The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Conservative TV group to air anti-Kerry film
By Elizabeth Jensen, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2004

The conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose television outlets reach nearly a quarter of the nation's homes with TV, is ordering its stations to preempt regular programming just days before the Nov. 2 election to air a film that attacks Sen. John F. Kerry's activism against the Vietnam War, network and station executives familiar with the plan said Friday.

Sinclair's programming plan, communicated to executives in recent days and coming in the thick of a close and intense presidential race, is highly unusual even in a political season that has been marked by media controversies.

Sinclair has told its stations -- many of them in political swing states such as Ohio and Florida -- to air "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," sources said. The film, funded by Pennsylvania veterans and produced by a veteran and former Washington Times reporter, features former POWs accusing Kerry -- a decorated Navy veteran turned war protester -- of worsening their ordeal by prolonging the war. Sinclair will preempt regular prime-time programming from the networks to show the film, which may be classified as news programming, according to TV executives familiar with the plan. [complete article]

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Bush's mystery bulge
By Dave Lindorff, Salon (via The Guardian), October 9, 2004

Was President Bush literally channeling Karl Rove in his first debate with John Kerry? That's the latest rumour flooding the Internet, unleashed last week in the wake of an image caught by a television camera during the Miami debate. The image shows a large solid object between Bush's shoulder blades as he leans over the lectern and faces moderator Jim Lehrer.

The president is not known to wear a back brace, and it's safe to say he wasn't packing. So was the bulge under his well-tailored jacket a hidden receiver, picking up transmissions from someone offstage feeding the president answers through a hidden earpiece? Did the device explain why the normally ramrod-straight president seemed hunched over during much of the debate? [complete article]

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'God has a plan. Bush will hold back the evil'
By Gary Younge, The Guardian, October 9, 2004

Burton Kephart asks me for 10 minutes to see if he can save my soul. Opening his Bible to Matthew and Romans he tells me that I was born a sinner, God gave his only son for my sins and if I accepted Jesus into my heart I could be saved.

I ask him what will happen if I don't. "Eternal judgment," he says. "Hell."

Mr Kephart gave his first-born son, Jonathan, to the American army. In late March the 21-year-old went to Iraq to serve with the 230th Military Police Company. Ten days later he was killed in an ambush in Baghdad. [complete article]

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Afghan opposition boycotts election
Associated Press (via NYT), October 9, 2004

Afghanistan's first direct presidential election was thrust into turmoil hours after it began Saturday, when the 15 candidates challenging interim leader Hamid Karzai said they would boycott the results, alleging fraud over the ink meant to ensure people voted only once.

The boycott undermined hopes of Afghan voters who had braved threats of Taliban violence and crammed polling stations throughout this ethnically diverse nation. The election is seen as a crucial step toward bringing peace and prosperity to a country of 25 million nearly ruined by more than two decades of war.

The opposition candidates, meeting at the house of Uzbek candidate Abdul Satar Sirat, signed a petition saying they would not recognize the results of the vote, saying mix-ups with the ink used to mark voters' thumbs opened the way for widespread fraud.

"Today's election is not a legitimate election. It should be stopped and we don't recognize the results," said Sirat, who is an ex-aide to Afghanistan's last king. [complete article]

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Right now an election is the last thing Afghanistan needs
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, October 9, 2004

The ballot or the bullet - that's the choice. This simple maxim has become one of the favourite soundbites of our nation-building times. It is being trotted out again as Afghans prepare to vote in presidential elections today, and is already much in use in official circles as the countdown starts for polls in Iraq.

On the one side are the insurgents, terrorists, men of violence, or whatever the current label is, who fear democracy and will do all they can to stop it. On the other is a people who have never had a chance to choose their leaders and want nothing more than to exercise it at last.

The contrast is comforting, but rarely conforms to reality in any but the remotest way. Elections can be manipulated and misused. They are only one part of a long process of enabling people to speak, organise and hold their rulers to account.

If they take place too early, they can be counterproductive and delay a society's transition to a culture of genuine debate and competition. That was the lesson of the Balkans in the 1990s, in particular in Bosnia, where the rush to vote (pressed mainly by the Clinton administration) entrenched hardline nationalists in power. Last week's local elections in Bosnia confirmed how hard it is to loosen the grip they acquired then. [complete article]

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Reimposing controls on the Iraqi press
By Monroe Price, International Herald Tribune, October 9, 2004

When Iyad Allawi, Iraq's prime minister, recently addressed the U.S. Congress, he predicted that the coming elections in Iraq would be free and fair. But back in Baghdad, at virtually the same time, a new agency that Allawi set up has been threatening to chasten and tame the Iraqi press, putting into doubt a vital element of a comprehensive voting process.

Without a diverse press, capable of educating voters as to various sides of the political debate, capable of commanding popular respect, the integrity of the election would be suspect.

The Higher Media Council, as the new agency is called, is headed by Ibrahim Al-Janabi, a close friend of the prime minister. Established in August, the council is in the regressive process of emulating Saddam Hussein's Ministry of Information.

The council has moved into the building of the ministry, re-employed some of its staff and is now threatening to license newspapers, impose requirements for publication that few existing news organizations can meet and punish unsubstantiated criticism of the government. [complete article]

Bush to aid 'moderate' parties in Iraq election
By Adam Entous, Reuters (via Yahoo), October 8, 2004

The Bush administration plans to give strategic advice, training and polling data to what it deems as "moderate and democratic" Iraqi political parties with candidates running in the country's upcoming elections, government documents show.

The administration said its goal is to help the parties "compete effectively" in the campaign and "increase their support among the Iraqi people" in national, regional and provincial elections scheduled for January, according to the State Department documents obtained by Reuters on Friday.

The White House had no immediate comment on who would qualify for the party-building support and it was unclear from the documents who would make those determinations.

Non-governmental groups expected to take part in the efforts said they understood that religious groups and communist parties would be eligible for help.

President Bush has made the upcoming elections his top priority in trying to stabilize Iraq amid a worsening insurgency and to shore up support for the war at home.

Under pressure from lawmakers, the White House said last month that it would not try to influence the outcome of the elections by "covertly" helping individual candidates.

Instead, the administration said it would provide "strategic advice, technical assistance, training, polling data, assistance and other forms of support" to "moderate, democratically oriented political parties," according to the documents. [complete article]

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Report cites U.S. profits in sale of Iraqi oil under Hussein
By Judith Miller and Eric Lipton, New York Times, October 9, 2004

Major American oil companies and a Texas oil investor were among those who received lucrative vouchers that enabled them to buy Iraqi oil under the United Nations oil-for-food program, according to a report prepared by the chief arms inspector for the Central Intelligence Agency.

The 918-page report says that four American oil companies - Chevron, Mobil, Texaco and Bay Oil - and three individuals including Oscar S. Wyatt Jr. of Houston were given vouchers and got 111 million barrels of oil between them from 1996 to 2003. The vouchers allowed them to profit by selling the oil or the right to trade it. [complete article]

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Transforming the American military into a global oil-protection service
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, October 8, 2004

In the first U.S. combat operation of the war in Iraq, Navy commandos stormed an offshore oil-loading platform. "Swooping silently out of the Persian Gulf night," an overexcited reporter for the New York Times wrote on March 22, "Navy Seals seized two Iraqi oil terminals in bold raids that ended early this morning, overwhelming lightly-armed Iraqi guards and claiming a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's vast oil empire."

A year and a half later, American soldiers are still struggling to maintain control over these vital petroleum facilities -- and the fighting is no longer bloodless. On April 24, two American sailors and a coastguardsman were killed when a boat they sought to intercept, presumably carrying suicide bombers, exploded near the Khor al-Amaya loading platform. Other Americans have come under fire while protecting some of the many installations in Iraq's "oil empire."

Indeed, Iraq has developed into a two-front war: the battles for control over Iraq's cities and the constant struggle to protect its far-flung petroleum infrastructure against sabotage and attack. The first contest has been widely reported in the American press; the second has received far less attention. [complete article]

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Red Sea terror: A crisis for Mubarak
By Tony Karon, October 8, 2004

Triple bombing in different locations of a similar symbolic nature is certainly an al-Qaeda operational signature. A taped message from Zawahiri broadcast by Al Jazeera on October 1 put Egypt at the top of the list of countries in which Muslims were urged to begin "preemptive" acts of resistance against the U.S. and its allies, including Israel. And Israeli officials indicated Friday that they suspect Qaeda involvement. If the attacks were, in fact, authored by Egyptian Qaeda operatives, they'd mark a bloody return home for some of the world's most hardened Islamist terrorists. Peace between Egypt and Israel was the issue over which Egyptian Islamic Jihad announced itself to the world, through the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat. A combination of harsh repression and a conscious decision to "export" the problem by shipping off radical Islamists by the planeload to Afghanistan to wage jihad against the Soviets blunted much of Islamic Jihad's impact inside Egypt, although both Jihad and the Gama'a took up a more bloody domestic campaign in the 1990s was eventually crushed by Mubarak's secret police, leaving the radicals mostly either in prison or dispersed. But the Egyptians who honed their skills in Afghanistan made their mark elsewhere, whether in attacking Egyptian diplomats and leaders in Pakistan and Ethiopia, and by their participation in key Qaeda operations. [complete article]

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Faulty 'no-fly' system detailed
By Sara Kehaulani Goo, Washington Post, October 9, 2004

The federal government's "no-fly" list had 16 names on it on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, it has more than 20,000.

The list, which identifies suspected terrorists seeking to board commercial airplanes, expanded rapidly even though the government knew that travelers were being mistakenly flagged, according to federal records. The records detail how government officials expressed little interest in tracking or resolving cases in which passenger names were confused with the growing number of names on the list.

More than 2,000 people have complained to the Transportation Security Administration. Airlines, at one point, were calling the agency at least 30 times a day to say that they had stopped a passenger whose name was similar to one on the list but after further investigation was determined not to be a terror suspect, according to a TSA memo.

More than 300 pages of documents related to the no-fly and related lists were released late Thursday night by the TSA and the FBI in response to a federal court order. The American Civil Liberties Union had filed suit on behalf of Jan Adams and Rebecca Gordon, two peace activists who wanted to know why their names had turned up on a no-fly list. [complete article]

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Ignorance isn't strength
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, October 8, 2004

I first used the word "Orwellian" to describe the Bush team in October 2000. Even then it was obvious that George W. Bush surrounds himself with people who insist that up is down, and ignorance is strength. But the full costs of his denial of reality are only now becoming clear.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have an unparalleled ability to insulate themselves from inconvenient facts. They lead a party that controls all three branches of government, and face news media that in some cases are partisan supporters, and in other cases are reluctant to state plainly that officials aren't telling the truth. They also still enjoy the residue of the faith placed in them after 9/11.

