ago, his popularity was reported to be above 90%. The second-most popular figure in the country now may be Shi'ite religious eminence Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, although he positions himself as apolitical. As for the American-imposed Prime Minister (over a virtual parliament) Iyad Allawi, his popularity would be somewhere in single-digit territory. He essentially represents no Iraqis.

Pierre-Jean Luizard, a researcher at the elite French think-tank CNRS and a Middle East specialist, believes that Muqtada may have been forced by events to occupy this crucial historic role and may not even be fully aware of the awesome implications; but today he offers to most Iraqis "the image of being the only one capable of unifying the country beyond communal divisions". No wonder that Muqtada has widely become an icon of Muslim resistance. [complete article]

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Protestors accuse political bigwigs of hijacking Iraq's interim legislature
Agence France Presse, August 17, 2004

Some 450 delegates at a key national conference accused the main political parties of hijacking a scheduled vote for a new interim legislature for Iraq, saying most members were chosen long ago in secret.

Many of them threatened to quit the conference on its last day unless the voting mechanism was changed, before Fuad Maasum, head of the event's preparatory committee, agreed to put the voting procedure itself to a vote.

"The mainstream political parties have dominated the conference and have already drawn up their lists for selecting the national council," said Aziz al-Yasseri, from the broad coalition National Democratic Movement.

Nineteen of the 100 seats on the council have already been handed to members of the defunct Governing Council, created by the US-led occupation shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and including many exiled regime opponents.

According to conference rules, delegates of different leanings -- Islamists, secular, Kurdish, Arab or otherwise -- are supposed to draw up lists for the remaining 81 seats and submit them to an open vote.

The one gaining a 51-percent majority would be the winning list.

"We refuse this and if this is not dealt with today then the whole conference will fall apart and I will walk out, with hundreds with me," added Yasseri, a Shiite Muslim from Baghdad nominated for the council.

He lashed out at the mainstream Shiite parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Dawa, the prime minister's Iraqi National Accord, the two largest Kurdish parties and the communists as the main culprits. [complete article]

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Galloway calls profiling deaths in Iraq the "hardest thing" he's ever written
By Charles Geraci, Editor and Publisher, August 16, 2004

Knight Ridder's launch today of a powerful online multimedia package chronicling the last two weeks of 12 U.S. Marines appears seamless, but the project did not come easy for the newspaper chain's famed war correspondent Joseph L.Galloway. "This was the hardest thing I've ever written or edited," he admits. "I sat in a busy newsroom with tears streaming down my face."

Galloway, a decorated veteran, co-author of the book "We Were Soldiers Once... and Young" and an embedded reporter in Iraq last year, added, "The Pentagon puts out, on its Web site, every day the names of casualties in Iraq but it's very one-dimensional. It seemed to me it was time to paint a real portrait of a real human being who's lost his life in this war."

He told E&P he wants the country to know "who it is losing when the names are printed in a little box in the paper or flash across on a Web site." [complete article]

See Knight Ridder's special report, Ambush in Ramadi.

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Wiretapping the Web
By Brian Braiker, Newsweek, August 13, 2004

We've been told since the dawn of the Internet that the e-mail we send and receive on company time is fair game for our employers to monitor. Many took for granted, though, that e-mail sent from private accounts was just that: private. How naive.

As if hacking worries weren't enough, two recent legal developments have raised further fears among Web privacy advocates in the United States. In one case, the Federal Communications Commission voted 5-0 last week to prohibit businesses from offering broadband or Internet phone service unless they provide Uncle Sam with backdoors for wiretapping access. And in a separate decision last month, a federal appeals court decided that e-mail and other electronic communications are not protected under a strict reading of wiretap laws. Taken together, these decisions may make it both legally and technologically easier to wiretap Internet communications, some legal experts told Newsweek. "All the trends are toward easier to tap," says Kevin Bankston, an attorney at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. [complete article]

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New York vs. the protesters
By Michael Powell and Michelle Garcia, Washington Post, August 17, 2004

Hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters, abortion rights supporters, labor rights activists and anarchists are preparing to unfurl banners, march through the streets and rally in the parks, loosening a cacophonous roar of protest during the Republican National Convention.

As many as 250,000 people may march up Seventh Avenue by Madison Square Garden on the Sunday before the convention to protest the war in Iraq. Thousands of abortion rights and women's health advocates plan to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Park. And the Hip Hop Summit Action Network will lead a march of low-income people to Madison Square Garden, the convention site.

