The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
An un-American way to campaign
Lead Editorial, New York Times, September 25, 2004

President Bush and his surrogates are taking their re-election campaign into dangerous territory. Mr. Bush is running as the man best equipped to keep America safe from terrorists - that was to be expected. We did not, however, anticipate that those on the Bush team would dare to argue that a vote for John Kerry would be a vote for Al Qaeda. Yet that is the message they are delivering - with a repetition that makes it clear this is an organized effort to paint the Democratic candidate as a friend to terrorists.

When Vice President Dick Cheney declared that electing Mr. Kerry would create a danger "that we'll get hit again," his supporters attributed that appalling language to a rhetorical slip. But Mr. Cheney is still delivering that message. Meanwhile, as Dana Milbank detailed so chillingly in The Washington Post yesterday, the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, said recently on television that Al Qaeda would do better under a Kerry presidency, and Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has announced that the terrorists are going to do everything they can between now and November "to try and elect Kerry."

This is despicable politics. It's not just polarizing - it also undermines the efforts of the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency to combat terrorists in America. Every time a member of the Bush administration suggests that Islamic extremists want to stage an attack before the election to sway the results in November, it causes patriotic Americans who do not intend to vote for the president to wonder whether the entire antiterrorism effort has been kidnapped and turned into part of the Bush re-election campaign. The people running the government clearly regard keeping Mr. Bush in office as more important than maintaining a united front on the most important threat to the nation.

Mr. Bush has not disassociated himself from any of this, and in his own campaign speeches he makes an argument that is equally divisive and undemocratic. The president has claimed, over and over, that criticism of the way his administration has conducted the war in Iraq and news stories that suggest the war is not going well endanger American troops and give aid and comfort to the enemy. [complete article]

Comment -- The New York Times is right in charging the Bush campaign with engaging in "despicable politics" but wrong to call the GOP's tactics "un-American." Democratic freedom seems intrinsic to the American identity but as the Bush campaign now makes clear, it is all too easy for an American president to pledge allegiance to this country without demonstrating an equal loyalty to democracy. A contest to govern is being reduced to a question about which candidate makes the strongest appeal as a full-blooded American. But when George Bush suggests that his critics are giving comfort to the enemy, he is using a tactic favored by tyrants throughout history. Every tyranical ruler portrays his opposition not as a challenge to his rule but as a threat to the state; he equates the perpetuation of his own political power with the preservation of the nation.

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Most Iraqi deaths caused by U.S.
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, September 25, 2004

Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis - most of them civilians - as attacks by insurgents, according to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Health Ministry and obtained exclusively by Knight Ridder.

According to the ministry, the interim Iraqi government recorded 3,487 Iraqi deaths in 15 of the country's 18 provinces from April 5 - when the ministry began compiling the data - until Sept. 19. Of those, 328 were women and children. Another 13,720 Iraqis were injured, the ministry said.

While most of the dead are believed to be civilians, the data include an unknown number of police and Iraqi national guardsmen. Many Iraqi deaths, especially of insurgents, are never reported, so the actual number of Iraqis killed in fighting could be significantly higher.

During the same period, 432 American soldiers were killed. [complete article]

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Allawi: Most of Iraq "safe and good," but "don't forget - this is a war; this is a big war."
Iyad Allawi interviewed by Jim Lehrer, Newshour, PBS, September 23, 2004

Prime Minister Allawi has been helping George Bush paint a positive picture of Iraq this week, but even by Allawi's own account the picture is very mixed. He claims that most of Iraq is safe yet by the estimation of journalists on the ground, it's too dangerous to travel to the "safe" areas to verify or refute Allawi's claim. Truck drivers who risk their lives every day delivering goods across Iraq say that the only part of the country that is generally peaceful is the Kurdish region whose three provinces account for about 4.7 million people. That leaves the remaining 22.4 million Iraqis living in areas that have witnessed significant levels of violence in recent months.

PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: ... as I have been saying all along in the last two, three days, that out of the eighteen provinces in Iraq fourteen to fifteen of them are safe and good, as good as they can be. There are areas which are still turbulent pockets really, so I don't know what people are talking, in the media, I don't know what they are talking about. You know, I haven't had any positive talking about Najaf, about Basra, about Uani, about Sumawa, about Samarra.

I only hear the story of Fallujah, and Fallujah does not represent the whole of Iraq. It's a tiny village -- city, and the province of Umbara [Ambar]-- the rest of Umbara is very good, is very quiet and very positive. [...]

[Fallujah, with a population of two-to-three hundred thousand, is no "tiny village." The other major city in Ambar province, Ramadi, remains a no-go area for US forces. The day after Allawi described most of Ambar province as "very quiet and very positive" another four US marines were killed in three separate incidents across the province.]

... we welcome any friend who would support us to transfer this chaos into something more logical and more structured. It is really not a place to criticize - we are fighting a very vicious war in Iraq. The terrorists are adamant to kill us; they have been inflicting a lot of damage on life in Iraq, both Iraqis and partners in the coalition, and the multinational force; they have been hitting the infrastructure, and really anybody who could help in shifting things and helping are welcome to do so. [...]

JIM LEHRER: You've said several times since you've been in the United States, a couple of times today, you told the Congress that these elections that are planned for January are going to come off no matter what. Can they come off if this level of violence continues up till then?

PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, this level of violence really is where the media are focusing on and there are a lot of areas in Iraq, the majority of areas are free of such violence. [...]

I haven't read a lot in the press about [positive developments in Iraq]... . You know, when I read and people read that, you know, there are suicidal bombers and there are problems in Fallujah and Fallujah and Fallujah, this is fine; this is happening.

But this is - don't forget - this is a war; this is a big war. People are coming to Iraq from as far as China, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan.Terrorists, they are trying to kill; they are trying to commit murders; and they are doing so.

So what is happening in Iraq really is a global phenomenon; it's not only to Iraq. That's why I would like to see in the media a fair assessment of what's happening and a realistic assessment of what's happening. [complete interview]

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How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power
By Ben Aris and Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, September 25, 2004

George Bush's grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany.

The Guardian has obtained confirmation from newly discovered files in the US National Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a director was involved with the financial architects of Nazism.

His business dealings, which continued until his company's assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, has led more than 60 years later to a civil action for damages being brought in Germany against the Bush family by two former slave labourers at Auschwitz and to a hum of pre-election controversy.

The evidence has also prompted one former US Nazi war crimes prosecutor to argue that the late senator's action should have been grounds for prosecution for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

The debate over Prescott Bush's behaviour has been bubbling under the surface for some time. There has been a steady internet chatter about the "Bush/Nazi" connection, much of it inaccurate and unfair. But the new documents, many of which were only declassified last year, show that even after America had entered the war and when there was already significant information about the Nazis' plans and policies, he worked for and profited from companies closely involved with the very German businesses that financed Hitler's rise to power. It has also been suggested that the money he made from these dealings helped to establish the Bush family fortune and set up its political dynasty. [complete article]

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Let's get real
By Paul Krugman, September 24, 2004

Never mind the inevitable claims that John Kerry is soft on terrorism. What he must address is the question of how his policy in Iraq would differ from President Bush's. And his answer should be that unlike Mr. Bush, whose decisions have been dictated at every stage by grandiose visions and wishful thinking, he will get real - focusing on what is really possible in Iraq, and what needs to be done to protect American security.

Mr. Bush claims that Mr. Kerry's plan to secure and rebuild Iraq is "exactly what we're currently doing." No, it isn't. It's only what Mr. Bush is currently saying. And we have 18 months of his administration's deeds to contrast with his words.

The actual record is one of officials who have refused to admit that their fantasies about how the war would go were wrong, and who have continued to push us ever deeper into the quagmire because of their insistence that everything is going according to plan. [complete article]

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Iraqis battle over control of panel to try Hussein
By John F. Burns, Dexter Filkins, September 24, 2004

A bitter political struggle has erupted over control of the special Iraqi tribunal set up to try Saddam Hussein and his associates, with Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his rivals maneuvering for influence over the appointment of judges, the timing of trials, the scope of charges and even who will stand trial and who will escape the death penalty by cutting deals with prosecutors.

That battle burst into the open on Thursday when Salem Chalabi, the American-trained lawyer appointed the tribunal's chief administrator in May, accused Dr. Allawi of dismissing him only five months into a three-year term so as to take "political control" of the tribunal.

International legal experts have become concerned about Dr. Allawi's effort to accelerate the tribunal's work and begin at least the first trial as early as November, before national elections scheduled for January. That would be at least six months earlier than officials have repeatedly said would be the minimum time needed to prepare for trials that will examine the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld: US troops can leave before Iraq peaceful
By Charles Aldinger, Reuters, September 24, 2004

The United States does not have to wait until Iraq "is peaceful and perfect" before it begins to withdraw military troops from that troubled country, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says.

Responding to questions from reporters on Friday, Rumsfeld said Washington was determined to provide security for scheduled January elections in Iraq, where nearly 140,000 American troops are now fighting a growing insurgency.

But "any implication that that place has to be peaceful and perfect before we can reduce coalition and U.S. forces, I think, would obviously be unwise," he told a press conference after meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. [complete article]

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Panel calls U.S. troop size insufficient for demands
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, September 24, 2004

A Pentagon-appointed panel of outside experts has concluded in a new study that the American military does not have sufficient forces to sustain current and anticipated stability operations, like the festering conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and other missions that might arise.

Portions of the study, which has not been officially released, were read into the public record on Thursday by Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a leader of Democrats who want to expand the size of the military. During testimony by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top commanders, Senator Reed said he found the study "provocative and startling." [complete article]

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Tying Kerry to terror tests rhetorical limits
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, September 24, 2004

President Bush and leading Republicans are increasingly charging that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and others in his party are giving comfort to terrorists and undermining the war in Iraq -- a line of attack that tests the conventional bounds of political rhetoric.

Appearing in the Rose Garden yesterday with Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, Bush said Kerry's statements about Iraq "can embolden an enemy." After Kerry criticized Allawi's speech to Congress, Vice President Cheney tore into the Democratic nominee, calling him "destructive" to the effort in Iraq and the struggle against terrorism.