This has allowed them to engage in what Orwell called "reality control." In the world according to the Bush administration, our leaders are infallible, and their policies always succeed. If the facts don't fit that assumption, they just deny the facts.

As a political strategy, reality control has worked very well. But as a strategy for governing, it has led to predictable disaster. When leaders live in an invented reality, they do a bad job of dealing with real reality. [complete article]

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Lies, damned lies, and Bush's Iraq statistics
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, October 7, 2004

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have lately been touting three sets of statistics to justify their claims of great progress in Iraq. First, they say, we've trained 100,000 Iraqi security forces. Second, 31 other countries are contributing troops as part of the vast international coalition. Third, Iraqi reconstruction is moving along on schedule, thanks to the $18.4 billion in U.S. economic aid.

Yet the U.S. State Department's most recent Iraq Weekly Status Report, dated Oct. 6, reveals that all three of those claims are either false or so misleading that they might as well be. [complete article]

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Former Gen. Zinni says he expects U.S. to remain in Iraq for 5-10 years
By Sam Dolnick, Associated Press (via Newsday), October 7, 2004

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni criticized the Bush administration's run-up to war but said now that U.S. forces are in Iraq "we can't afford failure."

Zinni said in a speech Thursday he expected American troops to remain stationed in Iraq for five to 10 years and called for creative thinking to stabilize the country, which faces a "witch's brew" of insurgents, criminals and "al-Qaida wannabes." [complete article]

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Getting out is the silent U.S. policy
By Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times, October 7, 2004

When I reported in this column Sept. 20 that there is "strong feeling" in the "Bush administration policymaking apparatus" that "U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year," Republican politicians -- most recently Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman -- disagreed. But Don Rumsfeld has not contradicted me.

Nobody from the administration has officially rejected my column. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, in his usual teasing of words, says pretty much what I did. While politicians such as Mehlman talk about "victory" in Iraq and President Bush implies it, war planners such as Rumsfeld do not. These realists recognize that aims in this ugly war have been reduced.

Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry, as campaigners, wants to risk advocating cut-and-run in Iraq. With the war looming as the decisive issue in this presidential campaign, neither candidate dares appear a defeatist. But it is a given that, whoever the winner is, he will not risk losing another 1,000 troops if that is what's needed to win the war. [complete article]

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Terror experts tie Sinai attacks to 'World Islamist Group'
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz, October 8, 2004

Despite the fact that no organization had claimed responsibility for the series of explosions on Thursday night in the Sinai Peninsula and there is uncertainty regarding the identities of the attackers, Israeli terrorism experts believe the attacks bear the characteristics of a group known as "Jama'a Al-Islamiya Al-Alamiya (World Islamist Group)."

Internet sites identified with Al-Qaida contained reports on the attacks, but did not include claims of responsibility. The Web sites expressed joy over the attacks and related them to Al-Qaida.

Experts suspect Palestinian terror organziations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not dare carry out terror attacks in Egyptian territory. Past experience indicates they have never carried out operations in Arab states out of fear of harming local Arabs and also due to apprehension of harming relations with Arab regimes. [complete article]

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The big freeze
By Ari Shavit, Haaretz, October 8, 2004

Tell me about the dynamics of the relationship between you [and Condoleezza Rice], and whether it's an unusual relationship.

"I am in ongoing and continuous contact with Rice. In complex times it could be every day, by phone. In less complex times it's a phone call a week. On average, I meet with her once a month. Since May 2002 I have met with her more than 20 times. And every meeting is a meeting. The shortest one was an hour and a half." [...]

I don't want to boast. But the importance of this relationship is that it enables the president to speak with the prime minister and the prime minister to speak with the president without their speaking to one another. You have to understand that presidents and prime ministers don't prattle every day. For the president to phone the prime minister is an event. It is an act of state significance. So those conversations are very heavy. In large measure they are constrained. Whereas in this channel everything is more direct. Immediate.

"For the Americans, it's convenient. They know they have someone who is ensconced not in the jaws of the lion but in the very gullet of the lion. It's also convenient for us. It makes it possible for us to talk to them in real time, informally. When my conversation with Rice ends, she knows that I walk six steps to Sharon's desk and I know that she walks twelve steps to Bush's desk. That creates an intimate relationship between the two bureaus and prevents a thousand entanglements." [...]

...what was the main factor that pushed you to the disengagement idea?

"The concern was the fact that President Bush's formula was stuck and this would lead to its ruin. That the international community would say: You wanted the president's formula and you got it; you wanted to try Abu Mazen and you tried. It didn't work. And when a formula doesn't work in reality, you don't change reality, you change the formula. Therefore, Arik's realistic viewpoint said that it was possible that the principle that was our historic policy achievement would be annulled - the principle that eradication of terrorism precedes a political process. And with the annulment of that principle, Israel would find itself negotiating with terrorism. And because once such negotiations start it's very difficult to stop them, the result would be a Palestinian state with terrorism. And all this within quite a short time. Not decades or even years, but a few months."

I still don't see how the disengagement plan helps here. What was the major importance of the plan from your point of view?

"The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." [complete article]

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Qureia tells Haaretz: U.S. may be guilty of collusion
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, October 8, 2004

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) Thursday expressed dismay over remarks by the prime minister's adviser, Dov Weisglass, that the significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. The remarks by Weisglass - a top aide to Ariel Sharon - were made in an interview with Haaretz that appears in full Friday; excerpts were published Wednesday.

Abu Ala said Thursday that Weisglass' remarks oblige Israel to reconsider its policies in the territories, and the United States and international community to redefine their demands of Israel if they would like to see a genuine peace process in the Middle East. He refrained from accusing the United States of coordinating positions with Sharon but queried whether its policy on disengagement was "innocent." [complete article]

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3 Palestinians killed in Gaza; total of 85 killed in IDF raid
By Arnon Regular, Amos Harel and Nir Hasson, Haaretz, October 8, 2004

Three Palestinians, including two teenagers, were killed by Israel Defense Forces troops in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, all of whom the IDF said were trying to carry out attacks.

The total number of Palestinians killed in the IDF's ongoing "Days of Penitence" operation in the northern Gaza Strip climbed to 85 on Thursday, as the army went into the ninth day of its massive offensive in the area to root out militants firing rockets at Israeli targets. [complete article]

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U.S. releases senior aide to Sadr
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, October 8, 2004

The U.S. military released a senior aide to the rebellious Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr on Thursday, and Sadr aides said momentum was growing toward an agreement to disband the cleric's militia, which would halt a major element of the insurgency in Iraq.

Moayed Khazraji, a fiery Baghdad cleric whose arrest a year ago signaled the start of a U.S. crackdown on Sadr's movement, walked out of Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad on Thursday morning. No explanation for the release was offered by the U.S. military or Iraq's interim government.

But Khazraji's freedom was taken as a gesture of good faith in talks aimed at transforming Sadr's following into a political movement before nationwide elections promised for January. The release of imprisoned senior aides has been a primary demand of the Sadr camp, which said it was encouraged. [complete article]

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Pentagon sets steps to retake Iraq rebel sites
By Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, October 8, 2004

Pentagon planners and military commanders have identified 20 to 30 towns and cities in Iraq that must be brought under control before nationwide elections can be held in January, and have devised detailed ways of deciding which ones should be early priorities, according to senior administration and military officials.

Recent military operations to quell the Iraqi insurgency in Tal Afar, Samarra and south of Baghdad are the first and most visible signs of the new, six-pronged strategy for Iraq, approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration, the officials said. While elements of the plan have been discussed in generalities recently, the officials described it in much more detail, calling it a comprehensive guideline to their actions in the next few months.

As American military deaths have increased in Iraq and commanders struggle to combat a tenacious insurgency and a deadly spate of bombings, even administration officials involved in creating the plan acknowledge that American forces face an extraordinarily difficult task and that success is far from guaranteed.

Both the overall strategy and the specific military component were described by senior administration, Pentagon and military officials in interviews over the last two weeks in response to requests from The New York Times for an answer to the question, "Is there a plan for Iraq?" [complete article]

Falluja raid 'hits wedding party'
BBC News, October 8, 2004

At least 12 people have been killed and 17 others wounded in a US air strike on the rebel-held city of Falluja in Iraq.

The US military said what it called a "precision strike" targeted a hideout used by associates of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

But local hospital doctors reported that the raid had struck a house shortly after a wedding party.

The groom is said to have been killed, while his bride was injured. Women and children were also among the wounded.

US forces have stepped up operations in Falluja in recent weeks in a bid to regain control there ahead of planned national elections in Iraq in January. [complete article]

For marines on raids, an eerie silence
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, October 8, 2004

In the shadow of night, on the edge of the volatile town of Haswah, a convoy of humvees silently pulls to a stop and disgorges its marines.

In the wake of daytime raids Wednesday, in which 200 US troops cordoned off the town and 100 Iraqi special forces arrested 17 men, the marines of Operation Phantom Fury, which began this week, expected resistance. [...]

"I don't believe this - aren't there supposed to be people in the streets at 11 at night? Drinking tea?" asked one marine emerging from a side street in full combat gear, threatened by nothing more than clusters of wild dogs.

"I've never seen it before - not a soul," says 2nd Lt. Mark Nicholson, a platoon commander of the 1st Battalion 2nd Marines, from Wheeling, W.Va. Previous visits at even 2 a.m. found people on the street - and always an armed reaction.

"It's a good thing," says Lieutenant Nicholson. "But I'd like to see people in the streets, people who want us there, who greet us."

The apparently lifeless town, a chronic hotbed of insurgent activity, may typify what control can be achieved in Iraq with joint US-Iraqi forces. But as marines prepare to return to Haswah and other insurgent strongholds day after day, officers say the calm may be misleading, and tough to maintain. [complete article]

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Today, in a New York Times op-ed, What I really said about Iraq, Paul Bremer attempts to diminish the political impact of his recent comments that troop numbers in Iraq have never been adequate. In the mealy-mouthed language of a seasoned diplomat he says that he believes that "it would have been helpful to have had more troops early on," but that military commanders who asserted that this "would have been counterproductive because it would have alienated Iraqis," were expressing a "reasonable point of view." Bremer presents himself as a loyal trooper eager to serve the commander in chief and unwilling to forcefully challenge those with whom he disagreed. In so doing he makes it all the more clear that the decision to disband the Iraqi army was not his. Newsweek has quoted Bremer in reference to the decision to demobilize the army as saying, "I don't have any choice. I have to do this." He continued, "The president told me that de-Baathification comes before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people." Bremer clearly places responsibility for this fateful choice in the hands of President Bush. Though he now wants to express his support for the Bush campaign, he apparently won't go so far as to absolve the president from responsibility for the consequences of his own decisions.