That's not to mention the Paul Revere impersonators who plan nightly horseback rides down Lexington Avenue in Midtown (their warning cry: "The Republicans are coming! The Republicans are coming!"). Or the bell ringers who plan to encircle Ground Zero and ring 2,749 bells in memory of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, and in opposition to the Iraq war. [complete article]

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Why the Washington Post inside story on Iraq pre-war coverage falls short
By Greg Mitchell, Editor and Publisher, August 17, 2004

E&P is no enemy of The Washington Post. We have regularly hailed its postwar WMD coverage, singling out Barton Gellman, Dana Priest, Walter Pincus and others for often beating The New York Times. The Post has no Judith Miller albatross hanging around its neck. It put the Kurtz piece in a prominent position, not buried, as The Times did with its May editors' note. It even named a few names, also something The Times failed to do.

So why not give The Post a pass on the lax standards and disturbing attitudes revealed in the Kurtz article?

If the issue involved nothing more than a housing scandal in Montgomery County, fine. But when a newspaper helps enable a major military strike and lengthy occupation, readers may feel insulted by Downie's we-couldn't-have-stopped-the-war-anyway plea. This is especially true when a war turns out so badly, in lives lost, in money squandered and as a net loss in the war on terrorism. [complete article]

Comment -- In his critique of the Washington Post's self criticism, the one element that Greg Mitchell leaves out is the brown-nose factor. Journalism is a way of making a living and journalists -- like individuals in most business organizations -- don't want to close off opportunities to advance their careers by getting themselves labelled as mavericks. In the run-up to war, even among many members of the antiwar movement, there was a pervasive sense of war's inevitability. So for journalists who might have been inclined to investigate reasons why war might be unnecessary (even though it seemed certain), wherever their inquiries might have led, they may well have looked like a route down a professional cul-de-sac. But rather than expose the cynical side of journalism, most journalists would rather portray news reporting as a public service. Criticism can then be deflected by assuming a false modesty in which news reporters are like angels who witness the misery of the world, yet have no power to change it.

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Death and destruction across the divide
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, August 17, 2004

"This street [in the Israeli town of Sderot] has been hit five times. When it happens it feel like the whole town is exploding. Fixtures fall off the wall and the children start crying. The children become very tense. It's hard to be very comfortable when you don't know what is going to drop from the sky."

The sound of suburban lawn mowers cannot hide the noise of Apache helicopters hovering over Beit Hanoun. "We feel we are very much on the frontline," said Mrs Trabelski. "We hear everything that goes on in Gaza."

The Qassam rockets [being fired from Gaza], named after an Arab rebel leader killed by the British in 1935, are crude devices consisting of a steel tube with metal fins. The propellant is a mixture of sugar, oil, alcohol and fertiliser. Their range is up to five miles and they can carry up to 6.8kg (15lb) of explosives.

Hamas sees them as essential against Israel's military superiority. Israel has sophisticated defence systems against ballistic missiles but can do nothing to stop the unpredictable Qassams.

More than 300 of the rockets have been fired and about 70 have landed in Sderot, including five in Rehefet Street. While the chances of being hit are small, the fear of the new design is great. [complete article]

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City of defiance
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 17, 2004

They came from across Iraq, marching in solidarity with Shia brothers. Civilians ­-- they bear no arms, for the moment anyway ­-- who are willing to die on the steps of the Imam Ali shrine. The human shields have arrived in Najaf.

Hundreds have come to what is one of the most holy Shia sites on solidarity marches in recent days. Many more have made their way in smaller groups from nearby towns and neighbourhoods. More than 2,000 have now pledged their allegiance to the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr and are based in the compound at the shrine.

Sheikh Ahmed Shaibani, a Sadr spokesman, said the presence of the civilians was intended to deter American forces. By simply turning up, they have maximised the loss of human life that could result from any attempt to storm the holy sites, a course already fraught with danger because of the outrage that serious physical damage to the shrine would provoke across Iraq and well beyond. The human shield supporters also appear ready to take up arms left by insurgents killed or wounded in the fighting. [complete article]

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Baghdad tries new Najaf peace bid
By Luke Harding and Michael Howard, The Guardian, August 17, 2004

A delegation from Iraq's first national conference will today travel to the holy city of Najaf in a bold attempt to broker a peace deal with the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The group of Iraqi politicians will set off from Baghdad in a fleet of minibuses, pursuing an initiative first suggested by a distant relative of the cleric, Sayed Hussain al-Sadr.

