The War in Context  
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Secret papers show Blair was warned of Iraq chaos
By Michael Smith, Daily Telegraph, September 18, 2004

Tony Blair was warned a year before invading Iraq that a stable post-war government would be impossible without keeping large numbers of troops there for "many years", secret government papers reveal.

The documents, seen by The Telegraph, show more clearly than ever the grave reservations expressed by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, over the consequences of a second Gulf war and how prescient his Foreign Office officials were in predicting the ensuing chaos.

They told the Prime Minister that there was a risk of the Iraqi system "reverting to type" after a war, with a future government acquiring the very weapons of mass destruction that an attack would be designed to remove.

The documents further show that the Prime Minister was advised that he would have to "wrong foot" Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, and that British officials believed that President George W Bush merely wanted to complete his father's "unfinished business" in a "grudge match" against Saddam. [complete article]

See extracts from the leaked documents in 'Failure is not an option, but it doesn't mean they will avoid it' (Daily Telegraph).

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The end of unipolarity
By Gautam Adhikari, YaleGlobal, September 17, 2004

There is a huge gap between America's military capacity and its actual ability to bend events according to its wish. America's installed capacity as the sole superpower at the end of the Cold War was, and remains, beyond dispute. A US$11 trillion economy that facilitates enormous technological prowess and a defense budget that exceeds the combined total of the next 25 powers should leave no doubt about the potential of the United States. Its ability, however, to unilaterally use that power – military and economic – in a unipolar world, is hampered by reality.

As Zbigniew Brzezinski put it recently, "Preponderance should not be confused with omnipotence." It has been obvious since the later stages of the Vietnam War – coinciding with the advent of televised conflict – that overwhelming firepower is not enough for victory against even seemingly feeble adversaries. Though the US death toll was significantly lower than the Vietnamese (58,000 versus 3 million), the superpower was unable to avoid defeat; media coverage of the devastating happenings eventually undermined credibility both at home and abroad. Today, in a globalized world connected by satellite television and the internet, the situation in Iraq, since the US declared the end of major combat nearly a year and a half ago, stands testimony to the failure of unilateral use of massive military might.

The war in Iraq and its chaotic aftermath highlight the basic unipolarist misconception – that sophisticated military and economic power are sufficient to subdue any adversary. [complete article]

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Missile defense: Mission unaccomplished
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, September 17, 2004

It's curious that on the campaign trail George W. Bush has boasted of many accomplishments, whether real or imaginary, but the missile-defense program has almost never been among them. This is no small point. Bush pushed missile defense as a major issue in the 2000 election. From the start of his presidency, he made it one of his top priorities. He revoked the 1972 Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty in order to pursue the program at full throttle. He tripled its budget ($10.7 billion this year alone, more than twice as much as for any other weapon system). He demanded that the Pentagon start fielding the system by the fall of 2004 -- that is, before the coming election -- and indeed, last July, the first antimissile missile was lowered into its silo, a second is now in place, and eight more are scheduled to follow in the next few weeks.

Keeping America safe from attack is the central theme of the president's re-election campaign. Why then -- except for a rally last month at a Boeing plant where a piece of the program is manufactured -- has he scarcely mentioned missile defense?

Perhaps because the program is having serious problems -- and because Bush knows it's having problems. [complete article]

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Democrat takes off the gloves on Iraq debate
By Ronald Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2004

Sen. John F. Kerry's tougher tone in a speech Thursday highlighted his new effort to sharpen his differences with President Bush on the conflict in Iraq.

Kerry's changed approach may reflect both opportunity and necessity: It coincides with an upsurge in insurgent attacks across Iraq but also follows a tilt toward Bush in recent surveys on public attitudes about the war.

Continued turmoil in Iraq could reverse Bush's gains on the issue before election day, most experts agree. But the recent trend in opinion suggests the president is succeeding in his efforts to define the Iraq war as a critical step in the long-term struggle against terrorism. And that is increasing pressure on Kerry to more fundamentally challenge Bush on the Iraq situation. [complete article]

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Unease shadows Bush's optimism
By Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2004

A combination of escalating bloodshed, gloomy assessments and deteriorating security conditions in Iraq are challenging the Bush administration's upbeat view of the struggle to establish democracy in the beleaguered Middle East nation.

A growing sense of unease is visible among Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress as bombings and kidnappings continue to rise along with the death toll.

The new challenge to the administration's view of events comes at a crucial time for President Bush, as the interim Iraqi government struggles to prepare for elections in January and as the Iraq issue dominates his bid for reelection. [complete article]

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Many killed as U.S. pounds Falluja
Agencies, The Guardian, September 17, 2004

At least 13 people were killed in a central Baghdad car bomb attack this morning just hours after US strikes on militant targets in the city of Falluja killed 44 people and injured 27.

A suicide car bomber struck near a major police checkpoint in central Baghdad, killing at least five people and wounding 20, according to the health ministry, which is expecting many casualties from the explosion.

The bomb went off at around 12.45pm (0945 BST). Witnesses reported seeing thick plumes of smoke in the air.

Earlier today at least 44 people were killed and 27 were injured in a wave of US attacks on the alleged hideouts of an al-Qaida-linked group in and around the town of Falluja, the Iraqi health ministry said. [complete article]

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Insurgents in Iraq appear more powerful than ever
By Steven Komarow, Csar G. Soriano and Tom Squitieri, USA Today, September 16, 2004

Two years ago, the head of the Arab League was scolded by many for predicting that "the gates of hell" would be unleashed if President Bush proceeded with his threat to invade Iraq.

But when Amr Moussa reprised his statement to a meeting in Cairo this week, there was no dissent. Instead, the former Egyptian foreign minister, an influential figure in the Middle East, got nods when he said "the gates of hell are open in Iraq, where the situation is becoming more complicated and troubled."

U.S. plans had called for Iraq's new government and Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to be gaining respect and organizing for national elections now. Instead insurgents appear more powerful than ever. By some counts, more than three dozen Iraqi cities and towns are in the hands of leaders hostile to the new government and the United States, and apparently able to dispatch gunmen and suicide bombers at will. The resistance that was spotty a year ago now launches an average of more than 50 attacks against U.S. or coalition forces a day. [complete article]

Comment -- The White House is still recycling the worn-out line, "It's going to get worse before it gets better," but every time they've said this before, it got worse and then it got worse.

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'Atmospherics' intelligence is how U.S. troops read Baghdad body language
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, September 16, 2004

It's going to be a good day, the American soldiers thought, as they left the base and started their patrol in the most dangerous part of Baghdad.

On the decrepit streets lined with raw sewage and garbage, Iraqi men silently stared down the passing Humvees, sometimes with arms crossed. One man stepped out of his shop and spit toward the convoy. Children ran along the patrol route, waving, cheering and begging for candy.

A dirty look is better than no one out at all, the soldiers said. When parents are willing to venture out and let their children play, it means the insurgents aren't planning an attack, at least for the moment.

These are more than casual observations by the soldiers. The military calls it atmospherics, and it passes for military intelligence at a time when U.S. troops near Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood no longer can interact openly with Iraqis. It comes mostly from the limited view through the windows that line their Humvees. The soldiers said such looks helped them determine how dangerous their patrol route could be that day. [complete article]

Comment -- For American soldiers patrolling Sadr City, being in Iraq is like watching Fox News. The longer you watch it for, the less you know about what's happening. To go from having face-to-face interactions, to simply being able to observe the presence or absence of faces is a form of retreat that will be impossible to reverse. America's is a foreign presence in Iraq that becomes more and more foreign by the day. Yet back home, politicians and cable TV anchors express genuine dismay about the apparent ingratitude being shown by a people who were liberated from a tyrant. Don't the Iraqis know that America is there to help? The problem is, help imposed by force doesn't really feel like help at all.

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Turning point
By David J. Morris, Salon, September 16, 2004

In retrospect, what is most striking about the entire set of events in Fallujah [last April] is the vertiginous postmodern sheen that it takes on at times. When one excavates the history of the battle, it quickly becomes apparent that all the major policy decisions were driven not by events on the ground but instead by the raw power of the images the battle produced: Americans being dragged through the streets, wailing Iraqi mothers returning to shattered homes, American Spectre gunships strafing neighborhoods -- pixilated nightscope views almost Gothic in tone, no perception so definite that it might not be interpreted as its opposite.

One thing can be said for sure: Never before has media coverage of events so dominated the entirety of the military process; never before has the raw power of the burning images so trumped the seasoned opinions of professionals on the ground. [complete article]

Comment -- Since the outgoing commander of US Marines in Iraq, Lieutenant General James T. Conway, voiced his misgivings about last April's assault on Fallujah, the operation has been viewed by many as a blunder that resulted from White House micromanagement of military operations. While Marine commanders had no obvious eagerness to wreak revenge for the killing of four American security contractors, their political overseers clearly thought otherwise. Echoes of Mogadishu no doubt forced the Cheney doctrine into play. Act strong, or you'll be perceived as weak and invite further attacks. Send in the Marines. But then reality ran over the policy. The US media willingly regurgitated the official line that the hundreds of Iraqis being killed were all insurgents, but pictures on Aljazeera (the only media outlet with reporters inside Fallujah) told another story. Images of Iraqi civilians being killed and injured fueled an upwell of popular support for the Sunni Fallujans from their Shia brethren in Baghdad and southern Iraq. A decisive show of force, rather than having the desired effect of showing the insurgents in Fallujah that they must respect American military might, ended up having the opposite effect by unifying, widening and empowering the insurgency. The choice for the White House was then, do we change course because this isn't working out the way we intended, or do we stay the course irrespective of the consequences. The pragmatists won out. It wasn't good for the morale of the Marines or for their image of invincibility, but it seems wiser to backtrack when you realize that you've made a mistake, than to keep going forward and compound the error.

To conclude that, "never before has the raw power of the burning images so trumped the seasoned opinions of professionals on the ground," is to imply that only those on the ground understand the reality of the situation. However, a vital element in the reality of what happened in Fallujah last April was the way events were being viewed elsewhere in Iraq. The White House's error was not that it switched course through being unduly influenced by images; it was that it failed to anticipate what the impact of those images would be. And this highlights the greatest failure of this administration: It has consistently tailored its actions abroad in order to fit a perception of those actions that it hopes to elicit at home. For the Bush administration, politics always trumps governance. The Marines were sent into Fallujah, not because this was a sure way to crush the insurgency, but because George Bush and his advisors were convinced that they needed to send a message to the American people: Foreign thugs who kill and mutilate Americans will not go unpunished.

