The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     

Serving two flags
By Stephen Green, Counterpunch, September 3, 2004

Since 9-11, a small group of "neo-conservatives" in the Administration have effectively gutted--they would say reformed--traditional American foreign and security policy. Notable features of the new Bush doctrine include the pre-emptive use of unilateral force, and the undermining of the United Nations and the principle instruments and institutions of international law....all in the cause of fighting terrorism and promoting homeland security.

Some skeptics, noting the neo-cons' past academic and professional associations, writings and public utterances, have suggested that their underlying agenda is the alignment of U.S. foreign and security policies with those of Ariel Sharon and the Israeli right wing. The administration's new hard line on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict certainly suggests that, as perhaps does the destruction, with U.S. soldiers and funds, of the military capacity of Iraq, and the current belligerent neo-con campaign against the other two countries which constitute a remaining counterforce to Israeli military hegemony in the region--Iran and Syria.

Have the neo-conservatives--many of whom are senior officials in the Defense Department, National Security Council and Office of the Vice President--had dual agendas, while professing to work for the internal security of the United States against its terrorist enemies?

A review of the internal security backgrounds of some of the best known among them strongly suggests the answer. [complete article]

See also, Mole hunt (Jason Vest and Laura Rozen, The American Prospect)

FBI investigates neoconservative-Israeli connections
By Robin Wright and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, September 4, 2004

FBI counterintelligence investigators have in recent weeks questioned current and former U.S. officials about whether a small group of Iran specialists at the Pentagon and in Vice President Cheney's office may have been involved in passing classified information to an Iraqi politician or a U.S. lobbying group allied with Israel, according to sources familiar with or involved in the case.

In their interviews, the FBI agents have also named two Israeli diplomats stationed in Washington and asked whether they would be willing recipients of sensitive intelligence, the sources added.

The investigators have asked questions about personnel in the office of Pentagon Undersecretary for Policy Douglas J. Feith as well as members of the influential Defense Policy Board, an advisory panel for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to former U.S. officials who have been questioned and others familiar with the case.

Investigators have specifically asked about a group of neoconservatives involved in defense issues, including Feith, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Iraq and Iran specialist Harold Rhode and others at the Pentagon. FBI agents also have asked current and former officials about Richard Perle of the defense board and David Wurmser, an Iran specialist and principal deputy assistant for national security affairs in Cheney's office, according to sources familiar with or involved in the case.

"The initial interest was: Do you believe certain people would spy for Israel and pass secret information?" said one source interviewed by the FBI about the defense officials. [complete article]

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Hour of the generals
By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, August 30, 2004

The big news, all but lost in the welter of attention given to revelations of past intelligence failures and the continuing saga of Martha Stewart, is that the strength of the anti-American resistance in Iraq is growing by leaps and bounds. Over the past year, the insurgent order-of-battle has enjoyed as much as a fourfold increase. If we needed further proof that the war is not going well, evidence is now at hand.

A year ago, when he assumed charge of United States Central Command and acknowledged that Operation Iraqi Freedom had given way to what he candidly called a "classical guerrilla war," Gen. John Abizaid assessed the total number of insurgents to be 5,000. But according to a recent Associated Press dispatch all but ignored by major media outlets, official estimates of the enemy's strength have risen to 20,000 -- this despite the fact that over the past year American forces have killed or imprisoned several thousand Iraqis and so-called "foreign fighters." In short, enemy recruitment is easily outpacing our efforts to reduce his numbers. [complete article]

Samarra latest no-go zone for U.S. troops
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via The Guardian), September 3, 2004

Over the past few months, insurgents in Samarra have deposed the U.S.-picked leaders and put to death people suspected of collaborating with them, making the northern Iraqi city the latest no-go zone for Iraqi and American troops.

With preparations beginning for Iraq's nationwide general election, scheduled for January, the attacks in Samarra and other cities where officials cannot safely travel could present a major barrier to carrying out a credible poll.

"It's true that we can't go into Samarra very often," said U.S. Army Capt. Scott Synowiez, an intelligence officer at a 1st Infantry Division base on the outskirts of the city. "Whenever we go into Samarra we do get attacked, without a doubt." [complete article]

Al-Sadr says U.S. can't beat his militia
By Abdul Hussein Al-Obeidi, Associated Press (via Indystar), September 4, 2004

In a defiant speech read on his behalf to 2,000 supporters, rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr declared U.S. forces can never defeat his Mahdi militia. His statement came during the first Friday prayers since the end of a brutal three-week standoff with American troops. [complete article]

Police in Najaf, Kufa confront worshippers approaching mosques
By Dogen Hannah, Knight Ridder, September 3, 2004

Police blocked roads and fired warning shots Friday in an effort to keep worshippers from entering mosques in the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa, the sites of recent violent clashes.

Gunfire from an unknown source also rang out in Najaf as scores of protesters demonstrated near the revered Imam Ali shrine to demand that rebel Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia leave the city. [complete article]

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There will be another Beslan
By Isabel Hilton, The Guardian, September 4, 2004

In asymmetrical warfare everyone is involved and anyone is a potential victim. To promise that security in such conflicts will result from the deployment of large military machines is a sham. To fight asymmetrical war with tanks makes as much sense as trying to shoot mosquitoes with a machine gun. The result is counter-productive.

As the drama of Beslan was entering its final hours, George Bush was bidding for re-election on the promise of security to the American people, a security premised on the willingness to use overwhelming military force. It was the same promise that Putin gave to the Russians and Ariel Sharon to the people of Israel. All three have used violence freely in pursuit of electoral reward: Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple of the Mount that triggered the second intifada, Putin's reckless adventurism in re-launching the Chechen war in 1999, and the Bush invasion of Iraq. None has produced the peace or security that was their justification; all have generated more violence and widened the circle of killing far beyond the formal engagement of armed men on both sides. Now the most likely victims are the poor and the helpless, as collateral damage, bombing casualties or hostages. [complete article]

A local separatist struggle or a front of the war on terror?
By Anne Penketh, The Independent, September 4, 2004

Their struggle with Moscow goes back to the days of the Russian empire.

The mountainous territories of the Caucasus, the natural boundary that separates Russia from its restive mainly Muslim republics on its southern flank, were incorporated by force into the empire.

Under Stalin, they paid the price for supporting the invading Nazis: the Ingush and Chechen people were deported wholesale to central Asia and Siberia in 1944. They were only allowed to return in 1957, when their Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic within Russia was restored.

But after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ingushetia voted to remain part of Russia, while the Chechens voted for independence, setting them on a collision course with Moscow that led to two wars, beginning in 1994. [complete article]

Putin's silence on crisis underscores chilling trend
By David E. Hoffman, Washington Post, September 4, 2004

Several hours after bloody, half-naked and terrified children and teachers fled School No. 1 Monday afternoon amid explosions and automatic weapons fire, NTV television correspondent Ruslan Gusarov told viewers he had heard law enforcement authorities saying on their walkie-talkies that there were a significant number of dead and wounded victims inside. The anchorwoman in Moscow admonished him. "We have to stop," she said. "We cannot broadcast this information."

The warning was a glimpse into the reality hanging over the hostage crisis in the town of Beslan in southern Russia. At a moment of great distress, there was near-total silence from President Vladimir Putin and the rest of Russia's political leaders. Information about victims trickled out slowly. Secrecy and obfuscation, tools of the authoritarian past, cast a chilling shadow over television news broadcasts. [complete article]

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Feel the hate
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 3, 2004

I don't know where George Soros gets his money," one man said. "I don't know where - if it comes from overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from." George Soros, another declared, "wants to spend $75 million defeating George W. Bush because Soros wants to legalize heroin." After all, a third said, Mr. Soros "is a self-admitted atheist; he was a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust."

They aren't LaRouchies - they're Republicans.

The suggestion that Mr. Soros, who has spent billions promoting democracy around the world, is in the pay of drug cartels came from Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, whom the Constitution puts two heartbeats from the presidency. After standing by his remarks for several days, Mr. Hastert finally claimed that he was talking about how Mr. Soros spends his money, not where he gets it.

The claim that Mr. Soros's political spending is driven by his desire to legalize heroin came from Newt Gingrich. And the bit about the Holocaust came from Tony Blankley, editorial page editor of The Washington Times, which has become the administration's de facto house organ.

For many months we've been warned by tut-tutting commentators about the evils of irrational "Bush hatred." Pundits eagerly scanned the Democratic convention for the disease; some invented examples when they failed to find it. Then they waited eagerly for outrageous behavior by demonstrators in New York, only to be disappointed again.

There was plenty of hatred in Manhattan, but it was inside, not outside, Madison Square Garden. [complete article]

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All that secrecy is expensive
By Noah Shachtman, Wired, August 27, 2004

The 9/11 Commission, leaders in Congress -- even the government's top secret-keeper -- all agree that Washington's penchant for keeping information under wraps has grown out of control. Now, a coalition of watchdog groups has documented just how much it's costing to keep all those records away from the public eye.

