The War in Context  
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The FBI investigation
By Laura Rozen, August 27, 2004

For months, I have been working with my colleagues Paul Glastris and Josh Marshall on a story for the Washington Monthly about US policy towards Iran. In particular, it involves a particular series of meetings involving officials from the office of the undersecretary of defense for Policy Doug Feith and Iranian dissidents.

As part of our reporting, I have come into possession of information that points to an official who is the most likely target of the FBI investigation into who allegedly passed intelligence on deliberations on US foreign policy to Iran to officials with the pro-Israeli lobby group, AIPAC, and to the Israelis, as alleged by the CBS report. That individual is Larry Franklin, a veteran DIA Iran analyst seconded to Feith's office.

Here is what I was told in the days before the FBI investigation came to light.

A source told me that some time in July, Larry Franklin called him and asked him to meet him in a coffee shop in Northern Virginia. Franklin had intelligence on hostile Iranian activities in Iraq and was extremely frustrated that he did not feel this intelligence was getting the attention and response it deserved. The intelligence included information that the Iranians had called all of their intelligence operatives who speak Arabic to southern Iraq, that it had moved their top operative for Afghanistan, a guy named Qudzi, to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, that its operatives were targeting Iraqi state oil facilities, and that Iranian agents were infiltrating into northern Iraq to target the Israelis written about in a report by Seymour Hersh. According to my source, Franklin passed the information to the individual from AIPAC with the hope it could reach people at higher levels of the US government who would act on it. AIPAC presented the information to Elliot Abrams in the NSC. They also presented the part that involved Israelis who might be targeted to the Israelis, with the motivation to protect Israeli lives. [complete article]

Pentagon official suspected of giving U.S. secrets to Israel
By James Risen, New York Times, August 28, 2004

The Pentagon analyst who officials said was under suspicion was one of two department officials [Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin] who traveled to Paris for secret meetings with Iranian dissidents, including Manucher Ghorbanifar, an arms dealer. Mr. Ghorbanifar was a central figure in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980's, in which the United States government secretly sold arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages in Lebanon and to finance the fighters, known as contras, opposing the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The secret meetings were first held in Rome in December 2001, were approved by senior Pentagon officials and were originally brokered by Michael Ledeen, a conservative analyst at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute who has a longstanding interest in Iranian affairs.It was not clear whether the espionage investigation was directly related to the meetings with Mr. Ghorbanifar. Nor was there immediate evidence of whether money had changed hands in exchange for classified information.

American policy towards Iran is now of critical importance to Israel, which is increasingly concerned by evidence that Tehran has accelerated its program to develop a nuclear weapon. The Bush Administration has become concerned that Israel might move militarily against Iran's nuclear complex.

American counterintelligence officials say that Israeli espionage cases are difficult to investigate, because they involve an important ally that enjoys broad political influence in Washington. Several officials said that a number of espionage investigations involving Israel had been dropped or suppressed in the past in the face of political pressure. [complete article]

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An accord for now, but risks ahead
By Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, August 28, 2004

The Najaf deal may bring short-term peace to the ravaged holy city after three weeks of urban warfare, but the cease-fire terms could pose a long-term danger to U.S. troops and interests in Iraq, U.S. officials and Middle East experts said yesterday. The issues underlying the bloody showdown have not been resolved, they warned.

Rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr is free and capable of rallying his dispersed forces in other Shiite strongholds, many of which are already political cauldrons. The goal of dismantling all Iraq's illegal militias -- with Sadr's Mahdi Army as the test case -- remains elusive for a vulnerable new government struggling to assert centralized control. And the United States has been stuck with the bill for damage to Najaf as part of the deal, the officials and experts said.

U.S. military strategy has also suffered a blow, particularly since Najaf is the third confrontation in five months in which Iraqi insurgents fought American troops until they began to take losses, then agreed to a cease-fire so their fighters could rest and regroup. The fear is that Iraqis now believe they can pick the time and place of their attacks and then beat a safe retreat. [complete article]

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At the ready to answer Sadr's call
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, August 28, 2004

When loudspeakers atop the golden minarets of the Imam Ali shrine broadcast orders Friday morning demanding that fighters in Najaf surrender their weapons, Saad Muslim promptly complied. He walked over to rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr's militia headquarters and deposited his sniper rifle onto a pile of firearms and rocket-propelled grenades.

Then he slipped out of this battle-scarred city. After three weeks of fighting U.S. and Iraqi security forces at the behest of Sadr, Muslim simply changed out of his black Mahdi Army militia uniform and melted into a crowd of Shiite pilgrims heading back to the Baghdad slum where he lives.

But should the mercurial Sadr beseech his followers to take up arms again, Muslim vowed to comply without hesitation. "If Moqtada asks us to return to fight, if he needs us anytime, we will obey," said Muslim, an unemployed 31-year-old with thick arms and a thin beard. "We will run back with our guns and fight again. We are all at his service."

The agreement, brokered by Iraq's top Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, that ended the tense confrontation between the Mahdi Army militia and security forces contains a serious loophole: It gives Sadr and his supporters the chance to fight another day. [complete article]

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Iraq minister set for Iran visit
By Pam O'Toole, BBC News, August 28, 2004

Iraqi interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh goes to Iran on Saturday for what is being regarded as a fence-building visit.

Relations have become increasingly tense between the two neighbours.

Earlier this week Iraqi interim Vice-President Ibrahim Jaafari made a surprise visit to Iran.

The official Iranian news agency says Mr Saleh's trip is aimed at preparing for a later visit to Iran by Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi. [complete article]

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Iran celebrates U.S. 'defeat' in Najaf
By Sebastian Usher, BBC News, August 27, 2004

The first Iranian reactions to the latest developments in Najaf have portrayed the peace deal brokered by Ayatollah Sistani as a major setback for the US.

State radio said the agreement had frustrated US plans to disable Iraq's Shia as a political force.

And in his Friday sermon, the still influential former Iranian President, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said events in Najaf - which he compared to Stalingrad - should alert the West to the power of the Islamic clergy.

The Iranians have played a waiting game over Najaf, with senior officials from the president downwards fiercely denouncing the use of military force there by the Americans while never officially committing themselves to full-blown support for Moqtada Sadr and his followers.

This strategy allowed Iran to show solidarity with the Shia uprising while avoiding a complete break with the other important Shia political forces in Iraq.

And throughout the crisis, Iran remained consistent in its backing for Ayatollah Sistani and his position. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld denies abuses occurred at interrogations
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, August 28, 2004

In his first comments on the two major investigative reports issued this week at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Thursday mischaracterized one of their central findings about the American military's treatment of Iraqi prisoners by saying there was no evidence that prisoners had been abused during interrogations.

The reports, one by a panel Mr. Rumsfeld had appointed and one by three Army generals, made clear that some abuses occurred during interrogations, that others were intended to soften up prisoners who were to be questioned, and that many intelligence personnel involved in the interrogations were implicated in the abuses. The reports were issued Tuesday and Wednesday.

But on Thursday, in an interview with a radio station in Phoenix, Mr. Rumsfeld, who was traveling outside Washington this week, said, "I have not seen anything thus far that says that the people abused were abused in the process of interrogating them or for interrogation purposes." A transcript of the interview was posted on the Pentagon's Web site on Friday. Mr. Rumsfeld repeated the assertion a few hours later at a news conference in Phoenix, adding that "all of the press, all of the television thus far that tried to link the abuse that took place to interrogation techniques in Iraq has not yet been demonstrated." After an aide slipped him a note during the news conference, however, Mr. Rumsfeld corrected himself, noting that an inquiry by three Army generals had, in fact, found "two or three" cases of abuse during interrogations or the interrogations process. In fact, however, the Army inquiry found that 13 of 44 instances of abuse involved interrogations or the interrogation process, an Army spokeswoman said. The report itself explicitly describes the extent to which each abuse involved interrogations. [complete article]

Army's report faults general in prison abuse
By Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, August 27, 2004

Classified parts of the report by three Army generals on the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison say Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former top commander in Iraq, approved the use in Iraq of some severe interrogation practices intended to be limited to captives held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Afghanistan.

Moreover, the report contends, by issuing and revising the rules for interrogations in Iraq three times in 30 days, General Sanchez and his legal staff sowed such confusion that interrogators acted in ways that violated the Geneva Conventions, which they understood poorly anyway.

Military officials and others in the Bush administration have repeatedly said the Geneva Conventions applied to all prisoners in Iraq, even though members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban held in Afghanistan and Guantánamo did not, in their estimation, fall under the conventions.