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The crisis of universalism: America and radical Islam after 9/11
By Fred Halliday, Open Democracy, September 16, 2004

Three years after the most spectacular guerrilla action of modern history, the coordinated events of 11 September 2001 in the United States, the world appears further away than ever from addressing the fundamental issues confronting it, and to be moving ever more deeply into a phase of confrontation, violence and exaggerated cultural difference.

The response to 9/11 on both sides has been, in essence, a rejection of universalism: of the belief, gradually built up over the 20th century, in shared moral and legal principles and in the ability of states and international bodies successfully to resolve conflicts through multilateral action.

On the militant Islamic side, the worldwide military challenge to US power is framed in particularist, religious, nationalist and historical language; it rejects any sense of global solidarity against oppression. On the western side, state policies have equally fallen back on particularist rhetoric and practice – whether in the appeals of the US president after 9/11 to "American values", the Russian invocation of a right to a worldwide attack on its enemies after the Chechen infanticide of September 2004, or the instinctive appeal to "European values" by European Union states in the aftermath of the 11 March 2004 bombings in Madrid.

All this has struck a serious blow at what had been a growing world consensus prior to 11 September 2001, namely the belief in international institutions, international norms, and international law (not least with regard to human rights and the conduct of armed conflict). [complete article]

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U.S. National Intelligence Estimate: Iraq's future looks bleak
By Katherine Pfleger Shrader, Associated Press (via Yahoo), September 16, 2004

The National Intelligence Council presented President Bush this summer with three pessimistic scenarios regarding the security situation in Iraq, including the possibility of a civil war there before the end of 2005.

In a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate, the council looked at the political, economic and security situation in the wartorn country and determined that -- at best -- a tenuous stability was possible, a U.S. official said late Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The document lays out a second scenario in which increased extremism and fragmentation in Iraqi society impede efforts to build a central government and adversely affect efforts to democratize the country.

In a third, worst-case scenario, the intelligence council contemplated "trend lines that would point to a civil war," the official said. The potential conflict could be among the country's three main populations -- the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

It "would be fair" to call the document "pessimistic," the official added. But "the contents shouldn't come as a particular surprise to anyone who is following developments in Iraq. It encapsulates trends that are clearly apparent." [complete article]

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The choices in Baghdad are looking grim
By Tony Karon,, September 15, 2004

The fundamental challenge in transferring security responsibility to Iraqi forces is political. The U.S. must convince Iraqi personnel that they're fighting for Iraq, rather than fighting under the command of an unpopular foreign army. While the administration may have convinced its domestic audience that by transferring political authority to Allawi they have essentially handed the Iraqis back their country, they have yet to persuade many Iraqis of the same idea. Allawi is a U.S. appointee, and his power is based almost entirely on the backing of the U.S. military -- a tough assignment in a country where even opinion polls commissioned by U.S. authority have found that a majority wants American forces to leave.

The answer to the political question, U.S. officials hope, will be the elections slated for January, since, if the Iraqis get to choose their own government, they'll have a stake in defending it. That's sound logic, although there are strong indicators that if the Iraqis get to choose their own government it may not look much like the one the U.S. is currently dealing with, and according to current indications of the platforms of a variety of Iraqi politicians may even be committed to asking the U.S. to leave. [complete article]

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Senators slam administration on Iraq
By Barbara Slavin, USA Today (via Yahoo), September 16, 2004

Senators from both parties accused the Bush administration Wednesday of incompetence in its efforts to rebuild Iraq (news - web sites) and said the United States could lose the war unless it improves security and gets more money into the Iraqi economy.

Among those harshly criticizing the White House at a hearing were the two top Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Of the $18.4 billion Congress approved last year for Iraqi reconstruction, only $1.1 billion has been spent because of violence and other problems. Hagel called that record "beyond pitiful and embarrassing; it is now in the zone of dangerous."

Even Lugar, who is not usually given to strong rhetoric, said the failure to inject funds into the Iraqi economy quickly was "exasperating for anybody looking at this from any vantage point." [complete article]

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Allawi to address Hill, U.N. as White House defends policy
By Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, September 16, 2004

Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will address a joint session of Congress and make high-profile appearances in Washington next week, a debut visit to the United States that the Bush administration will make the centerpiece of a vigorous election-year defense of its troubled Iraq policy, according to U.S. officials.

The visit by Iraq's charismatic interim leader, who will also speak to the U.N. General Assembly and be part of a sustained media effort, could provide a boost to President Bush's campaign by reframing the controversial U.S. intervention in Iraq in terms of accomplishments rather than problems, U.S. officials said. Allawi is expected to emphasize the transformation of Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, to thank the United States on behalf of the Iraqi people and to appeal for ongoing support to complete the job, they said.

At the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly, Allawi intends to call for an end to the divisions over Iraq at the world body and appeal for greater international support for Iraq as it goes through three elections and writes a new constitution over the next 16 months, U.S. officials said. The new government wants a larger U.N. presence to facilitate the crucial votes and help with providing security for the U.N. staff, which had been targeted by insurgents in the past. [complete article]

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As leaks dry up in FBI investigation, activists still fear jury probe
By Ori Nir, The Forward, September 17, 2004

Even as a lull in government leaks appears to be short-circuiting the media frenzy over the FBI's investigation of the pro-Israel lobby, sources with access to the Justice Department say the probe is moving forward.

Sources told the Forward that a federal grand jury is expected to begin interviewing people in connection to the investigation, which is believed to center on a Pentagon official suspected of passing on classified documents on to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Investigators reportedly suspect that Aipac officials passed on the information to Israel.

Jewish activists say that so far they know of no one who has been subpoenaed to testify in front of the grand jury. But according to one source, "there is a lot of nonsubpoena-level talking" between investigators and people they think might know of suspected wrongdoing.

The investigation could end up weakening the country's most influential pro-Israel lobbying group significantly and, in turn, cause damage to the American-Israeli relationship. Now, however, reporters with mainstream national news organizations say, it has become almost impossible to obtain any new information from law-enforcement sources on the investigation. [complete article]

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Judge orders U.S. to find Bush records
By Matt Kelley, Associated Press (via Seatle Post-Intelligencer), September 16, 2004

A federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to find and make public by next week any unreleased files about President Bush's Vietnam-era Air National Guard service to resolve a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. handed down the order late Wednesday in New York. The AP lawsuit already has led to the disclosure of previously unreleased flight logs from Bush's days piloting F-102A fighters and other jets.

Pentagon officials told Baer they plan to have their search complete by Monday. Baer ordered the Pentagon to hand over the records to the AP by Sept. 24 and provide a written statement by Sept. 29 detailing the search for more records. [complete article]

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Far graver than Vietnam
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, September 15, 2004

'Bring them on!" President Bush challenged the early Iraqi insurgency in July of last year. Since then, 812 American soldiers have been killed and 6,290 wounded, according to the Pentagon. Almost every day, in campaign speeches, Bush speaks with bravado about how he is "winning" in Iraq. "Our strategy is succeeding," he boasted to the National Guard convention on Tuesday.

But, according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."

Retired general Joseph Hoare, the former marine commandant and head of US Central Command, told me: "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."

Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College, said: "I see no ray of light on the horizon at all. The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after the second world war in Germany and Japan." [complete article]

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CIA unit on bin Laden is understaffed, a senior official tells lawmakers
By James Risen, New York Times, September 15, 2004

Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency has fewer experienced case officers assigned to its headquarters unit dealing with Osama bin Laden than it did at the time of the attacks, despite repeated pleas from the unit's leaders for reinforcements, a senior C.I.A. officer with extensive counterterrorism experience has told Congress.

The bin Laden unit is stretched so thin that it relies on inexperienced officers rotated in and out every 60 to 90 days, and they leave before they know enough to be able to perform any meaningful work, according to a letter the C.I.A. officer has written to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

"There has been no systematic effort to groom Al Qaeda expertise" among C.I.A. officers since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the letter, written by Michael F. Scheuer, the former chief of the agency's bin Laden unit and the author of a best-selling book that is critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror. [complete article]

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The Bush memos
By Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly, September 15, 2004

One of the reasons I'm annoyed by the whole Killian memo fiasco is that even if they're real they don't really add much to the story. After all, here's what we already know:

1. Former Texas Speaker of the House Ben Barnes pulled strings in 1968 to get George Bush into the National Guard so that he could avoid the draft. This isn't something Barnes just cooked up recently for Dan Rather, either. He testified under oath about it five years ago.

2. In early 1972, with two years still left on Bush's Guard commitment, something happened. Nobody knows what happened, but for some reason he started flying again in training jets that he had graduated from two years previously; he began putting in simulator time; he had trouble making landings; and in April 1972 he made his last flight. He then refused to take his required annual physical and was subsequently grounded. [complete article]

See also, Memos on Bush are fake but accurate, typist says (NYT) and Mr. Bush's glass house (NYT).

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U.S. 'greatest' rhetoric alienates many abroad
By Roger Cohen, New York Times (via IHT), September 14, 2004

This month, President George W. Bush has called the United States "the greatest force for good on this earth" and the "greatest nation on earth." His vice president, Dick Cheney, has suggested that "when America was created, the stars must have danced in the sky." Other senior members of the administration have enthused that Americans are the "greatest people" on earth.

There is nothing particularly new about such assertions. The Clinton administration liked to refer to the United States as "the indispensable nation." Ever since the American Revolution, part of this country's self-image has been that of beacon of liberty to mankind.

What is new is the intensity with which such expressions of American greatness are made, their frequent couching in an idiom of religious mission, and the hostility and outrage that often confront such statements, even among friends of the United States. [complete article]

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Who seized Simona Torretta?
By Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill, The Guardian, September 16, 2004

When Simona Torretta returned to Baghdad in March 2003, in the midst of the "shock and awe" aerial bombardment, her Iraqi friends greeted her by telling her she was nuts. "They were just so surprised to see me. They said, 'Why are you coming here? Go back to Italy. Are you crazy?'"