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Inner circle no more?
By Tamara Lipper and Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, October 6, 2004

Administration officials said today that this decision [to disband the Iraqi army] was made on the ground in Iraq, rather than in Washington. Before the war, the plan was to get rid of Iraqi Army officers but use regular troops for security and reconstruction after Saddam's ouster. But Bremer "flipped that around," said a White House official. He added that Bremer and his deputy, Walt Slocombe, made the decision by themselves.

But Bremer and Garner have previously indicated the decision was made in Washington. According to one official who attended a meeting that Bremer had with his staff upon his arrival in Baghdad in mid-May of 2003, Bremer was warned he would cause chaos by demobilizing the army. The CIA station chief told him, "That's another 350,000 Iraqis you're pissing off, and they've got guns." According to one source who was at the meeting, Garner then asked if they could discuss the matter further in a smaller meeting. Garner then said: "Before you announce this thing let's do all the pros and cons of this, because we are going to have a hell of a lot of problems with it. There are a hell of a lot more cons than there are pros. Let's line them all up then get on the phone to [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld." Bremer replied: "I don't have any choice. I have to do this." Garner then protested further, but Bremer cut him off. "The president told me that de-Baathification comes before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people." [complete article]

Comment -- Bush is running for re-election on the basis that he is a stronger, more decisive leader. Kerry needs to challenge Bush by forcing him to confirm (or deny) Bremer's claim that the Iraqi army was disbanded at Bush's behest.

If the president sticks to the White House line that this was a decision made on the ground in Iraq, then portraying himself as such a hands-off overseer will undermine his claim to be a strong leader. A strong leader doesn't just sit back and watch while his subordinates are making a mess.

If he acknowledges that the decision was his, he either has to insist that it was the right decision -- in spite of a mountain of evidence and opinion to the contrary -- or he has to admit that he made a mistake. A huge mistake!

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The verdict is in
Lead Editorial, New York Times, October 7, 2004

Sanctions worked. Weapons inspectors worked. That is the bottom line of the long-awaited report on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, written by President Bush's handpicked investigator.

In the 18 months since President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, justifying the decision by saying that Saddam Hussein was "a gathering threat" to the United States, Americans have come to realize that Iraq had no chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. But the report issued yesterday goes further. It says that Iraq had no factories to produce illicit weapons and that its ability to resume production was growing more feeble every year. While Mr. Hussein retained dreams of someday getting back into the chemical warfare business, his chosen target was Iran, not the United States.

The report shows that the international sanctions that Mr. Bush dismissed and demeaned before the war - and still does - were astonishingly effective. Mr. Hussein hoped to get out from under the sanctions, and the report's author, Charles Duelfer, loyally told Congress yesterday that he thought that could have happened. But his report said the Iraqis lacked even a formal strategy or a plan to reconstitute their weapons programs if it did.

For months, administration officials have tried to deflect charges that they invaded Iraq under false pretenses and have urged critics to wait for Mr. Duelfer's verdict on the weapons search. The authoritative findings of his Iraq Survey Group have now left the administration's rationale for war more tattered than ever. It turns out that Iraq destroyed all stockpiles of illicit weapons more than a decade ago and had no large-scale production facilities left after 1996, seven years before the invasion. This was a matter of choice by Saddam Hussein, who desperately wanted an end to sanctions and feared that any weapons programs, if discovered by inspectors, would only keep them in place. [complete article]

U.S. 'almost all wrong' on weapons
By Dana Priest and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 7, 2004

The 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent U.N. inspections destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it, according to an extensive report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq that contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq. [complete article]

Saddam's obsession was Iran, report says
By Laura Meckler, Associated Press (via Toronto Star), October 7, 2004

Saddam Hussein was obsessed with his status in the Arab world, dreaming of weapons of mass destruction to pump up his prestige. And even as the United States fixated on him, he was fixated on his neighbouring enemy, Iran.

That's the picture that emerges from interrogations of the former Iraqi leader since his capture last December, according to the final report of chief U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer, which gives a first glimpse into what the U.S. has gleaned about Saddam's hopes, dreams and insecurities.

The report suggests Saddam tried to improve relations with the U.S. in the 1990s, yet basked in his standing as the only leader to stand up to the world's superpower.

It says Saddam was determined that if Iran was to acquire nuclear weapons, so was Iraq. [complete article]

Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD

Iraq Survey Group (ISG) discovered further evidence of the maturity and significance of the pre-1991 Iraqi Nuclear Program but found that Iraq's ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed after that date.
-- Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program.
-- Although Saddam clearly assigned a high value to the nuclear progress and talent that had been developed up to the 1991 war, the program ended and the intellectual capital decayed in the succeeding years. [complete article]

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January election will not end the country-wide rebellion in Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent (via Canberra Times), October 5, 2004

American generals in Iraq triumphantly announced at the weekend that they had successfully taken over Samarra and killed 125 insurgents.

They failed to mention that this is the third time they have captured this particular city on the Tigris river north of Baghdad in the past 18 months. The campaign to eliminate the no-go areas under rebel control in Iraq is getting into full swing.

Fallujah is being bombed every night, and may soon be subjected to ground assault. Najaf was recaptured from Shia militiamen in August and much of the city is in ruins.

The current US military campaign is very much geared to getting President George Bush reelected to the White House in November.

The aim of the bombing is to prove to American voters that their army is on the offensive, but without substantially increasing US casualties.

The situation on the ground in Iraq is far worse than what is portrayed by the media. Ironically, this is because it is now so dangerous for journalists and television crews to leave their heavily guarded hotels in Baghdad that they cannot refute claims by the American and British governments that much of Iraq is safe.

Nothing could be more untrue.

I have spent most of the past year-and-a-half travelling in Iraq, and I have never known it so bad. [complete article]

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U.S. soldiers will remain in Samarra indefinitely, officials say
By Patrick Kerkstra, Knight Ridder, October 6, 2004

As many as 1,200 American troops will have to stay in the former insurgent stronghold of Samarra indefinitely to prevent the city from slipping back under insurgent control, Iraqi officials and American military commanders said Wednesday.

The officials are still plainly savoring their surprisingly smooth takeover last week of the Sunni Muslim city, speaking with pride of the role Iraqi troops played in the quick seizure of the city of 250,000.

But they also said there had been less fighting than they had expected, and the low total of just 255 insurgents killed and captured during the three-day offensive suggests that many fighters may have fled the city or gone into hiding rather than face the 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops who invaded last Friday.

Iraqi officials say their success in Samarra will soon be followed by similar victories in cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi and most immediately in Babil province, south of Baghdad, where about 3,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops began a major operation Tuesday.

But the long-term American commitment anticipated at Samarra suggests that the battles for other cities where insurgents are both more numerous and more firmly entrenched could be bloody, drawn-out affairs. [complete article]

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Sharon aide says goal of Gaza plan is to halt Road Map
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, October 7, 2004

A senior aide to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, said in an interview published Wednesday that Sharon's plan to withdraw troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip had "frozen" the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and guaranteed that Israel would never have to remove 80 percent of its settlers from the occupied West Bank, with the "blessing" of the U.S. government.

The aide, Dov Weisglass -- until recently Sharon's chief of staff, his personal attorney and still one of his closest advisers -- said the primary goals of the proposal to withdraw the 8,100 Jewish settlers from Gaza were to strengthen Israel's hold on its more numerous settlements in the West Bank and to freeze the political process as a way to indefinitely block the creation of a Palestinian state.

"What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns," Weisglass said in an interview with the daily Haaretz newspaper. Under that formula, he estimated that "out of 240,000 settlers [in the West Bank], 190,000 will not be moved from their place."

Weisglass, who has been Sharon's point man in talks with the Bush administration, said the U.S.-backed peace plan called the "road map" is dead. The plan calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state by the end of next year and is a cornerstone of President Bush's Middle East policy. [complete article]

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Grim picture of Gaza's mayhem
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, October 7, 2004

Jumaa Saqqa, a senior physician at Gaza's Shifa Hospital, shuffled through a thick stack of photographs like a deck of playing cards. These are cherished possessions -- pictures of friends and neighbors, babies and children, famous people, militants, elderly men and women. Occasionally his eyes lit up as if he'd found an ace, and he flipped the picture on the desk.

"Look at this girl," he said. Staring up was the blackened face of a horribly burned child, teeth sparkling white, eyes open, hair singed. Amany Awawda, about 11, killed 18 months ago, Saqqa explained. "An Israeli tank bombing while she was at home with her mother. Her mother also died in the same incident. She was sleeping beside her."

He stopped at the picture of his former neighbor, Jehad Amarin, a leader of the militant al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the father of eight, killed a year ago. It was a particularly difficult case, not just because he was a friend for 10 years, but because the body was in so many pieces and Saqqa had to sew it back together for the funeral. "I had his scalp. There was no head at all. He was driving in a car and was shot by a rocket. He was sitting beside the driver. The rocket came directly to his head."

Most of Saqqa's photos showed little more than mangled body parts -- heads without bodies, bodies without heads, hands holding a heart. No one would recognize most of the people depicted, but Saqqa appeared to know every one of them. [complete article]

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After convictions, the undoing of a U.S. terror prosecution
By Danny Hakim and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, October 7, 2004

Publicly, federal prosecutors declared in the summer of 2002 that they had thwarted a "sleeper operational combat cell" based in a dilapidated apartment here.

Privately, senior Justice Department officials had doubts about the strength of the case even as they were moving to indict four Middle Eastern immigrants on terrorism charges. The evidence was "somewhat weak," an internal Justice Department memorandum obtained by The New York Times acknowledged. It relied on a single informant with "some baggage," and there was no clear link to terrorist groups. But charging the men with terrorism, the memorandum said, might pressure them to give up information.

"We can charge this case with the hope that the case might get better," Barry Sabin, the department's counterterrorism chief, wrote in the memorandum, "and the certainty that it will not get much worse."