But classified passages of the Army report say the procedures approved by General Sanchez on Sept. 14, 2003, and the revisions made when the Central Command found fault with the initial policy, exceeded the Geneva guidelines as well as standard Army doctrines. [complete article]

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Analyst allegedly gave data to Israel
By Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, August 28, 2004

The FBI is investigating a mid-level Pentagon official who specializes in Iranian affairs for allegedly passing classified information to Israel, and arrests in the case could come as early as next week, officials at the Pentagon and other government agencies said last night.

The name of the person under investigation was not officially released, but two sources identified him as Larry Franklin. He was described as a desk officer in the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia Bureau, one of six regional policy sections. Franklin worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency before moving to the Pentagon's policy branch three years ago and is nearing retirement, the officials said. Franklin could not be located for comment last night.

One government official familiar with the investigation said it is not yet clear whether the case will rise to the level of espionage or end up involving lesser charges such as improper disclosure or mishandling of classified information. [complete article]

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FBI probes Pentagon spy case
CBS News, August 27, 2004

CBS News has learned that the FBI has a full-fledged espionage investigation under way and is about to -- in FBI terminology -- "roll up" someone agents believe has been spying not for an enemy, but for Israel from within the office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.

60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl reports the FBI believes it has "solid" evidence that the suspected mole supplied Israel with classified materials that include secret White House policy deliberations on Iran.

At the heart of the investigation are two people who work at The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

The FBI investigation, headed up by Dave Szady, has involved wiretaps, undercover surveillance and photography that CBS News was told document the passing of classified information from the mole, to the men at AIPAC, and on to the Israelis.

CBS sources say that last year the suspected spy, described as a trusted analyst at the Pentagon, turned over a presidential directive on U.S. policy toward Iran while it was, "in the draft phase when U.S. policy-makers were still debating the policy."

This put the Israelis, according to one source, "inside the decision-making loop" so they could "try to influence the outcome."

The case raises another concern among investigators: Did Israel also use the analyst to try to influence U.S. policy on the war in Iraq? [complete article]

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If the Palestinians would adopt the ways of Gandhi, I think they could, in fact, make enormous change -- very, very quickly. I believe ... the power of individuals demonstrating peacefully is enormous.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Georgetown University, Washington DC, October 30, 2003

Leaders call for a peaceful intifada
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, August 27, 2004

The Palestinian leadership has announced a three-point programme of non-violent resistance in an attempt to wrest the diplomatic initiative from Israel.

They hope to push Israel into allowing elections, to lead mass protests against the separation barrier and the maltreatment of prisoners, and to challenge Israel in the international courts.

Palestinian militant groups have yet to reach an agreement on stopping violence, but in effect violence has fallen to its lowest level since October 2000.

For months Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, has set the agenda. Yasser Arafat and his ministers, embroiled in internal disputes, have been at a loss to resist Israel's moves.

First he announced his plan to withdraw from settlements in the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, and secured a US assurance that the large settlement blocks would remain in Israeli hands.

It emerged that the US had also approved the expansion of existing settlements within their boundaries, which had been set to allow substantial growth.

Now the PLO and Fatah leaders, in consultation with the Islamist groups, have developed a non-violent counter-offensive. [complete article]

Gandhi's grandson urges Palestinians to rise up peacefully
By Cynthia Johnston, Reuters, August 26, 2004

The grandson of slain Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi urged Palestinians on Thursday to rise up peacefully to demand an end to Israeli occupation, and said freedom was close.

Arun Gandhi, whose grandfather's campaign helped loosen Britain's grip on the Indian subcontinent, said non-violence would speed world sympathy to the Palestinians.

"I know your day of freedom is very near," he told a crowd of thousands of flag-waving Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah after meeting President Yasser Arafat.

"Insist on your rights and demand your freedom peacefully ... Let the voice of reason and compassion stand up again," said Gandhi, president and founder of the U.S.-based M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence.

A popular Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation that began in 2000 has been overshadowed by violence by militants, some sworn to Israel's destruction, who have killed more than 900 Israelis in suicide bomb and shooting attacks.

Rights groups say at least 3,000 Palestinians have also been killed.

"You have been fighting for the Holy Land, but God told us there is nothing more holy than human life," Gandhi said. [complete article]

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Iraqis celebrate Najaf peace deal at holy shrine
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karl Vick, Washington Post, August 27, 2004

Scores of militiamen loyal to rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr put down their weapons in Najaf Friday as thousands of Iraqis streamed into the once-besieged shrine of Imam Ali following an agreement brokered overnight by the top Shiite Muslim religious figure in Iraq.

U.S. forces, in turn, pulled out of positions they have occupied since early August in the center of the city and moved to the outskirts of town. In their place, a long convoy of Iraqi army and national guard forces was moving into the holy city Najaf.

Meanwhile, men in surgical masks went down streets reeking with the stench of death and collected the bodies of militiamen killed in the fighting with Americans over the past few weeks.

And the city, one of the most lethal battlegrounds of the war in Iraq, appeared calm for the first time in a month, having avoided, at least for now, a confrontation at the shrine that threatened to enflame the entire Muslim world. [complete article]

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Iraqi holy city left broken by urban warfare
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, August 27, 2004

Lt. Col. Jim Rainey describes the battle here as "tackle football in the hallway, with no roof on the hallway." It's an apt analogy for urban warfare in sometimes extremely close quarters.

But after 21 days of merciless battering by U.S. weapons, parts of Najaf have very nearly no hallway at all. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, negotiated a cease-fire Thursday, but not before parts of Najaf had been devastated.

Pinpoint fire and tight restrictions on munitions ensure that the gold-domed Imam Ali shrine remained all but unscathed. But the core of the city around it, a destination of longing for millions of Shiite Muslims, is so mauled that American commanders debate which famously ruined wartime cityscape Najaf now resembles most.

"It's like Stalingrad," a senior 5th Cavalry officer said.

"Sarajevo," Rainey maintained.

"Beirut," a Marine commander said.

"Not Dresden," an Army field officer said while standing watch at a panorama of blackened, half-destroyed buildings a few dozen yards north of the glittering shrine. "Not enough fire."

The damage to Najaf is the consequence of an urban setting for battle, a woefully overmatched enemy and an American military doctrine that unites terrifying firepower with almost zero tolerance for casualties in its own ranks. [complete article]

Comment -- To hear it from embedded reporter Karl Vick, one wonders whether among the "lessons learned" in Najaf, the US military's first conclusion will be that the American fear of urban warfare has now been vanquished.

"The battle for Najaf has been a study in the urban warfare that conventional wisdom says can only cause high American casualties." While hundreds of Iraqi militiamen were killed, so far 11 US soldiers have died in the fighting.

From the vantage point of a military planner, this no doubt looks like a success. On top of that, relatively minor damage to the Imam Ali shrine will most likely also be heralded as another demonstration in the laser precision of modern warfare.

But if these are observations from which the Pentagon and the Bush administration draw much comfort and encouragement, how tragically divorced have they become from human experience.

When a US commander says that "it probably wouldn't hurt if we found a way to make things right here," he expresses a sense of responsibility for the fact that, as a Marine officer said, "We are destroying this city." Yet the notion that a quick infusion of dollars and construction equipment would do much to "set things right" in Najaf is a testament to the dark side of American optimism.

Faith in an ability to fix things breeds a callous disregard for the meaning of destruction. If that which has been destroyed can be remade it is though no damage was done. In a throwaway culture, what is broken can be forgotten if it can be replaced.

But in Najaf -- and elsewhere in the Arab world -- long after these buildings have been repaired or replaced, this will be remembered as an epicenter of the American War; the place where American soldiers desecrated the Valley of Peace and trampled on the dead; the place where hundreds of poor and desperate men lost their lives fighting the infidels. No amount of public diplomacy or swift reconstruction will set this right.

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It's the IQ, stupid
By Howell Raines, The Guardian, August 27, 2004

Pocono Summit, PA. It was here, in the parking lot of Cramer's building supply, only 15 miles from a Nascar racetrack, in a pivotal battleground state, on the back of a battered work van, that we saw the first one. "Somewhere in Texas," the bumper sticker said, "a village is missing its idiot." The next Bush-is-thick sticker showed up at Home Depot on the back of an equally battered pick-up driven by a tough-looking kid dressed for construction work. It said:


These are signs of the fierce conviction of some voters - and the secret fear of a quieter and perhaps larger group - that George Bush is not smart enough to continue as president. Indeed, if an unscientific survey of bumper stickers, graffiti and letters to the editor in this conservative mountain region of eastern Pennsylvania is an indicator, doubts are spreading, and probably not in a way helpful to the Republicans.

Yet the subject is seldom taken head on by the mainstream newspapers and network news. The discourse about presidential intelligence appears mainly on the internet, in the partisan press, among television comics and at the level of backyard jokes and arguments. The White House has shown a devious brilliance in keeping a contrived debate on John Kerry's "fitness" to be commander-in-chief in the headlines, at the expense of any prolonged journalistic examination of the far more important question of Bush's mental capacity. That uncomfortable question will surely be glossed over when the Republican national convention starts next week in New York. [...]