During the 2003 fiscal year, the federal government spent more than $6.5 billion securing classified information, according to a new "Secrecy Report Card" from, a coalition of government watchdog and civil liberties groups. That's an increase of more than $800 million from the previous year, according to the group, and a nearly $2 billion jump since 2001. But it's only a best guess, really; the report card's accounting doesn't include a penny from the Central Intelligence Agency, which keeps even its overall budget classified. [complete article]

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The making of a mess
By Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., New York Review of Books, September 23, 2004

Who got us into this mess anyway -- our headlong plunge into preventive war against Iraq? The formal, and facile, answer is George W. Bush. But our president campaigned four years ago on a promise of humility in foreign policy and a rejection of nation-building as social work. Who persuaded him to change his mind?

Democracy in time will demand accountability, though that demand has been muted thus far, and history must one day face the task of explanation. Historians of the Iraq War will have plenty to work with. Unlike the Vietnam War, which crept up on us and was slow in producing a literature, the Iraq War was well trumpeted in advance and has been the subject of volumes of instant history, covering many aspects of the swift victory and the bloody aftermath. [complete article]

The books reviewed in the article above are available here:
Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, by James Mann;
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies, by James Bamford; and
After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order, by Emmanuel Todd.

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Some terrorists get a hero's welcome
By Marcela Sanchez, Washington Post, September 3, 2004

It would seem safe to assume that people who have fired a bazooka at the United Nations headquarters in New York, served time in connection with the first state-sponsored act of terrorism in the United States, or actively participated in secret groups that claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings in New York, New Jersey and Florida would raise many red flags when coming into this country.

Or maybe not. Just last week Guillermo Novo Sampol, Pedro Remon and Gaspar Jimenez, the men behind those and other terrorist acts, received a hero's welcome in the United States. After a quick flight from Panama aboard a private jet, the men flashed victory signs and smiled to a swarm of cameras in a Miami airport while U.S. authorities looked on. [complete article]

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Bush's honest mistake
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, September 3, 2004

The Republicans had a "good convention," in the sense that they were relentlessly on message. But let's replay the events of the past week and imagine what might have happened if both parties had deviated from their scripts and actually debated the issues.

The week opened with an utterly unscripted comment from President Bush. Appearing on NBC's "Today" show, Bush tried to explain why the war on terrorism isn't like other wars. "I don't think you can win it," Bush said. "But I think you can create conditions so that the -- those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

In my fantasy campaign, John F. Kerry would have responded: "Bravo, George. That's the most sensible thing you've said yet about terrorism. Now let's debate how we create those conditions so that terrorism becomes an unacceptable weapon." Bush, in turn, would have responded with a thoughtful speech, and perhaps George F. Kennan, now 100, would have smiled in the retirement home for Wise Men. [complete article]

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Backwoods preacher pours hellfire on Democrats
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, September 3, 2004

The belligerence of the Republican convention's keynote speaker was so overpowering it easily obscured the monochromatic performance of Dick Cheney. Senator Zell Miller of Georgia did not vary his grim expression or his shouting like a backwoods preacher casting out the devil. But his raw rhetoric framed the most profound questions about patriotism and democracy in wartime. [complete article]

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Veterans of Iraq war join forces to protest U.S. invasion
By Marcella Bombardieri, Boston Globe, September 2, 2004

A year and a half ago, Robert Sarra was a Marine sergeant in Iraq, where, he says, he once fired his M-16 at a black-cloaked old woman who failed to stop when she was told. Instead of a suicide bomb, the bundle she carried to her death held only bread, tea, and a white flag.

From that day in a tiny town called Ash Shatra, Sarra says, he journeyed through dark territory -- heavy drinking, violent outbursts, therapy -- and finally from his temporary job in Chicago to the Republican National Convention this week. It is in New York that he embraced his new role -- peace activist. "I became opposed to the war when I saw we had no point in what was going on over there," said Sarra, 32, who spent nine years in the Marines and left in April. "We are all trying to make sure that the next time the US goes to war, it's for a good reason."

The massive protest in Manhattan on Sunday marked one of the first public appearances of a new group called Iraq Veterans Against the War. Though it is still small, numbering about 40, its members are taking tips from more established veterans groups, and because of their war experience, they seem likely to take a prominent role in debate about the Iraq war. [complete article]

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Wider FBI probe of Pentagon leaks includes Chalabi
By Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, September 3, 2004

Initially, news reports revealed that the FBI was investigating whether Lawrence A. Franklin -- a mid-level analyst specializing in Middle East issues in the Pentagon office of Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy -- had passed a draft presidential directive on Iran to AIPAC, and whether the group had passed the information to Israel. AIPAC is an influential lobbying group with close ties to the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The FBI probe is actually much broader, according to senior U.S. officials, and has been underway for at least two years. Several sources familiar with the case say the probe now extends to other Pentagon personnel who have a particular interest in assisting both Israel and Chalabi, the former Iraqi dissident who was long a Pentagon favorite but who has fallen out of favor with the U.S. government.

The sources and others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is highly sensitive and involves classified information.

There appears to be at least two common threads in the multi-faceted investigation. First, the FBI is investigating whether the same people passed highly classified information to two disparate allies -- Chalabi and a pro-Israel lobbying group. Second, at least some of the intelligence in both instances included sensitive information about Iran. [complete article]

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Israel has long spied on U.S., say officials
By Bob Drogin and Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2004

Despite its fervent denials, Israel secretly maintains a large and active intelligence-gathering operation in the United States that has long attempted to recruit U.S. officials as spies and to procure classified documents, U.S. government officials said.

FBI and other counterespionage agents, in turn, have covertly followed, bugged and videotaped Israeli diplomats, intelligence officers and others in Washington, New York and elsewhere, the officials said. The FBI routinely watches many diplomats assigned to America.

Officials said FBI surveillance of a senior Israeli diplomat, who was the subject of an FBI inquiry in 1997-98, played a role in the latest probe into possible Israeli spying. The bureau now is investigating whether a Pentagon analyst or pro-Israel lobbyists provided Israel with a highly classified draft policy document. The document advocated support for Iranian dissidents, radio broadcasts into Iran and other efforts aimed at destabilizing the regime in Tehran, officials said this week.

The case is unresolved, but it has highlighted Israel's unique status as an extremely close U.S. ally that presents a dilemma for U.S. counterintelligence officials. [complete article]

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Sadr army becoming potent political force
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, September 3, 2004

For a moment this week, it looked as if Moqtada al-Sadr - the leader of a Shiite rebellion against the US presence in Iraq - might become just another mainstream political leader.

His spokesmen were telling the press that the Mahdi Army, Mr. Sadr's militia that battled US troops in Najaf for three weeks, would transform itself into a political movement, with candidates and policies. Tribal sheikhs from Sadr's stronghold in Baghdad, the sprawling working-class neighborhood of 2.5 million called Sadr City, met with government authorities to work out the details.

But while the talks have stalled - the main sticking points are the Mahdi Army's refusal to hand over heavy weapons or to allow US military patrols in Sadr City - some analysts say that a corner has been turned for the radical Shiite movement. Militarily depleted by the Najaf standoff and yet politically energized by growing disenchantment among Shiites, the Mahdi Army has in many ways turned into a potent political force that cannot be easily defeated without substantial military cost. [complete article]

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Iraq: The bungled transition
By Peter W. Galbraith, New York Review of Books, September 23, 2004

Iyad Allawi is America's man in Iraq. The interim prime minister, a Shiite, is tough, pro-American, but not visibly subservient. He is determined to take on the responsibility of fighting the insurgents, whether Sunni or Shiite, and prepared to be as ruthless as necessary to win. In short, Iyad Allawi is exactly the man President Bush thinks he needs as he faces an election likely to turn on events in Iraq.

Within days of his designation as prime minister, Allawi spoke openly of postponing Iraq's elections and he gave himself the authority to impose martial law. In early August, he closed down al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau in retaliation for unfavorable coverage. Meanwhile, the Bush administration quietly let Iraq's interim constitution -- the so-called Transitional Administrative Law -- expire stillborn, along with its much-ballyhooed protec-tions for human rights, women, and democracy.

The administration seems to be gambling that Allawi can mobilize sufficient Iraqi force against the insurgents so that coalition troops will stop dying at the current frightening rate. It is a measure of how far America's once grand ambitions for Iraq have diminished that security has become more important than democracy for a mission intended not only to transform Iraq but with it the entire Middle East. [complete article]

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Report warns of regional tumult
By John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2004

Iraq will be lucky if it manages to avoid a breakup and civil war, and the country risks becoming the spark for a vortex of regional upheaval, concludes a report released Wednesday by Britain's highly regarded Royal Institute of International Affairs.

In a bleak assessment of where Iraq stands nearly 18 months after the U.S.-led invasion to depose Saddam Hussein, the report focused on the internal forces dividing the country and the external pressures that could exacerbate the situation.

The report notes that U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called attention to the possibility of civil war during his visit to Iraq in February. "His warnings should be heeded," it says.

At most, the report suggests, the United States and its allies can hope for a "muddle-through" scenario, holding the country together but falling short of their original goal: the creation of a full-fledged democracy friendly to the West. The U.S. will have to keep all of Iraq's factions "more or less on board" through a combination of clever diplomacy and military restraint, it says.

The fragmentation of Iraq is the "default" scenario, the report says, and will occur if American-led forces pull out of the country too quickly or if the U.S. government imposes its vision on the country too rigidly.