But Torretta didn't go back. She stayed throughout the invasion, continuing the humanitarian work she began in 1996, when she first visited Iraq with her anti-sanctions NGO, A Bridge to Baghdad. When Baghdad fell, Torretta again opted to stay, this time to bring medicine and water to Iraqis suffering under occupation. Even after resistance fighters began targeting foreigners, and most foreign journalists and aid workers fled, Torretta again returned. "I cannot stay in Italy," the 29-year-old told a documentary film-maker.

Today, Torretta's life is in danger, along with the lives of her fellow Italian aid worker Simona Pari, and their Iraqi colleagues Raad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnouz Bassam. Eight days ago, the four were snatched at gunpoint from their home/office in Baghdad and have not been heard from since. In the absence of direct communication from their abductors, political controversy swirls round the incident. Proponents of the war are using it to paint peaceniks as naive, blithely supporting a resistance that answers international solidarity with kidnappings and beheadings. Meanwhile, a growing number of Islamic leaders are hinting that the raid on A Bridge to Baghdad was not the work of mujahideen, but of foreign intelligence agencies out to discredit the resistance. [complete article]

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Kurdish exiles pouring back into northern Iraq city they once fled
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), September 15, 2004

Kurds are on the move again in northern Iraq but this time they're not fleeing.

As many as 500 Kurds a day streamed into Kirkuk last month in a land rush that took city officials and U.S. troops by surprise. The influx, which has slowed in September, leaves the nascent city government struggling to cope with dozens of refugee camps on once vacant patches of ground.

Migrants like 60-year-old Tarek Salman Dawoud say they are reclaiming the ancestral city they were forced to flee under Saddam Hussein's campaigns to make Kirkuk an Arab city and control its oil wealth.

"This is our land. We've been here for thousands of years," Dawoud said, standing with other Kurds who shouted in assent. Just behind them, a sea of dusty canvas tents stretched across a few square miles of a former Iraqi air base.

However, U.S. officials say the surge is timed to establish residency ahead of elections slated for January. A strong showing for Kurdish leaders could shift Kirkuk province which sits atop 6 percent of the world's known oil reserves into the orbit of the Kurdish autonomous regions to the north. [complete article]

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Annan declares Iraq war illegal and warns of election credibility
By Colin Brown and Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 16, 2004

Tony Blair last night suffered a fresh blow after Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, said the war in Iraq was "illegal".

Speaking on the BBC World Service, Mr Annan said the war was "not in conformity" with the UN Security Council or with the UN Charter.

Asked if there was legal authority for the war on Iraq, Mr Annan said: "I have stated clearly that it was not in conformity with the security council, with the UN charter."

He also said there could not be credible elections in Iraq next January if the current unrest continued. [complete article]

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Americans seem not to focus on the war
By Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune, September 15, 2004

Despite a dramatic flare-up of violence in Iraq that has produced a long list of American military casualties and even longer lists of Iraqi casualties in scores of daily bombings, reaction in the United States seems muted and the Kerry campaign appears to have derived little gain from the issue.

In part, this may reflect the success of administration efforts, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, to convince Americans that the war in Iraq is a war against terrorists, that blood spilled there will ultimately make the United States safer and that there is thus no alternative but to persist. Televised scenes from Iraq of mounting chaos could change that calculus. But in recent weeks, Americans seem not to have focused on the news from Iraq, appearing more preoccupied with reports on the wave of hurricanes that have threatened Florida. [complete article]

Lawlessness demolishes rebuilding plans
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, September 15, 2004

Within hours of the latest suicide bombing in Baghdad yesterday, Faleh Naqib, the Iraqi interior minister, had arrived at the scene dressed in a suit and sunglasses to signal his government's determination to tackle the terrible spiral of violence.

At least he was brave enough to venture to the blast site. When the US occupation authorities were running the country before July, none of their officials dared visit the scenes of the countless explosions that have claimed so many innocent lives.

Yet yesterday morning, as most Iraqis do most days, the crowd mocked and taunted the minister and his government, incensed at the lawlessness of the new Iraq.

It is almost exactly 18 months since America and Britain embarked on the invasion and reshaping of Iraq. By now they had expected marked signs of reconstruction and development and the foundation of a democratic process that would wipe clean decades of dictatorship and hold up a model for the Arab world. And yet the project looks bleaker than ever before. [complete article]

Iraq: a descent into civil war?
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, September 15, 2004

It was the deadliest single incident in the Iraqi capital for six months, but there was nothing unique about the explosion; it took place a few hundred metres from Haifa Street, a well-known centre of resistance to the American occupation and the scene of heavy fighting on Sunday. It was embarrassingly close to the green zone and the US embassy.

But it reveals a grim truth about the nature of Iraq's evolving insurgency: Iraqis are killing Iraqis.

In recent months, and especially since the handover of "power" to the unelected interim government, Iraq's resistance has concentrated its efforts on killing those who collaborate with the Americans - the police officers, would-be police officers, translators, governors and government officials.

It is beginning to look like, and feel like, civil war. [complete article]

Withdrawal of coalition forces would lead to fragmentation
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, September 15, 2004

Withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces in Iraq would lead to the rapid fragmentation of the country, according to Iraq specialists yesterday.

Gareth Stansfield, co-author of Future of Iraq: Democracy, Dictatorship or Division, published this year, said: "I think the only thing preventing a civil war in Iraq is the coalition forces on the ground. If the US withdraws, the interim government is not in a position to control Iraq."

Amatzia Baram, professor of Middle East history at the University of Haifa, was even blunter, predicting that the interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, would not be able to hold the towns and cities in the Shia south or Sunni central region of Iraq or even the capital.

He recalled that in 1921 a British diplomat had written to London warning that the newly installed king of Iraq would end up as king of only Baghdad if British forces withdrew. Dr Baram said that if the coalition forces pulled out, Mr Allawi "would not be prime minister of Baghdad but prime minister of the Green Zone [the heavily fortified former palace of Saddam Hussein]."

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the invasion, the debate is shifting to whether it would be better for Iraqis if the coalition forces were to organise a phased withdrawal in the near future. [complete article]

Comment -- John Kerry is running out of time. If he doesn't commit himself to making this campaign a campaign about Iraq, he might as well quit.

He shouldn't waste any more time talking about what he would or wouldn't have done before now. What he needs to do is focus America's attention on the horrible mess that Iraq has become.

Iraq is George Bush's failure. His commitment to "stay the course" is no better than a drunk driver promising to stay on the road. If he can't steer, he shouldn't be behind the wheel.

In the year and a half since major combat operations ended, reconstruction of the country has moved by fits and starts and many Iraqis still lack basic services. Meanwhile, security has steadily worsened while the insurgency relentlessly grows in strength. Funds allocated for rebuilding Iraq are now being shifted to cover short-term security costs and the prospect for free and fair elections in January appears increasingly remote.

The fact that Kerry now needs to underline is that 130,000 American troops in Iraq have failed to establish security. This is not the fault of the soldiers but that of a commander in chief and his advisors who underestimated the enormous challenge of rebuilding a nation.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld like to use Orwellian language and portray the chaos as a sign of imminent success, but the evidence is clear: Iraq is a country spinning out of control.

If Kerry really wants to be president he needs to make it clear to the voters that he understands how immensely difficult is the task ahead. Empty rhetoric about enlisting international support is at this point no more persuasive than Bush's promise of a burgeoning democracy.

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Sharon says he will not follow Road Map
By Karin Laub, Associated Press (via Washington Post), September 15, 2004

Israel will not follow the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan and could remain in much of the West Bank for a long time after it withdraws from the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a newspaper interview published Wednesday.

Sharon's comments were his most detailed yet on his long-term vision for the region. Palestinian officials said the remarks confirmed their fears that Israel plans to draw its own borders and keep a large chunk of the West Bank, rather than negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians as the road map envisions. [complete article]

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Israelis, read the writing on wall
By Shlomo Gazit, Daily Star, September 13, 2004

In recent days, three inscriptions have been "written on the wall" in the Middle East in general, and Israel in particular. Each of them alone should worry us. The combination of the three, at the same time, should ring a powerful alarm.

The first inscription is the intelligence estimate that Iran has vigorously restarted its program to develop nuclear weapons and that it might produce its first atomic bomb within two or three years. [...]

The second inscription on the wall involves the national social glue of Israeli society. Without going into details, we have learned from official sources in the Israel armed forces and through a research paper published by a student at Derby University, that Israelis are increasingly less motivated to serve in the military. We see an army in which mental health officers are becoming increasingly important for the conduct of military affairs. [...]

Then comes the third inscription: the threat that someone might try to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount. It is possible that the perpetrators of such an act might consider this a limited step necessary to stop Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan for the Gaza Strip. However, if they actually carry out such an attack, even if they do not succeed in destroying Al-Aqsa or the Dome of the Rock, an apocalyptic war between Islam and Judaism would surely ensue. [complete article]

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Rabbi says would hold Kabbalah ritual calling for Sharon's death
Haaretz, September 15, 2004

Jerusalem police are stepping up their probe of phoned threats to murder Prime Minister Ariel Sharon if the Gaza disengagement plan is not called off. On Tuesday night Rabbi Yossi Dayan, a former member of the outlawed Kach party, declared on Channel 2 that he would be prepared to carry out a ceremony putting a curse on Sharon.

The ceremony, called Pulsa Denura, was carried out before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.

Dayan, a resident of Kiryat Arba, said that he would be willing to conduct the ceremony if other rabbis instructed him to do so, and added that when he was asked to perform the ceremony against Rabin, he did so. [complete article]

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New party urges non-Jews' expulsion
By Khalid Amayreh, Aljazeera, September 12, 2004

Dozens of right-wing Israeli leaders have announced the creation of a new political party which founders say will be dedicated to the expulsion of millions of Muslims and Christians from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The party was launched in Jerusalem on Saturday night.

Taking part in the ceremony were many leaders of the officially outlawed but effectively tolerated Kach group such as Baruch Marzel and Hen Ben Elyahu.

Kach is a violent Jewish militia made up of Jewish activists who reject democracy and advocate the expulsion or, if necessary, annihilation of Arabs from what they call Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel). [complete article]

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Israel approves plan to compensate settlers
By Greg Myre, New York Times, September 14, 2004

Israel's security cabinet approved a compensation package today that would pay roughly $200,000 to $300,000 to each Jewish family that agrees to leave the Gaza Strip under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan.