The move came after the Najaf fighting dominated a meeting in the Iraqi capital where 1,300 political and religious leaders had gathered to agree a new assembly to oversee Iraq's interim government.

In Najaf itself, the fighting between Mr Sadr's Mahdi army and US and Iraqi government forces appeared to have eased off.

There were skirmishes near the Imam Ali mosque, where Mr Sadr's supporters are dug in, and in the nearby cemetery.

Yesterday's proposal came after Hussein al-Sadr, an ally of the US, appealed for an end to the 12-day uprising in Najaf, which has plunged Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, into his worst crisis so far, damaging his authority. [complete article]

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Non-Arab recruits scout for al-Qaeda
By John Diamond and Toni Locy, USA Today, August 16, 2004

Al-Qaeda allies are believed to be scouting U.S. targets, and the terror organization is using non-Arab recruits to avoid detection, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials say.

The FBI has counterterrorism investigations in virtually all 56 of its field offices but has not broken up a known surveillance cell, either because agents are tailing suspects who have not committed crimes or because they have descriptions but not identities.

It is unclear how many al-Qaeda scouts are in the USA. "The FBI has their eye on or has opened several hundred investigations of people sympathetic to or supportive of" al-Qaeda, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said. "If we knew somebody was here as an operative -- and we knew who they were or where they were -- they wouldn't be on the street." [...]

"There was a legitimate concern right after 9/11 that the face of international terrorism was basically from the Middle East. We know differently," Ridge said. "We don't have the luxury of kidding ourselves that there is an ethnic or racial or country profile." [complete article]

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FBI goes knocking for political troublemakers
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, August 16, 2004

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been questioning political demonstrators across the country, and in rare cases even subpoenaing them, in an aggressive effort to forestall what officials say could be violent and disruptive protests at the Republican National Convention in New York.

F.B.I. officials are urging agents to canvass their communities for information about planned disruptions aimed at the convention and other coming political events, and they say they have developed a list of people who they think may have information about possible violence. They say the inquiries, which began last month before the Democratic convention in Boston, are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent, at major political events.

But some people contacted by the F.B.I. say they are mystified by the bureau's interest and felt harassed by questions about their political plans.

"The message I took from it," said Sarah Bardwell, 21, an intern at a Denver antiwar group who was visited by six investigators a few weeks ago, "was that they were trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests and to let us know that, 'hey, we're watching you.'" [complete article]

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NATO, U.S. will not accept full responsibility for fairness of election
By Ahto Lobjakas, Radio Free Europe, August 16, 2004

Officials from both the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) insist that Afghanistan's 9 October elections must be free and fair.

Nevertheless, both also insist that the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the security of the poll rests with Afghanistan's own embryonic army and police forces.

As a result, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have declined to send large groups of election monitors to Afghanistan. Both will send only small teams to the bigger cities, citing security fears in the regions beyond where warlords and militias rule. [complete article]

One Afghan, 6 votes - and 5 up for sale
By Carrol Harrington and Jared Ferrie, Toronto Star, August 16, 2004

To supplement his meagre income selling French fries from a cart, Aziz is cashing in on his newfound right to vote in Afghanistan's first national presidential election.

After getting six voter registration cards — all containing his real name and photograph — he expects to make $1,000 for five cards and keep one for the Oct. 9 vote.

"I have only six cards but I have met many people who have 10 or nine cards," Aziz said.

For months, anecdotal stories have been circulating throughout Afghanistan of people illegally obtaining multiple voting cards in exchange for cash — which, in part, explains why the number of voting cards doled out exceeds the total number of estimated eligible voters.

After an eight-month voter registration campaign by the United Nations, registration centres throughout the country closed yesterday. Although the final tally is not yet in, U.N. election officials are scrambling to explain why more than 9.9 million cards have been issued, surpassing the original estimated 9.8 million voters.

In an election the U.S. had hoped to hold up as an example of democracy dawning in the developing world, there is now growing evidence that attempted vote-rigging has run amok. [complete article]

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In Najaf, human shields and militants await tanks
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 16, 2004

With his militants and human shields holed up inside one of Shi'ite Islam's most sacred shrines, radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is playing a shrewd waiting game before an expected American-led offensive.