"Under this scenario," the report says, "antipathy to the U.S. presence grows, not so much in a unified Iraqi nationalist backlash, but rather in a fragmented manner that could presage civil war if the U.S. cuts and runs." [complete article]

Read the complete report, Iraq in transition: Vortex or catalyst? (26 page PDF format)

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Leak probe more than 2 years old
By Susan Schmidt and Robin Wright, Washington Post, September 2, 2004

For more than two years, the FBI has been investigating whether classified intelligence has been passed to Israel by the American Israel Political Action Committee, an influential U.S. lobbying group, in a probe that extends beyond the case of Pentagon employee Lawrence A. Franklin, according to senior U.S. officials and other sources.

The counterintelligence probe, which is different from a criminal investigation, focuses on a possible transfer of intelligence more extensive than whether Franklin passed on a draft presidential directive on U.S. policy toward Iran, the sources said. The FBI is examining whether highly classified material from the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic intercepts of communications, was also forwarded to Israel, they said. [complete article]

Pentagon office in spying case was focus of Iran debate
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, September 2, 2004

The shifting, unresolved nature of the administration's policy toward Iran may have led Israel or the lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which seeks to influence United States policy, to seek a window into the administration's decision-making process, even if it was through a relatively low-level analyst like Mr. Franklin, Pentagon officials said.

A lawyer for the committee said Tuesday that Steven Rosen, the group's director of foreign policy issues, and Kenneth Weissman, an expert on Iran, were interviewed last week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No charges have been brought and no arrests have been made in the case.

Israeli officials were intently interested in both Washington's policy debates and in the intelligence about the progress Iran is making in its nuclear program, a former Bush administration official said. Israeli officials have made it clear, a former senior American diplomat said recently, that if Iran passes some undefined "red lines" in its nuclear program, Israel will consider attacking the sites, much as it attacked Iraq's main nuclear plant 23 years ago.

"What the Israelis really want," the former diplomat said, "is as much detail as they can get about how close the Iranians are getting." [complete article]

Questions raised over Aipac's tactics
By Ori Nir, The Forward, September 3, 2004

Some critics in the Jewish community say that Aipac's leadership is too closely identified with Israel's ruling Likud party, an accusation that the organization's executives reject strongly, arguing that the lobbying group always has supported the democratically elected Israeli government, no matter which party is in power.

Critics also have accused Aipac of adopting an agenda that too closely mirrors the hawkish agenda of neoconservatives in the Bush administration, thereby fueling conspiratorial notions that President Bush was duped into invading Iraq in order to advance Israeli interests.

Now, critics say, with its increasing focus on Iran, Aipac risks fueling the claims of those who would accuse the Jewish community of working with Washington neoconservatives to convince the White House to pursue regime change in Tehran. "Aipac is obsessed with Iran," said a Washington executive with a major Jewish organization, suggesting that high-profile lobbying on Iran may foment anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments. [complete article]

Groups rally to lobby's side as FBI intensifies Israeli espionage probe
By Ori Nir, The Forward, September 3, 2004

Depending on how the investigation plays out, Jewish communal insiders said, the allegations could severely undermine the influence of Aipac, the most influential pro-Israel organization in Washington and one of the country's most powerful lobbying groups. In turn, they added, the scandal could damage American-Israeli relations and hamper efforts to stop Iran's push for nuclear weapons. With the stakes running so high, Jewish communal leaders are rallying to Aipac's defense.

Several Jewish organizational leaders are expressing outrage over reports that an Israeli diplomat and Jewish organizational officials were under FBI surveillance. Others are also calling for a federal probe into what they describe as an unfounded campaign of government leaks aimed at smearing Aipac and Israel in order to weaken neoconservative officials in the Bush administration.

"The leaks are more serious than the charges because once you look at the charges, they don't amount to anything," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "When things quiet down, we should be calling for hearings and investigations into the leaks." [complete article]

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French hostages handed over to Iraqi group
By Jon Boyle and Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Reuters, September 2, 2004

Islamic militants in Iraq have handed over two French hostages to another guerrilla group opposed to their kidnap and murder, the editor of one of the reporters held captive says.

As hopes rose that Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot could be released as soon as Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters he understood the pair were "alive and getting good treatment".

Le Figaro editor Jean de Belot said on France Info radio on Thursday: "The latest information is that Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot have been handed over by the Islamic Army in Iraq to an Iraqi Sunni guerrilla group... an opposition that we know for a few days now has been in favour of the release of the hostages." [complete article]

Open message to the 'Iraqi resistance'
By Zeyad, Healing Iraq, September 1, 2004

Mohammed Bashar Al-Faidhy, spokesman of the Association of Muslim Scholars, addressed the 'Iraqi resistance' in an open message at a press conference broadcast by the Arab satellite channels yesterday. He stressed the point that this was the first time for the association to openly address the 'resistance'. [...]

"To our brothers in the Islamic Army of Iraq. We wish to inform you that we totally understand the extreme rage that is boiling in your hearts regarding the French decision to ban the Hijab in their schools, and we share you your dissapointment. We officially condemned the French decision at the time... However, killing the two hostages without considering the grave consequences of such an act would be harmful to our cause and would isolate us from our international support... Our goal is to besiege the Americans politically in every spot of the world and this act is not serving that goal... You can see how the agents of the occupation are already using this incident against us... It is our duty as scholars to point out to our brothers what is wrong and what is right... France as an anti-occupation country has been helpful to our cause... You might say that the French stance is not an altruistic one and that they have their own political interests that caused them to disagree with the Americans, and I am not going to say that is not true but it is also our goal to turn them against each other to serve our cause so France has a strategic importance for us... Killing the two hostages is also not helpful to the 6 million Muslims in France... I beseech you to reconsider this and to release the two hostages and to promise us not to commit any act that would harm our cause in the future... We also hope that this development would permit the French government to reconsider their decision to ban the Hijab... When we become a free country Inshallah we will pursue this goal by diplomatic means." [complete article]

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Commander: Fight with Al-Sadr not over
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via Newsday), September 2, 2004

The fight with renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is not over and the U.S. military must retake his stronghold in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, a top U.S. commander said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, said action is necessary before the volatile cleric has a chance to rebuild his Mahdi Mary militia, which was devastated in recent fighting.

"He's decided the best thing for him to do is to go underground and regroup," Chiarelli told The Associated Press. "We're not going to allow that to happen." [...]

If it comes to a showdown with the U.S. military in Sadr City, no ultra-sensitive Muslim holy places will get in the Army's way, Chiarelli said, harking to how sensitivities over damaging the revered Imam Ali Shrine prevented a full-bore attack on al-Sadr's militia in Najaf.

"We feel very strongly that Sadr City is not Najaf," Chiarelli said. "You have a totally different set of parameters in Sadr City."

Avoiding civilian casualties in the crowded neighborhood, however, poses a difficulty. Some observers contend that U.S. assaults on al-Sadr's forces have only increased his popularity, particularly because he has twice emerged with his militia intact.

Despite a peace deal that ended three weeks of fighting in Najaf last week, many members of al-Sadr's militia are thought to have returned to Sadr City with their weapons. [complete article]

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An army gone rogue and the tribulations of a journalist in Basra
By Jibril Hambel, Jordan Times, September 2, 2004

As the unreported war in Basra, with local Mehdi Army factions going rogue in defiance of Sistani/Sadr agreements and Basra becoming "kidnap central", a British soldier at the military base there said: "If it were the Americans down here, there would have been a movie already."

I asked how he would describe the last couple of weeks in this, third largest, southern city.

"Did you see the movie "Black Hawk Down"? he asked. "It's been like that." [complete article]

British commanders plea in vain for more Basra troops
By Gethin Chamberlain, The Scotsman, August 31, 2004

Requests from British commanders in Iraq for reinforcements to cope with an upsurge in violence have been rebuffed because it would be too politically embarrassing at a time when the Ministry of Defence is proposing to make sweeping cuts to the armed forces.

British commanders have repeatedly asked for additional forces to back up those already in southern Iraq, only to find their requests falling on deaf ears. Privately, some officers serving there believe the security threat is being downplayed by the MoD to avoid having to send out extra troops.

After three deaths in as many weeks, British forces have reduced their patrols in Basra to the limited areas around their bases to avoid further confrontations with militants. [complete article]

After Muqtada, the militias ...
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, September 1, 2004

With the United States preoccupied first with the Sunni resistance in Fallujah and then with the Shi'ite opposition in Najaf, led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, another, equally significant development has taken place in the Shi'ite-dominated south of Iraq.

According to Asia Times Online contacts in the south, the Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah has deeply infiltrated Basra and surrounding areas, so much so that it virtually runs the province, with the help of Shi'ite militias, and is committed to establishing vilayat-e-faqih (rule by the religious clergy according to the Shi'ite faith). [complete article]

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Talks to disarm rebel Shiites collapses in Iraq
By Dexter Filkins and Erik Eckholm, New York Times, September 1, 2004

Talks to disarm hundreds of insurgents in the roiling Sadr City ghetto in Baghdad collapsed Tuesday, after a tentative peace pact was abruptly canceled by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Leaders of the Mahdi Army, the rebel force led by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and two well-placed Iraqi sources said an agreement had been reached late Monday that called for the disarming of the rebel force and a halt in American military operations in Sadr City.

Mahdi Army commanders and other Iraqi sources said Tuesday that Dr. Allawi backed out of the agreement on Tuesday morning.