It was the latest instance in which prominent Republicans have said that Democrats are helping the enemy or that al Qaeda, Iraqi insurgents and other enemies of the United States are backing Kerry and the Democrats. Such accusations are not new to American politics, but the GOP's line of attack this year has been pervasive and high-level. [complete article]

Comment -- In the genteel language of the Washington Post, Dana Milbank reviews the high-level Republican strategy to link John Kerry and the Democratic Party to America's enemies. What the GOP is doing is exactly what every despotic ruler has done throughout history: Portray his political opponents not as opponents to his rule, but as enemies of the state.

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Frustrated U.S. forces fail to win hearts and minds
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, September 23, 2004

Rooting out the remnants of the Taliban has proved a maddening task for US forces in Afghanistan. Scattered and weakened the militia remain a slippery foe, hidden in the crevices of the mountains. But with landmark elections just weeks away, the hunt has gained fresh urgency.

The US military is trying to quell the elusive insurgency with a mixture of friendship and force. One day its soldiers drill wells, build schools and perform lifesaving medical operations. The next they go hunting for Taliban.

The American assumption that good works buy Afghan loyalty does not always hold true. And sometimes it can go disastrously wrong.

During a medical patrol to help the sick in a remote village last Friday, commanding officer Captain Andrew Brosnan heard gunshots and mortar fire in a nearby valley. Suspecting bandits were attacking a truck convoy, he led an investigating team. As they mounted the slope his soldiers spotted two running figures in the distance. After a verbal warning and a warning shot, Capt Brosnan ordered his team to open fire.

But when the approached the fallen "enemy", they discovered they had shot two children, Abdul Ali, 12, who was hit in the leg, and his brother Abdul Wali, 10, who had been shot in the head. By the time a Black Hawk helicopter landed to evacuate the wounded boys, Wali was dead. [complete article]

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A chance of success in Afghanistan slips away
By J. Alexander Thier, New York Times, September 23, 2004

President Bush describes Afghanistan, the first front on the war on terrorism, as a success. In comparison to Iraq, perhaps it is. But if you look at Afghanistan on its own merits, the lack of progress is disheartening. In 2002, President Bush promised a "Marshall Plan" for the country, with the goal of turning Afghanistan into a stable, democratic state. On Tuesday, before the United Nations General Assembly, the president said that "the Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom." Yet in nearly three years we have failed to create security, stability, prosperity or the rule of law in Afghanistan.

These failings are not just a reflection of the great difficulties of nation-building in places like Afghanistan, they are also the direct result of the Bush administration's policy decisions. Our efforts in Afghanistan are underfinanced and undermanned, and our attention is waning.

The root of the problem is that we invaded Afghanistan to destroy something - the Taliban and Al Qaeda - but we didn't think much about what would grow in its place. While we focused on fighting the terrorists (and even there our effectiveness has been questionable), Afghanistan has become a collection of warlord-run fiefs fueled by a multibillion-dollar opium economy. We armed and financed warlord armies with records of drug-running and human rights abuses stretching back two decades. Then we blocked the expansion of an international security force meant to rein in the militias. These decisions were made for short-term battlefield gain - with disregard for the long-term implications for the mission there. [complete article]

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The U.S. authorities cannot let Dr Germ go - she knows too much
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, September 24, 2004

In the mayhem of kidnappings, suicide bombs, and US air attacks, the continuing detention of a dozen Iraqi scientists may seem trivial. Thousands of other Iraqis have been arrested on suspicion of being part of the anti-American insurgency. Most are eventually let go, some after beating and torture. Only a few have been taken to court and convicted.

But the holding of Iraqi scientists, whom the Americans call high-value detainees, is significant because they, more than any other group, seem to be hostages. Taken initially into custody because it was thought they could shed light on those elusive weapons of mass destruction, it is clear they had little new to say. There were no WMD, as they always insisted.

Dr Rihab Rashid Taha, called Dr Germ by UN weapons inspectors, was an expert in biological warfare, who consistently told them before the war that all stocks had been destroyed years earlier. Why has she not been let go? She has not been charged with any crime, and even if she were, could she not be freed on bail? Is it that the US authorities don't want her talking to the press about the biological specimens she received from American companies in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein was Washington's friend? Are they worried she might produce the receipts she has said she holds?

What of Dr Amer al-Saadi, the rocket scientist who briefly became the government's link man with the inspectors in 2002? He, too, repeatedly told them Iraq's WMD were dismantled long ago. He was the first senior Iraqi to surrender voluntarily to the US authorities in April last year, expecting to be held for brief interrogation and then let go.

Yesterday his brother, Radwan, told me he was assured last month that Amer's release had been authorised and only a few bureaucratic procedures remained. It seems he was part of the same joint Iraqi-American review process which apparently gave the green light to releasing the women scientists weeks before Kenneth Bigley's kidnappers focused on them.

Why the delay? Did Donald Rumsfeld or George Bush's election advisers get cold feet, fearing the impact of interviews that would once again highlight the fraud behind the invasion? Was the Iraqi government in favour of the release, as its justice minister suggested, but over-ruled by the Americans and denied the sovereignty it is claimed to enjoy? [complete article]

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Parallel worlds
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, September 24, 2004

Large areas of the country are in rebel hands, American forces are attacked every day and Ken Bigley is facing imminent execution, but for George Bush and Iyad Allawi yesterday these were but minor obstacles on Iraq's certain path to freedom and democracy.

For four hours, the Iraqi interim Prime Minister was front and centre of the US President's re-election campaign. He was given the great ceremonial stages of Capitol Hill and the White House to proclaim Mr Bush's constant simple message to voters: whatever the appearance on the ground, Iraq is making steady progress and withdrawal now would have disastrous consequences.

Perfectly on cue, the President vowed that the US would not, and could not, leave Iraq until the job was done. Nor could there be any negotiating with the militants who had abducted Mr Bigley.

The forceful message from Washington contrasted with the increasingly desperate pleas for mercy yesterday from Mr Bigley's family in Liverpool. In a televised message to his captors, Mr Bigley's mother, Elizabeth, 86, begged for her son to be sent home alive. Shortly after, the anxiety of waiting for news of her son appeared to take its toll. She collapsed and was taken to hospital where her condition was described as stable. [complete article]

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Anger, shame, and indifference
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, September 24, 2004

A week ago, hours after Kenneth Bigley and his two American colleagues were snatched from their Baghdad residence, one of Mr Bigley's neighbours - an Iraqi man in his 60s - was watering his garden when the street was filled with journalists and photographers.

"Hundreds of Iraqis die every day," the man yelled at them. "Thousands are being kidnapped by the Americans every day, and nothing happens, but when three foreigners disappear, the whole world is here."

The man's views did not reflect the opinions of all Mr Bigley's neighbours: across the street a woman and her daughter were telling journalists how nice and good the three foreigners were. A week later, the two Americans have been savagely beheaded, and hopes for Mr Bigley's release look extremely bleak. Iraqis are still debating why these things are happening. [complete article]

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U.S. commander says more troops are needed to secure Iraq for elections
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), September 23, 2004

Amid escalating violence in Iraq, the top US commander has acknowledged more troops are needed to secure the country ahead of elections in January.

General John Abizaid, head of the US Central Command, said he believed the gap can be filled by Iraqi security forces, and that more international troops may be deployed to protect the UN-organized elections.

But his remarks after closed door sessions with congressional armed services committee members late Wednesday raised the prospect that the United States may have to enlarge the 140,000-member force deployed in Iraq, at least during the elections.

"I think we will need more troops than we currently have to secure the elections process in Iraq that will probably take place in the end of January," Abizaid told reporters.

"But it is our belief that those troops will be Iraqi troops. And they may be additional international troops that arrive to help out, as well, as part of the United Nations mission," he said.

"And so I don't foresee a need for more American troops, but we can't discount it," he said. [complete article]

See also, Musharraf rebuffs pleas for Pakistan troops in Iraq (Reuters).

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Pop singer is forced to leave U.S.
By Shelley Murphy, Boston Globe, September 23, 2004

The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens was forced to leave the country yesterday on a flight out of Logan International Airport because he was recently placed on several watch lists for possible links to terrorists, federal officials said.

The 56-year-old pop singer, who changed his name to Yusuf Islam after becoming a Muslim, was aboard a London-to-Washington flight that was abruptly diverted to Bangor Tuesday afternoon, after federal officials learned that he was among the passengers. [...]

The Council of American-Islamic Relations, the largest Islamic civil liberties group in the United States, called on the Bush administration yesterday to give more explanation for why Islam was deported.

The group compared his case to that of Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim scholar who was supposed to begin teaching at the University of Notre Dame this fall, but was denied entry to the United States. The council suggested that the policy is "not the way to win the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide."

"When internationally respected Islamic personalities like Yusuf Islam and Professor Tariq Ramadan are denied entry to the United States, it sends the disturbing message that even moderate and mainstream Muslims will now be treated like terrorists," Nihad Awad, the council's executive director, said in a statement. [complete article]

See also, One way to alienate moderate Muslims: deport Cat (CSM).

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Bush's pro-Likud policies fail to win Jews over
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times, September 24, 2004

If US President George W Bush thought that aligning his Middle East policy behind the Likud-led government in Israel would win him substantial numbers of Jewish votes in the November election, he must be sorely disappointed. A poll released this week by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) showed that 69% of Jewish voters currently intend to cast their ballots for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry while 24% plan to vote for the incumbent.

Another 3% said they would vote for independent Ralph Nader, leaving just 5% undecided.

The survey, which was conducted in the latter half of August, also found that two-thirds of US Jews now say they "disapprove" of last year's war with Iraq - a higher percentage than the general US population - and that a similar percentage believes that Washington should not act unilaterally in responding to international crises. [complete article]

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U.S. moves ahead on transfer of 5,000 guided bombs to Israel
By David Wood, Newhouse (via The Plain Dealer), September 23, 2004

Amid growing concern that Israel might launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran's budding nuclear program, the United States is moving ahead with the transfer to Israel of 5,000 heavy precision-guided bombs. The weapons include 500 "earth-penetrating" 2,000-pound bombs designed for use against underground facilities.

The $319 million arms transfer, proposed by the Bush administration June 1, went ahead after Congress took no action during its 30-day review period, Jose Ibarra, a spokesman for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday. The deal is being financed from this year's $2.16 billion military assistance grant to Israel.