But the case did get worse. After winning highly publicized convictions of two suspects on terrorism charges in June 2003, the Justice Department took the extraordinary step five weeks ago of repudiating its own case and successfully moving to throw out the terrorism charges. In a long court filing, the government discredited its own witnesses and found fault with virtually every part of its prosecution. [complete article]

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Army denies detainee-release remark
By John Mintz, Washington Post, October 7, 2004

An Army officer at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, yesterday denied making statements attributed to him in a British newspaper that suggested many of the alleged al Qaeda and Taliban detainees were no threat to the country and would be freed.

In a statement released yesterday, the military unit running the detention facility said remarks by its deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Martin J. Lucenti Sr., were "misquoted or taken out of context" by the Financial Times in an article Tuesday.

The newspaper quoted Lucenti as saying "most of the [detainees], the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their home countries." The military's statement yesterday said Lucenti "did not use the word 'most' in this context." [complete article]

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Urging fact-checking, Cheney got site wrong
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, October 7, 2004

Vice President Cheney dropped a dot-bomb Tuesday night when he inadvertently directed millions of viewers of the vice presidential debate to an Internet site critical of the Bush administration.

After Democratic nominee John Edwards raised some nasty allegations about Halliburton Corp., the company Cheney once ran, Cheney angrily responded to the "false" charges. "If you go, for example, to, an independent Web site sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, you can get the specific details with respect to Halliburton," he said.

But when people followed Cheney's instructions, they wound up at a site sponsored by administration antagonist George Soros. "Why we must not re-elect President Bush," the site blared. "President Bush is endangering our safety, hurting our vital interests, and undermining American values." [complete article]

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Rewriting history
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, October 6, 2004

With virtually all of the administration's original case for war in Iraq in tatters, Vice President Dick Cheney provided shifting and sometimes misleading arguments in last night's debate with John Edwards about Saddam Hussein's ties to terrorists and his access to weapons of mass destruction.

Cheney, responding to moderator Gwen Ifill's first question, said that "concern" about Iraq before the war had "specifically focused" on the fact that Saddam's regime had been listed for years by the U.S. government as a "state sponsor of terror," that Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal operated out of Baghdad, that Saddam paid $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and that he had an "established relationship" with Al Qaeda.

But except for the allegation about Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda -- a claim that is now more in question than ever -- the other examples cited by Cheney in Tuesday night's debate never have been previously emphasized by Bush administration officials, and for good reasons. [complete article]

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Iraqi arms threat was waning, inspector says
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 6, 2004

Charles Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons investigator in Iraq, told Congress today that Saddam Hussein destroyed his stocks of chemical and biological weapons and agents in 1991 and 1992 and that his nuclear weapons program had decayed to almost nothing by 2003.

Duelfer, a former U.N. inspector and the personal representative of the CIA director, said the former Iraqi dictator had intentions to restart his program, but after weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, Hussein instead focused his attention on ending the sanctions imposed by Western governments following his incursion into Kuwait and the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

The Bush administration said in its justification for going to war in Iraq that Hussein had an active weapons program. Duelfer's account is expected to reinforce claims by Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry that President Bush and Vice President Cheney took the country to war based on inaccurate information. [complete article]

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Funds to rebuild Iraq are drifting away from target
By Jonathan Weisman and Robin Wright, Washington Post, October 6, 2004

As little as 27 cents of every dollar spent on Iraq's reconstruction has actually filtered down to projects benefiting Iraqis, a statistic that is prompting the State Department to fundamentally rethink the Bush administration's troubled reconstruction effort.

Between soaring security costs, corruption and mismanagement, contractors' profits, and U.S. governmental costs, reconstruction funding is being drained away, leaving little left to improve the lives of Iraqis, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies. Senior administration officials and congressional experts on the reconstruction effort called the analysis credible. One senior U.S. official familiar with reconstruction suggested as little as a quarter of the funding is reaching its intended projects.

The State Department will acknowledge the problem in a quarterly report to Congress today and say that the United States is trying to accelerate aid and redirect how it is spent, U.S. officials said yesterday. But the Bush administration is still not meeting the goal it set this summer to inject $300 million to $400 million monthly into Iraq's economy by Sept. 1, the officials said. [complete article]

See the CSIS report, Following the money to Iraq... (PDF format).

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Negotiations seek peace in Fallujah
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, October 6, 2004

Iraqi government officials said yesterday they were quietly negotiating with leaders from the rebel-held city of Fallujah to end a months-long standoff there and avoid a full-scale invasion to take it back from insurgents. [...]

A man who identified himself as Khalid Homoud al-Humaidi told Al-Arabiya television that he was a resistance leader who was also leading the Fallujah delegation in the talks.

"The government has made promises," Humaidi said. "We are now negotiating how Iraqi forces might enter the city."

Humaidi also said there was serious disagreement between the Fallujah delegation and the Iraqi government on whether American forces could enter the city to search houses or make arrests.

The Fallujah delegation is insisting that under no circumstances should US troops be allowed into the city, even in the company of Iraqi forces. [...]

Iraq's president, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawer, told Iraqi television that negotiations were going well. "We should expect something good in coming days," he said.

In April, while head of the Iraqi Governing Council, Yawer was a vociferous critic of the US military's use of force in Fallujah, which he said was indiscriminate and killed many civilians.

Since becoming president, Yawer has condemned the tactics of insurgents, guerrillas, and terrorist groups. But he has also warned he would not countenance unnecessary violence by his own government or the US military. [complete article]

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To torture or not?
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, October 6, 2004

President Bush today distanced himself from his administration's quiet effort to push through a law that would make it easier to send captured terror suspects to countries where torture is used. The proposed law, recently tacked onto a much larger bill despite the fallout from last spring's interrogation scandal, is seen as an attempt to counter a recent Supreme Court decision that would free some terror detainees being held without trial.

In a letter published in The Washington Post, White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales said the president "did not propose and does not support" a provision to the House bill that removes legal protections from suspects preventing their "rendering" to foreign governments known to torture prisoners. Gonzales said Bush "has made clear that the United States stands against and will not tolerate torture."

But John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who introduced the bill last Friday, said the provision had actually been requested by the Department of Homeland Security. "For whatever reason," Feehery said, "the White House has decided they don't want to take this on because they're afraid of the political implications." [complete article]

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Policy analyst is said to have rejected plea deal
By Richard B. Schmitt, Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2004

A Pentagon analyst being investigated for allegedly helping pass secrets to Israel has stopped cooperating with authorities and retained a new lawyer to fight possible espionage charges, sources familiar with the case said Tuesday.

The analyst, Larry Franklin, has been a key witness in a continuing FBI investigation looking into whether classified intelligence was passed to Israel by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential Washington lobbying firm.

Franklin has been accused of passing the contents of a classified document about U.S. policy on Iran to two AIPAC officials, who in turn may have given the information to Israeli officials in Washington, sources have said.

Federal prosecutors had proposed an agreement under which Franklin would plead guilty to some of the charges. Such agreements usually are done in exchange for leniency and are accompanied by a pledge of cooperation.

But sources said Franklin had rejected a proposed deal because he believed the terms were too onerous. He recently replaced his court-appointed lawyer. "It looks like there is going to be a battle," a source familiar with the case said. [complete article]

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U.S. asks Israel to clarify comments made by top Sharon aide
By Ari Shavit, Aluf Benn, Yair Ettinger, Haaretz, October 6, 2004

The United States on Wednesday evening asked Israel to clarify statements made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's senior advisor, Dov Weisglass, during an interview to Haaretz that the disengagement plan means a "freezing of the peace process," Israel Radio reported.

"The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process," Weisglass, one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, said in an interview for the Friday Magazine.

"And when you freeze that process," Weisglass added, "you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.

"Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."

"The disengagement is actually formaldehyde," he said. "It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." [complete article]

Comment -- The United States might seek "clarifications", but Sharon and Weisglass most likely assume that whatever they say or do will not produce even the smallest ripple between two US presidential candidates neither of whom appears to have the courage to question Israel.

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50,000 trapped by Israeli assault on Gaza
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, October 5, 2004

Israeli forces have demolished the homes of hundreds of Palestinians, bulldozed swaths of agricultural land and destroyed infrastructure in their bloodiest assault on the Gaza Strip in years.

More than 70 people have died in Operation Days of Penitence, launched in northern Gaza six days ago after a Hamas rocket attack killed two Israeli children. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that the dead included 31 civilians. Nineteen were under 18.

Most of the nine people killed yesterday were Palestinian fighters, but a teenage girl was among the dead, shot in her home. In southern Gaza Israeli forces killed a four-year-old boy in Khan Yunis refugee camp, where several Palestinian children have been shot dead in recent weeks.

Last night the Israeli army said it had killed a Palestinian gunman who had tried to infiltrate a nearby settlement. Early today an Israeli missile strike in Jabaliya killed one Palestinian militant and wounded two others.

But shielded from view is the suffering of about 50,000 Palestinians trapped in areas seized by hundreds of Israeli troops, backed by about 200 tanks and armoured vehicles. [complete article]

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Iraqis debating new relationship with Israel, but most favor long-standing hostility
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, October 4, 2004

A recent series of events, including a handshake between Iraq's interim prime minister and Israel's foreign minister at last month's United Nations meetings in New York, has set off public debate over whether the Iraqi government is trying to change Iraq's long-standing enmity with Israel.

Iraqi officials deny that any changes are afoot. They say Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was merely being polite when he took the hand of Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who was sitting next to him because countries' delegates were arranged in alphabetical order at the United Nations.

But many Iraqis are viewing developments with suspicion.

"I knew after America invaded Iraq, the first thing that would happen (is) we would have a relationship with Israel," said Mohammed Saleem, 24, a student in Baghdad. "I have nothing against having relations with the Israelis on the condition they give the Palestinians their rights and their own country."

Any warming in Iraqi-Israeli relations would be a major change in the Middle East's power equation. Saddam Hussein was widely revered in Arab nations for his anti-Israel stance. [complete article]

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Iraqi indicted for proposal to open talks with Israel
By Eric Eckholm, New York Times, October 6, 2004

A court of Iraq's interim government has brought criminal charges against a prominent politician for attending an antiterrorism conference in Israel and publicly suggesting that Iraq should open talks with Israel.

The indictment and arrest warrant, based on a 1969 law promulgated by the Baath Party that bars Iraqis from having contacts with enemy states, are likely to anger the United States government, which has sponsored Iraq's new courts and is a close ally of Israel.