The failure of negotiations raised the prospect of more violence from Mr. Sadr's Shiite insurgency, meaning the Iraqi government may not be able to direct its full political and military resources to quelling the continuing Sunni insurgency in other parts of the country. [complete article]

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Comment -- The war in Iraq and the Bush administration's uncritical support of the Israeli government, have led many Muslims to believe that America's war on terrorism is in fact a war on Islam. Though President Bush initially referred to this war as a crusade, he was quick to insist that the "war against terrorism is not a war against Muslims, nor is it a war against Arabs."

Tariq Ramadan is a Muslim scholar who is charting a course away from a clash of civilizations. The Department of Homeland Security believes, however, that it is serving America's interests by preventing Dr. Ramadan from teaching at the University of Notre Dame. Since the department has provided no justification for its decision to revoke Dr. Ramadan's visa, it is reinforcing the image that America is frightened of Muslims. This is a fear that is poisoning our society. It poses a much greater threat to America than any of the views promoted by Tariq Ramadan.

Too scary for the classroom?
By Tariq Ramadan, New York Times, September 1, 2004

I admit that my intellectual project is inherently controversial. My goal is to foster communities within the Islamic world that are seeking a path between their often bitter experience with some American and European policies on the one hand, and the unacceptable violence of Islamic extremists on the other. I understand, share and publicly discuss many of the Muslim criticisms of "Western" governments, including the deleterious worldwide effects of unregulated American consumerism.

I find current American policies toward the Middle East misguided and counterproductive, a position I believe I share with millions of Americans and Europeans. Yet I have also criticized many so-called Islamic governments, including that of Saudi Arabia, for their human rights violations and offenses against human dignity, personal freedom and pluralism.

My more specific stances have also raised hackles in France. For example, I strongly oppose France's new law banning female students from wearing head scarves, although on general human rights grounds rather than because I am a Muslim. (I condemn the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq and think the French government should not submit to the blackmail of the kidnappers, who say they will kill the captives unless the ban is overturned.)

I was also accused of anti-Semitism after I criticized some leading French intellectuals - including Bernard-Henri Lvy and Alain Finkielkraut - for abandoning France's noble traditions of universalism and personal freedom because of their anxiety over Muslim immigration and their support for Israel.

The fact is, in the more than 20 books, 700 articles and 170 audio tapes I have produced, one will find no double talk, but a consistent set of themes, and an insistence that my fellow Muslims unequivocally condemn radical views and acts of extremism. [complete article]

U.S. academics protest Tariq Ramadan's visa revocation
Islam Online, September 1, 2004

Over a dozen US academics on Wednesday, September 1, joined a chorus protesting against a revocation of a visa for Tariq Ramadan, as a leading American newspaper [Chicago Tribune] dismissed the move as a punishment for the prominent Muslim intellectual's views on Iraq invasion and Israeli policies. [complete article]

See also, the letter from the American Association of University Professors and the appeal from the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.

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Worldwide terorrism-related deaths on the rise
By Robert Rivas and Robert Windrem, NBC News, September 1, 2004

As speakers at the GOP convention trumpet Bush administration successes in the war on terrorism, an NBC News analysis of Islamic terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001, shows that attacks are on the rise worldwide -- dramatically.

Of the roughly 2,929 terrorism-related deaths around the world since the attacks on New York and Washington, the NBC News analysis shows 58 percent of them -- 1,709 -- have occurred this year.

In the past 10 days, in fact, the number of dead has risen by 142 people in places as diverse as Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel. On Tuesday, the number of civilians killed by terrorists totaled 38 -- 10 at a subway entrance bombing in Moscow, 16 in a bus bombing in Israel and 12 Nepalese executed in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Delegates at the GOP convention who get all their news from Fox are much more familiar with the phrase, "war on terror", than its official name. It's actually called the Global War on Terrorism. There might be quite a few Republicans who find comfort in the knowledge that among the thousands of people who have died since Bush declared war, only a few hundred of them have been Americans. It's a shame that many of the others were civilians who had no connection to terrorism, but that's the price of freedom.

Nevertheless, since George Bush emphasized that this war is global in scope, its success or failure, should be measured in global terms. By that measure, Bush is clearly losing the war.

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Voices from the Convention floor
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, September 1, 2004

As I walked the floor of the convention yesterday, I asked anyone I ran into from a congressman and the chairmen of various state delegations to ordinary delegates (the genuine political warriors of this administration's push to the November polls), about the President's war on terror, his decision to invade Iraq, those missing weapons of mass destruction, the 9/11 attacks, and the ties, as they saw it, between them all. As a group, they were immensely approachable, willing, sometimes eager to talk even to a reporter with credentials from Mother Jones magazine. The chairmen were certainly practiced on these questions -- the head of the Kansas delegation, for instance, promptly went into a rap on Saddam Hussein that he had clearly repeated many times before.

But when you spoke to individual delegates, you entered a world of genuine emotion; you entered, in short, a belief system. Unlike George Bush, with a speech carefully constructed by writers in front of him, the delegates all spoke without texts, quite spontaneously, and with numerous feelings on display -- not the least of which was fear. Their words were sometimes a lot rawer than what you read in the papers or generally hear on TV, but what made them striking was how similar what they said was, not just in tone but in words used and points made (as you'll see). That, of course, is the mark of a belief system -- lines repeated as your own from some deeper, jointly held text of conviction. Theirs is a text in which there is, generally, a single "them." "They" hit us. We struck back. Iraq was "theirs." The choices, such as they are, are simple and obvious. They would sound familiar indeed to those who remember the Vietnam era, when Lyndon Johnson, for instance, claimed that if we didn't fight the communists in Vietnam, we'd be doing so on West coast beaches. Today, once again, it's just a question of our soil or theirs, and theirs -- Iraq (Iran, Syria, or North Korea) -- is clearly preferable. [complete article]

Comment -- Though there's every indication that Republicans must be impervious to reason if they've bought the argument, fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here, I have a nagging doubt and perhaps, just perhaps, it's infectious.

The chairman for the Republican delegates from Pennsylvania presents the issue like this:
"There's no question that Iraq divides people. But most people agree, if only you put the war in the context of a theater. Just the simple statement -- Where do you want to confront terror, there or here? -- works well in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, the best way to deliver a message is with common sense, everyday logic. There are a lot of people smarter than I am that I'd call intellectuals. That's not me. But that's not what works either. Diner conversation, barbershop conversation, water cooler conversation, that's what matters. The more basic, the more simple we can make it the better chance to convince people."

He's right. If you want your message to have broad appeal it helps to keep it simple -- Kerry needs to grasp this. A simple-minded argument is blind to nuance and complexity.

So let's consider the question, Where do you want to confront terror, there or here?

If Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft are to be believed, "they" are already here and a war in Iraq didn't stop them coming. Ridge says that when it comes to recognizing the face of international terrorism, "we don't have the luxury of kidding ourselves that there is an ethnic or racial or country profile."

George Bush says he's winning the war on terrorism. So why's the Homeland Security advisory alert system still stuck at "elevated"? If fighting them over there was supposed to make it safe here, why does the government warn us that we still face a significant risk of terrorist attacks?

If you think George Bush is protecting you, why are you so afraid?

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US to seek dismissal of terrorism convictions
By Allan Lengel and Susan Schmidt, Washington Post, September 1, 2004

The Justice Department will ask a federal judge in Detroit to dismiss the convictions of three men in a high-profile terrorism case last year, saying it has uncovered serious prosecutorial misconduct in the case.

Department lawyers have told U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen and defense attorneys that the convictions should be thrown out because prosecutors failed to share potentially exculpatory evidence with the defense during last year's trial, legal sources said last night.

The convictions of two Moroccan immigrants for conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and of a third man on document fraud charges represented one of the government's most significant victories in the war on terrorism in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The move to vacate the convictions comes in the midst of the Republican National Convention, where President Bush is highlighting his success in the war on terrorism as the centerpiece of his reelection campaign. [complete article]

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Global media buries killing of Nepalese hostages
Indo-Asian News Service (via Kerala Online), September 1, 2004

Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron's injury got more play than the brutal killing of 12 Nepalese hostages in Iraq, as leading global media houses relegated the tragedy to the back pages.

As the Himalayan kingdom Wednesday erupted in fury against the slaughter, forcing the imposition of curfew in Kathmandu, international newspapers and TV channels did not highlight the terror killings on their websites.

Web editions of The Guardian, The Telegraph, Washington Post and Le Monde mentioned nothing about the incident or its fallout on their homepages, but drew attention to another terror incident -- the armed seizure of a school in northern Russia.

The New York Times on the web had a link referring to the incident on its homepage, whose best part was devoted to the ongoing US Republican convention.

The BBC and CNN's international edition fared a little better. The two posted the story of the executions and the violence in Nepal prominently beside the leading story -- the Russian hostage drama.

But the Fox News Channel's portal gave the Iraq executions a miss. [complete article]

Iraq's forgotten hostages
By Roger Hardy, BBC News, August 31, 2004

There are now about 20 hostages, of a dozen nationalities, still in captivity in Iraq. They include the two French journalists whose capture triggered the high-level intervention of the French government. But most come from countries which do not have France's clout.