The transfer also includes 2,500 2,000-pound Mark-84 bombs, 500 1,000-pound Mark- 83 bombs, 1,500 500-pound Mark-82 bombs and live fuses. All the bombs are being fitted with the Joint Direct Air Munitions (JDAM) kit, which uses inertial guidance and beacons from U.S. military Global Positioning Satellites for deadly accuracy.

"That's an arsenal for war," said Joseph Cirincione, senior associate for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. He said any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, clustered in three major complexes and dozens of other sites, "wouldn't be a pinprick strike; it would have to be a large-scale military airstrike that would result in large-scale casualties." [complete article]

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U.S. hand seen in Afghan election
By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2004

Mohammed Mohaqiq says he was getting ready to make his run for the Afghan presidency when U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad dropped by his campaign office and proposed a deal.

"He told me to drop out of the elections, but not in a way to put pressure," Mohaqiq said. "It was like a request."

After the hourlong meeting last month, the ethnic Hazara warlord said in an interview Tuesday, he wasn't satisfied with the rewards offered for quitting, which he did not detail. Mohaqiq was still determined to run for president -- though, he said, the U.S. ambassador wouldn't give up trying to elbow him out of the race.

"He left, and then called my most loyal men, and the most educated people in my party or campaign, to the presidential palace and told them to make me -- or request me -- to resign the nomination. And he told my men to ask me what I need in return."

Mohaqiq, who is running in the Oct. 9 election, is one of several candidates who maintain that the U.S. ambassador and his aides are pushing behind the scenes to ensure a convincing victory by the pro-American incumbent, President Hamid Karzai. The Americans deny doing so.

"It is not only me," Mohaqiq said. "They have been doing the same thing with all candidates. That is why all people think that not only Khalilzad is like this, but the whole U.S. government is the same. They all want Karzai -- and this election is just a show."

The charges were repeated by several other candidates and their senior campaign staff in interviews here. They reflected anger over what many Afghans see as foreign interference that could undermine the shaky foundations of a democracy the U.S. promised to build. [complete article]

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Match Iraq policy to reality
By Jessica Mathews, Washington Post, September 23, 2004

What [a year ago] was an emerging opposition is now a full-fledged insurgency. The United States is still without a political strategy that recognizes this reality. As a result, the military is forced into a stop-go-stop hesitancy in which soldiers' lives are being wasted and security continues to worsen.

The sobering truth is that a path to a not-awful ending in Iraq is extremely hard to see, and there may not, in fact, be one. The United States cannot use its full power to achieve security without causing so many Iraqi casualties that it would defeat our purpose. We do not have enough additional troops to send to achieve order through an overwhelming presence. Iraqi security forces are nowhere near up to the task and will not be for a long time. Thus the paradox: While achieving a degree of security is the overwhelming priority, a change of political course is the most important step.

What is needed is a policy that takes deadly seriously what Iraqis believe about why the war began and what the United States intends. These beliefs -- that the United States came only to get its hands on Iraq's oil, to benefit Israel's security, and to establish a puppet government and a permanent military presence through which it could control Iraq and the rest of the region -- are wrong. But beliefs passionately held are as important as facts, because they powerfully affect behavior. What we see as a tragic series of American missteps, Iraqis interpret -- with reason when seen through their eyes -- as evidence of evil intent.

If controlling Iraq's oil was not our purpose, they ask, why was the oil ministry the only building (not excluding Baghdad's nuclear complex) that U.S. soldiers had orders to guard against looting? If the United States did not intend to dismember the Iraqi state, why did it dissolve the Iraqi army? If the United States does not mean to stay, why is it building 14 "enduring" military bases? If it did not mean to control Iraq's politics, why would it appoint a prime minister who spent two decades on the CIA payroll? If it is not pursuing a classic policy of imperial divide-and-rule by exacerbating sectarian differences, why does it continue to insist on minutely balancing Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians and others on every appointed council? [complete article]

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Forgotten casualties
By Lynn Harris, Salon (via The Guardian), September 22, 2004

Mike Lemke, a 45-year-old army national guard police sergeant from Grand Junction, Colorado, volunteered for active duty after watching the twin towers fall on television. "I wanted to, you know, kick some tail," he says.

Sent home from Iraq in August 2003 with orthopaedic and cardiovascular problems, Lemke was left with memories and feelings he couldn't shake. He had seen what was left of one of Saddam's prisons, where feral dogs prowled with rotting limbs in their mouths, and had mingled constantly with civilians, never knowing if one was armed. "You never feel completely safe," he says. "That stays with you."

Lemke could not sleep for his first 22 days in the medical barracks in Colorado's Fort Carson, where he remained for more than a year on medical holdover - when wounded soldiers await treatment before returning to duty or getting a medical exit from the army. He experienced flashbacks and mood swings and would hit the ground at the sound of a pneumatic drill.

No one ever inquired about Lemke's mental health. Only when a nurse practitioner happened to ask him how he was sleeping did the story come out - and even then it took him two weeks to accept her suggestion that he seek counselling.

"There's a culture here of unless your legs have been torpedoed off or your arm's shot off, then it's not a combat injury," he says. "I did the same thing that everyone does in the military: you suck it up. You don't whine."

Lemke is still on medication, in therapy and unemployed. He is angry at the army for many reasons, including his treatment during the medical holdover. But the issue that will most directly affect his future is his dispute with the army over his disability rating. [complete article]

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Iraq leader, seeking support, calls rise in violence a sign of desperation by the insurgents
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, September 23, 2004

Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, using his robust self-confidence to try to counter growing pessimism over conditions in his country, said in an interview on Wednesday that the rise in the number and ferocity of terror attacks in the country by insurgents was proof that they were getting not stronger, but weaker.

"They are becoming more deadly because we think they are getting more desperate," said Dr. Allawi, visiting the United States for the first time as leader of his country and delivering a relentlessly upbeat assessment of his embattled nation.

"We think they are on the defensive rather than on the offensive," he said. "We think that because our capabilities are improving, we are hitting them simultaneously, and as we are getting more precision, they are becoming deadlier and are attacking the recruits and the police because they have been hurt by these people." [complete article]

Comment -- Ayad Allawi is using a line straight from the White House's Orwellian playbook: The reason the situation looks so bad is because it's just about to get better. The enemy's fighting hard because they're on the brink of losing. Bush and Allawi are sounding like Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Iraq's former minister of information. If they think they are believable, what does this say about the way they view their audience?

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Top Shiite cleric is said to fear voting in Iraq may be delayed
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, September 23, 2004

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the nation's most powerful Shiite leader, is growing increasingly concerned that nationwide elections could be delayed, his aides said, and has even threatened to withdraw his support for the elections unless changes are made to increase the representation of Shiites, according to one Iraqi source close to him.

Aides to Ayatollah Sistani contacted Lakhdar Brahimi of Algeria, the United Nations adviser who brokered the agreement to hold the elections, planned for January, to express concern that they would be delayed, according to Hamid Khaffaf, one of Ayatollah Sistani's top aides.

Another source close to the electoral negotiations said Ayatollah Sistani had asked Mr. Brahimi to return to Iraq to try to address his concerns. Mr. Khaffaf declined to discuss details of the conversation. [complete article]

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Rising call by clerics for jihad
Question is not whether but how to defeat U.S. aims

By Borzou Daragahi, San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2004

If Sunni clerics are a window into the soul of the violent resistance to U.S. aims in Iraq, the picture they reveal could not be bleaker.

For Sheikh Mohammad Ali Mohammad al-Ghereri, a Sunni Muslim cleric, the question is no longer whether his followers should fight the Americans -- that is a given -- but how to wage the war properly.

"The holy warriors should have a clerical leader with them to advise them on all points, such as how to properly treat the Americans they capture," he said just days before militants beheaded two American hostages.

For Sunni cleric Abdul Sattar Abdul Jabbar, the question is no longer whether his followers should kidnap foreigners, but which ones.

"Isn't the trucker who brings supplies for the Americans and helps the occupation also part of the occupation? I think so," said Abdul Jabbar, a member of the Association of Muslim Clerics, the country's largest Sunni religious group.

Although Sunni religious authorities -- including the sect's highest authority, Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar University in Cairo -- have condemned the beheading of captives, they have no such qualms about advocating violent warfare, including kidnappings and suicide bombings, in the battle to vanquish the Americans and their Iraqi allies. [complete article]

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Al-Zarqawi associate: Al-Zarqawi unconnected to al-Qa'ida, seeks to expand fighting to entire region
Al-Hayat (via MEMRI), September 10, 2004

The London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat interviewed an unidentified Islamist Arab who has recently met with Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi in Fallujah. The following are excerpts from the interview:

According to the source, Al-Zarqawi said: "We are fighting in Iraq but our eyes are raised not only to Iraq but also to other places, such as Jerusalem." He added, "[Al-Zarqawi] has a strategy and an aspiration to expand the fighting to the entire region."

The source reported that Al-Zarqawi "came to this arena only to expel the Americans from the Muslims' country and to establish an Islamic government. This is part of the goal, because if this is not done, how will we be able to bring about coups d'etat in neighboring countries? How can we rescue Jerusalem when we have no base from which to set out? Rescuing Jerusalem and the neighboring countries will come only after the rise of an Islamic state from which the youth will set out to liberate the neighboring areas." [...]

With regard to the claims that Al-Zarqawi is affiliated with Al-Qa'ida, the source said: "I wish that he was an Al-Qa'ida representative in Iraq. But the truth is that Al-Zarqawi has his own organization. He is not an Al-Qa'ida member and has no connection to Sheikh Osama [bin Laden]. They only employ the same method.

"There is no organizational connection between them – on the contrary, many Arab youth have said that they will swear allegiance to Al-Zarqawi provided that he swear allegiance to Sheikh Osama. They say that so far he has not sworn allegiance, and that he used to say: 'to this day I have not sworn allegiance to Sheikh Osama and I am not acting in the framework of his organization...'"
[complete article]

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FBI could talk to source of forged Niger papers. I did
By Josh Marshall, The Hill, September 23, 2004

Why haven't we found out yet who was behind the forged Niger-uranium documents caper?

One big reason is that the FBI -- which is supposed to be investigating the case -- has really never tried.

Back in March 2003, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, asked the FBI to investigate the matter. It was on the basis of that supposed investigation that the committee later decided not to look into anything about the forged documents before they showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Rome in October 2002. (See Page 57 of the committee report.)

But, despite claims to the contrary, the FBI hasn't made any serious efforts to find out who was behind the scam.