Sadr's militiamen were inside the Imam Ali shrine and positioned along alleyways and on rooftops with a seemingly endless supply of AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades intermittently fired at U.S. troops in a nearby cemetery.

But it was about 2,000 impassioned Iraqi civilian "volunteers" cheering Sadr in the marble-floored courtyard of the mosque who made the biggest show of force Monday.

Traveling to Najaf from across Iraq, they are swelling the ranks of Sadr's supporters and could be another reason why U.S. troops may think twice before storming the shrine.

"These people are a deterrent to the Americans because they are civilians. They are here so that the Americans won't attack the Imam Ali shrine," said Sheikh Ahmed Shaibani, a senior Mehdi Army commander and top aide to Sadr.

The longer the Americans wait to launch any offensive, the more time Sadr has to gain new supporters and entrench them inside the sprawling mosque.

Any serious damage to the shrine would enrage millions of Shi'ites around the world, including those who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population. [complete article]

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Police fire at reporters as U.S. tanks roll up to shrine
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, August 16, 2004

The bullet that whistled through the lobby of the Sea Hotel in Najaf yesterday, embedding shards of glass into a foreign reporter's cheek before lodging itself in an air-conditioning unit, carried an unmistakeable message: "Get out."

Journalists working in Iraq have long lived with the danger of being targeted by insurgents fighting US-led forces and their Iraqi allies.

But in Najaf the roles have been abruptly reversed. Now the Iraqi police threaten journalists, and the insurgents welcome them. [complete article]

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Rebel cleric wields power from the heart of Baghdad
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, August 15, 2004

This week, Mr. Sadr's fighters, known as the Mahdi Army, gave a foretaste of the destabilizing potential their control of Sadr City gives.

After American commanders imposed a 16-hour-a-day curfew on Sadr City, Mr. Sadr responded with a curfew order of his own, over all of Baghdad. Streets in the capital emptied after the 1 p.m. deadline the cleric's aides had set for businesses to close and workers to go home.

The Sadr fighters seemed to thumb their noses at the American curfew. Even in daylight, they drive deep into the center of Baghdad in groups of two or three vehicles, firing mortars and rockets at the huge international compound along the Tigris River's west bank where the American Embassy, the American military command and Dr. Allawi are hunkered down.

On one occasion, First Cavalry Division spotters on the roof of the Sheraton Hotel, barely 1,000 yards across the river from the center of the compound, watched powerless as one group of fighters emerged from a green van, fired four rockets across the river, then drove off.

It is becoming routine for Mahdi fighters to stage attacks in other neighborhoods. In the Shaab area of Baghdad last week, militiamen in pickup trucks drove to a police station, surrounded it and began shooting, killing one officer and wounding two, a police officer from the station said. When Mahdi fighters demanded that a market in Shaab close the next day, vendors immediately complied. [complete article]

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Why Kerry is right on Iraq
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, August 23, 2004

John Kerry isn't being entirely honest about his views on Iraq. But neither is President George W. Bush. "Knowing what we know now," Bush asked, "would [Kerry] have supported going into Iraq?" The real answer is, of course, "no." But that's just as true for Bush as for Kerry. We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Is Bush suggesting that despite this knowledge, he would still have concluded that Iraq constituted a "grave and gathering threat" that required an immediate, preventive war? Please. Even if Bush had come to this strange conclusion, no one would have listened to him. Without the threat of those weapons, there would have been no case to make to the American people or the world community. There were good reasons to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, but it was the threat of those weapons that created the international, legal, strategic and urgent rationale for a war. There were good reasons why intelligence agencies all over the world -- including those of Arab governments -- believed that Saddam had these weapons. But he didn't.

The more intelligent question is, given what we knew at the time, was toppling Saddam's regime a worthwhile objective? Bush's answer is yes, Howard Dean's is no. Kerry's answer is that it was a worthwhile objective but was disastrously executed. For this "nuance" Kerry has been attacked from both the right and the left. But it happens to be the most defensible position on the subject. [complete article]

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Fables of the reconstruction
By Christian Parenti, The Nation, August 30, 2004

The World Bank estimates that bringing Iraq back to its 1991 level of development will cost $55 billion and take at least four years.

In the past seventeen months, US taxpayers have set aside a total of $24 billion to rebuild Iraq. Most of that sum has not been spent, though billions of dollars of poorly accounted for Iraqi oil revenues have been expended, or at least allocated to foreign (mostly American) contractors.