The biggest group are seven truck drivers - from Kenya, India and Egypt - kidnapped on a single day in July. Dozens of hostages have been freed after successful mediation efforts. But many others have been killed, often in gruesome fashion - a Turkish laundry worker, a South Korean translator, an American businessman, two Pakistanis, two Bulgarian truck drivers and, just a few days ago, an Italian journalist.

It looks as if a variety of groups with a variety of agendas are involved. Some of those kidnapped come from countries which have troops in Iraq, but others do not. The kidnappers argue that anyone helping the Americans is a legitimate target.

Meanwhile - virtually unreported by the international media - the kidnapping of Iraqis for ransom has become commonplace, particularly in Baghdad. [complete article]

Curfew imposed after Nepal riots
BBC News, September 1, 2004

An indefinite curfew has been imposed in the Nepalese capital following violent protests against the killing of 12 Nepali hostages in Iraq. Angry mobs in Kathmandu attacked a mosque, government buildings and the offices of two Middle East airlines.

Many in Nepal are blaming the government for not doing enough to secure the release of the hostages. Nepal's government confirmed the deaths after images on a website showed one man being beheaded and 11 shot dead. The news was received with anger and grief in Nepal with one official describing it as "one of the worst days" in his country's history. [complete article]

Comment -- Had twelve Americans been executed in Iraq yesterday, there's no doubt that even on Fox News, coverage of the atrocity would have trumped the GOP convention. But the dead men were cooks and cleaners from Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world. To their captors the lives of these men were obviously worthless, yet the media has not afforded them much greater value.

In a similar fashion the murder of 16 Israelis yesterday captured headlines as it ended a six-month period of relative calm inside Israel -- a previous suicide bombing in March killed 11. During this period 436 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, but most of their deaths drew little or no media attention.

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Kidnappings backfire on Iraq militants
By Dan Murphy and Frank Renout, Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 2004

A kidnapping campaign originally focused on terrorizing foreign companies and countries into leaving Iraq has now turned on France, one of the foremost Western critics of the US invasion of Iraq.

But the militants, who have effected some recent retreats, may have miscalculated this time. Their latest move has sparked anger across a broad spectrum of the Muslim world, from French moderates to militant groups like Hamas and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

A group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq threatened to kill two French journalists unless France agrees to scrap a controversial ban on wearing Islamic head scarves in schools.

The ban, which forbids all conspicious religious garb in the name of secularism, was passed earlier this year amid French concerns that Islamic militancy could change the character of the country. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe apart from Turkey.

Yet many of the Muslim groups inside France that oppose the ban are mobilizing to try save the men's lives, particularly since the kidnappers' threats play into the negative stereotypes that fed French concerns in the first place. [complete article]

See also, War toll: journalists killed and missing in Iraq

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FBI seizes computer from AIPAC offices
By Janine Zacharia, Jerusalem Post, September 1, 2004

FBI agents on Friday copied the computer hard drive of a senior staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who has been questioned in relation to the case of a Pentagon official suspected of turning over a classified document either directly to Israel, or via the pro-Israel lobby group.

Sources in Washington said the hard drive was that of Steve Rosen, AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues.

It was not clear if FBI agents also seized other materials from Rosen's office. AIPAC says it is cooperating fully with the FBI's investigation. [complete article]

See also, FBI interviews 2 suspected of passing secrets to Israel (NYT).

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Spy probe scans neo con-Israel ties
By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, August 31, 2004

The burgeoning scandal over claims that a Pentagon official passed highly classified secrets to a Zionist lobby group appears to be part of a much broader set of FBI and Pentagon investigations of close collaboration between prominent U.S. neo-conservatives and Israel dating back some 30 years.

According to knowledgeable sources, who asked to not be identified, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has been intensively reviewing a series of past counter-intelligence probes that were started against several high-profile neo-cons but never followed up with prosecutions, to the great frustration of counter-intelligence officers, in some cases.

Some of these past investigations involve top current officials, including Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith, whose office appears to be the focus of the most recently disclosed inquiry; and Richard Perle, who resigned as Defence Policy Board (DPB) chairman last year. [complete article]

Footnote -- A report on Hollinger International filed on Monday in federal court in Chicago and made available today says that Conrad M. Black ran a "corporate kleptocracy" for his own benefit. The New York Times says:
The report was particularly critical of the audit committee of the board, which it said had not performed its duties to monitor what was going on. But the report saved its harshest criticism for Richard Perle, the former Reagan administration official and current member of a Pentagon advisory board. It said it did not consider Mr. Perle to have been an independent director and called on him to return $5.4 million in pay he received after "putting his own interests above those of Hollinger's shareholders."

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Second probe at the Pentagon examines actions on Iraq
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, August 31, 2004

The Pentagon office in which an analyst is the focus of an investigation into the possible passing of secret documents to Israel is at the heart of another ongoing probe on Capitol Hill.

The broader probe is trying to determine whether Defense Department officials went outside normal channels to gather intelligence on Iraq or overstepped their legal mandate by meeting with dissidents to plot against Iran and Syria, according to Bush administration and congressional officials.

Senate Intelligence and House Judiciary Committee staff members say inquiries into the Near East and South Asia Affairs division have found preliminary evidence that some officials gathered questionable information on weapons of mass destruction from Iraqi exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi without proper authorization, which helped build President Bush's case for an invasion last year.

The investigators are also looking into a more serious concern: whether the office engaged in illegal activity by holding unauthorized meetings with foreign nationals to destablize Syria and Iran without the presidential approval required for covert operations, said one senior congressional investigator who has longtime experience in intelligence oversight. [complete article]

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The angry editor
By Emma Brockes, The Guardian, August 31, 2004

What We've Lost: How the Bush Administration Has Curtailed Freedoms, Ravaged the Environment and Damaged America and the World is a book that has been assembled rather more than written. With great recourse to lists and bullet-point breakdowns, it audits Bush's shortcomings across every department of government, opening each chapter with one of the president's goofy quotes ("It's clearly a budget. It's got lots of numbers in it") then slamming home wave after wave of damning facts and anecdotes: that Bush tried to reclassify "manufacturing" jobs to include people who worked in fast-food joints; that teachers in Missouri were ordered to remove every third light bulb from schools to save money; that parents of soldiers in Iraq were in some cases forced to buy their children's own body-armour vests ("$1,500 retail"), plus hundreds of statistics attesting to Bush's failure to help America's poor, sick and discriminated against. The result is so overwhelming that it reads a little as if someone has fed "Bush, presidency, fuck up" into a search engine on the internet and loosely organised the results. [Vanity Fair editor, Graydon] Carter says he intended to write a short handbook, but that the more he and his researchers looked into it, the longer the book got.

"We had meetings on the research every couple of days; we went through 30,000 reports - it was daunting, what the Bush administration had done," he says. "I went into this thinking I knew maybe a 10th of it; I didn't know the 1,000th of it." [complete article]

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Bush cites doubt America can win war on terror
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, August 31, 2004

President Bush, in an interview broadcast on Monday, said he did not think America could win the war on terror but that it could make terrorism less acceptable around the world, a departure from his previous optimistic statements that the United States would eventually prevail.

In the interview with Matt Lauer of the NBC News program "Today," conducted on Saturday but shown on the opening day of the Republican National Convention, Mr. Bush was asked if the United States could win the war against terrorism, which he has made the focus of his administration and the central thrust of his re-election campaign.

"I don't think you can win it," Mr. Bush replied. "But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

As recently as July 14, Mr. Bush had drawn a far sunnier picture. "I have a clear vision and a strategy to win the war on terror," he said.

At a prime-time news conference in the East Room of the White House on April 13, Mr. Bush said: "One of the interesting things people ask me, now that we are asking questions, is, 'Can you ever win the war on terror?' Of course you can." [complete article]

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Voices from the march to nowhere
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, August 30, 2004

The antiwar, anti-Bush movement, which had disappeared from New York's streets after a final massive but depressed demonstration with the war already underway in April 2003, was back -- and the mood was different indeed. Gone was the carnival atmosphere of early antiwar marches. The hand-made signs were still there, and some of them were still funny or clever ("Kerry dodged bullets, Bush dodged the war, Rove calls the shots" or "Back by popular demand" next to a peace sign), but most of them caught the essence of the moment: They were angry ("Worst President Ever," "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease"), even outraged ("War Monger, War Criminal," "No one died when Clinton lied. Fuck Bush," "How many people must die for 'your mission' to be accomplished" [with the quote marks as drops of blood]). And the single most omnipresent word in all its various forms on people's lips, and on their signs, was "lie" ("lying," "liar") -- "Bush lies, who dies?" "The war on terror is a lie," "Liars, thieves, murderers," "George Bush, 971 Dead... and still lying" -- while Bush (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Ashcroft) photos, masks, and puppets all had noses that would have made Pinocchio blush. [...]

Since articles on demonstrations, whether in the mainstream or the alternate press, tend to be short on the voices of the actual demonstrators -- and since almost to a person those I talked to were thoughtful and articulate about their decisions to demonstrate -- I thought I might offer their voices as best I could catch them, perhaps a tad telescoped by my limited ability to scribble stenographically. [complete article]

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Sistani most popular Iraqi leader, U.S. pollsters find
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 31, 2004

Ayatollah Ali-al Sistani, who halted the three weeks of fighting in Najaf, is the most popular public figure in Iraq, says a poll which shows a deep undercurrent of respect for religious parties ahead of campaigning for elections planned for January.