There are many reasons to believe that the FBI's investigation has been at best perfunctory. But let me describe one of the clearest. [complete article]

See also, The story that didn't run (Newsweek).

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Israel's nukes serve to justify Iran's
By Jonathan Powers, International Herald Tribune, September 22, 2004

The more nuclear arms are lying around, the more the chances of them being used. So to persuade Iran to forgo nuclear weapons is a laudable objective. But for the United States, Britain and France to insist on it is hypocritical.

These Western powers have argued convincingly for decades that nuclear deterrence keeps the peace - and themselves maintain nuclear armories long after the cold war has ended. So why shouldn't Iran, which is in one of the world's most dangerous neighborhoods, have a deterrent too?

And where is the source of the threat that makes Iran, a country that has never started a war in 200 years, feel so nervous that it must now take the nuclear road? If Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with its nuclear ambitions, used to be one reason, the other is certainly Israel, the country that hard-liners in the United States are encouraging to mount a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear industry before it produces bombs.

The United States refuses to acknowledge formally that Israel has nuclear weapons, even though top officials will tell you privately that it has 200 of them. Until this issue is openly acknowledged, America, Britain and France are probably wasting their time trying to persuade Iran to forgo nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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Iraq has its sovereignty, but America is still running the show
By Anton La Guardia and David Rennie, The Telegraph, September 23, 2004

Just one sentence demonstrated yesterday where the real power lies in Baghdad: not with the internationally recognised "sovereign" Iraqi government, but with the American "embassy".

Iraq's justice minister announced on Tuesday night that Rihab Taha, a woman scientist known as "Dr Germ", would be released from prison. The case of another scientist known as "Mrs Anthrax", Huda Ammash, was under discussion, he said.

American and British officials were caught by surprise, and feared that this would be seen as a concession to terrorists who had beheaded two American hostages and were threatening to murder a third, the British businessman Kenneth Bigley.

Within a day, a US embassy spokesman in Baghdad set the record straight on Dr Germ and Mrs Anthrax: "Both of them are in the physical and legal custody of the multinational forces, there is no imminent release and these cases are constantly under review."

In other words, the Americans were solely responsible for holding "high-value detainees" - the jailed members of Saddam Hussein's former regime - and only the Americans would decide whether any would be set free. It took several more hours for the Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, to surface in New York to re-establish his control. He said he would not negotiate with terrorists, declaring: "No release takes place unless I authorise it."

The episode exposes the reality of Iraq, as opposed to the image of independence that the US seeks to project. [complete article]

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Please help me, Mr Blair. I don't want to die. I don't deserve it
By Anton La Guardia, Jack Fairweather and Nigel Bunyan, The Telegraph, September 23, 2004

Kenneth Bigley, the British engineer taken hostage in Baghdad, was shown last night appealing to Tony Blair to help save his life after his two fellow victims were beheaded.

"I think this is possibly my last chance to speak to you," Mr Bigley said to the Prime Minister in video footage posted on an Islamic website.

"I need you to be compassionate as you always said you were. Help me, help me live so I can see my wife and my son, my mother and my brothers. [complete article]

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Zarqawi cleric ally killed in U.S. strike - family
By Suleiman al-Khalidi, Reuters, September 22, 2004

The spiritual mentor of al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Muslim cleric who justified Zarqawi's beheading of hostages in Iraq, has been killed in a U.S. air strike, associates and relatives said on Wednesday.

They said Omar Youssef Jumah, known as Abu Annas al-Shami, whose religious edicts or fatwas were heeded by his fellow Jordanian, died on Friday while hiding to the west of Baghdad. [...]

Islamist sources in Jordan said the Sunni cleric went to Iraq after last year's U.S. invasion. In edicts published on Islamist Web sites, Shami said Islam permitted the beheading of hostages who cooperated with the U.S. military.

"Whenever a major kidnapping would take place they would take from him a ruling on how to handle the hostage according to religious sharia teachings," said an Islamist activist who declined to be identified.

"Beheading is God's justice to inflict pain and sow fear into the hearts of the infidel crusader enemy who has come to desecrate the lands of the Muslims," Shami was quoted as saying last month on a Web Site used by Islamic militants purporting to show militants beheading an alleged CIA agent in Iraq. [complete article]

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Cash-strapped Pentagon taps emergency fund
By John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2004

A relentless insurgency in Iraq has prompted the Pentagon to begin spending money from a $25-billion emergency fund that Bush administration officials had once said would not be needed this fiscal year, officials said Tuesday.

Unable to tap into regular 2005 funding until the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, the Pentagon has already spent more than $2 billion from the emergency fund.

President Bush requested the emergency funds from Congress in May to pay for a war that is longer and more violent than he and his Pentagon strategists had predicted. The money will help pay for equipment for troops heading to Iraq this fall.

The need to dip into the fund, which also covers the war in Afghanistan, highlights the intensity of an Iraqi insurgency that has virtually wrested control of several cities -- most notably the western Sunni Triangle hotbed of Fallouja and the northern city of Samarra -- from 135,000 American troops and allied forces still operating in Iraq. [complete article]

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If America were Iraq, what would it be like?
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment, September 22, 2004

President Bush said Tuesday that the Iraqis are refuting the pessimists and implied that things are improving in that country.

What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, including in the capital of Washington, DC, but mainly above the Mason Dixon line, in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco?

What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the State Department at Foggy Bottom, the White House, or the Pentagon dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Crystal City or Alexandria? [complete article]

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Two dozen killed, 150 wounded in Iraq bombings, skirmishes
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, September 22, 2004

Bombings and skirmishing across Iraq claimed nearly two dozen lives and left more than 150 people wounded Wednesday. Meanwhile, authorities recovered a decapitated body in Baghdad, later identified as American hostage Jack Hensley, even as they awaited word on the fate of a British captive threatened with execution by an Islamic militant group.

An al Qaeda-linked group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi of Jordan claimed Tuesday to have executed Hensley, one of two American contractors and a Briton seized from their home in Baghdad last Thursday. The group beheaded the other American, Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, on Tuesday. The family of the British contractor kidnapped with the Americans, Kenneth Bigley, continued pleading for his life. [complete article]

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Iraq's Sunni-Shiite tension rising
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 2004

Iraq's violence took two turns this week that carry the potential to send the crisis - and American involvement in it - in new directions.

The execution of one US hostage in Iraq and the grim prospects for two fellow businessmen - another American and a Briton - held by an extremist Islamic group cast a dark shadow over the foreign presence here.

At the same time, the separate killings of two prominent Sunni clerics in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad raised again the possibility of sectarian conflict - that Iraq could eventually slip into civil war. [complete article]

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U.S. now taking supporting role in Iraq, officials say
By Robin Wright and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, September 22, 2004

Three months after the handover of power, the interim government of Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is making most key decisions politically and militarily, while the new U.S. Embassy is increasingly deferring and acting in a supporting role, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.

U.S. diplomats and military experts say the United States is now doing what it should have done a year ago: ceding authority to Iraqis; focusing on smaller, labor-intensive reconstruction projects to generate jobs rather than big ventures by U.S. companies; and assuming a low profile.

Allawi's interim government, meanwhile, is consolidating control over Iraqi ministries once tightly managed under former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, officials say. Iraqis, for example, are allocating the nation's oil income, overseeing the struggle to restore basic government services and guiding distribution of U.S. aid.

The U.S. military is conducting fewer patrols and raids and turning over more day-to-day operations to newly trained Iraqi forces, even as the security situation deteriorates. Insurgents said yesterday they had executed a second American hostage in as many days. [complete article]

Comment -- In line with Robert Novak's claim that the Bush administration is developing an early exit strategy to get out of Iraq, the process through which "power" is being transferred appears, above all, to be a public relations exercise. A real transfer is taking place but rather than being a transfer of power it is a transfer of responsibility. The goal is to turn President Bush's mess into Prime Minister Allawi's mess. This is warfare under the command of media consultants. It might payoff with a few useful headlines but it will do nothing to change the reality.

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Patchwork of insurgent groups runs Fallujah
By Dhiya Rassan, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, September 17, 2004

Five months after United States Marines called off their attack on Fallujah, citizens of the town live under the often capricious rule of different groups of mujahideen, or holy warriors – ranging from Islamists and ultra-Islamists to Baathists and outright bandits.

The few police still on the streets of the town are entirely at the insurgents’ beck and call.

Divided ideologically, the various religious groups argue over issues ranging from the proper way to finance their respective movements to the treatment of foreign and Iraqi captives.

Nonetheless, residents say the groups are united on the battlefield and would fight side by side if US or Iraqi government troops were to launch a new push into Fallujah – a move that some believe likely because of the recent round of air and artillery strikes. [complete article]

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Mourning the warrior, and questioning the war
By Chris Hedges, New York Times, September 22, 2004

When Sue Niederer heard that Laura Bush was planning to speak in nearby Hamilton, N.J., she went to the local Republican headquarters, showed various forms of identification and took a ticket. Along with hundreds of Bush supporters, she found a spot in the Colonial Fire Hall last Thursday morning before the first lady was introduced.

But Mrs. Niederer, 55, had no intention of chanting praise for Mrs. Bush or her husband. Clutching an Army cap and a rolled-up T-shirt, she had come on another mission, one that has defined her life since her only son, Second Lt. Seth J. Dvorin, 24, was killed. He died in February when a roadside bomb exploded in an Iraqi town she says she cannot pronounce.

"I wanted to confront Mrs. Bush because she, too, is a mother," she said at the small office here where she works as a real estate agent. "I thought she might understand the pain we mothers are undergoing. I thought she might be able to hear me."

As Mrs. Bush was lauding her husband's war on terror, Mrs. Niederer slipped on the shirt, which bore a photo of the lieutenant and the words "President Bush killed my son." Standing at the back of the crowd, she interrupted Mrs. Bush, shouting that if the war was warranted, "Why don't your children serve?"

"She did not answer," Mrs. Niederer said. "She looked stunned." [complete article]

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Anyone who believes Bush ...

Bush calls on Israel to impose settlement freeze
By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters, September 21, 2004

President Bush on Tuesday called on Israel to impose a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, taking a harder line on settlement growth than Washington has recently.

But it was unclear whether Bush's challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose government last month unveiled plans to build 1,530 more settler homes in the West Bank, meant he wanted a total halt to new construction.