The move could bolster Mr. Sharon if a significant number of settlers accept the offer in the coming months and begin a voluntary exodus from Gaza.

Some Gaza settlers have expressed a willingness to take the payout, but many are staunchly opposed to the withdrawal and have joined a campaign seeking to derail the plan. [complete article]

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New cracks in nuclear containment
By Peter Grier and Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, September 15, 2004

North Korea might test a nuclear weapon in the near future, though it apparently didn't explode one over the weekend. Iran is forging ahead with nuclear activities despite objections from much of the rest of the world. South Korea, it turns out, produced some fissile material a few years ago. The Seoul government didn't know what was going on - or so it says.

The global effort to curb nuclear proliferation may now be facing some of its most daunting challenges in years. Taken separately, the news items above are bad enough. But some experts worry that, added together, they might spiral into a whole more dangerous than the sum of its parts.

That's because a few serious cracks could conceivably shatter long-held international taboos against acquiring an atomic arsenal. Even one overt new nuclear nation might produce others, as rivals and neighbors rush to arm themselves defensively. [complete article]

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Test of missile defense system delayed again
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, September 14, 2004

The Pentagon's last hope of flight-testing critical new elements of an antimissile system, before activating the system this autumn, appeared to vanish yesterday with the disclosure that the next flight test has been postponed until late this year, well past the November election.

The Air Force general in charge of the program said the setback will not affect plans to begin operating the system in the next month or two. But the delay leaves the Pentagon pressing ahead with a system that will not have been flight-tested in nearly two years -- and never with the actual interceptor that will be deployed.

The postponement also comes against the backdrop of a wide disparity in estimates about the system's likely effectiveness that has emerged among key Pentagon officials.

The Pentagon's chief weapons evaluator has calculated that the system may be capable of hitting its targets only about 20 percent of the time. [complete article]

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Taking on the myth
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 14, 2004

On Sunday, a celebrating crowd gathered around a burning U.S. armored vehicle. Then a helicopter opened fire; a child and a journalist for an Arabic TV news channel were among those killed. Later, the channel repeatedly showed the journalist doubling over and screaming, "I'm dying; I'm dying."

Such scenes, which enlarge the ranks of our enemies by making America look both weak and brutal, are inevitable in the guerrilla war President Bush got us into. Osama bin Laden must be smiling.

U.S. news organizations are under constant pressure to report good news from Iraq. In fact, as a Newsweek headline puts it, "It's worse than you think." Attacks on coalition forces are intensifying and getting more effective; no-go zones, which the military prefers to call "insurgent enclaves," are spreading - even in Baghdad. We're losing ground.

And the losses aren't only in Iraq. Al Qaeda has regrouped. The invasion of Iraq, intended to demonstrate American power, has done just the opposite: nasty regimes around the world feel empowered now that our forces are bogged down. When a Times reporter asked Mr. Bush about North Korea's ongoing nuclear program, "he opened his palms and shrugged."

Yet many voters still believe that Mr. Bush is doing a good job protecting America. [complete article]

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Blast in Baghdad rebel district kills at least 47
By Mariam Karouny and Luke Baker, Reuters, September 14, 2004

A huge explosion tore through a crowded market close to the west Baghdad police headquarters on Tuesday, killing at least 47 people in the deadliest single attack in the capital in six months.

The U.S. army and Iraqi Interior Ministry said the blast was a car bomb attack on the police building in Haifa Street, a Baghdad area known as a haven for guerrillas and criminals.

The Health Ministry said 47 had been killed and 114 wounded.

The Interior Ministry and witnesses said there may have been at least two simultaneous car bomb blasts. Witnesses said mortars may also have been fired at the same time. [complete article]

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Raising the pressure in Iraq
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, September 14, 2004

With four months to go before nationwide elections in Iraq, the insurgency has grown more brazen and sophisticated, prompting American commanders to begin a series of military operations to regain control over large sections of the country lost in recent months.

But as the Americans and their allies raise the pressure on the insurgents, they are rapidly finding themselves in the classic dilemma faced by governments battling guerrilla movements: ease up, and the insurgency may grow; crack down, and risk losing the support of the population. The additional quandary facing the Americans is the need to break the deadlock before January, the self-imposed deadline for elections.

On Sunday, insurgents struck the Americans and their allies in the Iraqi government in manifold ways: with suicide bombings, mortars and rockets, many of them showing a careful aim. Some of those attacks seemed intended not just to hurt the Americans but to provoke them into overreacting and alienating ordinary Iraqis.

How long the Americans can stick to their newly aggressive strategy is open to question: last April, as marines moved on Falluja, and Iraqi casualties soared into the hundreds, the Americans called off the attack and let a gang of insurgents take over.

Even now, the get-tough approach is showing signs of backfiring. On Sunday, when a suicide bomber crippled an American personnel carrier, a gun battle broke out, followed by an airstrike by two American helicopters. At least 15 Iraqis died and 50 were wounded, including a 12-year-old-girl and a television journalist. Inside the grim and chaotic wards of Baghdad's hospitals on Sunday, the Americans seemed to have made more enemies than friends. [complete article]

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Turkey threatens U.S. over Iraq attacks
Aljazeera, September 14, 2004

Turkey has threatened to halt cooperation with Washington in Iraq if US forces continue to attack the mostly Turkmen populated town of Tal Afar.

US troops mounted an ongoing major offensive last week in the town of Tal Afar, near the Syrian border, which has a large indigenous Turkmen population.

"If things continue in this way, we told them [the US side] very clearly that Turkey's cooperation on matters concerning Iraq will come to an end," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was quoted as saying on Monday.

"We will continue to say these things. Of course we will not stop only at words. If necessary, we will not hesitate to do what has to be done," Gul added. [complete article]

U.S. forces stop anguished Iraqis from returning to Tal Afar
Associated Press (via MSNBC), September 13, 2004

U.S. troops barred anguished crowds from returning to their homes in the besieged city of Tal Afar on Monday as residents described corpses scattered across orchards and the collapse of essential services such as water and electricity.

U.S. troops and Iraqi forces on Sunday overran Tal Afar, one of several Iraqi cities they say had fallen into the hands of insurgents, after a nearly two-week siege that forced scores of residents to flee and left a trail of devastated buildings and rubble.

Crowds of men desperate to learn the fate of their loved ones and check on their homes pleaded with American troops manning a checkpoint on the city’s outskirts to let them through. But soldiers only stepped aside for a few medical relief workers and regional officials. [complete article]

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Bush's records keep trickling out
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, September 14, 2004

"The records have now been fully released."

That was White House press secretary Scott McClellan talking about records of President Bush's Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard. Unfortunately for McClellan, he said that on Feb. 10 -- before two more waves of records were released. In July, the Pentagon, citing an "inadvertent oversight," released records that it had previously labeled destroyed. And in recent days, the Associated Press and the Boston Globe have obtained still more records.

The White House is no longer saying the "entire file" has been released. In fact, the search for Bush's Guard documents continues -- and is being directed by a three-star general, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. [complete article]

Expert cited by CBS says he didn't authenticate papers
By Michael Dobbs and Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, September 14, 2004

Questions about the CBS documents have grown to the point that they overshadow the allegations of favorable treatment toward Bush. [complete article]

Comment -- If CBS wants to salvage its credibility it needs to do two things:

1. Acknowledge that they screwed up by failing to rigorously check the authenticity of the documents they used in the Ben Barnes story.
2. Investigate and report on where the documents came from. 60 Minutes got duped and it is under no obligation to protect the identity of its sources. Confidentiality is an essential protection that needs to be provided to those who endanger themselves by exposing the truth; confidentiality should never make it safe to engage in fraud.

While it's possible that the documents were forged by someone who imagined that they were helping the Kerry campaign, the errors were so blatant it looks more like CBS was led into a trap. A story about strings being pulled to get George Bush into the National Guard and about how poorly he served, has turned into a story about forged documents and the gullibility of CBS News. It's clear who benefits from that!

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U.S. troops face new torture claims
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, September 14, 2004

Allegations that American soldiers routinely tortured and maltreated detainees have emerged from a third Iraqi city, renewing fears that abuse similar to that inflicted in Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad has been systematic and widespread.

American soldiers in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul beat and stripped detainees, threatened sexual abuse and forced them to listen to loud western music, according to statements seen by the Guardian.

Lawyers investigating the claims have sent details to the Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defence and have demanded an inquiry.

Though the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail and in Basra has been well-documented, this is the first time claims of abuse have been made from the north of the country. [complete article]

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Ambulance torn apart in Fallujah as U.S. launches 'precision' strikes
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 14, 2004

A plume of grey smoke billowed above Fallujah yesterday as the US military claimed they were making precision air strikes against insurgents in the city and local doctors said that civilians were being killed and wounded.

The US army said its warplanes had bombed houses because it had intelligence about the presence of fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom the US sees as the guiding hand behind many attacks on its forces.

Dr Adel Khamis of the Fallujah General Hospital said at least 16 people were killed, including women and children, and 12 others were wounded. Video film showed a Red Crescent ambulance torn apart by an explosion. A hospital official said the driver, a paramedic and five patients had been killed by the blast. [complete article]

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Iran says will bring nuclear standoff to a head
By Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, September 13, 2004

Iran took a tough stance at the IAEA meeting on Monday, saying it was losing patience with U.N. inspections of its nuclear program and that an agreement with the Europeans to halt uranium enrichment would soon come to an end.

But the diplomats said Iran may be using the suspension or possible cessation of its enrichment program as a carrot to get the Europeans to renew full diplomatic and economic ties.

Above all, the diplomats said, Iran would like to renew ties with the United States, severed after a 1979 hostage crisis in which Americans at the U.S. embassy in Tehran were seized.

The United States, meanwhile, is trying to persuade the Europeans that it is fruitless to negotiate with the Iranians, who Washington believes are simply stalling for time as they quietly race to get a nuclear weapon.
[complete article]

Iran threat grows amid U.S. divisions
By Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2004

Deep divisions within the Bush administration are hampering U.S. efforts to defuse the growing nuclear weapons threat posed by Iran, a cross-section of Middle East specialists say.