Even before the three-week battle for control of Najaf, Iraq's most venerated Shia cleric came just ahead of leading figures in the interim Iraqi government and well ahead of Muqtada al-Sadr, the man he ordered to lay down his arms last Thursday night.

But Sadr, a leading figure in agitation for a US pullout from Iraq, was high the league table of public figures, with 57.19 percent of Iraqis viewing him positively before his gunmen fought coalition and Iraqi forces in the holy city. [complete article]

Comment -- The general conclusion that can be drawn from this poll is that Iraqis are first and foremost, nationalists. The nominal transfer of sovereignty to an interim government was intended to create the impression that Iraq is now being governed by Iraqis. Nevertheless, continuing attacks on American forces, the fact that only Sistani could resolve the crisis in Najaf, along with Muqtada al-Sadr's increasing popularity, make it clear that for most Iraqis, self-determination depends on an end to the American occupation.

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Sadr reportedly forgoing attacks for political role
By Robin Shulman, Washington Post, August 31, 2004

Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr has ordered his militiamen to suspend attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and intends to participate in politics instead of pursuing an armed rebellion, his aides said Monday.

A shift by Sadr and his supporters away from violence could resolve a significant threat to Iraq's stability and provide a boost to the country's interim government, which has urged the cleric to dissolve his Mahdi Army militia and join the political process. Sadr, a rebellious young religious leader who wants U.S. forces to leave Iraq, has sparked unrest across central and southern parts of the country since April.

"Moqtada Sadr called on the Mahdi Army to cease fire in all of Iraq until the Sadr office announces its plans to participate in the political process," one of Sadr's representatives, Ali Yassiri, said in a telephone interview.

The order brought about immediate changes in Sadr's strongholds, particularly in Sadr City, a Baghdad slum named after Sadr's revered father, where fighting between the Mahdi Army and U.S. soldiers has raged for almost a month. In a break from the bedlam of previous days, no significant clashes were reported in Sadr City on Monday. [complete article]

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Standoff bolstered Sadr's support
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, August 30, 2004

Six months ago, Sheikh Jawad al-Khalasi was what most would consider an Iraqi Shiite moderate. Critical of the militant ideas of fellow Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalasi preached a more cooperative approach toward the Americans and the interim Iraqi government.

Then, last Thursday, when Iraqi snipers opened fire on him and thousands of demonstrators converging on Najaf, hoping to end the siege there and protect the shrine, Khalasi changed his mind. Now he's a radical, a troubling sign that Mr. Sadr has grown stronger from a three-week-long standoff that the Iraqi government once hoped might reduce Sadr to irrelevance.

Sadr and his forces agreed on Friday to put down their weapons and withdraw from the Shrine of Imam Ali, one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites. But interviews in Baghdad suggest that Sadr is walking away from the standoff with a widening base and supporters who are more militant than before.

"This is the beginning of the end for the Americans," says Khalasi, speaking from his home in Baghdad's upper-class Shiite district of Kadhimiya. "What will happen now is that all the political parties will unite to kick the Americans out of Iraq. You have seen even the Sunni people starting to support Moqtada. All this will encourage people to be united." [complete article]

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Rebel cleric calls for release of journalists
By Claire Cozens, Julia Day and agencies, The Guardian, August 31, 2004

Representatives of the rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr today called for the release of two kidnapped French journalists, as the French government began crisis talks over their fate.

Ali al-Yasiri, a representative of Mr al-Sadr, denounced the abduction of radio correspondent Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro as "inhumane and immoral".

"We believe such acts defame Islam and Muslims in general," he said. "To fight in a battlefield is OK, but to kill a civilian or journalist is blasphemy." [complete article]

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Taking up peace, putting down arms
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, August 31, 2004

A week ago in this column, Attack on Pax - August 23 amid the carnage of Najaf, I wrote about a few rarely-heard people in the Middle East who advocate Islamic non-violence, or "civil jihad", as some of them prefer to call it. I asked why the techniques used by Gandhi against the British in India had not been more widely adopted by Arabs and Muslims, and wondered what Gandhi would have done in Najaf.

This brought an unusually large number of emails from readers, many of them suggesting that non-violent action in the Middle East was an idea whose time had come. Others claimed that Muslims are incapable of anything but violence, while a gentleman who signed himself "Barry" described the article as "anti-semitic propaganda" and said I should be sacked for writing it.

My question about Gandhi and Najaf was answered rather dramatically on Thursday when Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who had returned to Iraq from medical treatment in London, brought peace to the city by arriving in a motorcade accompanied by thousands of unarmed supporters. [complete article]

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Simultaneous explosions tear through two buses in Israel
By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore, Washington Post, August 31, 2004

Nearly simultaneous suicide bombings tore through two buses near the main plaza of the southern Israeli city of Beersheba Tuesday afternoon, killing at least 15 people and wounding 85, Israeli police said.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying said they were in retaliation for the Israeli killing of earlier this year of its spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

The blasts, which occurred within minutes of each other just before 3 p.m. Tuesday, broke a 5 1/2-month lull since two Palestinian suicide bombers detonated explosives in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod in March, killing 11 people. After that attack, Israel assassinated Yassin and later Rantisi. [complete article]

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Message from Kroc Institute Director, University of Notre Dame:
"Tariq, a Swiss scholar, accepted an appointment to be our Luce Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding. It is a joint, tenured appointment with the Department of Classics. Earlier this year he applied for, and received, a work visa from the U.S. State Department. He was to start work this semester, with Aug. 24 his first day of teaching a course in Islamic Ethics.

"But in late July, two weeks before he and his family were to arrive in South Bend, he was informed that his visa had been revoked at the request of the Department of Homeland Security. No explanation has been given to him, or to the university."

America is now governed by tyranical cowardice and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the decision to revoke Tariq Ramadan's visa.

The ban on a Muslim scholar
By Paul Donnelly, Washington Post, August 27, 2004

Tariq Ramadan, a professor at the College of Geneva and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, is the author of a book that is perhaps the most hopeful work of Muslim theology in the past thousand years. This month he was to come to America to take the position of Luce professor of religion, conflict and peacebuilding at Notre Dame's Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, when suddenly his visa was revoked. Apparently Notre Dame didn't realize what a dangerous man it was getting.

Ramadan's grandfather was Hasan Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood. But Ramadan's own views on the role of his faith, published in his book, "To Be a European Muslim," directly confront the alienation of Islam from modernity. Ramadan argues that the "us vs. them" vision of Islam, exponentially exaggerated by Osama bin Laden's demented Wahhabism, derives not from the Koran but from a worldview that is 10 centuries out of date.

When I interviewed Ramadan not long after Sept. 11, 2001, I asked what alternative he could offer Muslims. The true vision of Islam, he said, is not a snapshot of the world three centuries after the death of the prophet, but rather the unchanging Koran itself: "dar ash-Shahada," the "House of Witness," in which believers and unbelievers alike compete in doing good deeds to prove the truth. [complete article]

'Third way' speaks to Europe's young Muslims
By Sarah Wildman, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 2003

Soft-spoken, with the charisma of Bill Clinton, the Swiss-born professor teaches at the University of Fribourg and the College de Geneve, but travels extensively around Europe on speaking engagements. He offers a fresh approach to Islam's troubled encounter with the Western world: a "third way" of integrating Muslims into European society.

For a rising generation in search of an identity that straddles Muslim roots and a European present, the paramount question is "how to be at the same time fully Muslim and fully Western," says Ramadan, who has been speaking on this issue for about a decade. He urges young Muslims neither to assimilate - and thus lose their culture - nor to separate themselves and reject Europe. "The essence of my work," he says in an interview, is to break down the "us versus them," or "ghetto mentality." [complete article]

What you fear is not who I am
By Tariq Ramadan, Globe and Mail, August 30, 2004

In my 20 years of studying and teaching philosophy, I have learned to appreciate the inherent difficulty in defining and recognizing "the truth." Descartes put it simply: "A clear and obvious idea is true"; Kant aptly added "consistency" as a needed element. My life experience over the past 15 years enabled me to appreciate yet another definition.

In today's world of communication and mass media, truth is not firstly based on coherence and clarity, but rather on frequency. Here, a repeated hypothesis or suspicion becomes a truth; a three-time-repeated assumption imperceptibly becomes a fact. There is no need to check because "it is obvious"; after all, "we have heard it many times" and "it is being said everywhere."

Lately, I have been going through an interesting experience. I am constantly being told "the truth" about who I am: "You are a controversial figure"; "you engage in double-talk, delivering a gentle message in French and English, and a radical - even extremist - one in Arabic, or to a Muslim audience in private"; "you have links with extremists, you are an anti-Semite"; "you despise women" etc.

When I ask about the source of this information, invariably the response is: This is well-known, it is everywhere, check the Internet and you will find thousands of pages referring to this.

A closer examination reveals that what we have is journalists or intellectuals quoting each other, conclusively reporting and infinitely repeating what others said yesterday, with caveats. Rather than using this as an occasion for reflection, the response to this finding is usually: "Well, there has to be some truth in all that."