"Israel should impose a settlement freeze, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and avoid any actions that prejudice final negotiations," Bush said in a speech at the United Nations.

The U.S. president also called on Palestinians to adopt peaceful means to achieve the rights of their people and, without mentioning Palestinian President Yasser Arafat by name, urged them to reform their governing institutions.

Washington has long called on Israel to halt settlement expansion but U.S. officials last month signaled they might accept limited growth within existing West Bank settlements.

Such a policy shift may help Sharon politically, who faces right-wing opposition to his plan to close all settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank, but it enraged Palestinians, who condemned it as an attempt to deny them a viable state.

The Bush administration was also conspicuous in its refusal last month to criticize Israeli plans to build 1,530 more settler homes in the West Bank, a step that appeared to be a clear violation of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. [complete article]

Comment -- The Jerusalem Post reports that "in closed-door negotiations between Israel and the US, officials have had more nuanced discussions on how to define a freeze," in spite of the fact that the Road Map is quite explicit on the issue of settlement growth. It states: "Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI [Government of Israel] freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)." The Mitchell Report states: "The GOI should freeze all settlement activity, including the "natural growth" of existing settlements." What kind of nuanced interpretation removes the contradiction between a freeze on all settlement activity and allowing the construction of 1,530 new settler homes?

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Anyone who believes Sharon ...
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, September 22, 2004

Ariel Sharon's new left-wing devotees revel in every statement he makes about the disengagement, enchanted by the vision of the founder of the settlements now rising to destroy them. They are convinced, and essaying to convince others, that the man they formerly described as a chronic liar, as the king of occupation, is serious and reliable. Now he appears to them as the national savior who will get Israel out of the territories. They believe that if Sharon only gives his stamp of approval to the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements, it would be easier for a future left-wing government to complete the job in the West Bank.

There is a big problem with the approach of "Arik's left-wing supporters." In their eagerness to adopt one part of his policy, the disengagement, they are ignoring his other positions. Anyone who believes Sharon when he says he will dismantle settlements must also believe his declarations that he will annihilate Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, freeze the occupation in the West Bank, and put off the road map and the two-state solution for many years. Sharon speaks of all with the same conviction.

There is an all-embracing consensus in the left that Arafat's expulsion or assassination would be damaging and irresponsible, plunge Israel into a grave international crisis and ignite an anti-Israeli conflagration in the Arab world. Opposition chairman Shimon Peres often says that the Jews are already accused of Jesus' death and do not need another one. And yet, when Sharon threatened in holiday interviews to kill Arafat - by comparing him to assassinated Hamas leaders Yassin and Rantissi - the left-wing opposition responded with complete silence. [complete article]

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Mythomaniac preaches to the world
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, September 22, 2004

"Democracy simply means good government rooted in responsibility, transparency, and accountability" -- fine words from a woman whose life is an expression of her convictions. Yet when George Bush quoted Burmese democracy advocate, Aung San Suu Kyi, as he addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York yesterday, he casually strangled the meaning of every syllable. By Suu Kyi's standard Bush has no right to claim that he leads a democratic government, let alone assume the role of preeminent champion of global democracy.

A responsible democratic leader would not use bogus intelligence as a pretext for war. He would seriously consider cautions offered by his allies. He would make sure that there was truly no alternative to war. And then, if still resolved to engage in war, he would do so knowing the gravity of the consequences, recognizing that war is ultimately a failure -- not an instrument -- of foreign policy.

A democratic leader who believed in transparency would not hide from the press. He would not cloak the workings of his government in secrecy. He would recognize that good governance requires a free and open exchange of ideas. He would not allow the policy-making process to be hijacked by a hidden government within the government. He would recognize that as the principal public servant he must be tireless in explaining to the people how he is serving their interests.

A democratic leader who believed in accountability would acknowledge that mistakes must have consequences. If the people want to forgive the failings of their political leaders they can re-elect them, but it is neither a right nor a responsibility of the president or his appointees to forgive themselves.

The foundation of George Bush's confidence is a lesson that has been reinforced throughout his life: However he screws up, he'll always get away with it. His "luck" is that for 58 years he has not been held accountable. On November 2, America gets to choose. Do we reward a man who has repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for responsible, transparent, and accountable governance or do we revive American democracy and hold Bush accountable for the disastrous consequences of his presidency?

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Warring visions for Iraq
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 2004

For US voters, the good news is that President George W. Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry are finally engaging in a concerted argument about what the nation's next steps in Iraq should be.

The bad news is that their descriptions of Iraq's current situation are so far apart they sound as if they're talking about a different country.

In any case, debating whether the US needs to send more troops, or ask for more NATO involvement, may be somewhat beside the point. It's true that the next president, whoever it is, will have important choices to make in regards to US policy. But in Iraq the US may now simply be riding a tiger. The most important American actions to come may be those taken in response to events which have yet to occur.

"There is a real question whether the course of events there can be influenced by anything the US does," says Ivo Daalder, senior fellow in foreign-policy studies at the Brookings Institution.

With election day now less than six weeks away, it seems increasingly likely that Iraq, and the general issue of terrorism and security, will be the hinge on which the vote swings. [complete article]

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An early exit from Iraq?
By Tony Karon,, September 21, 2004

In the three weeks of September alone, more than 500 Iraqis and some 59 U.S. troops have been killed, and the UN has made clear that it could not certify that a "credible" election could be held under these circumstances. That leaves the U.S. to either launch an offensive to retake Sunni towns form the insurgents in the brief window of opportunity between the U.S. election and the scheduled Iraqi one -- and risk a backlash that could imperil the prospects of political survival for the government it has appointed -- or else delay the election or allow it to proceed on flawed lines.

But if, as [columnist, Robert] Novak suggests, the broad objective has become an exit strategy and Washington is intimately aware of the danger of civil war, then presumably it knows better than to rely for stability only on the unknown quantity that is the Iraqi security forces. That's why reports of discreet talks between the U.S. and Syria in pursuit of cooperation on securing Iraq's borders may portend a new U.S. effort to stabilize Iraq on the basis of political and security agreements with its neighbors. The chances of avoiding a civil war, and achieving some form of stability, will be greatly enhanced if a new political arrangement in Baghdad carries the backing of Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The U.S. sought, and achieved an equivalent agreement in Afghanistan, whose neighbors include Iran. And while it continues to berate Tehran as a member of President Bush's "Axis of Evil" and tighten sanctions on Syria as a "state sponsor of terrorism," there's a certain inevitability to the search for back-channel diplomatic agreements. Regional cooperation on Iraq -- pursued, at least in the case of Syria, by the Bush administration, and also championed by the Kerry campaign -- may be Washington's best hope of withdrawing. Cutting deals with some of the regimes the neocons love to hate would not only signal a quiet surrender on the plan to make Iraq a beachhead for the U.S. export of democracy to the Middle East; it would actually leave some of those very same regimes in an even stronger position due to Washington's newfound dependence on them for Iraqi stability. That was never the desired effect, but it may nonetheless prove to be an unintended consequence. After all, despite the partisan disciplinary requirements of an election season, there suddenly appear to be a lot of Republicans publicly suggesting the U.S. has bitten off more than it can chew in Iraq. [complete article]

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The war's toll on Iraqi civilians
By Jefferson Morley, Washington Post, September 21, 2004

When the 1,000th U.S. soldier was killed in Iraq earlier this month, more than a few commentators in the international online media took note of another death toll: Iraqi civilians.

"While so much is made of the 1,000 US military fatalities," said a columnist for Gulf News in the United Arab Emirates, "an eerie silence surrounds the tally of Iraqi casualties since the invasion."

"Silence" is perhaps too strong a word. Many news organizations have run stories about civilian deaths in Iraq. But overseas reporters and commentators emphasize the issue more than their American counterparts and play up civilian casualties in ways the U.S. media rarely pursue. After recent U.S. bombing raids on Fallujah, published graphic photos of wounded children that are unlikely to appear in a U.S. news outlet.

While American journalists can say, correctly, that definitive statistics on civilian casualties are hard to come by, the true number is certainly a multiple of U.S. casualties, according to Human Rights Watch. In a 2003 study, the New York-based watchdog group said "thousands" of Iraqi civilians had been killed or wounded in the three weeks between the invasion and the fall of Baghdad. [complete article]

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Iraqis warn U.S. plan to divert billions to security could cut off crucial services
By Jaems Glanz, New York Times, September 21, 2004

Iraqi officials in charge of rebuilding their country's shattered and decrepit infrastructure are warning that the Bush administration's plan to divert $3.46 billion from water, sewage, electricity and other reconstruction projects to security could leave many people without the crucial services that generally form the backbone of a stable and functioning democracy.

Under the plan, which was proposed last week and would require approval by Congress, the money would pay for training and equipping tens of thousands of additional police officers, border patrol agents and Iraqi national guardsmen in an attempt to restore order to a land where lawlessness and violence have replaced Saddam Hussein's repression since the American-led invasion last year.

But the move comes as a grievous disappointment to Iraqi officials who had already seen the billions once promised them tied up for months by American regulations and planning committees, consumed by administrative overhead and set aside for the enormous costs of ensuring safety for the workers and engineers who will actually build the new sewers, water plants and electrical generators. Of the $18.4 billion that Congress approved last fall for Iraq's reconstruction, only about $1 billion has been spent so far.

"Nobody believes this will benefit Iraq," said Kamil N. Chadirji, deputy minister for administration and financial affairs in the Iraqi Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, which has responsibility for water and sewage projects outside Baghdad.

"For a year we have been talking, with beautiful PowerPoint documents, but without a drop of water," Mr. Chadirji said, waving a colorful printout that he received from American officials. [complete article]

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Effort to train new Iraqi army is facing delays
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, September 20, 2004

Three months into its new mission, the military command in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces has fewer than half of its permanent headquarters personnel in place, despite having one of the highest-priority roles in Iraq.

Only about 230 of the nearly 600 military personnel required by the headquarters, from lawyers to procurement experts, have been assigned jobs with the group, the Multinational Security Transition Command, military officials in Washington and Iraq said. One officer said the military's Joint Staff had given the armed services until Oct. 15 to fill the remaining jobs, but other officials said those people might not actually be in place until weeks later. [complete article]

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IAEA says 40 nations can build nukes
By George Jahn, Chicago Sun-Times, September 21, 2004

More than 40 countries could make nuclear weapons, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Monday.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the IAEA general conference that it was time to stop relying on information volunteered by countries.