The differences -- between those advocating a tough, confrontational approach and those convinced that engagement on a variety of issues is the best way to stop Tehran's quest for a nuclear weapon -- are so strong that nearly three years after President Bush declared Iran part of an "axis of evil" threatening the free world, his administration still has no widely accepted approach to the problem. [complete article]

Bush avoids issue of Iran, N.Korea on campaign trail
By Carol Giacomo, Reuters, September 13, 2004

As he campaigns on a platform of having made America safer, President Bush usually does not talk about nuclear disputes with North Korea and Iran that show no sign of resolution.

Bush did not mention the two countries, once branded by him as part of an "axis of evil," in his recent Republican Convention address and he has not made them a campaign staple.

Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the Strategic Research Department at the Naval War College, said even though Vice President Dick Cheney and others have admitted time is running out for curbing the North's ambitions, Bush has displayed no sense of urgency and set no deadlines for acting.

"After years of wheels spinning on this issue in this administration, you don't get a sense that there is a clear executive level decision or understanding about what we should do," he told Reuters. [complete article]

U.S. says diplomacy can solve Iran nuclear dispute
Reuters, September 12, 2004

The United States said on Sunday it planned to increase pressure on Iran this week to dispel concerns about its nuclear program, but played down the need for immediate sanctions and expressed confidence the dispute could be settled through diplomacy.

"The president never takes any option off the table," President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, told CNN. "But we believe that this is something that is best resolved by diplomatic means, and that can be resolved by diplomatic means."

Earlier in Jerusalem, Bush's top official on nuclear nonproliferation, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, also said the president was "determined to try and find a peaceful and diplomatic solution." He added, "We are determined that they are not going to achieve a nuclear weapons capability." [complete article]

Comment -- At the height of their imperial hubris, the neocons loved to trumpet the phrase, "axis of evil." Their willingness to name names and identify a hit list of nations was supposedly an emblem of their moral clarity. Intoxicated by their own sense of power they seemed to think that it was of little consequence how Iran or North Korea would respond. Now it clearly matters and a simple fact is glaringly obvious: America cannot negotiate with regimes that it is committed to destroy. The drive to project power has rendered the United States diplomatically crippled.

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Hiding the bodies
By Jeff Horwitz, Salon (via Global Security), September 8, 2004

During August, Iraqi insurgents proved themselves more capable of inflicting casualties on American troops than ever before. Sixty-six American soldiers were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded, according to information released by the Department of Defense. But even with extensive coverage of the intense conflict in Najaf last month, the U.S. media was relatively quiet about the cost of battle to U.S. soldiers.

That cost has been steadily rising for months, says John Pike, director of, a think tank in Washington specializing in military and international security issues. "The amount of combat that U.S. soldiers are seeing is going up, but the amount of combat the American public is seeing is going down," he says. "Iraq has almost turned into the forgotten war -- it's just faded into the background."

The news on Tuesday of crossing the 1,000 marker for U.S. fatalities in Iraq has brought the conflict back into the headlines, at least temporarily. But since the transfer of power to Ayad Allawi's interim Iraqi government in June, deaths and casualties have risen every month: August was the bloodiest month in the conflict so far. A week into September, the situation looks no calmer; at least 14 soldiers have died in the last three days.

The steady rise in U.S. casualties can't be helpful to Bush's reelection campaign -- which continues to stick to its message that the overall situation in Iraq is improving -- and could have an impact on the homestretch of the election. To that end, Pike believes that Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense is being "economical with the truth" in order to downplay the increasing casualties. "The numbers they release are the smallest possible numbers that cover the most restricted possible definition," he says. "And they are being released as late as possible." [complete article]

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It's worse than you think
By Scott Johnson and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Newsweek, September 12, 2004

Iraqis don't shock easily these days, but eyewitnesses could only blink in disbelief as they recounted last Tuesday's broad-daylight kidnappings in central Baghdad. At about 5 in the afternoon, on a quiet side street outside the Ibn Haitham hospital, a gang armed with pistols, AK-47s and pump-action shotguns raided a small house used by three Italian aid groups. The gunmen, none of them wearing masks, took orders from a smooth-shaven man in a gray suit; they called him "sir." When they drove off, the gunmen had four hostages: two local NGO employees -- one of them a woman who was dragged out of the house by her headscarf -- and two 29-year-old Italians, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both members of the antiwar group A Bridge to Baghdad. The whole job took less than 10 minutes. Not a shot was fired. About 15 minutes afterward, an American Humvee convoy passed hardly a block away -- headed in the opposite direction.

Sixteen months after the war's supposed end, Iraq's insurgency is spreading. Each successful demand by kidnappers has spawned more hostage-takings -- to make Philippine troops go home, to stop Turkish truckers from hauling supplies into Iraq, to extort fat ransom payments from Kuwaitis. The few relief groups that remain in Iraq are talking seriously about leaving. U.S. forces have effectively ceded entire cities to the insurgents, and much of the country elsewhere is a battleground. Last week the total number of U.S. war dead in Iraq passed the 1,000 mark, reaching 1,007 by the end of Saturday. [complete article]

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Coalition holds off efforts to take rebel-run cities
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, September 13, 2004

At a recent dinner party in a Baghdad home, five tribal leaders from the central Iraqi city of Ramadi complained about their city "being held hostage" by Iraqi insurgents.

"They spoke of a life of no law but that of the extremists - no police, no government presence, and kidnappings and killings of people accused of spying for the government," their Baghdad dinner host recalls. "But what they wanted to know is how long the [Iraqi] government and the Americans are going to leave Ramadi and other towns like it as places apart."

It's a frequently asked question among Iraqis as the US military says the "anti-Iraq forces" are more sophisticated and control more territory than a year ago. But no major move is expected before November, say US and Iraqi officials - in part because Iraqi forces aren't ready. Iraqi officials say American presidential politics are also preventing a major offensive now. [complete article]

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Powell criticizes Vietnam draft policies
By William C. Mann, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 12, 2004

Secretary of State Colin Powell, once the nation's highest-ranking soldier, reaffirmed his distaste Sunday for Vietnam War draft policies that allowed sons of the powerful to avoid combat.

He avoided a question about whether George W. Bush was exercising that privilege when the future president joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, the height of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia.

Powell, an Army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, also said he does not expect the military draft to be reactivated "under any set of circumstances that I can see." [complete article]

Comment -- If Secretary Powell turns out to be wrong and the draft is reactivated, here's a modest proposal: The minimum age should be 21. This is a country that says that someone under 21 doesn't have the maturity to safely consume an alcoholic drink. If we show that level of concern for the welfare of our children, what right do we have to send them to fight in a war?

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Rumsfeld says terror outweighs jail abuse
Associated Press (via Washington Post), September 11, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, responding to allegations that he fostered a climate that led to the prisoner-abuse scandal, said yesterday that the military's mistreatment of detainees was not as bad as what terrorists have done.

"Does it rank up there with chopping someone's head off on television?" he asked. "It doesn't."

Rumsfeld acknowledged once again that he had approved harsher interrogation methods for suspects captured in the global war on terrorism but said the rules were meant only for the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility for terrorist suspects and had nothing to do with Iraq, where the prison scandal emerged. [complete article]

Comment -- To say that what I did is not so bad, because what he did is a lot worse, is to apply the moral reasoning of a child -- and this from a champion of "moral clarity"!

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Rumsfeld's dirty war on terror
By Seymour Hersh, The Guardian, September 13, 2004

[An extract from Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib:]

In the late summer of 2002, a CIA analyst made a quiet visit to the detention centre at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where an estimated 600 prisoners were being held, many, at first, in steel-mesh cages that provided little protection from the brutally hot sun. Most had been captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan during the campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The Bush administration had determined, however, that they were not prisoners of war but "enemy combatants", and that their stay at Guantanamo could be indefinite, as teams of CIA, FBI, and military interrogators sought to prise intelligence from them. In a series of secret memorandums written earlier in the year, lawyers for the White House, the Pentagon and the justice department had agreed that the prisoners had no rights under federal law or the Geneva convention. President Bush endorsed the finding, while declaring that the al-Qaida and Taliban detainees were nevertheless to be treated in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva convention - as long as such treatment was also "consistent with military necessity".

But the interrogations at Guantanamo were a bust. Very little useful intelligence had been gathered, while prisoners from around the world continued to flow into the base, and the facility constantly expanded. The CIA analyst had been sent there to find out what was going wrong. He was fluent in Arabic and familiar with the Islamic world. He was held in high respect within the agency, and was capable of reporting directly, if he chose, to George Tenet, the CIA director. The analyst did more than just visit and inspect. He interviewed at least 30 prisoners to find out who they were and how they ended up in Guantanamo. Some of his findings, he later confided to a former CIA colleague, were devastating.

"He came back convinced that we were committing war crimes in Guantanamo," the colleague told me. "Based on his sample, more than half the people there didn't belong there. He found people lying in their own faeces," including two captives, perhaps in their 80s, who were clearly suffering from dementia. "He thought what was going on was an outrage," the CIA colleague added. There was no rational system for determining who was important.

Two former administration officials who read the analyst's highly classified report told me that its message was grim. According to a former White House official, the analyst's disturbing conclusion was that "if we captured some people who weren't terrorists when we got them, they are now". [complete article]

Seymour Hersh's new book is available here.

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U.S. helicopter fires on crowd in Baghdad
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, September 13, 2004

Car bombings, mortar attacks and clashes between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi security forces killed at least 80 civilians across the country Sunday, Iraqi officials said.

In Baghdad, the scene of some of the most intense fighting in months, at least 27 people were killed and 107 were wounded.

A U.S. military helicopter fired into a crowd of civilians in the capital who had surrounded a burning Army armored vehicle, killing 13 people, said Saad Amili, spokesman for the Health Ministry. Among those killed was a Palestinian journalist reporting from the scene for the Arab satellite network al-Arabiya.

The U.S. military said it was trying to scatter looters who were attempting to make off with ammunition and pieces of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which had been hit by a car bomb early in the morning on Haifa Street, a troublesome north-south artery west of the Tigris River.

But witnesses, including a Reuters cameraman who was filming the al-Arabiya journalist when he was shot, disputed that account and said the crowd was peaceful, Reuters reported.