Late Tuesday, State Department officials said they were seeking to learn more before issuing a statement. "We are looking into this through our embassy," said Greg Sullivan, a department spokesman.

The politician, Mithal al-Alusi, was until recently a leader of the Iraqi National Congress, the former exile movement and now one of Iraq's most powerful political parties, and was a close associate of the party's chairman, Ahmad Chalabi. He served in the previous and current interim national legislatures and was director general of Iraq's National Commission for De-Baathification, which works to bar senior officials of Saddam Hussein's government from office. [complete article]

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Breaking their silence
By Elizabeth Mehren, Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2004

In Love Plaza, about 75 people mingled in bright sunshine, chatting noisily while one speaker after another droned on at a campaign rally. Vendors hawked T-shirts, and children frolicked in a fountain opposite ornate City Hall.

Then Celeste Zappala stepped onstage. Standing between columns of red, white and blue balloons, she held up the Purple Heart awarded posthumously to her oldest son. The plaza fell silent.

In calm, measured tones, Zappala talked about her opposition to the war in Iraq. She spoke with pride and tenderness about her son, Sherwood Baker, who was killed in April in Baghdad.

"Sherwood was a patriot," Zappala said. "He was brave and faithful and loyal. He believed in America, and he believed in democracy. And I made an oath to him not to be quiet, not to be cynical in my grief."

Before her son left for Iraq early this year, Zappala, 57, joined a group of military families that supports the troops but opposes the war. Today, Military Families Speak Out has more than 1,700 member families across the country who participate in protests, appear on radio and television and confront public officials. By telling stories about their loved ones, they hope to sway hearts and minds and help bring an end to the war. [complete article]

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Pastor Bush
By Jonathan Raban, The Guardian, October 6, 2004

In the secular, liberal, top-left-hand corner of the US where I live, the prevailing mood was one not far short of despair as incredulity mounted that the daily avalanche of bad news from Baghdad, Fallujah, Tikrit, Samarra, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Kufa, Ramadi, Baquba and elsewhere was apparently failing to make any significant dent in Bush's poll numbers, or expose his claim that freedom and democracy are on the march in Iraq as a blithe and cynical fiction. What would it take? people asked: How many more American and Iraqi deaths? When would it sink in that the occupation of Iraq is a bloody catastrophe? Why was the electorate so unmoved by the abundant empirical evidence that the administration's policy in the Middle East wantonly endangers America as it endangers the wider world? Kerry's performance in the first presidential debate brought a much-needed lift of spirits to this neck of the woods, but the Democratic candidate is up against something more formidable than the person of George Bush: he has to deal with the unquiet spirit of American puritanism and its long and complicated legacy. [complete article]

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Report discounts Iraqi arms threat
By Mike Allen and Dana Priest, Washington Post, October 6, 2004

The government's most definitive account of Iraq's arms programs, to be released today, will show that Saddam Hussein posed a diminishing threat at the time the United States invaded and did not possess, or have concrete plans to develop, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The officials said that the 1,000-page report by Charles A. Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, concluded that Hussein had the desire but not the means to produce unconventional weapons that could threaten his neighbors or the West. President Bush has continued to assert in his campaign stump speech that Iraq had posed "a gathering threat."

The officials said Duelfer, an experienced former United Nations weapons inspector, found that the state of Hussein's weapons-development programs and knowledge base was less advanced in 2003, when the war began, than it was in 1998, when international inspectors left Iraq. [complete article]

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A new CIA report casts doubt on a key terrorist's tie to Iraq
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, October 6, 2004

A reassessment by the Central Intelligence Agency has cast doubt on a central piece of evidence used by the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq to draw links between Saddam Hussein's government and Al Qaeda's terrorist network, government officials said Tuesday.

The C.I.A. report, sent to policy makers in August, says it is now not clear whether Mr. Hussein's government harbored members of a group led by the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the officials said. The assertion that Iraq provided refuge to Mr. Zarqawi was the primary basis for the administration's prewar assertions connecting Iraq to Al Qaeda.

The new C.I.A. assessment, based largely on information gathered after the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, is the latest to revise a prewar intelligence report used by the administration as a central rationale for war.

Other reports have cast doubt on the idea that Iraq provided chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda, and the report of the Sept. 11 commission found no "collaborative relationship" between the former Iraqi government and Al Qaeda. [complete article]

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U.S. envoy accused of being the power pulling Karzai's strings
By Catherine Philp, The Times (via The Australian), October 5, 2004

As Hamid Karzai stepped forward to cut the ribbon across the entrance to Kabul's rebuilt national museum, a tall grey-haired man in a sharp suit stood beside him. The same man was present when the Afghan President opened a new dormitory at Kabul university. And he was there again as Mr Karzai arrived by helicopter in a dusty northern province to open a new road.

He is the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been nicknamed "The Viceroy" for the influence he wields over the Karzai Government.

In recent weeks, candidates in the presidential election to be held on Saturday have accused the US envoy of taking on a new role -- that of campaign manager for Mr Karzai -- in an exercise whose success is vital for the re-election hopes of George W. Bush. [complete article]

Afghan race shaping up as battle of the modern and traditional
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, October 6, 2004

More than 1,000 leathery, turbaned men gathered in a cavernous village mosque Friday for a presidential campaign rally. They no longer carried rifles, and some had even brought their small sons. But the assembly of mujaheddin, or former anti-Soviet fighters, crackled with esprit de corps.

The veterans were all ethnic Pashtuns, and the rally was held in Kandahar province, the heartland of Afghan Pashtun culture and the birthplace of President Hamid Karzai, who comes from a prominent Pashtun tribe and has courted Pashtun votes in his bid to be elected president this Saturday.

But these tough ex-fighters had come to show their support for someone else: Yonus Qanooni, the former interior and education minister and an ethnic Tajik, who is Karzai's major challenger. To them, the candidate's ethnicity mattered far less than his credentials as a fellow mujahid and defender of Islam. [complete article]

Fearful choice for Afghan women: To vote or not to vote
By Amy Waldman, New York Times, October 6, 2004

When Afghanistan votes Saturday in its first presidential election, three women, Hajira, Roshana and Farida, will face a choice, but not the one many people expect.

Choosing their candidate was the easy part. All three women, residents of this southern city, favor the incumbent, President Hamid Karzai. But in the face of threats from Taliban insurgents to attack the election process, they cannot decide whether to vote at all, let alone whether to work at the polls as they have been asked to do.

The women say they do not fear death. They fear the shame a public death would bring their families.

"My biggest fear is that if something happens election day, the whole town will talk afterward," said Farida, who is 23 and unmarried, and who, like the others, uses only one name. "There is already a general rumor that women who work outside the home are prostitutes to Americans or foreigners, that women who work outside the home lose their honor."

There is a saying in the culture, she said. For a woman, a death in the home - with purdah, which literally means curtain - is a death of honor. A death outside the home is a death with dishonor.

"I just don't want to die on the street," she said. [complete article]

Warlord politics heats Afghan vote
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, October 6, 2004

As the hometown of the current Afghan president, Kandahar should be wrapped up for Hamid Karzai. But look around, and you'll see campaign posters - lots of them - for Mr. Karzai's chief opponent, Yunis Qanooni.

That Mr. Qanooni, former education minister and ethnic Tajik northerner, would even venture into the ethnic Pashtun heartland of Kandahar is shocking enough, but to have southern Pashtuns supporting him by the thousands, that's the stuff of fantasy. It's as if Howard Dean had shown up at a NASCAR event and sung the national anthem - and the crowd went wild.

Qanooni's campaign draws its greatest support by courting the substantial number of Afghan veterans who fought against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. In effect, he is creating Afghanistan's own "greatest generation," a powerful voting bloc that fears losing power and influence in the next government. [complete article]

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Most at Guantanamo to be freed or sent home, officer says
By John Mintz, Washington Post, October 6, 2004

Most of the alleged al Qaeda and Taliban inmates at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are likely to be freed or sent to their home countries for further investigation because many pose little threat and are not providing much valuable intelligence, the facility's deputy commander has said.

The remarks by Army Brig. Gen. Martin Lucenti in yesterday's edition of London's Financial Times appeared to conflict with past comments by U.S. military commanders who have stressed the value of the information obtained from the detainees and the danger many would pose if released. [complete article]

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Next wave of Al Qaeda leadership
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2004

[Atta-ur] Rehman, along with nine other "comrades," is charged with carrying out a deadly June attack against a senior Pakistani Army general in Karachi. The general escaped narrowly but 10 people, including seven soldiers, were killed.

Rehman's circle call themselves Jundullah (God's Army) and have close ties to Al Qaeda. Most are young, educated men, whom Rehman allegedly sent to training camps in Pakistan's remote tribal areas.

Rehman doesn't fit the mold of the typical Al Qaeda leader. Traditionally, most were Arabs who gained status by resisting the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Younger, educated recruits tapped for suicide missions like 9/11 typically came from Middle Eastern countries with long histories of pan-Islamic resistance. What sets this new breed apart is that they are joining from places like Pakistan, where the focus has been on regional grievances, like independence for the disputed area of Kashmir. But as the Al Qaeda leadership ranks begin to thin, men like Rehman are starting to climb the ladder.

"It is a new generation of Al Qaeda," says Riffat Hussain, a leading defense and security analyst based in Islamabad, Pakistan. "These are new converts to Al Qaeda. They may have no links with Al Qaeda in the past, but now they are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause as they feel Al Qaeda is the name of defiance to the West. They are young and angry, and their number has swelled in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq." [complete article]

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Why the insurgency won't go away
By Ahmed S. Hashim, Boston Review, October/November, 2004

The stealthy manner in which power was formally handed over to the Iraqis two days ahead of schedule on June 28, 2004, was designed to forestall the widespread violence that coalition forces expected for the original date. It was also an acknowledgment by coalition officials that the violent insurgencies they insisted would not derail Iraq's reconstruction now threaten the emergence of a sovereign nation.