Libya last year revealed a nuclear arms program and announced it would scrap it; North Korea is threatening to activate a weapons program; Iran is being investigated for what the United States says is evidence it was trying to make nuclear arms; and South Korea recently said it conducted experiments with plutonium and enriched uranium. [complete article]

Iran advances move to nuclear fuel, defying U.N.
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, September 21, 2004

Iran defied the United Nations today by announcing that it had begun converting tons of uranium into the gas needed to turn the radioactive element into nuclear fuel. The world body's International Atomic Energy Agency called on Saturday for the country to suspend all such activities.

Iran's statement, made to reporters in Vienna by Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, put the country on a collision course with the United States, which has lobbied vigorously for the agency to send Iran before the United Nations Security Council for its past breaches of the Nonproliferation Treaty. [complete article]

Bush aides divided on confronting Iran over A-bomb
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, September 21, 2004

At a time when the violent insurgency in Iraq is vexing the Bush administration and stirring worries among Americans, events may be propelling the United States into yet another confrontation, this time with Iran. The issues have an almost eerie familiarity, evoking the warnings and threats that led to the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and stirring an equally passionate debate.

Like Iraq in its final years under Saddam Hussein, Iran is believed by experts to be on the verge of developing a nuclear bomb. In Iraq, that proved to be untrue, though this time the consensus is much stronger among Western experts.

In addition, as with Iraq, administration officials have said recently that Iran is supporting insurgencies and terrorism in other countries. Recently, top administration officials have accused the Tehran government of backing the rebels in Iraq, something that officials fear could increase if Iran is pressed too hard on its nuclear program.

A parallel concern in Washington is Iran's continued backing of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group that the administration and the Israeli government say is channeling aid to groups attacking Israeli civilians. Israel also warns that Iran's nuclear program will reach a "point of no return" next year, after which it will be able to make a bomb without any outside assistance.

The Bush administration has yet to forge a clear strategy on how to deal with Iran, partly because of a lack of attractive options and partly because there is a debate under way between hard-liners and advocates of diplomatic engagement. But in another similarity with the Iraq situation before the war, Washington is in considerable disagreement with key allies over how to handle the threat. [complete article]

Pakistani president may stay in uniform
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, September 21, 2004

[Pakistan's president Musharraf] said he was certain that he had dismantled the network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atom bomb who was exposed this year as a major furnisher of illicit nuclear know-how and material to North Korea, Libya and Iran.

But he said he was not certain that he had discovered the full extent of Mr. Khan's activities. American intelligence officials say the three countries may have accounted for less than 50 percent of the network's customers.

"I'm 200 percent sure that it has been shut down," Mr. Musharraf said of Dr. Khan's network. "But if you say whether I am sure over what he's provided in the past, no sir, I'm not. I can't say surely that he has honored everything that he has done."

He rejected charges that his government had denied American investigators the chance to question Dr. Khan, whom he pardoned, saying the Americans never requested it. And what would be the response if they did ask?

"We wouldn't let them," he said. "That would show a lack of trust in ourselves. I mean, we must trust our own agencies." [complete article]

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A strident minority: anti-Bush U.S. troops in Iraq
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 2004

Inside dusty, barricaded camps around Iraq, groups of American troops in between missions are gathering around screens to view an unlikely choice from the US box office: "Fahrenheit 9-11," Michael Moore's controversial documentary attacking the commander-in-chief.

"Everyone's watching it," says a Marine corporal at an outpost in Ramadi that is mortared by insurgents daily. "It's shaping a lot of people's image of Bush."

The film's prevalence is one sign of a discernible countercurrent among US troops in Iraq - those who blame President Bush for entangling them in what they see as a misguided war. Conventional wisdom holds that the troops are staunchly pro-Bush, and many are. But bitterness over long, dangerous deployments is producing, at a minimum, pockets of support for Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry, in part because he's seen as likely to withdraw American forces from Iraq more quickly. [complete article]

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Iraq is not lost, but U.S. strategy is
By Anthony Cordesman, Financial Times, September 20, 2004

Virtually without fanfare, the Bush administration has reprogrammed about $3.5bn in aid funds to Iraq in ways that mark a fundamental shift in strategy - and a recognition that much of the US effort in the first year of occupation was a failure.

The administration sent a proposal to Congress last week to reprogramme $3.46bn of spending on Iraqi water, power and other reconstruction projects. Some $1.8bn of that will go toward accelerating the training and equipping of Iraqi police and security forces. In an equally crisis-driven fashion, the rest will be spent on securing and boosting oil exports, creating jobs and providing immediate aid benefits of the kind that could support the elections scheduled for January. Only about $1.2bn of the $18.4bn of US aid funds programmed for the 2004 fiscal year has been spent, and less than $600m has been spent in Iraq. Much of that has been wasted because of sabotage, attacks and bad planning; or has been spent outside the country; or has gone to foreign security forces.

The reprogramming request does far more than shift money. It is a recognition that Paul Bremer, the former US administrator in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the US military got the first year of the Iraq occupation fundamentally wrong. It is also a de facto recognition that the neo-conservative goals set for restructuring Iraq can never be achieved. [complete article]

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Victims of circumstance
By Julian E. Barnes, Kevin Whitelaw and Ilana Ozernoy, US News and World Report (via Yahoo), September 20, 2004

For the U.S. military, Iraq is increasingly feeling like a Catch-22: U.S. forces get criticized when they fail to stop attacks by insurgents and terrorists--and blamed for the civilian deaths that occur when they do go after them. The Arab satellite channels amplify the situation by focusing relentlessly on civilian deaths. When one of its own reporters was killed on camera last week by an American helicopter, the Al Arabiya network repeatedly showed his final, heartbreaking cry, "Please help me, I am dying."

In Iraq, where conspiracy theories abound, many believe the American superpower is omnipotent and so U.S. forces could avoid the collateral damage, clamp down on street crime, and end the terror attacks--if only they wanted to. "The majority of people blame the Americans for creating this crisis in order to stay longer and longer in Iraq," says Majid Salim, a Baghdad talk radio host.

That may sound preposterous to Americans, but it is a widely held view on which the insurgency feeds. Says Michael O'Hanlon, a scholar at Washington's Brookings Institution, "Why is the resistance estimated to be four times stronger today than it was? Why do people who didn't fight us a year ago choose to fight now? In some cases it is because their brother got killed."

During the initial invasion of Iraq, the military was squaring off against the remnants of the Republican Guard and irregular militias. In those fights, a combination of precision weapons and careful soldiers minimized--though hardly eliminated--civilian casualties. Now that America is supposed to be stabilizing and rebuilding the country, Iraqis expect U.S. forces to maintain order, provide security, and avoid killing civilians. But as the fight has undergone a metamorphosis into an urban guerrilla war--a scenario that was dreaded by military planners before the invasion of Iraq--precision weapons have grown less useful and arguably less precise.

Nevertheless, the United States has continued to rely on airstrikes, a tactic that is becoming increasingly controversial. The United States has used fearsome AC-130 gunships to attack individual safehouses in crowded areas. [complete article]

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Going after Iraq's most wanted man
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 2004

The US military is training its guns now on one of the most intractable challenges to January elections in Iraq: the city of Fallujah.

The Sunni city is seen as a base of operations for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant accused by US officials of terrorist plots in at least four countries and of ties to Al Qaeda. Mr. Zarqawi's Iraq-based group, Tawhid and Jihad, claims responsibility for beheading hostages, kidnappings - including two Americans and a Briton last week - attacks on churches, and the bombings of Iraqi police stations that have left more than 400 people dead.

US bombs rain down almost daily on Fallujah, targeting alleged Zarqawi associates and killing roughly 70 people this month. But some terrorism analysts, and old associates who spent time with Zarqawi in a Jordan prison, say he runs an organization separate from Al Qaeda. They say that killing the poorly educated, tattooed Jordanian - or many of his followers - will do little to slow the wave of terrorist attacks inside Iraq.

"Just like with Osama, if you were to kill him today, it wouldn't make a difference at all to these networks he's helped create,'' says Rohan Gunaratna, a counterterrorism expert and author of "Inside Al Qaeda." "While much of the suicide bombing in Iraq is coordinated by his network, it's being driven from the bottom up. Regional and local operational leaders plan and execute attacks. Zarqawi probably doesn't know much about them ahead of time and he doesn't need to." [complete article]

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The enemy with many faces
By Michael Ware, Time, September 19, 2004

The grenade was visible when the insurgent stepped in front of our car. His sinewy arm was cocked, ready to throw. Fifteen more men poured out from the corner of a nearby tenement, swirling about the car like angry floodwaters. They brandished grenades and AK-47s, pistol grips nudging out from under the folds of their shirts. Spotting me in the backseat, they went into a frenzy, yanking on the handles of the doors, thumping the window with the grenades. Across Iraq, the insurgents have gone on a kidnapping spree, seizing Italian aid workers, French journalists and American construction workers. As they ordered us out of the car, I wondered whether we were about to become their latest catch. [...]

They pushed me back into our Mazda sedan and ordered us to leave. We were lucky. The fighters included Iraqis, Syrians and Jordanians. They were members of Attawhid wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War), a militant group loyal to Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq. The group's black flags flutter from the palm trees and buildings along the Baghdad boulevard where we were stopped, an area known as Haifa Street. It's a no-go zone for U.S. forces.

The fact that insurgents tied to al-Zarqawi are patrolling one of Baghdad's major thoroughfares -- within mortar range of the U.S. embassy -- is an indication of just how much of the country is beyond the control of U.S. forces and the new Iraqi government. It also reflects the extent to which jihadis linked to al-Zarqawi, 37, the Jordanian believed to be al-Qaeda's chief operative in Iraq, have become the driving forces behind the insurgency and are expanding its zone of influence. Though the U.S. has long believed that al-Zarqawi's group is using Fallujah as a base to stage operations, the militants appear to have also consolidated their grip on parts of the capital. [complete article]

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Quick exit from Iraq is likely
By Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times, September 20, 2004

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.