Whatever his IQ, George Bush as a candidate is a one-trick pony. The story of the campaign so far is that Kerry is letting him get by with his single trick - endless repetitions of "I make a decision; I stick to it; that's what presidents do." As astute an observer as David Broder has written that Bush's twin millstones - the war and a job-losing economy - may bring about his defeat. I'm not so sure, mainly because Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, keep talking about what the White House wants them to talk about instead of messages that the bumper-sticker guys at Cramer's and Home Depot need to repeat to their buddies. They have yet to force Bush outside his one-trick comfort zone. [complete article]

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Bush works at avoiding public spat with Sharon
By Ori Nir, The Forward, August 27, 2004

The Bush administration appeared to inject itself into Israel's hottest internal dispute this week, quietly relaxing its opposition to construction in West Bank settlements just as Israel's own Interior and Justice ministries are battling to freeze construction and prepare for the settlements' dismantling.

Administration officials are publicly denying reports, first published in The New York Times on August 21, that Washington was softening its opposition to new construction in the settlements. However, several Israeli officials and former U.S. officials confirmed to the Forward that the administration indeed was refraining from criticizing new settlement projects announced in Israel in recent days and was seeking to resolve differences in quiet talks.

Administration officials reportedly said the muting of criticism was meant to help Prime Minister Sharon pursue his disengagement plan, which has run into stiff opposition from the right. But numerous observers, including some close to the administration, say the move is largely a political one, aimed at courting conservative Jewish and Christian voters. [complete article]

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Cracking under the strain
By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram, August 26, 2004

Severe cracks surfaced inside the Israeli government this week as its senior law officers publicly fell out with the defence establishment and the Foreign Ministry over the country's future strategy in the face of the July verdict of the International Court of Justice that the separation wall being built in the West Bank is illegal.

According to a report issued last week by a Justice Ministry team appointed by the attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, Israel is facing international sanctions and its leaders potential prosecution for war crimes unless it begins presenting a fairer face to the world.

In a radical departure from past policy, Mazuz recommended Israel fully apply the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank and Gaza, in what would constitute formal recognition that they are occupied. [complete article]

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'No room left'
By Khalid Amayreh, Al-Ahram, August 26, 2004

Flying in the face of the international community and encouraged by American acquiescence, Israel has embarked on a massive settlement expansion drive in the West Bank with the all-apparent goal of killing the possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state in the occupied territory.

This week, Israeli bulldozers and huge cranes were in action in many localities in the West Bank, moving earth and preparing ground for the construction of thousands of settler housing units. Much of the activity took place in and near settlements straddling occupied Arab East Jerusalem, such as Gilo, Maali Adomim, Efrata, and Beitar where Israeli officials said hundreds of settlements would be built within a year.

The planned expansion will hermetically isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and complete the calving of the occupied territory into three or four truncated enclaves lacking territorial contiguity. [complete article]

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Israeli envoy vexed by role of U.S. Jews in France
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, August 27, 2004

The growing involvement of American Jewish groups in nascent pro-Israel lobbying efforts in France is fueling concerns of a possible backlash among some French Jewish leaders and Israeli officials.

In a letter to the Israeli Foreign Ministry two months ago, Israel's ambassador to France, Nissim Zvili, warned about the potential negative consequences if American Jewish groups are perceived as seeking to influence French politics, the Forward has learned.

Several French Jewish leaders are echoing Zvili's concerns that any perception of American Jewish money bankrolling politicians in France at a time when anti-American and anti-Israel feelings are in vogue would eventually harm French Jews. [complete article]

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A rudderless silent majority takes to the streets
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, August 26, 2004

"We are the majority who want peace," said Abdullah Jassem, a day labourer from Mr Sadr's support base in the slums of north-east Baghdad. "I do not like either the behaviour of the Americans, nor that of the Mahdi Army. If people wish to resist, to oppose [authority], let them find a battlefield away from the holy sites." Word reached the gathering that the ayatollah, who crossed into the southern town of Basra from Kuwait on Wednesday, would meet them at a village just outside Najaf. They piled into their vehicles and drove off, banners flying. A hundred kilometres to the south, some paused to wait for their leader. Others pressed on by vehicle or on foot crossing the bridge over the Euphrates that would take them into Sadrist-controlled Kufa, a 10km march from the holy city.

Mahdi Army militiamen carrying rocket launchers and demonstrators carrying posters of Mr Sadr joined the Sistani procession. As the crowd proceeded up the long highway to Najaf, a distant pattering of automatic weapon fire grew in volume.

Suddenly a volley of shots rang out, and a wave of panic passed through the demonstration. Some turned and ran, while others including most of the Sadrists pressed forward chanting slogans.

The march came to a halt a few hundred metres from a police checkpoint, where another volley of fire apparently into the air sent even the boldest marchers scampering for cover. It was here, protesters said, that police had fired into the crowd a short while earlier. At least two pools of drying blood marked the spot where marchers were hit.

"Where is Sistani?" shouted one Sadrist at a marcher holding a picture of the grand ayatollah. "He's sitting in front of the air conditioners, while we are getting killed here." [complete article]

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Clerics agree Najaf peace deal
BBC News, August 26, 2004

A deal has been reached to end the uprising in the Iraqi city of Najaf.

Aides to Iraq's most senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani say rebel preacher Moqtada Sadr has agreed to the ayatollah's peace plan.

A spokesman for Mr Sadr told the BBC the preacher's militiamen would leave their stronghold at the Imam Ali shrine in the city and lay down their arms. [complete article]

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America winning battle, losing the war
By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, August 26, 2004

Moqtada al-Sadr is a better strategist than George W. Bush. That's one of the lessons of the second American siege of Najaf in four months. His ragtag army has held the world's greatest power at bay for three weeks by misusing a sacred site.

This was a confrontation al-Sadr could not have lost and America could not possibly have won, and should never have got dragged into.

That it did, shows, yet again, its imperial arrogance as well as ignorance of the history and culture of a nation it's trying to subdue mostly with brute force. [complete article]

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Sistani arrives in Najaf; dozens killed in Kufa
By Karl Vick, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, August 26, 2004

More than two dozen Iraqis were killed and many more wounded Thursday in two separate assaults hours before Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, arrived in this holy city to lead the march for peace they were planning to attend.

The 75-year-old Sistani, who returned from London where he was receiving medical treatment, was said by aides to be resting in a private home in Najaf after he arrived in a long convoy from Basra in the south.

Sistani's mission, he has said, is to bring an end to three weeks of furious fighting between American troops and the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who are holed up in the sacred shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. Both American and Iraqi officials, while worried about aspects of Sistani's plan, have expressed the hope that he can succeed.

The day did not have a promising beginning, however.

In the morning, a U.S. Marine was killed in action in the Najaf fighting, the second to die in two days, bringing to 11 the number of American service personnel lost here since fighting broke out Aug. 5.

Later, unknown assailants, for unknown reasons, attacked some of the thousands of Iraqis heading for the peace march. No one claimed responsibility. [complete article]

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Najaf battle is struggle for leadership of Shia world
By James Drummond and Aqil Hussein, Financial Times, August 25, 2004

In the Amir neighbourhood of Najaf, Shakir Qassim, 25, is not a happy man. The holy city of Najaf has seen sustained fighting for nearly three weeks and yet the pre-eminent leader of Iraq's majority Shia community has sought refuge thousands of miles from his people. It was only on Wednesday that he returned to Iraq from London.

"Sistani escaped from Najaf. There are more hospitals in Baghdad to treat the same disease but he escaped to save himself," Mr Qassim says.

Nearby, Safa Abdel Zahra, 20, agrees. "Sistani escaped from Iraq because he was afraid. There are hospitals [in Iraq] that can treat him. At the end he is a coward."

Three weeks ago such outspoken criticism of the 73-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, hitherto the most influential spiritual leader in Iraq, would have been unthinkable.

Mr Sistani has consistently polled as Iraq's most popular figure. But on August 6 an ailing Mr Sistani was spirited out of Iraq for heart treatment. His supporters insist his illness is genuine but hint that he needed to leave Najaf because he was being held hostage by Moqtada al-Sadr, the renegade younger Shia cleric who has launched a bloody uprising against US forces.

By remaining all but silent through three weeks of fighting between US troops and Shia militiamen, Mr Sistani, along with fellow senior Shia scholars, has seen an erosion in his position in Iraq. Meanwhile the popularity of Mr Sadr and his more militant Islam has risen. [complete article]

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Sadr loyalty grows, even as Sistani returns
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 26, 2004

It's a hot summer morning, as Doctor Hassan heads out on his rounds to see the wounded. His patients are all in their homes scattered throughout Sadr City. They are fighters for the Mahdi Army, who are staying out of hospitals to avoid being arrested by US forces.