Humanitarians see reconstruction as a moral obligation: a form of reparations for two US-led wars and thirteen years of brutal sanctions. From a military standpoint, reconstruction is central to the US counterinsurgency effort. The occupation's star officers, like Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, readily acknowledge that a broken economy means more violence. But seen up close, reconstruction in Iraq looks less like a mission of mercy or a sophisticated pacification program and more like a criminal racket. [complete article]

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Fighting the next war
By Dilip Hiro, New York Times, August 16, 2004

"The United States has reached a dead end in Iraq, like a trapped wolf," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently said at a gathering of Shiite clerics. "It is trying to frighten people by roaring and clawing. But the people of Iraq will not allow the United States to swallow their country."

Such comments are unsurprising, perhaps, coming from the Middle East's most powerful Shiite leader, especially at a time when American forces are engaged in a pitched battle in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. But whatever the political motives for the remarks of Ayatollah Khamenei, who is the supreme leader of Iran, they raise deeper questions about the complicated relationship between the United States and the two largest Shiite-majority countries in the world.

It is hard to judge what most Iranians think of Ayatollah Khamenei's views on Iraq and the American military presence there. On a recent journey through Iran, I found public opinion about America and its invasion of Iraq to be diverse and nuanced. Yet the American position on Iran remains unyielding and focused on Iran's nuclear weapons programs at the expense of almost all else. [complete article]

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Iran warns its missiles can hit anywhere in Israel
By Paul Hughes, Reuters (via Yahoo), August 15, 2004

A senior Iranian military official said Sunday Israel and the United States would not dare attack Iran since it could strike back anywhere in Israel with its latest missiles, news agencies reported.

Iranian officials have made a point of highlighting the Islamic state's military capabilities in recent weeks in response to some media reports that Israeli or U.S. warplanes could try to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities in air strikes.

Iran last week said it carried out a successful test firing of an upgraded version of its Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile. Military experts said the unmodified Shahab-3 was already capable of striking Israel or U.S. bases in the Gulf.

"The entire Zionist territory, including its nuclear facilities and atomic arsenal, are currently within range of Iran's advanced missiles," the ISNA students news agency quoted Yadollah Javani, head of the Revolutionary Guards political bureau, as saying.

"Therefore, neither the Zionist regime nor America will carry out its threats" against Iran, he said.

An attack on Iran "could only be carried out by angry or stupid people. For that reason, officials of the Islamic Republic must always be prepared to counter possible military threats," Javani said in a statement, ISNA reported. [complete article]

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Battle for Iraq's future
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 16, 2004

Democracy was a long way from Najaf yesterday. As fighting resumed in the Shia holy city, Iyad Allawi's government moved to impose an authoritarian media clampdown before any full-scale assault on the holy sites which insurgents have made their base. [...]

...for now, the roads from Baghdad do not lead to democracy. They lead to places such as Muthana province in the south of the country, where a Dutch soldier was killed and five others were wounded late on Saturday. They lead to places such as Najaf.

Despite indications that any full-scale assault in the city might await completion of the conference in Baghdad, most Arab television crews and other reporters left the city last night after armed police came to the Bar Najaf hotel, where nearly all foreign and Arab journalists are staying, to order them to leave for Baghdad. Journalists who protested were told: "You have been warned. You have two hours. If you don't leave you will be shot." [complete article]

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Iraqi conference on election plan sinks into chaos
By John F. Burns, New York Times, August 16, 2004

A conference of more than 1,100 Iraqis chosen to take the country a crucial step further toward constitutional democracy convened in Baghdad on Sunday under siege-like conditions, only to be thrown into disorder by delegates staging angry protests against the American-led military operation in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

After an opening speech by Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, delegates leapt out of their seats demanding the conference be suspended. One Shiite delegate stormed the stage before being forced back, shouting, "We demand that military operations in Najaf stop immediately!"

Shortly afterward, two mortar shells fired at the area where the meeting was being held landed in a bus and truck terminal nearby, killing 2 people and wounding at least 17. [complete article]

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Carrots and clubs
By Rod Nordland and Scott Johnson, Newsweek, August 23, 2004

Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's style of governance might be called the carrot-and- club approach. When radical Shiite militiamen attacked a police station in Najaf on Aug. 5, it was hardly the first time -- just the first time since Allawi took office. He called up the U.S. Marines to battle followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, and they charged in with airstrikes, tanks and infantry assaults across a vast cemetery, hunting fighters who hid among tombs and in catacombs. By the time a shaky ceasefire broke down last Saturday, several hundred people lay dead in Najaf and half a dozen other cities.