Iraq is overridden with partisan warfare by former regime loyalists, organized rebellions by disgruntled Iraqis, terrorism by foreign and domestic Islamist extremists, and a wave of crime by organized gangs. Rather than an all-out war of national liberation against coalition forces and Iraqi authorities, groups with nothing in common -- except the demand that the coalition leave -- are fighting against U.S. forces in an insurgency that spikes and ebbs. We may also see different ethnic or sectarian groups pitted against one another in a massive fight over who gets what, and when and how. Signs of such multi-layered conflict do not augur well for Iraq's future stability. [complete article]

Comment -- Anyone considering the merits of a US withdrawal from Iraq should disregard the legitimacy of America's presence in Iraq -- clearly it has none -- but needs to try to understand the nature of the insurgency. Only by looking at the insurgency is it possible to make an educated guess about how things might unfold in the absence of occupying forces. US and other foreign forces have not brought peace to Iraq and have fueled and initiated much of the violence. But the fragmented nature of the insurgency suggests that disparate groups that now have a common purpose in trying to end the occupation, if successful, will then refocus their campaigns of violence on each other. Then, as now, ordinary Iraqis will end up caught in the crossfire. A withdrawal of US troops might be in the short term interests of America, but it's wishful thinking to simply assume that it help the people of Iraq.

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A Shiite-Sunni Islamist 'high command' may be forming
By Patrick Seale, October 4, 2004

There are ominous signs that, far from dying down, the conflicts in the Middle East are set to widen in the coming months, sucking in new actors and posing new threats to the United States and its allies.

In the eyes of Arab and Islamic militants, the war against American forces in Iraq and Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation are increasingly seen as one and the same battle. In the absence of any prospect for peace on either battlefield, alliances are being formed and command structures established which suggest that the struggle is entering a new and more lethal phase.

Western intelligence sources report that a new high command is emerging made up of Hizbullah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood (represented in the occupied Palestinian territories by Islamic Jihad); and, last but not least, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The striking features of this alliance are that it bridges the Sunni-Shiite divide and unites Arab nationalists and Islamists in a common cause. As a member of one of these groups put it to me: "There is today no difference between resistance and jihad."

Several factors lie behind the new, more organized and determined militancy. First, American backing for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - for his expansion of Jewish settlements, his separation wall in the West Bank, and his all-out war against the Palestinians - has ruled out any prospect of a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The international consensus of a two-state solution seems increasingly unrealistic. [complete article]

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Bremer critique on Iraq raises political furor
By Elisabeth Bumiller and Jodi Wilgoren, New York Times, October 6, 2004

The administration, without disputing Mr. Bremer's statements that he had wanted more troops when he arrived in May 2003, said that the force levels had been set by military commanders there. By the end of the day, Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, was insisting that Mr. Bush's instructions to his commanders about more troops were "just let me know, you'll have them."

If administration officials were defending Mr. Bush's decisions in public, in background conversations they were clearly furious with Mr. Bremer, who in recent weeks they have blamed for much that has gone wrong in Baghdad.

Still, two senior officials confirmed Tuesday evening that Mr. Bremer had sought more troops before he took up his post as the head of the coalition authority in Iraq, and that once he arrived in Baghdad he repeated his belief that the United States and its allies had committed insufficient forces to the task.

"The reality is that Paul kept pressing the issue, because it was immediately clear that a lot of facilities - even arms stockpiles - were unguarded," said one senior official who was part of that debate but insisted on anonymity. [complete article]

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White House won't say if troops sought
By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press (via Yahoo), October 5, 2004

The White House refused to say Tuesday whether the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's ouster had asked the president for more troops to deal with the rapid descent of postwar Iraq into chaos.

In remarks published Tuesday, the official, L. Paul Bremer, said he arrived in Iraq on May 6, 2003 to find "horrid" looting and a very unstable situation -- throwing new fuel onto the presidential campaign issue of whether the United States had sufficiently planned for the post-war situation in Iraq. [complete article]

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"As I have said, we should have had significantly more troops in Iraq -- perhaps twice as many more as we now have there." Testimony of Larry Diamond to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, May 19, 2004. (Larry Diamond was senior advisor to the
Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad from January to March 2004.)

Bremer criticizes troop levels
By Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, October 5, 2004

The former U.S. official who governed Iraq after the invasion said yesterday that the United States made two major mistakes: not deploying enough troops in Iraq and then not containing the violence and looting immediately after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, administrator for the U.S.-led occupation government until the handover of political power on June 28, said he still supports the decision to intervene in Iraq but said a lack of adequate forces hampered the occupation and efforts to end the looting early on.

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," he said yesterday in a speech at an insurance conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. "We never had enough troops on the ground."

Bremer's comments were striking because they echoed contentions of many administration critics, including Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, who argue that the U.S. government failed to plan adequately to maintain security in Iraq after the invasion. Bremer has generally defended the U.S. approach in Iraq but in recent weeks has begun to criticize the administration for tactical and policy shortfalls. [complete article]

Comment -- As Larry Diamond's statement above makes clear, Paul Bremer's recent comments about troop levels in Iraq should be no source of surprise. Neither should it be any surprise that while he was a representative of the Bush administration, Bremer didn't contradict the White House in his public statements. The White House is sticking to its line, we said that the military could have whatever they wanted -- they didn't ask for more troops. But they did. Army Chief of Staff Gen. John Shinseki, said before the war that several hundred thousand troops would be needed, only to be told by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz that his estimate was "wildly off the mark." The truth, as Wolfowitz demonstrated, is that before the war, civilian war planners expressed contempt for the cautious advice they were getting from the military. Now the hawks want everyone to believe that they dutifully respond to every request from a commander in the field. They portray themselves as humble, yet they admit no errors.

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U.S. faces complex insurgency in Iraq
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 4, 2004

The U.S. military is fighting the most complex guerrilla war in its history, with 140,000 American soldiers trained for conventional warfare flailing against a thicket of insurgent groups with competing aims and no supreme leader.

The three dozen or so guerrilla bands agree on little beyond forcing the Americans out of Iraq.

In other U.S. wars, the enemy was clear. In Vietnam, a visible leader - Ho Chi Minh - led a single army fighting to unify the country under socialism. But in Iraq, the disorganized insurgency has no single commander, no political wing and no dominant group.

U.S. troops can't settle on a single approach to fight groups whose goals and operations vary. And it's hard to sort combatants from civilians in a chaotic land where large parts of some communities support the insurgents and others are too afraid to risk their lives to help foreigners.

"It's more complex and challenging than any other insurgency the United States has fought," aid Bruce Hoffman, a RAND counterinsurgency expert who served as an adviser to the U.S.-led occupation administration. [complete article]

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Insurgents widen campaign of intimidation against Iraqis
By Patrick Kerkstra, Knight Ridder, October 4, 2004

The letters are turning up on more front doors every day: Quit your job, they read, or, in the name of Allah, we will kill you, burn your home and slaughter your family.

In months past, militants usually limited such grim threats - and the bloody violence that reliably follow them - to soldiers, police officers and high-profile public officials.

But the campaign of intimidation has widened to include secretaries, laborers, doctors, drivers, scientists, janitors, seemingly anyone whose paycheck is cut by coalition forces, Western companies or the interim government.

The tactic has deepened the sense that no one in Iraq is safe. It undermines reconstruction efforts as well as basic government functions by terrifying legions of employees into quitting their jobs. And it strikes at the heart of the Bush administration's efforts to rebuild the government and establish its legitimacy.

"Instability is their ally," Michael P. Noonan, a national security fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, said of the insurgents. "If they can intimidate people, it creates a sense that the government and the U.S. are impotent." [complete article]

Violence leaves youth pining for security of the past
By Robin Shulman, Washington Post, October 5, 2004

Just after 10 a.m., Dalya's mother hustled her into the car and sped her through angry, lawless traffic to painting class. In the two-room gallery, Dalya quickly, intently began to copy a Scottish landscape from a glossy guide to worldwide resorts.

Dalya used to draw warplanes, her mother said. After the first beheading of a hostage, another child she knew drew people being hanged and having their heads cut off. So it was a relief that her daughter had taken up European landscapes.

"There's nothing pretty in Iraq," Dalya said.

"We have to take them to a nice place with color and light and beautiful things," said Kareema Husseini, the art program director. "They are still young. They can forget this war."

But as she spoke, from outside, just down the street, came the dull thud of a bomb. No one looked up from the easels. Intense shooting broke out a few blocks away, but Dalya's black eyes were locked on Scotland. Then a girl beside her dropped a pencil, startling Dalya, who jumped and covered her ears.

Back at home after class, Dalya set out the plates for her favorite lunch: spaghetti.

"She never goes out," said her father, a quiet man from a respected, established family. "No place. No place. Unless she's accompanied by her mother or me."

"She's alone," her father said. The power and the air conditioning were off, and the heat was rising. "Our friends' sons were kidnapped. They paid $150,000 in ransom."

Dalya fiddled with her spaghetti, which had left an orange ring around her mouth. Suddenly, she looked up. "Did George Bush hurt you like he hurt us?" she asked a visitor. [complete article]

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U.S. may be too quick to blame al-Zarqawi
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, October 4, 2004

Whenever a car bombing, beheading or other spectacular act of violence takes place in Iraq these days, U.S. officials are quick to blame Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If he hasn't already taken credit himself.

But according to an Arab intelligence assessment, al-Zarqawi is not capable of carrying out the level of attacks in Iraq that he has claimed and that American officials have blamed on him.

Al-Zarqawi's own militant group has fewer than 100 members inside Iraq, although al-Zarqawi has close ties to a Kurdish Islamist group with at least several hundred members, according to two reports produced by an Arab intelligence service. The Kurdish group, Ansar al-Islam, has provided dozens of recruits for suicide bombings since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the reports say. And while U.S. forces relentlessly pound the insurgent strongholds of Fallujah and Samarra, claiming to hit al-Zarqawi safe houses, the elusive militant could be hiding in the northern city of Mosul.

The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, 37, has used the media effectively to inflate his role in the Iraqi insurgency. In recent months, he and his supporters have claimed credit for scores of suicide bombings, attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners, and coordinated uprisings in several Iraqi cities. [complete article]

Comment -- Although the persistence with which US officials insist on portraying an invisible enemy as visible -- in the form of someone such as Zarqawi -- seems carefully calculated, this tendency also seems to be an expression of simple-mindedness. Over the past three years, Osama bin Laden and now Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have had no more loyal nor effective publicists than the US government. Just as they are promoted as icons of militant Islam through numerous jihadist web sites, their stature as foes of America has repeatedly been elevated by an administration that loves the power of symbolism even while it appears oblivious to its impact.

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Rumsfeld: Iraq/al-Qaida remarks 'misunderstood'
By Simon Jeffery, The Guardian, October 5, 2004

The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, today attempted to distance himself from his earlier comments that there were no links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

In a statement issued several hours after he had told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that "to my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two", Mr Rumsfeld claimed he had been "misunderstood".