Doctor Hassan, who did not want to give his last name, is a member of the Mahdi Army, and this mobile medical unit is another indication that the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr is more than a street gang or personality cult.

Even as the standoff between the Mahdi Army and US forces appears to be subsiding - with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani scheduled to begin talks Friday in Najaf for a Mahdi withdrawal from the shrine - Mr. Sadr's organization, already battered from weeks of battling with the US, continues to be resilient. [complete article]

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Insurgents showing no sign of letting up
By Jim Michaels and Charles Crain, USA Today, August 23, 2004

U.S. officials had said they expected the attacks to drop as Iraqis re-established control over their country. Their thinking: Iraqi security forces would be better at gathering intelligence, and support for militants would erode because insurgents would be attacking Iraqis rather than U.S. occupation forces.

The officials still hold that view. But U.S. officers say the continuing attacks suggest that it will take time, possibly years, to crush the insurgency. President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have said U.S. forces will stay in Iraq as long as they are needed to assist Iraqi security forces. Iraqi forces are not yet trained and equipped to the point where they can assume responsibility for the country's security.

And insurgents -- be they former members of Saddam Hussein's regime, criminals or Islamic fundamentalists -- remain entrenched. While most attention has been focused on the showdown in Najaf between Shiites and the new Iraqi government, data show the insurgency is a stubborn and continuing phenomenon throughout the country. [complete article]

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Made in Iraq: the new antiwar veteran
By Robert J. Lifton, Boston Globe, August 25, 2004

On the fringe of the recent Democratic National Convention in Boston, there was a miniconvention of a group called Veterans for Peace. Most of the 400-plus participants were Vietnam veterans, though there were smaller contingents of veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the first Gulf War. But the most dramatic presence was that of a group of new kids on the block, veterans of the war in Iraq. These new veterans could come to have a powerful influence on our country. Iraq veterans undergo the same psychological struggles of all survivors over images of deaths , how much to feel and not to feel, pain and guilt from the deaths of buddies and their own behavior. Above all, war survivors hunger for meaning -- for some kind of moral judgment about their encounters with death.

In this quest for understanding, it turns out that Iraq veterans have much in common with their older compatriots who fought in Vietnam. Both groups were involved in a confusing counterinsurgency war conducted in an alien, hostile environment against a nonwhite enemy as elusive as he was dangerous. The result in both cases was an atrocity-producing situation -- one structured militarily and psychologically so that ordinary soldiers with no special history of violence or antisocial behavior were suddenly capable of killing or torturing civilians who were loosely designated as "the enemy." [complete article]

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Houston, we have a Yukos problem
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, August 26, 2004

The crucial consequence of Moscow's campaign to nail Yukos, the country's leading oil producer, is the end of any possible energy alliance between Russia and the US, according to European Union diplomats and officials.

Yukos' former golden boy, chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, languishing in jail since October 2003, was President George W Bush's and Vice President Dick Cheney's man. But way beyond his personal fate, it is the symbol of the fall of Yukos - no hope of cheap Russian oil for America and extra profits for ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips - that is really rattling markets and driving oil prices higher.

Soon after September 11, when the Bush administration seriously started looking for major oil sources other than the Saudis, a deal with Russian oligarchs might have seemed the ideal solution. In May 2002, at a summit in Moscow, Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin forged what looked like an alliance, further developed in an "energy summit" held in a Houston steel-and-glass tower in October of that year. The deal was straightforward: Washington/Houston injects tons of dollars into the Russian oil sector, and Russia up to 2010 becomes America's number one supplier. The key Russian partner in this deal was to be Khodorkovsky - the son of a Moscow worker turned king of business and head of Yukos, producer of 1.7 million barrels of oil a day and the largest Russian oil company ahead of LUKoil. [complete article]

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Think twice before targeting Iran
By Youssef M. Ibrahim, USA Today, August 24, 2004

This is the wrong time for the United States to take on Iran, the dominant demographic, military and cultural force of the Persian Gulf, as its new foe.

Yet, that is exactly where the Bush administration is headed.

In the past few weeks, Bush administration officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, have said they will use any means to stop Iran from pursuing plans to build nuclear weapons. They leaked stories to the media about plans to bomb industrial sites in Iran, including the Bushehr nuclear reactor.

Iran's response was swift. Gen. Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corp, said that if attacked, Iran would "retaliate everywhere." [complete article]

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Afghan warlord closes in on prize city
By Anthony Loyd, The Times, August 25, 2004

More than 50 people were killed and more than 100 are missing after Amanullah Khan, a renegade Pashtun warlord, made a grab last week for Herat, the capital of Afghanistan's most prosperous province.

His forces took Shindand military airport in the south of the province and fought their way to within 19 miles (30km) of Herat. The advance halted only at the demand of Kabul, an order backed by a hasty deployment of Afghan National Army troops and their US coalition advisers between the two sides.

Both Amanullah Khan and his opponent, Ismail Khan, who as well as being governor and a Tajik, is a veteran jihadi, were threatened with US airstrikes during the fighting according to US officials -- a rugged interpretation of the coalition's policy of neutrality on inter-Afghan fighting.

"Herat was as close to being captured as at any time since the Taleban seized it in 1995," a senior coalition officer said. "Civil war? We're damn close to it. We've got a rogue commander out there taking on a provincial governor." [complete article]

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Karzai's challengers turn screw before Afghan vote
By Simon Cameron-Moore, Reuters, August 25, 2004

President Hamid Karzai's main challengers, mostly mujahideen or militia commanders, are considering uniting behind a single candidate to contest Afghanistan's historic election, one rival said on Wednesday.

And legal challenges, public protests, and cabinet resignations lie in wait for Karzai unless he bows to pressure to quit before the Oct. 9 vote, he added.

"If we stand for election individually I am sure we will lose," Latif Pedram, a former journalist and fierce Karzai critic who returned from exile in France to contest the poll, told Reuters on Wednesday.

It will be Afghanistan's first ever democratic vote for president, and parliamentary polls will follow six months later.

The prospect of a united front made up mostly of men with bloody pasts running against the U.S.-backed Karzai will worry Washington, analysts say. [complete article]

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Top Shi'ite cleric calls for march on Najaf
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 25, 2004

Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric has returned to the country and urged Iraqis to march on the "burning city" of Najaf, where fighting is creeping ever closer its sacred shrine.

Aides said Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani arrived in Iraq from Kuwait on Wednesday and was heading to Najaf, his adopted home, after getting heart treatment in London for three weeks.

The news of Sistani's return came as U.S. and Iraqi forces tightened their grip around Mehdi Army militants loyal to a radical cleric who have holed up in Najaf's Imam Ali mosque, advancing to within 300 metres (yards) of the rebel-held shrine.

The call to march on Najaf by the Shi'ite moderate, who has said little about a crisis that has killed hundreds and undermined the authority of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, could escalate passions among the majority Shi'ite community.

"Najaf is burning. Ayatollah al-Sistani is on his way back and calls on Iraqis from all provinces to join him in the holy city," aide Hamed al-Khafaf said by telephone from Beirut. [complete article]

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Attack on pax
By Brian Whitaker, August 23, 2004

When events in the Middle East turn especially bloody, as they have during the last couple of weeks in Najaf, I am often struck by a whimsical - some might say ridiculous - thought.

I imagine that the man at the centre of the trouble is not Moqtada al-Sadr (or whoever happens to be the villain of the moment) but Gandhi, the leader of India's struggle for independence. I wonder what he would have done about it.

Gandhi's methods of non-violent resistance have never attracted much interest in the Middle East - which is rather odd, because he played a crucial role in ending British rule in India, which in turn led to the unravelling of an empire.

It doesn't seem to occur to people that there could be lessons there for ending the American presence in Iraq, say, or the Israeli occupation of Palestine. [complete article]

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A degree in bullying and self-interest? No thanks
By Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, August 25, 2004

Turn to the Guardian's university clearing pages and there are many vacancies for a subject that was once hugely popular. Until recently, American studies departments sprang up everywhere. But no longer.

Now 28 universities still have American studies places unfilled, and they include many at well-regarded institutions - Essex, Keele, Kent and Swansea among them. Due to lack of demand, five universities have closed American studies departments while others have cut staff. Keele, traditionally the top-ranking American studies department, with a maximum, grade five ranking for research for the past few years, has had to fire half its staff. Professor Ian Bell at Keele says: "Students don't want to be branded by doing American studies. They still want to do American modules as part of English or history but, after Bush, they shy away from being labelled as pro-American - not after the obscenity of Iraq."