In the midst of that, though, Allawi's government made the astonishing claim that al-Sadr wasn't responsible for the trouble, since the fighters were mostly criminals Saddam Hussein had long ago released from jail, and he invited the militant Shiite leader to participate in elections. Along the way, the prime minister kicked out the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera, instituted the death penalty and hinted that Iran was behind all the unrest. Then one of his judges issued an arrest warrant for Ahmed Chalabi, a political rival, though when Chalabi defiantly returned to Iraq, authorities at least initially made no move to arrest him. [complete article]

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Not just a battle for Najaf
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 15, 2004

The long-anticipated struggle for the soul and identity of Iraq has begun. It's the sequel to the battle for Baghdad that toppled Saddam Hussein 16 months ago -- and it's far riskier than the conquest of the Iraqi capital.

The fighting, triggered by Moqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army, began a week ago amid the tombstones in the sprawling Valley of Peace cemetery in Najaf and spread to the majestic gold-domed mosque where the founder of Shiite Islam, Imam Ali, is buried. The setting is so sacred -- in personal, national, Islamic and historic terms going back more than a millennium -- that it's comparable to waging war in a cemetery as venerated as Arlington National, around a shrine as revered as the Vatican, in a place as holy as Jerusalem's Old City.

Even if a cease-fire eventually is worked out -- truce talks broke down once again yesterday -- the battle is far from over. The stakes are now far greater than whether a rogue cleric and his renegade militia can diminish the fledgling Iraqi government and its U.S. patrons. Also hanging in the balance are the success of Iraq's transition, the credibility of its new government, prospects for stability and the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the role of Islam in Iraq's new political spectrum, and leadership of the Shiite majority -- to name but a few. [complete article]

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Explosions echo throughout Najaf after ceasefire breaks down
Asscoiated Press (via Boston Herald), August 15, 2004

U.S. armored vehicles and tanks rolled back into the streets of Najaf and troops battled Shiite militants in a vast cemetery Sunday in a resumption of fighting after the collapse of negotiations aimed at ending the standoff in this holy city. [complete article]

Iraqi troops to take lead in battling Sadr's forces
By Karl Vick and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, August 15, 2004

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will send Iraqi troops to Najaf to battle a Shiite Muslim militia, Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders said Saturday after peace talks collapsed between the interim government and rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr. [complete article]

'After three wars we have all had enough'
By Rory McCarthy, The Observer, August 15, 2004

For at least an hour the two sides traded heavy machine-gun fire and the militia lobbed mortars towards the American tanks, several hundred metres east of the shrine. The militia cheered when a sniper reported a tank was on fire, although it seemed unlikely. Then the Americans fired back at the sniper's position atop an abandoned three-storey building. Moments later he was carried down, badly injured with his head in his hands. Two friends lifted him into the back of a pickup truck that raced to the hospital in the mosque.

'We hit a tank with our mortar and fired our BKC [a Russian machine gun],' said Jalal Hamood, 22, who had been with the militia for four months and alongside the sniper in the building. 'The tank fired back and made huge holes in the roof and our friend was hurt.' Hamood, dressed in a T-shirt printed with the words 'Oh Hussein, Oh Martyr' was covered in dust. He spent several minutes cleaning the debris out of his machine gun with methylated spirits as the others smoked furiously.

And so the fighting continued. Sadr's several hundred militiamen were outnumbered and heavily outgunned, yet yesterday they remained in control of the streets of the old city as the truce took hold. The US military appeared to have pulled back from the cordon it had set up at dawn last Thursday and Sadr celebrated victory even as the negotiations went on.

A procession of thousands of his supporters drove down from his stronghold in the eastern slums of Sadr City in Baghdad yesterday into Najaf and to the Imam Ali shrine. Behind them came trucks of food and medicines, a gift to the Shia from the Sunni resistance stronghold of Falluja, north-west of Baghdad, and an astonishing sign of unity among disparate fighting groups who feel ever more emboldened to take on the Iraqi government. [complete article]

To Mahdi militiaman, firing on Americans is act of 'patriotism'
By Saad Sarhan and Doug Struck, Washington Post, August 15, 2004

[Ahmed] Eisa, 34, who usually works in a graphics shop designing business cards and stationery, is a gunman for the Mahdi Army. He prefers the title sniper, but in fact, his ancient Kalashnikov is not very accurate, and the bullets often jam in the mechanism.