In the video, which was shown on al-Arabiya throughout the day, the journalist, Mazin Tumaisi, 26, can be seen reporting near the burning armored vehicle. It is not clear what the people around it were doing. As the camera moved to the sky to capture the image of two low-flying military helicopters swooping onto the scene, bullets rained down, hitting Tumaisi and the cameraman, Seif Fouad, who was seriously wounded. The camera lens was sprayed with blood, and Tumaisi could be heard saying, "Please help me. I am dying." [complete article]

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Coming soon: Kerry's 'Apocalypse Now'
By Frank Rich, New York Times, September 12, 2004

Less than 48 hours after Bill Clinton, speaking from his hospital room, advised the politically ailing John Kerry to start talking less about Vietnam and more about health care, seven American marines were blown up outside Fallujah. So much for the pipedream of changing the subject of this election. Vietnam keeps popping out of America's darkest closet not just because Mr. Kerry conspicuously served there and Mr. Bush conspicuously did not, but because of what's happening half a world away in real time: a televised war in Iraq that resembles its Southeast Asian predecessor in its unpopularity, its fictional provocation and its unknown exit strategy. That war isn't going anywhere by Nov. 2, even as it is sporadically obscured by Florida storm clouds, and its Vietnam undertow isn't going anywhere either. Everyone knows that a Tet offensive, Sunni-style, could yet tilt this election in a direction unknown. [complete article]

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DELVE DEEPER -- The War in Context bookstore has over 130 titles covering these topics: War and Empire, Iraq/Middle East, Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan/South Asia, Militant Islam, Nuclear Proliferation, and the Big Picture.

Find out more about Anatol Lieven's important new book, America Right Or Wrong: An Anatomy Of American Nationalism.

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The holes in a 'Shia strategy'
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, September 20, 2004

Trends in Iraq seem to be moving in two different directions these days. The guerrilla war between the United States and insurgents continues, with mounting clashes and casualties. Yet the standoff with the Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf and Al Kufah has ended, and those cities are no longer controlled by the Mahdi Army. The intractable security problems in Sunni areas coupled with some success in Shia ones might lead the Iraqi government (and Washington) toward a "Shia strategy" in Iraq. But going down that path has deep dangers. It would polarize Iraq along ethnic and religious lines. That would make today's problems look easy.

After the creation of the interim Iraqi government in June, many hoped that the insurgency would die down. It hasn't. Today it appears more organized, entrenched and aggressive than ever. The American Army cannot use military superiority to take Sunni cities from the guerrillas because it would mean high civilian casualties and an angry public. The interim Iraqi government may itself not have the necessary credibility to take on such a task. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is a tough guy, but he is clearly aware of the limits of his legitimacy. And the Iraqi Army will not be up to the job for at least another year. In these circumstances, it's difficult to see how the insurgency diminishes in strength. Last week Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Samir Sumaiada'ie, predicted to The Scotsman that unless the United States and Britain added "a considerable amount" of troops to Iraq, the insurgency would grow. [complete article]

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One man's resistance: 'Why I turned against America'
By Jason Burke, The Observer, September 13, 2004

Early one morning this week, when the police have yet to set up too many checkpoints, Abu Mujahed will strap a mortar underneath a car, drive to a friend's in central Baghdad and bury the weapon in his garden. In the evening he will return with the rest of his group, sleep for a few hours and then take the weapon from its hiding place. He will calculate the range using the American military's own maps and satellite pictures - bought in a bazaar - and fire a few rounds at a military base or the US Embassy or at the Iraqi Prime Minister's office. Then Abu Mujahed will shower, change and, by 10am, be at his desk in one of the major ministries. [complete article]

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The ominous backlash of an attack against Iran
By David Hirst, Daily Star, September 13, 2004

When U.S. President George W. Bush first identified the two Middle East members of his "axis of evil," Iran clearly ranked as a far more formidable adversary than Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

But Bush went after the easier target instead. "Did we invade the wrong country?" now asks leading American commentator Charles Krauthammer, speaking for many neoconservative hawks as the U.S. refocuses on Iran. From their standpoint, it must surely look as if they did. For the neocons, overthrowing Saddam was to have been nothing if not regional in purpose, the opening phase of a grand design to "transform"' the entire Middle East. But such are the region's cross-border dynamics that success was never going to be assured even in one country unless it embraced others too. [complete article]

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Sharon accuses far-right of inciting war
Daily Star, September 13, 2004

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused far-rightists on Sunday of trying to incite civil war over his plan to withdraw from the occupied Gaza Strip and called for measures to curb such groups.

Settler leaders themselves warned last week that quitting Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and a fragment of the West Bank could spark civil war, though polls show the plan is backed by most Israelis.

Hard-liners have urged security forces to disobey orders to remove settlements from land that Israel captured in the 1967 war, under the plan designed for "disengagement" from years of conflict with the Palestinians.

Sharon said at Sunday's Cabinet meeting that the calls from far-rightists were: "in essence aimed at inciting civil war." [complete article]

See also, Do you favor a military coup d'etat? (Haaretz).

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After grief, the fear we won't admit
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, September 12, 2004

Psychologists say the most intense period of mourning lasts three years. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have indeed passed through several stages of grief, from disbelief to anger to a degree of acceptance. Yet, there's still a gnawing fear in our bellies that prevents full recovery. It's a fear that extends, I believe, well beyond Osama bin Laden and the prospects of another attack, and centers instead on our relationship with Islam itself.

Once familiar to most Americans mainly from seventh grade social studies, Islam has now become synonymous in the minds of many with the biggest post-Cold War threat. Even as we struggle to understand it, we're afraid of it. And because of that fear, we're drawing a Green Curtain around the Muslim world, creating an enduring divide.

Figuring out Islam's role in the 21st century is an existential challenge, but one many of us are emotionally unprepared to face. We pretend that we're not prejudiced, that we understand that most Muslims don't support the horrific bloodshed of bin Ladenism. Yet we still view 1.2 billion Muslim people spread throughout 53 countries as a threatening monolith. As long as we make that mistake, America and its allies won't feel safe, no matter how many billions of dollars are poured into security precautions.

Aside from the vital mission of tracking down bin Ladenists, military muscle is not always an effective instrument for moving forward. Nor are tepid diplomatic initiatives aimed at coaxing authoritarian governments into adopting change at a pace and in a manner that they control. There's another strategy that's gaining favor among Mideast experts: Bring Islamic movements and groups into the political process. Give Islamist parties new political space -- wide open space -- to absorb passions and sap anger.

That means accepting, even embracing, the idea that Islam is not the problem, but the way out of a political predicament that has been building quietly for decades. It means not only supporting nationalists, liberals and nascent democrats already on our side in the quest to transform the Middle East but also encouraging Islamists and their parties to participate. Basically, it means differentiating between Islamists and jihadists, and accepting anyone willing to work within a system to change it rather than work from outside to destroy it. [complete article]

Comment -- During the last three years it has often looked like there has been little or no improvement in America's understanding of the world. Nevertheless, the fact that public discourse is opening up in a way that Robin Wright's article above exemplifies, suggests that at least on the level of sophisticated political analysis, significant advances are being made. As Wright says, "We have to think outside the prism of the war on terrorism."

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DELVE DEEPER -- The War in Context bookstore has over 130 titles covering these topics: War and Empire, Iraq/Middle East, Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan/South Asia, Militant Islam, Nuclear Proliferation, and the Big Picture.

Find out more about Anatol Lieven's important new book, America Right Or Wrong: An Anatomy Of American Nationalism.

Buying books through the War in Context bookstore will help you learn more about the issues behind the news; it will also help this site stay in operation. A small commission from each sale -- via Amazon -- helps support this site. (Please be patient while the page loads.)

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In search of friends among the foes
By John Mintz and Douglas Farah, Washington Post, September 11, 2004

When U.S. immigration officers in New York City whisked away Ishaq Farhan as he stepped off an incoming international flight in May 2000, his Jordanian diplomatic passport was no help to him. Federal agents questioned him for hours before barring his entry into the country. Then they made him pay for the flight back to Jordan.

The U.S. Embassy in Jordan lost no time making amends to Farhan, a leading opposition politician who has been closely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a worldwide movement opposed to Western influences. A State Department official visited his home, issued him an immediate visa and passed on the United States' "deep regret for the difficulties Dr. Farhan experienced."

The episode demonstrates the U.S. government's dilemma. Some federal agents worry that the Muslim Brotherhood has dangerous links to terrorism. But some U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials believe its influence offers an opportunity for political engagement that could help isolate violent jihadists.

"It is the preeminent movement in the Muslim world," said Graham E. Fuller, a former CIA official specializing in the Middle East. "It's something we can work with." Demonizing the Brotherhood "would be foolhardy in the extreme," he warned. [complete article]

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Atomic activity in North Korea raises concerns
By David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, New York Times, September 12, 2004

President Bush and his top advisers have received intelligence reports in recent days describing a confusing series of actions by North Korea that some experts believe could indicate the country is preparing to conduct its first test explosion of a nuclear weapon, according to senior officials with access to the intelligence.

While the indications were viewed as serious enough to warrant a warning to the White House, American intelligence agencies appear divided about the significance of the new North Korean actions, much as they were about the evidence concerning Iraq's alleged weapons stockpiles.

Some analysts in agencies that were the most cautious about the Iraq findings have cautioned that they do not believe the activity detected in North Korea in the past three weeks is necessarily the harbinger of a test. A senior scientist who assesses nuclear intelligence says the new evidence "is not conclusive," but is potentially worrisome.

If successful, a test would end a debate that stretches back more than a decade over whether North Korea has a rudimentary arsenal, as it has boasted in recent years. Some analysts also fear that a test could change the balance of power in Asia, perhaps leading to a new nuclear arms race there. [complete article]

Suspicious blast seen in N. Korea
By Anthony Faiola and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, September 12, 2004

A massive explosion on North Korea's northern border with China generated an expansive mushroom cloud on an important commemorative anniversary of the Pyongyang government on Sept. 9. The blast came as concerns have been recently mounting in U.S. intelligence circles that North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear test.

Details of the blast remained sketchy, but the date of the blast -- taking place on a day commemorating the 1948 founding of North Korea -- had U.S., South Korea and Japanese officials scrambling to study satellite images of a clear picture of what might have caused the massive blast. North Korea is known to put great importance on historic dates, using such days to conduct high-profile military exercises and parades. On Sunday, U.S. officials would not rule out a potential nuclear test, but officials at Seoul's Unification Ministry -- its government agency that deals directly with the North Koreans -- said the blast appeared to be "non-nuclear" in nature.