It's only a straw in the wind: student choices are notoriously fickle. But it fits the picture of a groundswell of anti-American feeling. Where in the world could you walk down the street and not collect overwhelmingly negative vox pops on Bush's America and its global impact? Last year's BBC/ICM poll, taken in a string of countries across the continents, found only Israel in support of Bush - with Canada, Australia and Korea least unfavourable, but still with a majority against. [complete article]

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A trail of 'major failures' leads to Rumsfeld's office
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, August 25, 2004

For Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign over the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib would be a mistake, the four-member panel headed by James M. Schlesinger asserted Tuesday. But in tracing responsibility for what went wrong at Abu Ghraib, it drew a line that extended to the defense secretary's office.

The panel cited what it called major failures on the part of Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides in not anticipating and responding swiftly to the post-invasion insurgency in Iraq. On the eve of the Republican convention, that verdict could not have been welcome at the White House, where postwar problems in Iraq represent perhaps President Bush's greatest political liability.

The report rarely mentions Mr. Rumsfeld by name, referring most often instead to the "office of the secretary of defense." But as a sharp criticism of postwar planning for Iraq, it represents the most explicit official indictment to date of an operation that was very much the province of Mr. Rumsfeld and his top deputies. [complete article]

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Prison abuse panel doesn't go far enough
Human Rights Watch, August 24, 2004

A report by a panel reviewing Pentagon detention operations criticizes top officials, but fails to address government policy that may have led to the mistreatment and torture of detainees, Human Rights Watch said today.

The four-member panel, named by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. It faulted Rumsfeld, as well as top military officials, for "errors of omission" in failing to adapt detention operations to changing conditions, and singled out Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, for establishing a "confused command relationship" that contributed to the abuses.

"The report talks about management failures when it should be talking about policy failures," said Reed Brody, Special Counsel with Human Rights Watch. "The report seems to go out of its way not to find any relationship between Secretary Rumsfeld's approval of interrogation techniques designed to inflict pain and humiliation and the widespread mistreatment and torture of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo." [complete article]

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Iraqi teens abused at Abu Ghraib, report finds
By Josh White and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, August 24, 2004

An Army investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal has found that military police dogs were used to frighten detained Iraqi teenagers as part of a sadistic game, one of many details in the forthcoming report that were provoking expressions of concern and disgust among Army officers briefed on the findings. [...]

The investigative report by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay focuses on the role of military intelligence soldiers in the prison abuse. It will expand the circle of soldiers considered responsible for abuse beyond the seven military police soldiers already facing charges, officials said, to include more than a dozen others -- low-ranking soldiers, civilian contractors and medics. Sources have said that the report also criticizes military leadership, from the prison and up through the highest levels of the U.S. chain of command in Iraq at the time.

One Pentagon official said yesterday that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is named in the report for leadership deficiencies and failing to deal with rising problems at the prison as he tried to manage 150,000 troops countering an unexpected insurgency. Sanchez, however, will not be recommended for any punitive action or even a letter of reprimand, the source said. About 300 pages of the 9,000-page report will be released publicly, according to Army officials.

Another report regarding the prison abuse, commissioned by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, is expected to be released this afternoon. That independent commission, chaired by James R. Schlesinger, a former defense secretary, will be critical of the guidance and policies set by top Pentagon and military officials as they worked to get more useful intelligence from detainees in Iraq, said a source familiar with the commission's work.

The Schlesinger report is not expected to implicate high-level officials by name, but it would be the first report to link the abuse at Abu Ghraib to policies set by top officials in Washington. The Fay report, by contrast, does not point a finger at the Pentagon and instead assigns most of the blame to military intelligence and military police who worked on the chaotic grounds of the overcrowded and austere Abu Ghraib. [complete article]

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The Middle East and the West
A troubled history

By Mike Shuster, National Public Radio, August 17-24, 2004

In a special six-part series, NPR's Mike Shuster examines the long and turbulent history of Western involvement in the Middle East, from the Crusades to the wars in Iraq.

Part One: 1098 - 1291
The Crusades: Two Centuries of Holy War

In the late 11th century, the Pope of Rome declares a crusade to seize Jerusalem from the Arabs, who have held the Holy Land for centuries. In just a few years, European knights seize the city, slaughtering most of its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants and launching two centuries of holy war.

Part Two: 1453 - 1683
The Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Ottoman sultans dominate the Islamic world -- ruling over a region stretching from Iran to Morocco. The Ottoman Empire becomes the most powerful state in the Mediterranean, seizing European land in the Balkans and Hungary and twice laying siege to Vienna.

Part Three: 1783 - 1912
Europe Carves Up the Middle East

In the midst of the French Revolution, Napoleon seizes Egypt in 1798, setting in motion century-long European scramble for the Middle East. Eventually, the British would take Egypt, Sudan and the small states of the Persian Gulf. France would seize Algeria and Morocco. And Arab resistance to European encroachment would prompt much bloody violence.

Part Four: 1914 - 1936
World War I and its Aftermath

World War I sees Europe complete the seizure of the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany, is crushed by Britain and France. The territories of Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine fall into European hands. The French and British draw the borders of the modern Middle East, and the League of Nations sanctions their domination of the region.

Part Five: 1945 - 1973
The Rise of the U.S. in the Middle East

As World War II ends, the United States becomes the great outside power in the Middle East, with three main concerns: Persian Gulf oil; support and protection of Israel, founded in 1948; and containment of the Soviet Union. The goals prove difficult to manage, especially through the rise of Arab nationalism, two major Arab-Israeli wars and an Arab oil embargo.

Part Six: 1979 - 2003
The Clash with Islam

In 1979, Iran's Islamic Revolution and the Soviet Afghanistan foreshadow a rise in Islamic radicalism. Violence intensifies, with the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf war. By the mid-1990s, America faces a new enemy: Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. After the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. involvement in the Middle East is deeper than ever.

[Listen to the complete series. Follows links from introductory page to each part. Requires Real Audio or Windows Media Player]

Comment -- Can a thousand years of history be usefully summarized in fifty minutes? Mike Shuster makes a brave attempt.

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Oil's slippery slope
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, August 24, 2004

As the neo-conservative dream of a "liberated" Iraq came true in April 2003, who would have predicted that 16 months later oil would become the ultimate time bomb for the Bush administration?

And the Saudi royal/oil family cavalry is not exactly coming to the rescue.

Many factors explain the current rise in the price of oil toward US$50 a barrel - and counting: incapacity - or unwillingness - of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to respond to growing global demand; maximum terrorist risk in Saudi Arabia; the Yukos saga in Russia; the recent referendum in Venezuela; ethnic trouble in Nigeria; China's unquenchable oil thirst; widespread speculation frenzy propelled by pension funds; and serial pipeline bombing in Iraq. [complete article]

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Book seems to urge discrimination in U.S. against Arabs, Muslims
By Hussein Ibish, Daily Star, August 24, 2004

A new book by right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin, "In Defense of Internment," argues in favor of extensive discrimination and racial profiling against Arab-Americans and Muslims in the United States, and passionately defends the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II.

A rising star on the US extreme right, Malkin specifically denies advocating the mass imprisonment of Arabs and Muslims, but the logic of her book strongly contradicts these apparently pro forma disavowals.

"Make no mistake: I am not advocating rounding up all Arabs or Muslims and tossing them into camps, but when we are under attack, 'Racial profiling' - or more precisely, threat profiling - is justified," she argues. However, given her full-throated defense of the wartime imprisonment of tens of thousands of Japanese-American men, women and children on the supposition that their ethnicity made them a security threat, her book does seem to constitute the brief for the potential internment of Arab- and Muslim-Americans.

The daughter of Filipino immigrants, Malkin has made a career out of being among the strongest critics of immigration and immigrants' rights. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks she has been one of the most hostile commentators toward the Arab- and Muslim-American communities, consistently arguing in favor of discrimination and profiling, and describing the backlash of hate crimes and discrimination against the communities as a "myth." [complete article]

Comment -- Describing Michelle Malkin as "a rising star on the US extreme right" may be accurate though it fails indicate the extent to which her opinions resonate well in mainstream America. Her book, less than a month after its publication, is already in Amazon's top fifty in sales. In the era of political correctness, bigotry, far from having been effectively broken down, has instead been provided with a useful set of communication tools. Nowadays an articulate bigot knows exactly how to couch their views in language that will effectively cloak their hatred. They know how to play the multicultural game even while sustaining their own cultural myopia.