"I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between al-Qaida and Iraq," the statement said. "This assessment was based upon points provided to me by [the] then CIA director George Tenet to describe the CIA's understanding of the al-Qaida Iraq relationship."

Mr Rumsfeld's comments in New York, however, were a reversal of the position adopted by many senior Bush administration figures. [complete article]

CIA review finds no evidence Saddam had ties to Islamic terrorists
By Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, October 4, 2004

A new CIA assessment undercuts the White House's claim that Saddam Hussein maintained ties to al-Qaida, saying there's no conclusive evidence that the regime harbored Osama bin Laden associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The CIA review, which U.S. officials said Monday was requested some months ago by Vice President Dick Cheney, is the latest assessment that calls into question one of President Bush's key justifications for last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The new assessment follows the independent Sept. 11 commission's finding that there was no "collaborative relationship" between the former Iraqi regime and bin Laden's terrorist network. [complete article]

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The falling scales
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, October 5, 2004

Last week President Bush found himself defending his record on national security without his usual protective cocoon of loyalty-tested audiences and cowed reporters. And the sound you heard was the scales' falling from millions of eyes.

Trying to undo the damage, Mr. Bush is now telling those loyalty-tested audiences that Senator John Kerry's use of the phrase "global test" means that he "would give foreign governments veto power over our national security decisions." He's lying, of course, as anyone can confirm by looking at what Mr. Kerry actually said. But it may still work - Mr. Bush's pre-debate rise in the polls is testimony to the effectiveness of smear tactics.

Still, something important happened on Thursday. Style probably mattered most: viewers were shocked by the contrast between Mr. Bush's manufactured image as a strong, resolute leader and his whiny, petulant behavior in the debate. But Mr. Bush would have lost even more badly if post-debate coverage had focused on substance.

Here's one underreported example: So far, Mr. Bush has paid no political price for his shameful penny-pinching on domestic security and his refusal to provide effective protection for America's ports and chemical plants. As Jonathan Chait wrote in The New Republic: "Bush's record on homeland security ought to be considered a scandal. Yet, not only is it not a scandal, it's not even a story." [complete article]

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Pat Robertson: If Bush 'touches' Jerusalem, we'll form 3rd party
By Daphna Berman, Haaretz, October 4, 2004

Influential American evangelist Pat Robertson said Monday that Evangelical Christians feel so deeply about Jerusalem, that if President George W. Bush were to "touch" Jerusalem, Evangelicals would abandon their traditional Republican leanings and form a third party.

Evangelical Christians - estimated at tens of millions of Americans -
overwhelmingly support Bush for his pro-Israel policies, Robertson told a Jerusalem news conference Monday.

But if Bush shifted his position toward support for Jerusalem as a capital for both Israel and a Palestinian state, his Evangelical backing would disappear, Robertson indicated.

"The President has backed away from [the road map], but if he were to touch Jerusalem, he'd lose all Evangelical support," Robertson said. "Evangelicals would form a third party" because, though people "don't know about" Gaza, Jerusalem is an entirely different matter. [complete article]

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Distrust of Muslims common in U.S., poll finds
By Caryle Murphy, Washington Post, October 5, 2004

One in four Americans holds a negative stereotype of Muslims, and almost one-third respond with a negative image when they hear the word "Muslim," according to a new national poll commissioned by a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group.

Officials with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sponsored the survey, called the findings alarming. Although the organization was aware that hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims had increased since the 2001 terrorist attacks, "we did not know [anti-Islamic sentiment] was that deep," the council's executive director, Nihad Awad, said yesterday at a news conference.

He and other council officials urged that American Muslims increase their outreach and that U.S. officials speak out against anti-Islamic bias. [complete article]

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Goss pick withdraws from CIA consideration
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 5, 2004

Michael V. Kostiw withdrew from consideration yesterday as CIA executive director, the third-ranking position at the agency, after it was publicly disclosed that he had resigned from the agency under pressure more than 20 years ago.

"Allegations about my past would be a distraction from the critical work the Director of Central Intelligence needs to focus on," Kostiw said in a statement released by the CIA yesterday. He withdrew, he added, because "I thought it was in the best interests of the agency and all concerned."

CIA Director Porter J. Goss then named Kostiw his senior adviser, abandoning the plan to make him executive director, a position that would have given Kostiw (pronounced COST-ie) responsibilities for day-to-day operations involving budget and personnel, including disciplinary action.

The change came after The Washington Post reported Sunday that, in late 1981, Kostiw was caught shoplifting a $2.13 package of bacon from a supermarket in Langley, according to two former CIA officials familiar with the incident. At the time, Kostiw had been a CIA case officer for 10 years. [complete article]

Comment -- Goss' choice of Kostiw doesn't speak well about the new DCI's judgement or the competence of his staff. The decision to drop Kostiw is obviously a quick piece of damage control to avoid more negative publicity. Then there's the question not only of the ethics or sound mind of a CIA case officer caught shoplifting, but of the competence of someone involved in clandestine operations (case officers recruit new agents) who manages to get caught stealing a pack of bacon. How many other klutz's work in the agency?

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Will 'WSJ' reporter who wrote famous e-mail on horrid conditions in Iraq lose her beat?
By Greg Mitchell, Editor and Publisher, October 4, 2004

Will Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi be taken off her Baghdad beat in response to the notoriety surrounding the world famous e-mail that she wrote eleven days ago? Her editor, Paul Steiger, says no, she is just taking a well-earned and long-scheduled vacation, out of the country.

This may be true, but it's certainly fortuitous that the vacation started this past weekend, just days after the e-mail, which called Iraq a "disaster" for the U.S. despite President Bush's "rosy assessments," started receiving wide play in the press (it was the subject of my previous column).

Some reporters have nominated the e-mail (which was circulated without Fassihi's permission) for a Pulitzer Prize; others feel she compromised her news reporting by revealing her private opinions. [complete article]

No place is safe
By Rod Nordland, Newsweek, October 4, 2004

Much of that media, ourselves included, were in virtual hiding last week, as were nearly all foreign civilians -- hostages have even included Russians, French and 12 Nepalese workers, who were assassinated without any plausible justification. Intelligence that criminal gangs are kidnapping foreigners and selling them to terrorist groups has increased fears about moving around Iraq. Heavily armed convoys of contractors' SUVs, once a common sight, have all but disappeared from busy roads. "The only serious reconstruction going on now," said one Western businessman, "is inside the Green Zone," the heavily fortified area that houses Iraqi government and American Embassy offices. "We're trapped in a rat's cage," said an ambassador from a non-Coalition country in Europe who no longer leaves his bunkerlike residential compound. "No area of Baghdad is risk-free." Many foreign companies have suspended operations. Even major news organizations are finding it difficult to staff the story: "We just can't find senior correspondents who will come to Iraq now," said the bureau chief for one major American newspaper. [complete article]

Comment -- The dilemma that Western journalists in Iraq now face is, if they faithfully report the situation they're in, will they end up reporting themselves out of an assignment? Reporting on how difficult it is to report, is almost the same as saying, I can't do my job. Senior correspondents are in the uncomfortable position that they can probably play a more valuable role as assistants to their lesser known Middle Eastern counterparts than they can as intrepid reporters eager to get their name on the byline of the latest headline story. While the whole of Iraq is increasingly looking like a no-go area for Americans, the story of the war is still being told, but less familiar names are now the unsung heroes of wartime journalism - Borzou Daragahi, Ashraf Khalil, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Suleiman al-Khalidi, Maher al-Thanoon, Omar Fekeiki, Bassam Sebti, and others. As Arabic-speaking and in some cases as Iraqis, these reporters are in many ways better qualified than many of their better-paid, better-known American and European collegues. While articles written or co-written by these reporters are appearing with increasing frequency in American newspapers, they have for some reason so far been conspicuous by their absence from the pages of the New York Times.

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The eyes that cannot see beyond Jabaliya and Samarra
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, October 5, 2004

At first glance the violence in Jabaliya in Palestine and in the Iraqi town of Samarra appear to be unconnected. The Israeli army's incursion into northern Gaza looks like just another deadeningly familiar episode in the unending conflict between Palestinians and Jews.

The US-led weekend assault on insurgents in mainly Sunni Samarra seems to be broadly typical of the continuing turmoil in Iraq.

But peer beneath the headlines and it is clear that these ostensibly separate events are far from routine, and are closely linked in many ways, directly and indirectly.

In both Jabaliya and Samarra modern armies with state-of-the-art weaponry and unanswerable air power attacked residential areas, causing numerous civilian casualties.

In both cases the degree of lethal force used was grossly disproportionate to the assessed threat. Three US and two Iraqi battalions - about 5,000 men - were sent against 200-300 insurgents in Samarra.

In Gaza, in order to deter the sort of vicious home-made Hamas rocket attacks that killed two children in Sderot last week, the Israelis have deployed an estimated 2,000 soldiers and 200 tanks, and are threatening an escalation. [complete article]

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The global test
It's called reality

By William Saletan, Slate, October 4, 2004

We've just reached the crux of the presidential campaign -- the moment in which one candidate, purporting to expose the other's fatal flaw, has instead exposed his own.

Saturday morning, President Bush attacked John Kerry for a comment Kerry made in Thursday night's debate. Here's how Bush described Kerry's remark:
He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves. That's what he said. Think about this. Sen. Kerry's approach to foreign policy would give foreign governments veto power over our national security decisions. I have a different view. When our country is in danger, the president's job is not to take an international poll. The president's job is to defend America. I'll continue to work every day with our friends and allies for the sake of freedom and peace. But our national security decisions will be made in the Oval Office, not in foreign capitals.

This description, which Bush continues to repeat at campaign stops and in television ads, is plainly false. In his first answer of the debate, Kerry said, "I'll never give a veto to any country over our security." But if that isn't what Kerry meant by a "global test," what did he mean? Let's go back and look at Kerry's words.
No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do in a way that passes the test--that passes the global test--where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons. [complete article]

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U.S. forces to 'flatten Falluja' before Iraq's first vote
By Stephen Breen, The Scotsman, October 4, 2004

Faced with the most ferocious fighting since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Bush faces a tricky strategical balancing act in the run-up to the election.

On the one hand, he must be seen to be asserting some control over the Iraqi and foreign al-Qaeda-backed militants attacking US forces.

But he also knows he cannot risk incurring high US casualties because the sight of large numbers of American troops coming home in body bags would benefit the Kerry campaign.

But after November 2, the gloves can come off, allowing Bush the chance to launch a no-holds barred blitz on the insurgents in the two month window until the January elections.