This prospective policy is based on Iraq's national elections in late January, but not predicated on ending the insurgency or reaching a national political settlement. Getting out of Iraq would end the neoconservative dream of building democracy in the Arab world. The United States would be content having saved the world from Saddam Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction. [complete article]

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Mr. Bush and Iraq
Lead Editorial, Washington Post, September 19, 2004

Another rending week of violence in Iraq has underlined the critical challenge that confronts the Bush administration: Unless it can find ways to improve security in the coming weeks, its larger strategy for the country, which begins with elections planned for January, may unravel. Senior Iraqi officials, American generals and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan all have warned in recent days that nationwide elections won't be possible in the present conditions. Iraqi insurgents effectively control several large towns, and a daily barrage of car bombs, ambushes, kidnappings and mortar attacks makes peaceful political activity impossible in Baghdad and other government-controlled areas. President Bush must soon make tough decisions about whether to launch potentially costly military operations or compromise what may be the last chance for a successful political outcome.

Yet Mr. Bush, who spent the week campaigning for reelection, has offered scant acknowledgment of the quandary he faces or of the worsening state of a mission that has dominated more than half of his first term. His description of Iraq is bland to the point of dishonesty: "Despite ongoing acts of violence," he repeated Friday, "that country has a strong prime minister, they've got a national council and they are going to have elections in January of 2005." Not only has Mr. Bush not said how, or whether, he intends to respond to the worsening situation; he doesn't really admit it exists.

This duck-and-cover strategy may have its political advantages, but it is also deeply irresponsible and potentially dangerous. As conservative Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) put it last week, "the worst thing we can do is hold ourselves hostage to some grand illusion that we're winning. Right now, we are not winning. Things are getting worse." [complete article]

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Attacks disillusion Marines
By Mike Dorning, Chicago Tribune (via Seattle Post-Intelligencer), September 19, 2004

Marine Cpl. Travis Friedrichsen, a sandy-haired 21-year-old from Denison, Iowa, used to take Tootsie Rolls and lollipops out of care packages from home and give them to Iraqi children. Not anymore.

"My whole opinion of the people here has changed. There aren't any good people," said Friedrichsen, who says his first instinct now is to scan even youngsters' hands for weapons.

The subtle hostility extends to Iraqi adults, evidence some U.S. troops have second thoughts about their role here.

"We're out here giving our lives for these people," said Sgt. Jesse Jordan, 25, of Grove Hill, Ala. "You'd think they'd show some gratitude. Instead, they don't seem to care."

When new troops rotated into Iraq early in the spring, the military portrayed the second stage of the occupation as a peacekeeping operation focused at least as much on reconstruction as on mopping up rebel resistance. [complete article]

Strains felt by Guard unit on eve of war duty
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, September 19, 2004

The 635 soldiers of a battalion of the South Carolina National Guard scheduled to depart Sunday for a year or more in Iraq have spent their off-duty hours under a disciplinary lockdown in their barracks for the past two weeks. [...]

As members of the unit looked toward their tour, some said they were angry, or reluctant to go, or both. Many more are bone-tired. Overall, some of them fear, the unit lacks strong cohesion -- the glue that holds units together in combat.

"Our morale isn't high enough for us to be away for 18 months," said Pfc. Joshua Garman, 20, who, in civilian life, works in a National Guard recruiting office. "I think a lot of guys will break down in Iraq." Asked if he is happy that he volunteered for the deployment, Garman said, "Negative. No time off? I definitely would not have volunteered."

A series of high-level decisions at the Pentagon has come together to make life tough for soldiers and commanders in this battalion and others. The decisions include the Bush administration's reluctance to sharply increase the size of the U.S. Army. Instead, the Pentagon is relying on the National Guard and Reserves, which provide 40 percent of the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Also, the top brass has concluded that more military police are needed as security deteriorates and the violent insurgency flares in ways that were not predicted by Pentagon planners.

These soldiers will be based in northern Kuwait and will escort supply convoys into Iraq. That is some of the toughest duty on this mission, with every trip through the hot desert bringing the possibility of being hit by roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and sniper fire. [complete article]

Comment -- If Kerry wants to dovetail the issue of his and Bush's military record into the situation in Iraq he should accuse Bush of having betrayed his own troops. Bush sent young Americans to Iraq saying that they would be greeted as liberators but now most Iraqis see them as the enemy. The soldiers on the ground say that there's no one they can trust and because Rumsfeld and Bush wanted to fight a war on the cheap many National Guardsmen and Reservists are now being sent to Iraq against their will. Instead of sending enough troops to establish security a year and a half ago, Bush now pretends that in just three months sufficient order can be restored to hold elections in January. (And even during these three months, the hardest task -- securing Fallujah -- is being put off until after November 2.) If security can be established in three months why wasn't it established within three months of Saddam's fall from power?

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Taking the offensive, Edwards says a Kerry administration would 'crush' al Qaeda
By Randal C. Archibald, New York Times, September 20, 2004

Opening a weeklong Democratic offensive on Iraq and terror, Senator John Edwards promised Sunday that a Kerry White House would eliminate what he called a "backdoor draft" of Reservists and National Guard members and would "crush" Al Qaeda.

On a day when he alone among the presidential and vice-presidential candidates campaigned, Mr. Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, added fresh elements to his standard remarks on war and terror, two subjects that polls suggest rank at the top of voter concerns.

Mr. Edwards's comments came as Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, promised a new salvo this week against the Bush administration's Iraq policy. [complete article]

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Hastert's al Qaeda comment draws fire
CNN, September 19, 2004

Top Democrats slapped back Sunday at a remark by House Speaker Dennis Hastert that al Qaeda leaders want Sen. John Kerry to beat President Bush in November.

At a campaign rally Saturday in his Illinois district with Vice President Dick Cheney, Hastert said al Qaeda "would like to influence this election" with an attack similar to the train bombings in Madrid days before the Spanish national election in March.

When a reporter asked Hastert if he thought al Qaeda would operate with more comfort if Kerry were elected, the speaker said, "That's my opinion, yes." [complete article]

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U.S. weighs the price of a pre-emptive strike on Iran
By John Barry and Dan Ephron, Newsweek, September 27, 2004

Unprepared as anyone is for a showdown with Iran, the threat seems to keep growing. Many defense experts in Israel, the United States and elsewhere believe that Tehran has been taking advantage of loopholes in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is now within a year of mastering key weapons-production technology. They can't prove it, of course, and Iran's leaders deny any intention of developing the bomb. Nevertheless, last week U.S. and Israeli officials were talking of possible military action -- even though some believe it's already too late to keep Iran from going nuclear (if it chooses). "We have to start accepting that Iran will probably have the bomb," says one senior Israeli source. There's only one solution, he says: "Look at ways to make sure it's not the mullahs who have their finger on the trigger."

After the Iraq debacle, calls for regime change without substantial evidence of weapons of mass destruction are not likely to gain a lot of traction. But if the allegations are correct, Iran is only one of the countries whose secret nuclear programs hummed along while America waged a single-minded hunt for WMD in Iraq. Another is North Korea, which hasn't stopped claiming that it's turning a stockpile of spent fuel rods into a doomsday arsenal. And arms-control specialists are increasingly alarmed by Brazil's efforts to do precisely what Iran is doing: use centrifuge cascades to enrich uranium -- with a couple of key differences. Unlike Iran, Brazil has never signed the NPT's Additional Protocol, which gives expanded inspection rights to the International Atomic Energy Agency. And unlike Iran, Brazil is not letting the IAEA examine its centrifuges. If the Brazilians go through with their program, it's likely to wreck the landmark 1967 treaty that made South America a nuclear-free zone. But the White House has shown scant concern about the risk. [complete article]

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U.S. says new images show Iran plans nuclear bomb
By Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, September 16, 2004

A senior U.S. official said on Thursday that satellite photographs of a suspected nuclear industrial site in Iran demonstrated its intention to develop atomic weapons, an allegation Tehran dismissed as "a new lie."

A prominent international expert said on Wednesday that new satellite images showed the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran may be a site for research, testing and production of nuclear weapons. Iran denies having an atomic bomb program.

"This clearly shows the intention to develop weapons," a senior U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

He also accused the U.N. nuclear watchdog of suppressing information on Parchin in its latest report on Iran -- a charge denied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But another senior U.S. official, reflecting the differing views within Washington, was more guarded when asked if Parchin provided definitive information about Iran's intentions, saying: "It's something worth keeping under observation. There are things there that people need to keep their eyes on." [complete article]

Comment -- Ever since the Cuban missile crisis, aerial photography has provided the most compelling form of intelligence when it enters the public arena. But now, thanks to Colin Powell's presentation to the UN when making the case for war, every form of "proof" -- even crisply defined satellite images -- will be viewed with a measure of skepticism. We're surely looking at something, but not completely sure what it is.

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Classic guerrilla war forming in Iraq
By Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, September 20, 2004

War is never by the books. Adversaries learn and adapt. The political climate shifts on both sides. Loyalties and alliances couple and decouple. The civilian populace - caught in the crossfire - often remains passive just to survive.

To many experts, the conflict in Iraq has entered a new phase that resembles a classic guerrilla war with US forces now involved in counterinsurgency. And despite the lack of ideological cohesion among insurgent groups, history suggests that it could take as long as a decade to defeat them.

"Guerrilla warfare is the most underrated and the most successful form of warfare in human history," says Ivan Eland, a specialist on national security at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. "It is a defensive type of war against a foreign invader. If the guerrillas don't lose, they win. The objective is to wait out your opponent until he goes home." [complete article]

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Abduction, murder, mayhem in the week the peace was lost
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 19, 2004

Iraq this weekend is a country out of control. Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, meets Tony Blair today amid a crisis over a British engineer kidnapped with two American colleagues, a spate of suicide bombings and armed clashes from one end of the country to the other.

Mr Allawi himself has full authority only within the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. A few hundred yards away, the Haifa Street district, a stronghold of the resistance, can be penetrated only by US tanks and infantry backed by helicopters.

When the US and Britain as the occupying powers in Iraq transferred sovereignty to an interim government led by Mr Allawi on 28 June, many Iraqis expressed hopes that security would improve. Instead it has got worse. Last week suicide bombs ripped through the centre of Baghdad. The number of attacks on US troops is increasing. Casualties from American air strikes pour into the hospital in Fallujah, its floor awash with blood. [complete article]

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U.S. plans year-end drive to take Iraqi rebel areas
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, September 19, 2004

Faced with a growing insurgency and a January deadline for national elections, American commanders in Iraq say they are preparing operations to open up rebel-held areas, especially Falluja, the restive city west of Baghdad now under control of insurgents and Islamist groups.