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In Arab eyes, the former land of opportunity can't get much lower
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, August 24, 2004

It's no fun being hated, so it's no surprise that much of the American discussion of anti-Americanism feels more like a defensive harrumph. Charles Krauthammer puts it this way: "The fact is that the world hates the U.S. for its wealth, its success, its power." He belongs to the "it's simple" camp, which focuses on the anti-American phenomenon as a form of irrational bitterness.

Others, such as Ivan Krastev, a scholar with posts at think tanks in Bulgaria, Hungary and New York, see an almost biological messiness to the problem of anti-Americanism: "It has turned into a conjurer's hat, where pieces of different ideologies, anxieties and political strategies come together to be recombined and recycled for a new life."

And in the course of these discussions, a new subgenus of American political commentary -- the "Why do they hate us?" essay -- has been born. The answers, on this side of the debate, have been myriad. But ask that question in Egypt, and you don't get long, complex divagations about clashes of civilization or income disparity or the strangulation of civil society under repressive regimes. For the most part, you get one answer, over and over again, and with little variation. They hate us because of our policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. [complete article]

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Legal expert: Apartheid regime in territories worse than S. Africa
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, August 24, 2004

South African law professor Prof. John Dugard, the special rapporteur for the United Nations on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, has written in a report to the UN General Assembly that there is "an apartheid regime" in the territories "worse than the one that existed in South Africa."

As an example, Dugard points to the roads only open to settlers, from which Palestinians are banned.

In his report presented early this month, Dugard is highly critical of Israel for its "continuing violations of human rights in the territories." He said Israel is blatantly violating the International Court of Justice's ruling on the separation fence, and has declared it will not obey it.

The report was disseminated among the member countries ahead of the September General Assembly session meant to discuss the fence. [complete article]

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"The Occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention

Sharon advised to consider adopting Geneva Convention
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, August 24, 2004

The government should "thoroughly examine" the possibility of formally applying the Fourth Geneva Convention - which governs the treatment of civilians in occupied territory - to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a Justice Ministry legal team has recommended, though it said that the international treaty must be applied in a way that maintains Israel's right to assume security responsibility in those areas.

The team was appointed by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to examine the implications of the International Court of Justice's July 9 ruling on the separation fence.

If the team's recommendation is accepted, it would represent a U-turn in the consistent policy of all previous Israeli governments, which has been not to apply the Geneva Convention to the territories. Israel's position is that there was no recognized sovereign in these areas before 1967, so they are not "occupied territory" as defined in the convention.

Israel has agreed to apply the convention's humanitarian provisions de facto, but has always stressed that this does not constitute formal acceptance of the convention's applicability. In particular, Israel rejects the claim that the settlements violate the convention, which forbids the transfer of civilians into occupied territory. [complete article]

Israel adds to plans for more housing units in settlements
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, August 24, 2004

Israel plans to rezone land within existing settlements to allow for the construction of 533 more housing units, most of them close to Jerusalem, Israeli officials said Monday.

The announcement came a week after the government issued tenders for the construction of 1,001 new housing units on the West Bank and said it was planning to issue tenders for another 633 units, though it has not yet done so. Together with the new units from rezoning, this would amount to 2,167 permits to build dwellings beyond Israel's 1967 boundaries.

By comparison, 908 new units were offered for sale in those areas in 2003, 647 were offered in 2002 and 917 in 2001, the year Ariel Sharon became prime minister, according to the daily Yediot Aharonot.

The announcements came after the United States signaled that it would accept housing growth within the boundaries of existing settlements. The Palestinian Authority and the Arab League say such expansion would be a direct violation of Israel's agreement in 2001 to freeze all settlement activity, including "natural growth."

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian spokesman, said, "If this land grab continues, the question that is asked is where will the Palestinian state be established?" [complete article]

Britain in split with U.S. on West Bank homes
By Conal Urquhart and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, August 24, 2004

A significant gap opened up between the British and US governments on Middle East policy yesterday when Downing Street expressed its continued opposition to any expansion of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.

Fuelling the controversy, the Israeli government announced plans to build another 533 homes in settlements in the West Bank, in addition to the 1,000 construction tenders approved by the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, last week.

The British government, in a rare departure from Washington, positioned itself alongside its European Union partners on the issue. The EU, unlike Washington, is critical of Israeli behaviour in the West Bank and Gaza. [complete article]

What kind of favor is Bush doing?
By Yoel Esteron, Haaretz, August 24, 2004

If it is permissible for Sharon to get involved in favor of Bush, then perhaps it is also permissible for other Israelis to get involved in the American elections.

The president of the United States, George W. Bush, has done Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a favor. Until now Bush had demanded of Sharon a total freeze on building in the Jewish settlements in the territories. According to The New York Times (Saturday, August 21), the administration has modified its position and now agrees to the building of new apartments to provide for the needs of "natural growth." The newspaper explained that the decision was influenced by the desire not to make things difficult for Sharon, at a time when he is struggling against opponents of disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

This is what Americans, as well as Israelis, call "bullshit." The truth is that Bush has helped Sharon so that Sharon will help Bush. The elections in the United States are approaching, and they will be close. Bush needs the Jewish vote, certainly in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, states that are likely to tip the balance. [complete article]

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Najaf fighters issued another ultimatum
Aljazeera, August 24, 2004

Iraq's interim defence minister has warned fighters besieged in Najaf's Imam Ali shrine to surrender or face an attack later on Tuesday that would "wipe them out".

The ultimatum was the latest in a series of threats by the US-backed government to the al-Mahdi Army loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, which has been fighting American marines around the Imam Ali mosque for three weeks.

"We are in the last hours. This evening, Iraqi forces will reach the doors of the shrine and control it and appeal to the al-Mahdi Army to throw down their weapons," Defence Minister Hazim al-Shalan told a news conference at a US military base outside Najaf.

"If they do not, we will wipe them out."

A spokesman for al-Sadr's office in Baghdad, Raid al-Kathemy, said: "This is the beginning of the battle." [complete article]

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Martyrdom or victory for Muqtada
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, August 24, 2004

As another inevitable result of the "smoke them out" diplomacy of the Bush administration and Iraqi Premier Riyadh Malawi, untold damage is being done in the Muslim world: US Apache helicopters and AC-130 gunships bombing the vast holy grounds of the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, while the main shopping street leading to the Imam Ali Shrine - as well as most of Najaf's old city - lies in ruins. And in an overlapping graphic display, US forces now also occupy much of the 2-million-strong Sadr City, the vast Shi'ite slum in Baghdad.

The Iyad Allawi government has warned Muqtada al-Sadr, who heads the resistance in Najaf, at least three times: surrender, or else. Muqtada's answer, faithful to centuries of Shi'ite martyrdom, cannot be anything but "martyrdom or victory". Muqtada's spokesman in Najaf, Shaikh Ahmad al-Shaibani, still insists he wants a peace agreement - "not an ultimatum". But "peace" is something the former US Central Intelligence Agency asset Allawi simply cannot deliver, because its precondition, for Muqtada, is the US Army leaving Najaf. [complete article]

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Battle near Najaf shrine rages
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 23, 2004

U.S. warplanes, artillery and marines have engaged Shi'ite militiamen in a fierce battle around a shrine in the Iraqi city of Najaf in some of the heaviest fighting since the 20-day-old rebellion erupted.

U.S. aircraft and ground artillery launched several strikes on Monday that rocked the area near the Imam Ali mosque, where Mehdi Army fighters of radical Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have holed up in defiance of the U.S.-backed interim government.

An AC-130 gunship, equipped with rapid-fire cannon and howitzers, circled above the southern city while artillery and armoured fighting vehicles struck on the ground. [complete article]

Inside Imam Ali shrine, weary fighters vow to continue battle
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, August 23, 2004

This was day 19 of the standoff in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf. No one inside the sanctuary was talking about a peaceful outcome.

"If we hand over the keys to the shrine, will that end the occupation of Iraq?" asked Sheik Ahmad Sheibani, a top al-Sadr aide in the shrine. "If the Iraqi forces come in, we'll fight. We'll all fight."

The countdown is on for those who remain in the shrine. It's been days since U.S.-backed interim Iraqi government gave al-Sadr "hours" to vacate the shrine before an elite unit of Iraqi national guardsmen threatened to reclaim the heart of Najaf.

The negotiations did nothing. Al-Sadr hasn't appeared publicly in a week. Meanwhile, the U.S. military perimeter around the compound shrank and the bombs moved closer.

At nightfall on Monday, U.S. attacks increased. The unmistakable buzz of an AC-130 gunship could be heard. Nine or 10 times by midnight, aircraft could be heard circling overhead, followed by a whistling sound and the explosion of a bomb. Shrapnel flew into the shrine's courtyard.