His job does not require accuracy, though.

"I am supposed to shoot at the American tanks to harass them, to draw their attention, to give my colleague some time to fire at them with an RPG" -- a rocket-propelled grenade, he said.

Eisa performed that duty five times during the recent fighting, darting from his position in the second line of Mahdi Army fighters. The first line hides behind a wall next to the cemetery, and the second line is poised in the warren of century-old brown brick houses that abuts the cemetery.

The Americans are on the other side. In between, among tombs as old as 1,300 years, are the contested killing grounds.

"I know the Americans have better weapons. They have better plans. They have uniforms that cost $3,000, and we have only our clothes," Eisa said. "But I have principles. I have holy land to defend. I have family to protect, so I feel stronger than them. The occupation forces are nothing but mercenaries who fight for money, so I feel stronger." [complete article]

"These were as brave men as ever walked the earth."
By Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle, August 13, 2004

[In 1898] Mahdists, as they were called, were attacking colonial powers all over central Africa. They were what we would call today Islamic radicals. They fought for the Prophet. [...]

[In the battle of Omdurman, outside Khartoum, the] Mahdists had the numbers, but the British had the artillery. In truth, the issue was never in doubt, although the fighting was appallingly gory. Fighters on both sides were cruel, killing the wounded and desecrating their bodies.

The day afterward, [Winston] Churchill[, then an officer and journalist for British forces,] walked around the battlefield and considered the carnage. He viewed the bodies of the dead Dervishes. And he wrote this:

"These were as brave men as ever walked the earth. The conviction was borne in on me that their claim beyond the grave in respect of a valiant death was as good as that which any of our countrymen could make. ... There they lie, those valiant warriors of a false faith and of a fallen domination, their only history preserved by their conquerors, their only monument their bones -- and these the drifting sand of the desert will bury in a few short years. Three days before I had seen them rise eager, confident, resolved. The roar of their shouting had swelled like the surf on a rocky shore. They were confident in their strength, in the justice of their cause, in the support of their religion. ... The terrible machinery of scientific war had done its work. The Dervish host was scattered and destroyed. Their end, however, only anticipates that of the victors, for Time, which laughs at Science, as Science laughs at Valor, will in due course contemptuously brush both combatants away."

Churchill believed in war; he sought it out. Churchill believed in the British Empire; he thought any sacrifice in its cause was noble. He thought invading countries for almost any reason was a good idea.

And yet look at how different his sentiments are from those of our current crop of tin-pot American imperialists. Has any member of the administration acknowledged the courage of the Iraqi army or of the fighters for the Taliban? Have they shown any understanding that tragedy is always the handmaiden of war and that even as we rejoice, we also mourn? [complete article]

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Cyberspace gives Al Qaeda refuge
By Douglas Frantz, Josh Meyer and Richard B. Schmitt, Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2004

Websites run by Al Qaeda and its backers have become virtual classrooms for terrorists, offering instructions for activities such as kidnapping and using cellphones to set off bombs, like the ones used in Madrid. Independent Al Qaeda cells and the network's loose hierarchy use easily available encoding programs and simple techniques to exchange virtually undetectable messages between Internet cafes in Karachi and libraries in London.

The Internet's importance to Al Qaeda was highlighted this month by the disclosure that Pakistani authorities had apprehended Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a suspected Al Qaeda computer engineer, and collected a wealth of electronic material.

E-mail and other information from Khan's computers led to the arrests of 13 suspects in Britain and sent investigators scrambling to unravel electronic links among militants in Pakistan, Europe and the United States, British, U.S., and Pakistani authorities said. The discovery of files on financial institutions in New York and Washington among Khan's trove also played a role in prompting the Bush administration to issue a terrorist warning.

Although it has long been known that Al Qaeda used the Internet to conduct reconnaissance on potential U.S. targets, the disks and hard drives taken from Khan disclose much about the resiliency and adaptability of a far-flung network hiding in plain sight, said U.S. and foreign intelligence officials and outside experts interviewed for this report.