But Bush administration officials were closely monitoring the reports Saturday night. One official in Washington said the Americans were examining satellite images of a mushroom cloud -- reported to be as large as 2.5 miles in diameter -- and that further information had been provided to the U.S. government by a diplomatic source in Beijing. However, he said the explosion did not take place at the location that had been closely monitored in recent weeks by U.S. intelligence agencies involving suspicious movement of vehicles that some analysts believed indicated preparation for a nuclear test. [complete article]

Comment -- When it comes to speculation about pre-election surprises designed to affect the outcome of the US election, the focus of attention has been terrorist attacks. But it has always been debatable what the political impact of a terrorist attack on America or Americans overseas would be, and equally debatable whether al Qaeda or its affiliates would perceive a strategic advantage in Bush being in or out of office.

North Korea, on the other hand, would seem to have a clear-cut interest in seeing Bush lose the election. Their interests focus squarely on sustaining the Kim Chong-il regime and they might reasonably expect that they have a much better chance with a Kerry administration than another Bush administration in reaching a negotiated resolution to their current stand-off with the US.

As India and Pakistan demonstrated, US intelligence has a poor track record when it comes to monitoring preparations for nuclear testing. If it turns out that North Korea has in fact demonstrated that it now become a full-fledged member of the extended nuclear club, the Kerry campaign will have every justification in charging the Bush administration with a colossal national security failure. After all, this is the administration that highlighted the danger posed by North Korea, naming it a founder member of the "axis of evil." Having identified the threat, they then sat back and watched it mushroom!

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Afghan government removes a powerful regional leader
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, September 12, 2004

The Afghan government on Saturday announced the removal of the powerful governor of Herat, in western Afghanistan, one of the country's longest standing warlords. The move appeared to be intended to undercut the governor, one of the major opponents to President Hamid Karzai, before the Oct. 9 presidential elections.

The removal of the governor, Ismail Khan, is momentous for the central government, which has tried without success to reduce his power or remove him for the last two years. Following Mr. Karzai's removal of the defense minister, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, from the presidential ticket last month, the action on Saturday was one of the boldest moves by Mr. Karzai in nearly three years in office to reduce the power of the warlords. [complete article]

Afghan warlord's ouster prompts violence
Associated Press (via The State), September 12, 2004

Demonstrators broke into a U.N. compound in the western city of Herat on Sunday, a day after the Afghan government fired the city's warlord governor.

Hundreds of people angered by the ouster of Gov. Ismail Khan gathered outside the U.N. offices chanting slogans against U.S. troops and the Afghan government, witnesses said.

As the crowd grew, they broke through the gate, throwing rocks at vehicles and setting one afire. The intrusion sent U.N. staff scuttling into their on-site bunker, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.

Earlier, the U.S. military reported that at least two people were injured late Saturday in scuffles with security forces trying to rescue two U.S. soldiers from a stone-throwing mob. [complete article]

Ismail Khan
Reuters (via Khaleej Times), September 12, 2004

The self-styled “emir” of Afghanistan’s western province of Herat, who liked to patrol his domain in robes and turban astride a white Arab stallion, has been unseated just weeks before his country’s presidential vote.

But Ismail Khan, a combative former mujahideen (holy warrior) commander, is not the type to be brushed aside easily and is known for comebacks from seemingly hopeless positions.

Khan, 65, may be short in stature, but he made his name battling Soviet occupation in the 1980s and cuts an imposing figure with his long silver beard and traditional white robes. [complete article]

Nation plagued by Taliban and al-Qaida loyalists
By John Otis, Houston Chronicle, September 11, 2004

Rising above ramshackle tea houses and carpet stalls, the glass and concrete City Center office complex under construction in Kabul seemed like a pillar of renewal until a massive car bomb exploded three blocks away.

One in a series of recent terrorist acts across Afghanistan, the blast killed 10 people and shattered 250 of the massive glass panels that form City Center's modern green facade.

"If more bombs go off, we will need 10 years to finish this building," said construction foreman Abdullah Miskin, as his crew replaced blown-out windows of the 10-story structure.

Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Islamic militants and other outlaws are sabotaging efforts to pacify Afghanistan, the Central Asian nation where the United States fired its opening salvo in the war against terrorism. [complete article]

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Dropping the Franklin inquiry: Anticipated contingency?
By Michael Saba, Arab News, September 11, 2004

When the Genesis space craft, returning from an attempt to capture solar winds, crashed unto the Earth a couple of days ago, NASA referred to the crash as an "anticipated contingency". The direction that the Larry Franklin Israeli spy case is now moving might also be classified as an anticipated contingency. An article in the Financial Times of Sept. 7 stated that the White House and John Ashcroft, the US attorney general, had intervened in the Israelgate case to "apply the brakes," an anticipated contingency.

The article further stated that, according to a former US intelligence official, "The White House is leaning on the FBI. Some people in the FBI are very upset, they think Ashcroft is playing politics with this." This wouldn't be the first time that politics has been played when it comes to Israeli espionage against the United States.

Paul McNulty is the Virginia district attorney in charge of the Franklin probe. McNulty is a Republican political appointee and, according to various sources, he has also been told to slow down. McNulty, worked in the office of former Congressman Bill McCollum of Florida in the late 1980 s.

Also working in McCollum's office during that same time period was Yossef Bodansky. On Dec.1 ,1985 , the Israeli newspaper Davar reported that "the FBI is looking into the possibility that a journalist in the US known as an associate of Israels, may have served as a courier for classified materials delivered to the Israelis. The Israeli newspaper identified the man as Yossef "Seffie" Bodansky, an Israeli living at that time in Baltimore and working as a writer and consultant on military affairs. [complete article]

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'War president' Bush has always been soft on terror
By Craig Unger, The Guardian, September 11, 2004

Where's George Orwell when we need him? Because we Americans need him. We desperately need him. Consider: in August 2001, immediately after reading a memo entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US", President George Bush went bass fishing - and never called a meeting to discuss the issue.

A month later, on September 11, when he was told that the terrorists had attacked, Bush spent the next seven minutes reading a children's book, The Pet Goat, with a group of schoolchildren.

And when it comes to his own military service, recent revelations show that Bush got out of fighting in Vietnam thanks to his dad's political clout. Even then, Bush didn't fulfil his obligations to the National Guard.

Yet somehow the Bush-Cheney ticket is convincing Americans that only a Republican administration can handle national security. If John Kerry wins, Dick Cheney warned: "The danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating." The choice is simple: Vote Republican, or die. And voters are buying it. [complete article]

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New book says Bush officials were told of detainee abuse
By John H. Cushman Jr., New York Times, September 12, 2004

Senior military and national security officials in the Bush administration were repeatedly warned by subordinates in 2002 and 2003 that prisoners in military custody were being abused, according to a new book by a prominent journalist.

Seymour M. Hersh, a writer for The New Yorker who earlier this year was among the first to disclose details of the abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, makes the charges in his book "Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib" (HarperCollins), which is being released Monday. The book draws on the articles he wrote about the campaign against terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Hersh asserts that a Central Intelligence Agency analyst who visited the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in the late summer of 2002 filed a report of abuses there that drew the attention of Gen. John A. Gordon, a deputy to Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser.

But when General Gordon called the matter to her attention and she discussed it with other senior officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, no significant change resulted. [complete article]

See also, Bush 'exceptionalism' led to Abu Ghraib ( and The hidden history of CIA torture: America's road to Abu Ghraib (TomDispatch).

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Turkey reacts with fury to massive U.S. assault on northern Iraqi city
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 12, 2004

The US military assault on Tal Afar, an ethnically Turkmen city in northern Iraq, has provoked a furious reaction from the Turkish government which is demanding the US call off the attack.

American and Iraqi government forces last week sealed off Tal Afar, a city west of Mosul belonging to Iraq's embattled Turkmen minority. The US said it killed 67 insurgents while a Turkmen leader claims 60 civilians were killed and 100 wounded. The massive and indiscriminate use of US firepower in built-up areas, leading to heavy civilian casualties in cities like Tal Afar, Fallujah and Najaf, is coming under increasing criticism in Iraq. The US "came into Iraq like an elephant astride its war machine," said Ibrahim Jaafari, the influential Iraqi Vice President.

The Americans claim that Tal Afar is a hub for militants smuggling fighters and arms into Iraq from nearby Syria. Turkish officials make clear in private they believe that the Kurds, the main ally of the US in northern Iraq, have managed to get US troops involved on their side in the simmering ethnic conflict between Kurds and Turkmen. [complete article]

U.S. forces prepare to retake city in N. Iraq
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, September 12, 2004

The commanding general of U.S. forces fighting in the northern Iraqi city of Tall Afar said Saturday that he believed the insurgency would be defeated within a week, allowing a deposed local government to be reinstated.

In an interview, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said about 200 fighters remained in Tall Afar, a city of 250,000 between Mosul and the Syrian border. Ham said U.S. forces were collecting intelligence in preparation for driving the insurgents out of the city.

Asked how long he thought it would take, Ham said: "I'd say a week." He cautioned that the timetable could change, depending on events and the resilience of the insurgency.

"The enemy understands that the outcome is not at all uncertain," said Ham, speaking aboard a Black Hawk helicopter during a two-hour flight between Baghdad and Mosul. "The outcome is to return the city to local leaders." [complete article]

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'Holy warriors' in Samarra reject accord with Americans
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, September 12, 2004

A group claiming to speak for insurgents in the contested city of Samarra said Friday that it had rejected an agreement that allowed American forces and the Iraqi government to re-enter the city, and the group pledged to continue fighting.

In the statement, the group also claimed to be joining forces with a similar organization in Falluja, raising the prospect of a troubling new cooperation among Sunni insurgents.

The declaration came a day after American forces and Iraqi police officers entered the city for the first time in months and reconvened the local government. Since July, insurgents have had the run of Samarra, much as they have in cities across the so-called Sunni Triangle, including Falluja, Ramadi and Tal Afar. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

America right or wrong
By Anatol Lieven, Open Democracy, September 8, 2004
The disaster of 9/11 should have been enough to produce a serious examination among Washington policy elites not only of past US policies, but of the American political cultures which helped to produce them.