Mahdi Army members kept their spirits up with chants of "we're with you, Muqtada. We'll die for you, Muqtada." They staged a impromptu rally at midnight, marching through the courtyard. [complete article]

Iraqis risk death to bury the dead
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2004

It is midmorning when the family of Adel Shamshur arrives in the gravediggers market, with Mr. Shamshur's coffin strapped to the top of their car. The gravediggers surround the car, negotiate a price, and decide where to bury the 30-year-old merchant, who has died of a heart attack.

There is only one place the gravediggers won't go, and that is the Old Cemetery, scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the 13-day standoff between Shiite militants and American forces that continued throughout Monday with fierce battles and explosions in the heart of this holy city.

Within minutes, the bereaved family chooses the lowest bid (25,000 dinar, or $17), and tear down the road to the second-best cemetery in town, still only half a mile or so from the American front lines.

"This cemetery is just as good as the Old Cemetery," says Ghali Mehna, the family patriarch, who has just driven about 110 miles to bury his cousin in Najaf. Like many Shiites, his family hopes that burying Shamshur close to the Shrine of Imam Ali will ease his passage to Paradise. [complete article]

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U.S. deal 'wrecks Middle East peace'
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, August 23, 2004

The US was yesterday accused by Palestinian leaders of destroying hopes for peace in the Middle East by giving its covert support to Israel's expansion of controversial settlements in the West Bank.

American officials are privately admitting they have abandoned their demands that Israel freeze settlement activity, and have given Jerusalem tacit permission to build thousands of new homes on the disputed land.

Palestinians fear that the expansion of settlements will make it impossible to establish a viable state on the land Israel took from Jordan in the 1967 war. [complete article]

Only the building goes on and on
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, August 22, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy consists of three parts - withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and north Samaria, completing the separation barrier and strengthening Israel's hold on parts of the West Bank.
The future of the disengagement plan is in doubt following the Likud convention, despite Sharon's declarations of his determination to carry it out.

The fence construction is stuck, until a new route is found to comply with the High Court of Justice demands and reduce the international objection.

Only construction in the settlements is continuing, as the release of Housing Ministry tenders for a thousand new apartments in the territories last week shows.

This has been the case since 1967. Israel is torn in the controversy around the future of the territories, zig-zagging between plans, and the only constant is building in the settlements. This is what all governments have done under different guises. [complete article]

U.S. now said to support growth for some West Bank settlements
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, August 21, 2004

The Bush administration, moving to lend political support to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a time of political turmoil, has modified its policy and signaled approval of growth in at least some Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, American and Israeli officials say.

In the latest modification of American policy, the administration now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward to undeveloped parts of the West Bank, according to the officials.

The new policy has not been enunciated publicly. It came to light this week when Mr. Sharon's government announced that 1,001 new bids for construction would be issued for subsidized apartments for settlers in the occupied territories.

For the last three years, American policy has called for a freeze of "all settlement activity," including "natural growth" brought about by an increase in the birthrate and other factors. As a result, when settlement expansions have been announced, American officials have called them violations.

After the latest Israeli announcement, however, administration spokesmen said they were withholding judgment. [complete article]

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Journalists seized on Najaf road
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, August 23, 2004

Fears were mounting last night for the safety of three western journalists who have disappeared in Iraq on the road between Baghdad and Najaf, where fierce fighting between US forces and Shia militiamen continued yesterday.

Two French journalists, George Malbrunot of Le Figaro and Christian Chesnot of Radio France International, have not been heard of since Thursday, the French foreign ministry said. A third reporter, Italian Enzo Baldoni, has also vanished. The body of his driver was found at the weekend in Najaf, raising fears that he has been kidnapped.

All three journalists had been staying in the same hotel in Baghdad, and were travelling to Najaf to cover the standoff between the US military and the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. [complete article]

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Najaf police: a thin blue line between foes
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 23, 2004

With the fighting here moving into the 12th day, Iraqi police in Najaf find themselves caught in the cross hairs of a deadly insurgency.

The war has become very personal. Last month, gunmen presumed to be with the Mahdi Army kidnapped the 80-year-old father, elderly uncle, and nephew of the police chief, Ghalib al-Jezari, and demanded that the chief quit his job. The chief refused, and the kidnappers promptly dropped the decapitated body of the nephew in front of the chief's house. (The father has since been released, after a heart attack).

In Najaf, the thin blue line has never been blurrier.

Attacked by the Mahdi Army for cooperating with the Americans, suspected by the Americans of having insurgent sympathies, lionized by the Iraqi government for holding the line against insurgents, and criticized by journalists for abusing human rights and press freedoms, the Najaf police have a siege complex that mirrors the Mahdi Army. It's yet another sign of how difficult it is for the 55-day-old Iraqi interim government to establish its authority in a far-flung country where most of the territory is outside Baghdad's control. [complete article]

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Iraqi national guard members reluctant to fight Mahdi Army
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, August 22, 2004

Just three weeks after rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's forces blew off his legs with a homemade bomb, Capt. Saeed Majeed returned to duty to set an example for the men he commands at an Iraqi national guard station in one of the deadliest districts in Baghdad.

After American allies accidentally killed two popular Iraqi platoon leaders in a fight with al-Sadr's militia, it was Majeed who persuaded his troops to end their strike over the incident. And it was Majeed who consoled his outgunned and outsmarted men after a 20-year-old guardsman died recently in yet another vicious street battle with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Last week, however, Majeed found his leadership tested when neither his pleas nor his commands could stop a stream of deserters finally giving in to Mahdi Army threats or their personal misgivings about the standoff between al-Sadr and U.S.-led forces in the southern holy city of Najaf. An elite group from the fledgling Iraqi national guard is in Najaf, preparing to storm the sacred Imam Ali shrine if al-Sadr continues to occupy it.

The deployment to Najaf prompted the most desertions since April, when dozens quit over a similar standoff with insurgents in the western town of Fallujah, according to Iraqi defense ministry officials and military officers. Once again, they said, they are faced with the problem of persuading Iraqis to fight Iraqis. [complete article]

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Don't medal
By Paul Gilfeather, Sunday Mirror, August 22, 2004

Tony Blair has snubbed George Bush's pleas to fly to the US and pick up his "war medal" ahead of the Presidential elections.

The US President knows the PM, who is massively popular in the States, would provide his flagging re-election campaign with a much-needed boost.

And he is putting huge pressure on Mr Blair to pick up the Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded by America for his unswerving support in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Mr Blair's closest aides have warned him to resist the plan, insisting that a meeting with President Bush would torpedo Democrat rival John Kerry's bid for the White House.

A senior Government source said: "There has been a lot of telephone traffic between the White House and Downing Street over the medal in recent weeks. George Bush wants the Prime Minister to come to Washington and pick up the medal, which is the highest honour America can bestow on a foreigner.

"But he has refused for more than a year now and for good reason. He cannot possibly accept an award for the Iraq War when British and American troops continue to risk their lives there.

"The Democrats are watching the situation very carefully and there would be uproar if Tony travelled to Washington to meet Bush so close to the Presidential elections.

"But Bush isn't letting up. The White House has already let it be known that they feel slighted because of this and believe they can use this to put pressure on Blair to get him out there." [complete article]

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Ostracizing the people who were right on Iraq
By Timothy Noah, Slate, August 20, 2004

Being wrong about the war may have caused me mild embarrassment among some of my friends on the left, but it has most certainly not cost me entrée into the power salons of Washington (to the marginal extent that I was ever welcome there in the first place). It hasn't exacted a price from anyone else, either. Indeed, some former hawks, like David Brooks and Kenneth Pollack, have enhanced their reputations for thoughtfulness by admitting that they botched this one. But the oddest outcome concerns not those who were wrong about Iraq, but those who were right. The political mainstream shuns them.

The Democratic nominee, you'll notice, is not Howard Dean, who opposed the Iraq invasion, but John Kerry, who favored it, and who now at least pretends to believe that his decision to support the invasion was sound. Walter Pincus, the skeptical hero of Howard Kurtz's admirably critical Aug. 12 examination of the Washington Post's Iraq blunders, is nonetheless described in that piece with condescension as a "white-haired curmudgeon" and a "crusader" (inside the Post, that's not a compliment) whose stories, as written, are unpublishable. It remains risky for most members of Congress to admit to even reading The Nation, much less agreeing with it, but many surely wish they'd heeded its editorial opposing the Iraq war resolution. Patrick Buchanan, who editorialized against going to war in the American Conservative and elsewhere, remains a fringe figure even among conservatives.

The non-rehabilitation that seems most baffling and unjust is that of Scott Ritter, the former U.N. weapons inspector who argued till he was blue in the face that the United States would find no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. [complete article]

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Militia clings to Najaf shrine
By Naseer Nouri and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, August 22, 2004

Loyalists of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr remained in control of the gold-domed Imam Ali shrine on Saturday after failing to reach an agreement with representatives of Iraq's most senior Shiite leader on how to hand over the holy site.