A senior American commander said the military intended to take back Falluja and other rebel areas by year's end. The commander did not set a date for an offensive but said that much would depend on the availability of Iraqi military and police units, which would be sent to occupy the city once the Americans took it.

The American commander suggested that operations in Falluja could begin as early as November or December, the deadline the Americans have given themselves for restoring Iraqi government control across the country.

"We need to make a decision on when the cancer of Falluja is going to be cut out," the American commander said. "We would like to end December at local control across the country." [...]

Iraqi and United Nations officials say they are banking that enthusiasm for the elections among ordinary Iraqis will help persuade insurgents and other skeptical Iraqis to allow election workers into most areas of the Sunni triangle.

The initial signs have not been encouraging. For example, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the country's largest group of Sunni clerics, said last week that it had decided against taking part in the elections.

"As long as we are under military occupation, honest elections are impossible," said Sheik Abdul Satar Abdul Jabbar, a member of the association, which represents about 3,000 Sunni mosques in the region.

"People will not come out to vote in this environment," Sheik Jabbar said. "If the election goes forward anyway, the body that will be elected will not represent the country."

Indeed, the violence in Iraq is giving rise to concerns that voting held under the present conditions, with a possible large-scale boycott by the Sunni Arabs, will render the results of such an election suspect in the eyes of many Iraqis. If that happens, some Iraqis say, the stage could be set for even more violence. [complete article]

Comment -- US commanders in Iraq who have been told that their mission is to help bring democracy to Iraq should now be asking themselves whether in fact their primary mission -- unstated but clearly evident in the timing of upcoming operations -- is to help George Bush get re-elected. Is this what over a thousand American troops have died for?

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Iraqis want the U.S. to leave -- but not just yet
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2004

Retired police officer Abaas Ramah is scornful of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

"Where is the freedom they promised?" he asks. "All the bloodshed, the sabotage, the killings. Who is paying the price? We, the Iraqi civilians."

But asked whether U.S. forces should pull out immediately, he responds: Absolutely not.

"There will be genocide here if they leave right now," Ramah answers. "They destroyed this country, and it is their responsibility to make it stand again.... Iraq is like a sick old woman who needs America to treat her right now." [complete article]

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Divergent views of Iraq defining election
By Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, September 19, 2004

Democratic challenger John F. Kerry plans an aggressive attack on President Bush and his policies in Iraq, seeking to put the president on the defensive over an issue that has plagued Kerry's candidacy for months.

Bush has tried to emphasize Iraq's progress toward democracy, but events there have undermined that message in a week that has included car bombs, kidnappings and more U.S. casualties. Kerry advisers said they have concluded that they must engage directly on the issue of Iraq, despite their hopes of shifting attention to the economy, health care and other domestic issues, and say that renewed concerns among the American public about the situation in Iraq provide a fresh opening to challenge Bush more directly.

Kerry began the attack Thursday, charging that Bush continues to mislead the country on Iraq, and will escalate that criticism in the coming week. "He has led us into a situation that is more dangerous and destabilizing with each passing day, whether the president is willing to admit that or not," said Kerry senior adviser Joe Lockhart. [complete article]

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Blood, grief, violence ... but hope still flickers
By Jason Burke, The Observer, September 19, 2004

Another day, another few dozen deaths in Iraq, this time in the northern city of Kirkuk, where a car bomb, the third last week, blew up a crowd of people waiting to apply for jobs with the new Iraqi security forces, killing 20.

It wasn't meant to be this way. The handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government in June was supposed to stop the violence. Instead the last days have seen some of the worst carnage since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. US intelligence services now predict, at best, instability and poverty for the foreseeable future, at worst, violent anarchy by the end of next year. Politicians in London, Washington and Baghdad disagree. Things will get better, they insist.

So what is the truth? How bad is the situation? Are there any positive signs? Just what does the future hold for Iraq? [complete article]

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Britain to cut troop levels in Iraq
By Jason Burke, The Observer, September 19, 2004

The British Army is to start pulling troops out of Iraq next month despite the deteriorating security situation in much of the country, The Observer has learnt.

The main British combat force in Iraq, about 5,000-strong, will be reduced by around a third by the end of October during a routine rotation of units. [...]

Last week Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, said that more troops could be sent to safeguard the polls if necessary, although Whitehall sources said there was no guarantee that they would be British.

The forthcoming 'drawdown' of British troops in Basra has not been made public and is likely to provoke consternation in both Washington and Baghdad. Many in Iraq argue that more, not fewer, troops are needed. Last week British troops in Basra fought fierce battles with Shia militia groups.

The reduction will take place when the First Mechanised Infantry Brigade is replaced by the Fourth Armoured Division, now based in Germany, in a routine rotation over the next few weeks.

Troop numbers are being finalised, but, military sources in Iraq and in Whitehall say, they are likely to be 'substantially less' than the current total in Basra: the new combat brigade will have five or even four battle groups, against its current strength of six battle groups of around 800 men.

A military spokesman in Basra confirmed the scaling back of the British commitment. [complete article]

Comment -- In terms of overall "coalition" force strength the withdrawal of a few hundred British troops from Iraq might sound inconsequential. Politically, however, the impact could be devastating for President Bush. A British withdrawal -- even if it occurs gradually and without fanfare -- is of huge symbolic significance. For Britain to start winding down its troop numbers leaves American forces in stark isolation. The administration's claim that it enjoys the support of a broad coalition will lose credibility even in the eyes of many of Bush's own supporters if America's closest ally starts backing out of Iraq at a time when there is no prospect of American troops coming home. If threats of a reprisal have not already been sent from the White House to Downing Street they are sure to come. The question is, do the British have enough confidence in their diplomatic prowess to be able to do Kerry a campaign favor yet not completely undermine their ability to maintain cordial relations with Bush in the event that he wins the election.

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Iraq leak has Blair back in firing line
By Gaby Hinsliff, The Observer, September 19, 2004

Tony Blair was last night forced on to the defensive over Iraq after explosive leaked documents revealed that he was warned a year before the invasion that a war could send the country into meltdown.

The Prime Minister was advised by officials that the country risked 'reverting to type' - with a succession of military coups installing a dictator who could then go on to acquire his own weapons of mass destruction - and that British troops would be trapped in Iraq 'for many years'.

Even his own foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, concluded in a private note that President Bush had no answer to the big questions about the invasion - including 'what happens on the morning after?' The memos, showing how detailed military planning was even a year before the invasion, will prompt renewed questions about whether better planning for the aftermath of war could have prevented the bloodshed now engulfing Iraq.

The highly confidential papers represent one of the most serious leaks Downing Street has ever had to confront - both because of the extremely restricted nature of their circulation and the embarrassment they may cause senior US figures named in the memos - and will prompt a major Whitehall mole hunt. Last night speculation was focusing on the Butler inquiry into the intelligence gathered in Iraq, which was given thousands of confidential documents detailing the run-up to war. [complete article]

Read more about the leaked documents here and here.

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Oil sabotage threatens Iraq economy, rebuilding
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2004

The sharp rise in attacks on Iraq's oil pipelines in recent weeks has substantially impaired the country's production, dealing a blow to the economy and threatening the struggling reconstruction effort, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

Insurgents are bombing pipelines and other parts of Iraq's oil infrastructure almost daily, another sign that the country's security situation is deteriorating beyond the control of U.S. military and Iraqi security forces.

U.S. and Iraqi officials said the strikes had reduced average daily oil production by nearly 100,000 barrels, resulting in losses of as much as $1 billion this year.

"The attacks are continuing, and they impose a big penalty" on oil production, said a U.S. official who is involved in the reconstruction effort. "The country has got to get rid of this security problem. It's pervasive, and they have to get over it."

There are no official numbers, but sabotage against Iraq's pipelines and related infrastructure has soared from an average of six attacks a month before the U.S. returned sovereignty to the Iraqis in late June to 19 a month in July and August, according to research by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington think tank.

Iraq's oil production had been the bright spot in faltering efforts to rebuild Iraq's shattered infrastructure. Although U.S. officials have had trouble delivering electricity and clean water to Iraq's population, oil production rose after the March 2003 invasion. [complete article]

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Agent behind fake uranium documents worked for France
By Bruce Johnston, The Telegraph, September 19, 2004

The Italian businessman at the centre of a furious row between France and Italy over whose intelligence service was to blame for bogus documents suggesting Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy material for nuclear bombs has admitted that he was in the pay of France.

The man, identified by an Italian news agency as Rocco Martino, was the subject of a Telegraph article earlier this month in which he was referred to by his intelligence codename, "Giacomo".

His admission to investigating magistrates in Rome on Friday apparently confirms suggestions that - by commissioning "Giacomo" to procure and circulate documents - France was responsible for some of the information later used by Britain and the United States to promote the case for war with Iraq.

Italian diplomats have claimed that, by disseminating bogus documents stating that Iraq was trying to buy low-grade "yellowcake" uranium from Niger, France was trying to "set up" Britain and America in the hope that when the mistake was revealed it would undermine the case for war, which it wanted to prevent. [complete article]

See also the earlier article, Italy blames France for Niger uranium claim (The Telegraph).

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

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.

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.

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).

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."

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."

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.

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.

Last week he sat in a Baghdad hotel speaking to The Observer. A chubby man in his thirties with a shaven head, a brown sports shirt, slacks and a belt with a cheap fake-branded buckle, he gave a chilling account of his life fighting 'the occupation'. He talked for more than three hours and revealed:

-- How his resistance group, comprising self-taught Sunni Muslim Iraqis, is almost completely independent, choosing targets and timings themselves, but occasionally receiving broad strategic directions from a religious 'sheikh' most of them have never met.
-- How it is funded by Iraqis in Europe, including the UK, and from wealthy sympathisers in Saudi Arabia.
-- How it has rejected any alliance with al-Qaeda affiliated 'foreign fighters' and Shia militia.
-- How it receives intelligence from 'friends' within the coalition forces.
-- How it runs a counter-intelligence operation that has resulted in the execution of two suspected spies in recent weeks.
-- How it is learning increasingly sophisticated techniques and plans to detonate big bombs in Baghdad soon.

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.

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

'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.

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