Strange truth, indeed! I have written more than 20 books and about 800 articles; 170 tapes of lectures are circulating, and I keep asking my detractors: Have you read or listened to any of my material? Can you prove your allegations? To repeat them is not to prove. Where is the evidence of my double-talk? Have you read any of the numerous articles where I call on Muslims to unequivocally condemn radical views and acts of extremism? [complete article]

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Officials say publicity derailed secrets inquiry
By David Johnston and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, August 30, 2004

The Pentagon official under suspicion of turning over classified information to Israel began cooperating with federal agents several weeks ago and was preparing to lead the authorities to contacts inside the Israeli government when the case became publicly known last week, government officials said Sunday.

The disclosure of the inquiry late on Friday by CBS News revealed what had been for nearly a year a covert national security investigation conducted by the F.B.I., according to the officials, who said that news reports about the inquiry compromised important investigative steps, like the effort to follow the trail back to the Israelis. [complete article]

Wolfowitz and Feith briefed in spy probe
CBS/AP, August 30, 2004

U.S. officials confirm the investigation has been going on for over a year, and that Franklin had recently agreed to cooperate with the FBI. The story was first reported last Friday on the CBS Evening News shortly after agents began executing search warrants. U.S. law enforcement officials did not object to the timing of the CBS report. [complete article]

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Edwards says Kerry would offer nuclear 'bargain' to Iran
By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 30, 2004

A John F. Kerry administration would propose to Iran that the Islamic state be allowed to keep its nuclear power plants in exchange for giving up the right to retain the nuclear fuel that could be used for bomb-making, Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards said in an interview yesterday.

Edwards said that if Iran failed to take what he called a "great bargain," it would essentially confirm that it is building nuclear weapons under the cover of a supposedly peaceful nuclear power initiative. He said that, if elected, Kerry would ensure that European allies were prepared to join the United States in levying heavy sanctions if Iran rejected the proposal. "If we are engaging with Iranians in an effort to reach this great bargain and if in fact this is a bluff that they are trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, then we know that our European friends will stand with us," Edwards said.

Edwards's notion of proposing such a bargain with Iran, combined with Kerry's statement in December that he was prepared to explore "areas of mutual interest" with Iran, suggest that Kerry would take a sharply different approach with Iran than President Bush. The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since its 1979 revolution, and Iran was part of Bush's "axis of evil" that included North Korea and the former government of Iraq. Earlier this month, Bush demanded that Iran "must abandon her nuclear ambitions." [complete article]

The neo-cons give Iran the Iraq treatment
By Jonathan Steele, The Age, August 30, 2004

History is beginning to repeat itself, this time over Iran. Just two years after the British Government's notorious "Downing Street dossier" on Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction and the first efforts to get United Nations approval for war, Washington is trying to create similar pressures for action against Iran.

The ingredients are well-known: sexed-up intelligence material that puts the target country in the worst possible light; moves to get the UN to declare it in "non-compliance", thereby claiming justification for going in unilaterally even if the UN gives no support for invasion; and at the back of the whole brouhaha, a clique of US neo-conservatives whose real agenda is regime change. [complete article]

Comment -- As the Bush administration is ramping up its bellicose rhetoric directed at Iran, the Kerry-Edwards campaign has an important opportunity that they appear willing to grasp. Though they have failed to clearly differentiate themselves on the issue of Iraq, the need to develop an intelligent policy on Iran is urgent and this is where they can and are showing how America's approach to Iran must not lead to a rerun of the mess in Iraq. The Iranian government is already expressing its willingness to provide guarantees that it will not develop nuclear weapons. Kerry and Edwards can make a persuasive case that their policy on Iran offers the hope of both peace and security while Bush's insistence on playing the tough guy role is setting the stage for more military action.

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History haunts Bush and Kerry
By Kevin Phillips, Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2004

Few assumptions are more precarious for Democrats than the one that November's presidential election is John F. Kerry's to lose.

President Bush does have a spotty economy that is weak in job creation, a botched war in Iraq and an average approval rating around 50%, negatives that normally signal defeat for an incumbent. Short of a new terrorist attack, all this gives Democrats some basis for optimism.

Still, as the Republican convention opens this week in New York City, a site chosen to resurrect the psychologies and applause lines of the months after Sept. 11, both parties and candidates are engaged in a high-stakes and tricky contest of patriotism and memory. Not only what happened three years ago is involved, but also what both contenders were doing or lying about or shirking some three decades ago in the Vietnam era.

With Iraq and terrorism combining into a potent national security issue destined to dominate the election debate, both Kerry and Bush face close scrutiny of their military and patriotic outlooks during the Vietnam years, and both are at risk. Slowly, Vietnam and the two U.S.-led wars in Iraq have blended into a linkage of foreign-policy and national-security errors that has drained U.S. credibility and prestige. [complete article]

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Conservatives for Kerry? Here's your man
By Michael Powell, Washington Post, August 29, 2004

Utter three words -- George Walker Bush -- and watch eminent author Kevin Phillips, a longtime Republican, a former Nixon aide and past party theoretician, pucker like he has inhaled a pickle.

"I've never understood why we take Bush and his family seriously," he says. "They come from the investment-inherited-money wing of the Republican Party. They display no real empathy for anyone who is not of their class."

He pauses a few seconds as his fingers execute a tap dance on his picnic table.

"They aren't supply-siders; they're crony-siders. As far as I'm concerned, I would put Bush on a slow boat to China with all full warning to the Chinese submarine fleet." [complete article]

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Democrat 'ashamed' he helped Bush
Associated Press, August 29, 2004

Former Texas House speaker Ben Barnes said he is "more ashamed at myself than I've ever been" because he helped President Bush and the sons of other wealthy families get into the Texas National Guard so they could avoid serving in Vietnam.

"I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard . . . and I'm not necessarily proud of that, but I did it," Barnes, a Democrat, said in a video clip recorded May 27 before a group of John F. Kerry supporters in Austin.

Barnes, who was House speaker when Bush entered the Guard, later became lieutenant governor.

The video was posted June 25 on the Web site but received little notice before Friday, when Jim Moore, an Austin-based author of books critical of Bush, sent e-mails calling attention to it as Republicans prepare to convene in New York.

Bush joined the National Guard in 1968 and served until 1973. He has said he received no special treatment and did not seek help to be admitted to the Guard.

Barnes said he became ashamed after walking through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and looking at the names of the dead. "I became more ashamed of myself than I've ever been, because it was the worst thing I did -- help a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get in the National Guard," he said. [complete article]

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Allawi holds meetings with insurgents
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, August 30, 2004

Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said Sunday he has held private meetings with representatives of insurgent groups from the restive cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra to convince them to accept a government amnesty offer.

Allawi said the meetings, which began shortly after he assumed office in late June, have been intended to bifurcate the insurgency by luring lower-ranking members away from harder-core elements. Although he said he has not reached agreement with any of the groups, he insisted that some of the representatives are "changing horses . . . and taking the amnesty seriously."

The meetings, some of which have occurred at Allawi's private house outside the highly fortified Green Zone, are a risky and unconventional form of back-channel diplomacy. But they represent the most-significant effort yet to address the insurgency with political means rather than military force. [complete article]

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Clashes break out in Baghdad
By Robin Shulman, Washington Post, August 29, 2004

For one commander in the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, the trip home to Baghdad after a cease-fire was reached in the holy city of Najaf was just a pit stop.

It was time enough to receive dozens of well-wishers delivering congratulations for resisting the Americans. Time enough to weep with the visitors over the damage inflicted to the sacred Imam Ali shrine.

And time enough for the commander, who gave his name only as Abu Hayder, to prepare to return to Najaf on Sunday morning and figure out how to redistribute weapons that fighters had laid aside.

"It seems the truce is only in Najaf," Abu Hayder said. "Every other area is on fire." [complete article]

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In Western Iraq, fundamentalists hold U.S. at bay
By John F. Burns and Erik Eckholm, New York Times, August 29, 2004

While American troops have been battling Islamic militants to an uncertain outcome in Najaf, the Shiite holy city, events in two Sunni Muslim cities that stand astride the crucial western approaches to Baghdad have moved significantly against American plans to build a secular democracy in Iraq.

Both of the cities, Falluja and Ramadi, and much of Anbar Province, are now controlled by fundamentalist militias, with American troops confined mainly to heavily protected forts on the desert's edge. What little influence the Americans have is asserted through wary forays in armored vehicles, and by laser-guided bombs that obliterate enemy safe houses identified by scouts who penetrate militant ranks. Even bombing raids appear to strengthen the fundamentalists, who blame the Americans for scores of civilian deaths.

American efforts to build a government structure around former Baath Party stalwarts - officials of Saddam Hussein's army, police force and bureaucracy who were willing to work with the United States - have collapsed. Instead, the former Hussein loyalists, under threat of beheadings, kidnappings and humiliation, have mostly resigned or defected to the fundamentalists, or been killed. Enforcers for the old government, including former Republican Guard officers, have put themselves in the service of fundamentalist clerics they once tortured at Abu Ghraib.