Sadr and his lieutenants have promised to vacate the shrine as ordered by Iraq's interim government, but there was no indication Saturday that they were moving to comply with that provision or with another, equally important government demand: that Sadr disband his armed militia, known as the Mahdi Army.

Although public areas of the shrine were empty of militiamen and weapons on Saturday afternoon -- the crowd inside appeared to be composed of unarmed Sadr loyalists -- hundreds of the cleric's militiamen, many carrying assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, remained quartered in the network of narrow alleys that lead to the shine. As an announcement from the shrine's crackly loudspeakers urged militiamen to keep fighting, several of them insisted they would stay in their positions to resist the encroachment of U.S. military and Iraqi security forces.

"We will continue to fight," vowed Ali Smeisim, Sadr's chief deputy. He said the militia would use the labyrinthine urban landscape "to take cover and to fight the Americans." [complete article]

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Besieged Al-Sadr keeps grip on shrine
By Luke Harding, The Observer, August 22, 2004

Asked how the battle was going, Commander Abu Mohammad Hilu showed off his latest trophy - a blood-drenched American boot. There was a large bullet hole in the middle. 'We found it after last night's battle,' the commander explained. His colleague, Abu Ali, added: 'Originally there was an American foot inside it and a bit of the leg. But we took it out and threw it to the dogs.'

But the most tangible evidence of the Mahdi army's extraordinary self-confidence yesterday, however, came too close for comfort half an hour earlier. We had been driving through the high street in Kufa, another stronghold of the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr, some three kilometres from the shrine where he and his supporters are still holed up.

We stopped to inspect a building - this was a mistake. Mahdi army soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs spotted us, then targeted us. In a convoy of two cars, with guns pointing and pushing at us, we were taken to Kufa's mosque.

Ten minutes later The Observer's Iraqi fixer got us released after phoning a high-ranking Sadr aide.

The aggression disappeared, the fighters turned profusely apologetic. More than two weeks after launching their uprising in Najaf, the Mahdi army was - despite reports to the contrary - still in control of Najaf's Imam Ali shrine - and much of the rest of Iraq. Yesterday fighting carried on. [complete article]

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Sadr City sings its praises of cleric
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2004

The singing could be heard from more than a block away as the pickup truck careened along the unpaved streets of District 10 deep in the heart of Sadr City.

Crammed into the flatbed, 25 mostly young men hoisted their semiautomatic weapons, a few of them carrying rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

Despite a five-day onslaught by U.S. troops intent on clearing the poor Baghdad neighborhood of supporters of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, late Saturday they were still visible, they were still armed, and they were singing. "The Shiites will be victorious," they sang, smiling broadly with a campfire look of good cheer.

Residents waved at the men, pointing and saying, "Mahdi army" -- referring to the militia loyal to Sadr, whose supporters are occupying the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, south of the capital.

Even as the takeover of the shrine has dwarfed all other news from Iraq, the U.S. military has launched what it calls one of its largest urban initiatives yet in the neighborhood where Sadr has his biggest base of support. Scores of Iraqis reportedly have been killed in the sweep. [complete article]

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Afghanistan probe implicated Abu Ghraib interrogators
By Elise Ackerman, Knight Ridder, August 20, 2004

Army investigators believe that some of the military interrogators who were implicated in the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were involved in earlier deaths and abuses of detainees held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Yet even as investigators were uncovering troubling evidence of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, orders were cut to transfer the military intelligence company involved to Iraq and to Abu Ghraib. And within weeks of the deaths of two Afghan detainees, the officer in charge at the Bagram Collection Center, where the men died and where others are thought to be mistreated, was awarded her first of two Bronze Stars for "exceptionally meritorious service."

To date, no one has been formally charged with a crime in the Afghan abuse case despite investigators' belief that charges are warranted against six interrogators.

Critics say the Army's handling of the Afghan investigation amounts to a cover-up. And they say the fact that no one has been held accountable for the deaths and other abuse at the facility in Afghanistan suggests that high-ranking officers didn't consider mistreatment of detainees to be a serious offense until the graphic pictures of Abu Ghraib prisoners were broadcast around the world. [complete article]

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War heats up in the neoconservative fold
By David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, August 22, 2004

In the 18 months since President Bush declared war on Iraq, the close-knit community of hawkish intellectuals who built the case for the invasion have largely stood their ground.

This clique, often called neoconservative - which includes Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and William Kristol of the Weekly Standard magazine - has often emphasized what it said were the invasion's underappreciated successes. Occasionally, some have faulted the United States military for mistakes in execution, like using too little force.

Lately, however, there has been emerging discord within their ranks over the lessons from the war. Earlier this month, Francis Fukuyama, author of "The End of History" and one of the most influential thinkers associated with the movement, surprised many by delivering a lengthy attack on the neoconservatives' longstanding arguments in support of the war in Iraq, including their confidence in building a democracy there and their assessment of the threat from Islamic radicalism. [complete article]

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Washington accused of ignoring nuclear terror threat
By Andrew Gumbel, The Independent, August 22, 2004

The Bush administration insists that its top priority is keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. But in a withering new book, one of America's foremost nuclear weapons experts argues that the White House has been so heedless of the threat that nuclear armageddon in one or more US cities is now "more likely than not" over the next decade.

Graham Allison, a former defence official under both Republican and Democratic administrations and now a leading researcher at Harvard, describes the Bush administration as "reckless" for its failure to secure fissile materials around the world and its apparent lack of interest in preventing North Korea and Iran from becoming nuclear powers. In his book Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, Mr Allison lays out a series of measures to minimise the risk that al-Qa'ida or another group could either build or buy a nuclear weapon and then smuggle it into the United States.

He demonstrates that the Bush White House, for all its bullish rhetoric, has taken none of them. [complete article]

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U.S. now said to support growth for some West Bank settlements
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, August 21, 2004

The Bush administration, moving to lend political support to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a time of political turmoil, has modified its policy and signaled approval of growth in at least some Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, American and Israeli officials say.

In the latest modification of American policy, the administration now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward to undeveloped parts of the West Bank, according to the officials.

The new policy has not been enunciated publicly. It came to light this week when Mr. Sharon's government announced that 1,001 new bids for construction would be issued for subsidized apartments for settlers in the occupied territories.

For the last three years, American policy has called for a freeze of "all settlement activity," including "natural growth" brought about by an increase in the birthrate and other factors. As a result, when settlement expansions have been announced, American officials have called them violations.

After the latest Israeli announcement, however, administration spokesmen said they were withholding judgment. [complete article]

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A nation of prisoners
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, August 22, 2004

If for Israelis "the whole nation is an army," for the Palestinians the whole nation is a prisoner: Like the experience of military service for us - the experience of prison in the Palestinian ethos is the formative and unifying experience. Both serving in the military and spending time in prison are perceived as a model of values, a sacrifice for the sake of the homeland. The two experiences are connected to the sanctified violent struggle in the two societies.

It is also possible to discern a similarity with respect to the proportion of the population: According to the Addamir Prisoner Support Center, a Palestinian organization, since 1967 approximately 650,000 Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons, which amounts to about 40 percent of all Palestinian males (including children and the elderly). Above a certain age it is difficult to meet Palestinian males who have not done time in an Israeli prison. There are not many households in the territories in which handicrafts by prisoners are not displayed, as a souvenir of the days in prison, like photos from the days of military service for us.

Between March and October 2002, Israel arrested 15,000 Palestinians. Are all of them terrorists? Anyone who claims that all of the 650,000 Palestinians who have been arrested are criminals is claiming that the Palestinian people is a nation of criminals. Only a politician lacking all restraint, such as Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, can define all the 7,500 prisoners and detainees currently in prison as "terrorists." Even he knows that some of them are political prisoners. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

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.

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.

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 budget for the State Department's public diplomacy programs worldwide for 2004 is $685 million -- the majority of which does not go to the Muslim world, despite the major shift in emphasis after the 2001 terrorist attacks, U.S. officials say. Only $79 million goes to education and cultural exchanges -- the heart of public diplomacy and the largest single expenditure in its budget -- with Middle East and South Asian countries. And the increases since 2001 have been small, with an initial decrease in the first budget after Sept. 11. The budget for the Department of Homeland Security is more than $30 billion.

The numbers of people reached directly by key U.S. programs are extremely small, U.S. officials concede. A new U.S.-sponsored exchange program for Arab and Muslim high school students brought 170 students last year and 480 this year and will bring 1,000 next year. In contrast, about 5,000 exchanges were organized from former Soviet republics in the first year after the Cold War ended, a State Department official said.

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."

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.

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.

'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.

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 see the world through the prism of a comic book?

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