In fact, as the genesis and conduct of the Iraq war of 2003 demonstrated, large sections of those elites have learned precisely nothing from the folly and wickedness of their past conduct. And this failure is above all because they have been blocked from doing so by certain key features of American nationalism.

Moreover, insofar as American nationalism has become mixed up with a chauvinist version of Israeli nationalism, it also plays an absolutely disastrous role in the US’s own relations with the Muslim world, and in fuelling terrorism. One might say, therefore, that while America keeps a splendid and welcoming house, it also keeps a family of demons in its cellar. These demons, usually kept under certain restraints, were released by 9/11.

The Likud doctrine
By Naomi Klein, The Guardian, September 10, 2004
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is so fed-up with being grilled over his handling of the Beslan catastrophe that he lashed out at foreign journalists on Monday. "Why don't you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or the White House and engage in talks?" he demanded, adding that: "No one has a moral right to tell us to talk to child-killers."

Fortunately for Putin, there is still one place where he is shielded from the critics: Israel. On Monday, Ariel Sharon welcomed the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, for a meeting about strengthening ties in the fight against terror. "Terror has no justification, and it is time for the free, decent, humanistic world to unite and fight this terrible epidemic," Sharon said.

There is little to argue with there. The essence of terrorism is the deliberate targeting of innocents to further political goals. Any claims its perpetrators make to fighting for justice are morally bankrupt, and lead directly to the barbarity of Beslan: a carefully laid plan to slaughter hundreds of children.

Yet sympathy alone does not explain the outpourings of solidarity for Russia coming from Israeli politicians this week. An unnamed Israeli official was quoted as saying that Russians "understand now that what they have is not a local terror problem but part of the global Islamic terror threat". The underlying message is unequivocal: Russia and Israel are engaged in the very same war, one not against Palestinians demanding their right to statehood, or against Chechens demanding their independence, but against "the global Islamic terror threat". Israel, as the elder statesman, is claiming the right to set the rules of war. [...]

Three years ago, on September 12 2001, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli finance minister, was asked how the previous day's terror attacks would affect relations between Israel and the US. "It's very good," he said. "Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy." The attack, Netanyahu explained, would "strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades".

Common wisdom has it that after 9/11, a new era of geo-politics was ushered in, defined by what is usually called the Bush doctrine: pre-emptive wars, attacks on terrorist infrastructure (read: entire countries), an insistence that all the enemy understands is force. In fact, it would be more accurate to call this rigid worldview the Likud doctrine. What happened on September 11 2001 is that the Likud doctrine, previously targeted against Palestinians, was picked up by the most powerful nation on earth and applied on a global scale. Call it the Likudisation of the world: the real legacy of 9/11.

U.S. was blind to terror threat, but evidence was abundant
By Joseph Cirincione, San Francisco Chronicle, September 5, 2004
When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was told on the morning of Sept. 11 that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center, he paused, then continued his morning intelligence briefing, according to the 9/11 Commission.

It wasn't until a third plane slammed into the Pentagon that Rumsfeld jumped into action, even assisting with rescue efforts. A few hours later, he wondered aloud to his staff whether the attack would allow the United States to strike at Saddam Hussein, not just Osama bin Laden.

In some ways, Rumsfeld's response tells us all we need to know about what went wrong with our government's policies in 2001. We were unprepared for the threats we faced, were slow to comprehend the meaning of the attack, and in planning our counterattack, almost immediately began focusing again on the wrong threat.

Wrong-Way Bush
In the war on terror, the worst defense is a bad offense

By William Saletan, Slate, September 9, 2004
Seventy-five years ago in the Rose Bowl, a University of California football player named Roy Riegels picked up a fumble by the opposing team, spun around, and started running for the end zone. Unfortunately, he was heading the wrong way. He ran with such purpose that people in the stands, including the play-by-play announcer, doubted their own sanity. When a teammate tried to stop him, Riegels -- who would go down in history as "Wrong-Way Riegels" -- shook him off. He was a man on a mission.

This is what's now happening in Iraq and the presidential campaign. President Bush and Vice President Cheney are framing the election as a choice between playing "defense" and going on "offense" in the war on terror. The attacks of 9/11 presented the United States with a grave new challenge. Bush picked up this football and started running with it -- toward Iraq. But Iraq wasn't among the states closely linked to 9/11 or al-Qaida. Nor did it have the weapons of mass destruction Bush advertised. We've spent more than 1,000 American lives and close to $200 billion running the wrong way.

"The 'peace' has been bloodier than the war"
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, September 9, 2004
With the latest spike in violence in Baghdad, more U.S. troops have died since the turnover of power to an interim Iraqi government at the end of June than were killed during the U.S.-led invasion of the country in the spring of 2003.

A total of 148 U.S. military personnel have been killed since the partial transfer of sovereignty on June 28, compared with 138 who died in March and April of 2003, Pentagon figures show.

That trend is a grim indication that, 18 months after the invasion, the fighting appears to be intensifying rather than waning. While attention has been focused largely on standoffs in Najaf and other well-publicized hotspots, an analysis of the figures shows the U.S. military has taken more casualties elsewhere, including the deaths of about 44 troops in the western province of Anbar and 10 others in the city of Samarra.

The wide geographic dispersion of the violence reflects the strength of a resurgent opposition and also frames the challenge U.S. commanders face in the coming months as the United States seeks to hold an election to establish a new Iraqi government, said military officers and defense analysts.

"The 'peace' has been bloodier than the war," said Capt. Russell Burgos, an Army reservist who recently returned from a tour of duty with an aviation regiment in Balad, Iraq. In his view, the U.S. experience in Iraq is coming to resemble Israel's painful 18-year occupation of parts of southern Lebanon.

Neocons blast Bush's inaction on 'spy' affair
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, September 10, 2004
In an indication of their growing estrangement with the Bush administration, neoconservatives are slamming the White House for failing to stop what they describe as an antisemitic campaign to marginalize them being conducted by the CIA and the State Department.

This view was outlined in a memo circulating among neoconservative foreign policy analysts in Washington. Obtained by the Forward, the memo criticizes the White House for not refuting press reports on the FBI's investigation of Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin that suggest wrongdoing on the part of Jewish officials at the Defense Department.

"If there is any truth to any of the accusations, why doesn't the White House demand that they bring on the evidence? On the record," the memo stated. "There's an increasing antisemitic witch hunt."

A source who has seen the memo said it was written by Michael Rubin, a former member of the Pentagon's policy planning staff who dealt with Iran policy. Rubin, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, declined to comment for this story. [...]

Some Washington insiders claim that the White House silence over the Franklin affair reflects a growing view within the administration that the neoconservatives -- widely seen as leading proponents of the Iraq war -- represent a mounting political burden, given the continuing chaos in Iraq.

While President Bush and his closest advisers openly shared the neoconservatives' belief that American military action was needed to remove Saddam Hussein, the two sides seem to have parted ways over Iran. Neoconservative analysts in and out of government are calling on the United States to attempt to secure regime change in Tehran. The administration has increasingly suggested that it has no plans to take such forceful steps against Iran.

Four day war
By Claude Salhani, The American Conservative, September 13, 2004
While the United States is keeping an eye on Iran's nuclear progress, there is another country watching even more closely. Israel, feeling the most threatened by Iran's march towards nuclear competency, is reportedly preparing a repeat of its 1981 raid on Iraq's nuclear facility at Osirak. With about 140,000 American troops in neighboring Iraq, chances that the U.S. will intervene militarily are slim, making it all the more probable that Israel will feel it has to act unilaterally.

According to a recent report, Israel has built replicas of Iran's nuclear facilities in the Negev Desert, where their fighter-bombers have been practicing test runs for months. Israel realizes it has a small window of opportunity if it is to take out Iran's nuclear facilities before they go "hot" and leakage from an attack causes harmful exposure to tens of thousands of civilians caught by radiation forced into the atmosphere by such a raid.

Israel is unlikely to accept Iran's word that its nuclear program is meant solely for peaceful purposes and aimed at developing commercial energy. The possibility of decisive military action is, indeed, high.

What follows [in this article] is the unfolding of a worst-case scenario, an imaginary yet all-too-possible depiction of how events might develop if Israel were to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

Saddam's Baath Party is back in business
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, September 6, 2004
By day, Iraqis loyal to Saddam's Hussein's much-feared Baath Party recite their oath in clandestine meetings, solicit donations from former members and talk politics over sugary tea at a Baghdad cafe known as simply "The Party."

By night, cells of these same men stage attacks on American and Iraqi forces, host soirees for Saddam's birthday and other former regime holidays, and debrief informants still dressed in suits and ties from their jobs in the new, U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

Even with Saddam under lock and key, the Baath Party is back in business.

The pan-Arab socialist movement is going strong with sophisticated computer technology, high-level infiltration of the new government and plenty of recruits in thousands of disenchanted, impoverished Sunni Muslim Iraqis, according to interviews with current and former members, Iraqi government officials and groups trying to root out former Baathists.

The political party has morphed into a catchall resistance movement that poses a serious challenge to interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Baathist-turned-opposition leader.

Why Bush's man is fighting dirty
By Paul Harris, The Observer, September 5, 2004
[Bush's trusted campaign strategist, Karl] Rove is credited with creating the Republicans' awesome machine. It is a huge pyramid, with Rove at its apex, feeding down in disciplined layer on layer into every county in every state in America. It has databases of tens of millions of voters, has signed up one million volunteers, has put field organisations in key states long before Democratic rivals and has poured millions of dollars into voter registration drives. Rove has learnt the lessons of 2000, when five states were decided by less than half a percentage point.

The media operation is equally sophisticated. Kerry's Vietnam record was meant to make the Democrats immune on national security. But Rove has a record of attacking opponents' strengths, not weaknesses. Kerry has faced a full-frontal assault by Republican leaders and shadowy surrogate groups, such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Kerry, a triple Purple Heart winner, has been left desperately fighting allegations that he betrayed fellow veterans by turning against the war.

Given that Bush himself dodged Vietnam when family connections got him a place in the National Guard, it was a stunning turnaround that Kerry's support among veterans proceeded to plummet.

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