"The Internet allows the organization to become a virtual self-perpetuating and changing entity in cyberspace that provides technological guidance and moral inspiration to a new generation," said Magnus Ranstorp, a counter-terrorism expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Rather than the computer whizzes often described by government officials and the press, the Al Qaeda operatives are more often people with everyday skills who have harnessed the Internet in a campaign against the United States and its allies. Even Khan, whom senior U.S. officials describe as extremely computer savvy, used skills available to many people with computer training. [complete article]

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Sharon's wars
By James Bennet, New York Times, August 15, 2004

Now 76, Sharon can plausibly lay claim to having shaped his state's geographic and moral terrain and international image -- for better or for worse -- more than any other Israeli leader since David Ben-Gurion. There is no single American figure to compare him with. He is Andrew Jackson, George Patton, Robert Moses.

In the 1950's, Sharon trained and led the commandos who established Israel's reputation for ruthless reprisals; in 1967, he won one of the most sensational battles of the Six-Day War; and in 1973, he envisioned and led the crossing of the Suez Canal that helped end the Yom Kippur War. He created, in 1973, the rightist Likud Party he now leads, which broke Labor's grip on Israel's governments; he led Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which formed and scarred a generation; he masterminded Israel's settlement movement, systematically planting enclaves of Jews among the Palestinians of the occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Now, as prime minister, he is building a barrier against West Bank Palestinians that is the single biggest change in the land since the Six-Day War. And he is trying to tear down some of the Israeli settlements he built in Gaza and the West Bank -- something no Israeli prime minister has ever done. He is not doing this because he sees a path to imminent peace. Capitalizing on a White House that has chosen to view the world much as he does, he is trying to gird Israel for a conflict -- not merely with the Palestinians -- whose end he cannot foresee. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

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.

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.

Sadr plays to power of martyrdom
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 12, 2004
As US troops continue their assault on Najaf, there is some sign of rising anger among Iraq's long-oppressed Shiite believers, who make up some 60 percent of the population. Seventeen months after American troops overthrew their arch enemy, Saddam Hussein - who saw Shiites as potential sympathizers with neighboring Shiite Iran - many Shiites now say that America is turning its back on them.

While the country's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is himself a Shiite, he is a secular one, and none of the prominent Shiite clerics have been included in the new interim government. Instead, Mr. Allawi has invited former members of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party to take up key positions, a fact that leads many Shiites to believe that their political voice will never be heard. Instead, they are turning to violent movements, such as Sadr's Mahdi Army.

If the siege of Najaf ends up being the spark that sets the countryside ablaze, then it is Sadr (and not Al Qaeda operative Abul Musab al-Zarqawi) who is fanning the flames. While Sadr is not a high-level cleric in the Shiite hierarchy, his ability to tap into religious and cultural forces may vault him over the heads of higher-level Shiite leaders such as Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. And his chief cultural tool is the concept of martyrdom.

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.

Buyer beware
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, August 11, 2004
Whatever Ahmad Chalabi's crimes and misdemeanors, if it hadn't been for his stubborn willingness to say anything and do anything to get rid of the Butcher of Baghdad, Saddam might still be clinging to power. If you believe it's enough that the dictator's gone, you ought to thank Chalabi. On the other hand, if you think you really can't justify the disasters that have followed -- if you can't admit the willfulness of your own ignorance about the costs of occupation (because there were a whole lot of policy professionals telling you how difficult this would be) -- then you'll heap all your sins on Chalabi like some biblical scapegoat and send him into the wilderness.

We know which course the administration has taken. But, unlike the goat in the Bible, this one knows the torturous paths of the region very well, so that just when you think he's gone for good, he keeps wandering back into view to remind you of all you've done wrong.

In the latest effort to end the Chalabi curse, a U.S.-appointed Iraqi judge issued warrants last weekend for the arrest of Ahmad and his nephew Salem Chalabi. And earlier today, Reuters reported that the Iraqi government ordered Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) to evacuate its headquarters in Baghdad. The accusation against Ahmad is counterfeiting. That against Salem -- who helped write the country's much-heralded transitional administrative law, and heads the tribunal putting Saddam on trial -- is murder. The defendants are related. The alleged crimes are not. Yet the warrants were issued the same day, while both men were out of the country, and effectively threaten them with imprisonment or worse if they come back.

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.

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 [Rep. Porter] 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.

Under Sharon's watch: 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.

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