In the past three weeks, three former Hussein loyalists appointed to important posts in Falluja and Ramadi have been eliminated by the militants and their Baathist allies. The chief of a battalion of the American-trained Iraqi National Guard in Falluja was beheaded by the militants, prompting the disintegration of guard forces in the city. The Anbar governor was forced to resign after his three sons were kidnapped. The third official, the provincial police chief in Ramadi, was lured to his arrest by American marines after three assassination attempts led him to secretly defect to the rebel cause. [complete article]

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Pakistan losing grip on extremists
By John Lancaster and Kamran Khan, Washington Post, August 29, 2004

A recent series of assassination attempts on high-level officials here is the result of a growing and deadly alliance between Pakistani extremists and second-rung al Qaeda operatives from Arab countries and Central Asia who use the border area with Afghanistan as a refuge, according to senior Pakistani intelligence sources.

The development is a disquieting one, foreign diplomats said, because it suggests that Pakistan's security services may be losing control over home-grown militants they once embraced as allies, first in the struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan and more recently against Indian forces in Kashmir.

An attack on Lt. Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hayat, a top military commander, on June 10 was conducted by Pakistani assailants who later confessed they had been trained in small arms, explosives and conducting ambushes at an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan's rugged tribal region of South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, according to two senior intelligence officials. [complete article]

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Marchers denounce Bush as they pass GOP convention hall
By Christine Hauser, New York Times, August 29, 2004

On bicycles, on foot, and some with their children in tow, hundreds of thousands of people moved through areas of Manhattan today in rallies or mass demonstrations, carrying messages against war and the Bush administration.

In the largest demonstration ever at a political convention, people swarmed through the midtown area of Manhattan in a march organized by United for Peace and Justice, passing by Madison Square Garden, where this week's Republican National Convention starts on Monday. At the height of the march, it took more than an hour to move one block. [complete article]

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Neocons have Iran in their sights
By William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune, August 26, 2004

The temperature has been rising between Washington and Iran over the latter's alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Some former U.S. officials concerned with Middle Eastern policy suggest that when President George W. Bush must eventually explain what has gone wrong in Iraq, it might be convenient to blame Iran.

Bush could accuse Iran of fostering the Islamic extremism responsible for U.S. frustration in Najaf and elsewhere, and of encouraging Shiite resistance to the occupation force and the new Iraq government the United States is trying to install. Blaming Iran would be a step up the escalation ladder.

This scenario includes the possibility that escalation could get out of hand.

Pressure has already increased for "pre-emption" of Iran's nuclear-power program. The extent of Tehran's project has yet to be fully exposed to international inspection, but Iran's enemies insist it includes a covert nuclear military program.

And once again, this is a prominent theme of neoconservative publicists and organizations in Washington. The neoconservative godfather Norman Podhoretz put it suggestively in an interview last week: "I am not advocating the invasion of Iran at this moment, although. ..." Another moment will undoubtedly be along soon. [complete article]

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Talk it out on Iran before it's too late
By Robert E. Hunter, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2004

The Bush administration is considering what to do about Iran's possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. One alternative includes military action, whether directed against Iranian nuclear facilities or more broadly. This may not come to pass. But because the possibility of military conflict with Iran is on the table, it is vital to have the kind of public debate -- now -- that we did not have before the Iraq war. [complete article]

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Iran-Contra II?
By Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly, September, 2004

On Friday evening, CBS News reported that the FBI is investigating a suspected mole in the Department of Defense who allegedly passed to Israel, via a pro-Israeli lobbying organization, classified American intelligence about Iran. The focus of the investigation, according to U.S. government officials, is Larry Franklin, a veteran Defense Intelligence Agency Iran analyst now working in the office of the Pentagon's number three civilian official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.

The investigation of Franklin is now shining a bright light on a shadowy struggle within the Bush administration over the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran. In particular, the FBI is looking with renewed interest at an unauthorized back-channel between Iranian dissidents and advisers in Feith's office, which more-senior administration officials first tried in vain to shut down and then later attempted to cover up.

Franklin, along with another colleague from Feith's office, a polyglot Middle East expert named Harold Rhode, were the two officials involved in the back-channel, which involved on-going meetings and contacts with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and other Iranian exiles, dissidents and government officials. Ghorbanifar is a storied figure who played a key role in embroiling the Reagan administration in the Iran-Contra affair. The meetings were both a conduit for intelligence about Iran and Iraq and part of a bitter administration power-struggle pitting officials at DoD who have been pushing for a hard-line policy of "regime change" in Iran, against other officials at the State Department and the CIA who have been counseling a more cautious approach. [complete article]

Who is Larry Franklin?
By Matthew Gutman, Jerusalem Post, August 28, 2004

The FBI's investigation of Larry Franklin began not long after it was leaked that the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans sent two Defense officials, one of them Franklin, to Paris to meet with a dissident Iranian arms trader.

The latter, Manucher Ghorbanifar, played a central role in the Iran-Contra affair in which Israel had a major involvement in the mid 1980's.

The purpose of the meeting with Ghorbanifar was to undermine a pending deal that the White House had been negotiating with the Iranian government. At the time, Iran had considered turning over five al-Qaida operatives in exchange for Washington dropping its support for Mujahadeen Khalq, an Iraq-based rebel Iranian group listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department. [complete article]

FBI probes DOD office
By Richard Sale, UPI, August 28, 2004

The FBI has intensified its investigation of senior members of what was formerly known as the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans on suspicion that one of them passed highly classified U.S. military information to the government of Israel, according to federal law enforcement officials.

In some cases, colleagues, former associates and members of other government agencies have been interviewed as many as four times by teams of FBI agents, FBI officials told United Press International.

Two of the people interviewed are Bill Luti, former chief of OSP, and Harold Rhode of the Near East/South Asia office, according to participants in the investigation. [complete article]

The 'dual loyalty' slur returns to haunt U.S. Jews
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, August 29, 2004

If the case of a "mole" in the U.S. Department of Defense turns out to be true, it would be the most grievous blow to the American Jewish community in years. As depicted Friday evening on the CBS television network, the story managed to touch all the most sensitive aspects of the status of Jews in America and Israel's role in the machinery of American foreign policy considerations.
It breathes new life into the assertion that Israeli and not American interests led to the war in Iraq. It revives the old charge that Israel is not an ally but a treacherous country, and the old saw that American Jews have a "divided loyalty" problem in their preference for Israeli over American interests. [complete article]

Comment -- As the media naturally focuses on the drama of a spy story, the larger and much more important issue here is US-Israeli-Iranian relations. Several factors are converging with potentially explosive consequences. The IAEA is under increasing pressure from the US to bring before the Security Council the issue of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons development. The argument is probably being made inside the Bush campaign that upping the anti in the run-up to the election might help serve Bush's image as a war president (and make voters too frightened to risk voting for Kerry).

But on top of all this, inside the administration prominent neoconservatives such as Douglas Feith may view the coming months as their last opportunity to engineer a US-Israeli coordinated attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The chances are that by January 2005, whoever wins the election, Feith will be out of a job. Neocons such as Michael Ledeen know that come next year they're frequently going to be hearing the phrase, "my schedule's full," as doors across Washington get slammed in their faces. To Ledeen and others a pre-November strike on Iran may seem so vital that they'll do anything they can to make it happen and damn the political consequences.

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

Iran-Contra II?
By Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly, September, 2004
On Friday evening, CBS News reported that the FBI is investigating a suspected mole in the Department of Defense who allegedly passed to Israel, via a pro-Israeli lobbying organization, classified American intelligence about Iran. The focus of the investigation, according to U.S. government officials, is Larry Franklin, a veteran Defense Intelligence Agency Iran analyst now working in the office of the Pentagon's number three civilian official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.

The investigation of Franklin is now shining a bright light on a shadowy struggle within the Bush administration over the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran. In particular, the FBI is looking with renewed interest at an unauthorized back-channel between Iranian dissidents and advisers in Feith's office, which more-senior administration officials first tried in vain to shut down and then later attempted to cover up.

Franklin, along with another colleague from Feith's office, a polyglot Middle East expert named Harold Rhode, were the two officials involved in the back-channel, which involved on-going meetings and contacts with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and other Iranian exiles, dissidents and government officials. Ghorbanifar is a storied figure who played a key role in embroiling the Reagan administration in the Iran-Contra affair. The meetings were both a conduit for intelligence about Iran and Iraq and part of a bitter administration power-struggle pitting officials at DoD who have been pushing for a hard-line policy of "regime change" in Iran, against other officials at the State Department and the CIA who have been counseling a more cautious approach.

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.

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.
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... (continued)

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.

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.

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."

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ostracizing the people who were right on Iraq
By Timothy Noah, Slate, August 20, 2004
Not long ago, I spoke with a Democratic moderate about the war in Iraq. He said he considered support for the Iraq war to be a necessary prerequisite to assuming any powerful role in the party. It showed that the person in question was willing to project U.S. force abroad. But wait, I asked. Do you still think the Iraq war was a good idea? After some hemming and hawing, he admitted that he'd rather we hadn't gone in. Then why make support for a mistaken policy a litmus test? Because, he repeated, it shows that the person in question is willing to project U.S. force abroad. I should emphasize that we weren't talking about whether troops should be withdrawn from Iraq, which is an entirely separate and vexing question that speaks to our responsibility in a country whose previous government we destroyed. What this man was saying was that it was better to have been wrong about Iraq than to have been right. That's the prevailing (though not always conscious) consensus in Washington, and it's completely insane.

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.

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