And if some reports from the intelligence community are correct, Bush is planning an all-out crackdown with some suggesting it would involve practically flattening Falluja, the base of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [complete article]

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Civilians bear brunt as Samarra 'pacified'
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, October 4, 2004

Iraqi government and US forces declared yesterday that they had "pacified" the rebel stronghold of Samarra, and stated that other "no-go" enclaves such as Fallujah would be recaptured before national elections due in January.

The Americans insisted that the estimated 125 people killed in the storming of the city were all insurgents. Doctors and local people reported women, children and the elderly among the dead, and that bodies were still being brought into hospitals.

There also appeared to have been discord over the military action between members of the US-sponsored Iraqi interim government. The Interior Minister, Falah Naqib, echoed the American line that no civilians had been killed and only "bad guys and terrorists" had suffered. It was, he said, a "great day for Samarra". But the Human Rights Ministry, in a letter to the Iraqi Red Crescent, described what happened in the city as a "tragedy" and called for urgent emergency assistance.

Local people in Samarra claimed that many of the 1,000 insurgents the Americans were targeting had escaped before the attack, and civilians had borne the brunt of the casualties. Of 70 bodies brought into Samarra General Hospital, 23 were children and 18 women, said Abdul-Nasser Hamed Yassin, a hospital administrator. There were also 23 women among the 160 wounded. [complete article]

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After 3-day fight, U.S. and Iraqi forces retake Samarra
By Rick Lyman and Dexter Filkins, New York Times, October 4, 2004

American and Iraqi forces in Samarra finished retaking the last insurgent-controlled neighborhood early Sunday, completing a relentless three-day push through this ancient city in a first step toward wresting control of important central Iraqi areas held by Sunni guerrillas.

With the city in hand, American commanders said they were beginning the second phase of the operation, turning over the city to the Iraqi police and military forces the same way they took it - one neighborhood at a time.

American and Iraqi officials said the most difficult challenge was ahead, in re-establishing governmental authority and holding off what is certain to be a new round of attacks from guerrillas who melted away before the surging armies. [complete article]

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Car bombs in Iraq kill 21, wound more than 100
By Luke Baker, Reuters, October 4, 2004

A series of car bomb blasts tore through Baghdad and the northern Iraq city of Mosul on Monday, killing at least 21 people and wounding scores.

As the car bombers struck, U.S. forces kept up operations against rebel-held towns elsewhere aimed at establishing control throughout the country ahead of January elections. Air strikes were launched against suspected militants in Falluja.

In the first blast in western Baghdad, a car blew up near one of the entrances to the heavily fortified Green Zone, close to an Iraqi security forces recruitment post, killing at least 10 people and wounding 70, doctors and witnesses said. [complete article]

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Bush-Cheney flip-flops cost America in blood
By Joel Connelly, Seatle Post-Intelligencer, September 29, 2004

As George W. Bush has lately shown, the tactic of successfully defining your opponent is to political conflict what occupying the high ground is to waging war.

The Bush-Cheney campaign has gleefully labeled John Kerry a flip-flopper. But what of Bush-Cheney flip-flops? They're getting a lot less ink, but America is paying a price in blood.

Little noticed, and worthy of lengthy consideration, is a speech delivered by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1992 to the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

The words of our future vice president -- defending the decision to end Gulf War I without occupying Iraq -- eerily foretell today's morass. Here is what Cheney said in '92:

"I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.

"And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don't think you could have done all of that without significant additional U.S. casualties. And while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the (1991) conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war.

"And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam (Hussein) worth? And the answer is not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq." [complete article]

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On Baghdad streets, loyalty to Sadr is still fierce
By Edward Wong, New York Times, October 4, 2004

On the groom's last night as a single man, a bachelor party on his front lawn kicked off with song and dance.

"We love you to death, Moktada," a pair of singers crooned in praise of Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery anti-American cleric who, though absent, overshadowed the groom. "We love you as much as there are leaves on a tree."

Out came one of the groom's best friends, waving his arms like a carnival barker. "Those who follow the Americans are dogs," he yelled. "We swear by Moktada that we won't let our machine guns stop!"

Loyalty to the Shiite cleric burns fierce here in northeastern Baghdad, and especially in Sadr City, a vast slum of 2.2 million people, despite frequent American raids and almost nightly airstrikes. The American military has stepped up its campaign to rout the Mahdi Army, Mr. Sadr's militia, on its home turf here, to drive him to the bargaining table. But it is often impossible to distinguish between civilians and fighters. [complete article]

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Partial vote would lack full credibility, Iraqis contend
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2004

Firas Abdul Razzaq is looking forward to election day, even if Iraqi and U.S. officials aren't sure he'll get one.

Despite increasing official indications that his hometown of Fallouja might be excluded from parliamentary elections, Abdul Razzaq, 40, anticipates a peaceful beginning exercise in democracy in the insurgent stronghold.

"The people of Fallouja," he predicted, "will stand at the side of the election organizing committee in order to make these elections a success."

Others aren't as optimistic. U.S. and Iraqi officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, have floated the idea of excluding areas of Iraq that remain outside government control on election day -- scheduled for Jan. 31.

But an informal survey of residents in seven Iraqi cities reveals widespread opposition to a partial election, with many saying the move would discredit a process already viewed with suspicion. [complete article]

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Two peoples, one state
By Michael Tarazi, New York Times, October 4, 2004

srael's untenable policy in the Middle East was more obvious than usual last week, as the Israeli Army made repeated incursions into Gaza, killing dozens of Palestinians in the deadliest attacks in more than two years, even as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated his plans to withdraw from the territory. Israel's overall strategy toward the Palestinians is ultimately self-defeating: it wants Palestinian land but not the Palestinians who live on that land.

As Christians and Muslims, the millions of Palestinians under occupation are not welcome in the Jewish state. Many Palestinians are now convinced that Israeli support for a Palestinian state is motivated not by a hope for reconciliation, but by a desire to segregate non-Jews while taking as much of their land and resources as possible. They are increasingly questioning the most commonly accepted solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - "two states living side by side in peace and security," in the words of President Bush - and are being forced to consider a one-state solution.

To Palestinians, the strategy behind Israel's two-state solution is clear. More than 400,000 Israelis live illegally in more than 150 colonies, many of which are atop Palestinian water sources. Mr. Sharon is prepared to evacuate settlers from Gaza - but only in exchange for expanding settlements in the West Bank. And Israel is building a barrier wall not on its land but rather inside occupied Palestinian territory. The wall's route maximizes the amount of Palestinian farmland and water on one side and the number of Palestinians on the other.

Yet while Israelis try to allay a demographic threat, they are creating a democratic threat. After years of negotiations, coupled with incessant building of settlements and now the construction of the wall, Palestinians finally understand that Israel is offering "independence" on a reservation stripped of water and arable soil, economically dependent on Israel and even lacking the right to self-defense.

As a result, many Palestinians are contemplating whether the quest for equal statehood should now be superseded by a struggle for equal citizenship. In other words, a one-state solution in which citizens of all faiths and ethnicities live together as equals. Recent polls indicate that a quarter of Palestinians favor the secular one-state solution - a surprisingly high number given that it is not officially advocated by any senior Palestinian leader. [complete article]

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Post-invasion chaos blamed for drug surge
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2004

Afghanistan's opium poppy crop this year is set to break all records, surging past the peak levels reported under the Taliban regime, top American and international counter-narcotics officials said.

At the same time, U.N. and U.S. officials are increasingly worried by signs of a nascent drug trade developing in Iraq, where smugglers are taking advantage of the continuing chaos and unguarded borders.

Instability in the wake of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq has resulted in one booming market for the production of drugs, and a second potential market for narcotics sale and transit, officials said.

"All post-conflict situations, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, are always characterized by a significant increase in addiction," said Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the United Nations' Office on Drug and Crimes. "The problem is definitely there."

In testimony last month, Robert B. Charles, the assistant secretary who heads the State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told Congress that CIA figures, expected to be released in a matter of weeks, show Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation approaching 250,000 acres, up more than 60% from the 2003 level. [complete article]

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As Afghan vote nears, Taliban isn't only worry
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, October 4, 2004

The Taliban, an extremist Islamic militia that ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until it was ousted in November 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion, has vowed to sabotage the elections, which it decries as a sham exercise orchestrated by "infidel" Western interests. In recent weeks, Taliban fighters have asserted responsibility for numerous attacks on Afghan civilian officials and facilities, as well as Afghan and U.S. military posts and convoys.

At the same time, however, many Afghans say they are more worried about a different source of abuse and intimidation during the elections: pressure from local militia commanders to vote for certain candidates, which in turn would preserve the post-election grip on power that men with guns now wield in many areas of the country.

Two recent international reports on security and the Afghan elections found that repression by local gunmen and militia factions was a far more widespread concern than Taliban-related violence, even in southern border provinces such as Kandahar, just south of Zabol, where Taliban threats and attacks have been frequent.

"While many observers . . . continue to focus on the Taliban as the main threat to human rights and political development, in most parts of the country Afghans . . . are primarily afraid of the local factional leaders and military commanders," Human Rights Watch said in a report released last week. "Far from a Taliban problem, most Afghans tell us their main fear is of jangsalaran," the Afghan word for warlord. [complete article]

Comment -- It's worth remembering that even though the Taliban turned out to impose a brutal rule, the reason they succeeded in coming to power was through a popular backlash against the warlordism that ravaged Afghanistan in the years following the Soviet departure.

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London mosque link to Beslan
By Jason Burke, The Observer, October 3, 2004

A member of the group responsible for the Beslan school massacre last month is a British citizen who attended the infamous Finsbury Park mosque in north London, The Observer can reveal.

Two other members of the group, loyal to Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, are also believed to have been active in the UK until less than three years ago. They are suspected of taking part in the raid on the school in which 300 people, half of them children, died.

Russian security sources described Kamel Rabat Bouralha, 46 years old and the oldest of the three, as a 'key aide' of Basayev, who has a £5.5 million price on his head. Basayev has boasted of training the men who took control of the school and wired it with explosives. Investigators believe that the three men, all Algerian-born, travelled to Chechnya from London to take part in fighting there in 2001.

Russian investigators are thought to have now identified most of the 33 men who occupied the school in Beslan last month. They include two Algerians in their mid-30s called Osman Larussi and Yacine Benalia. Both are thought to have been based in London until recently. Like Bouralha, they too are believed to have attended Finsbury Park mosque and to have joined the network of groups loyal to Basayev on arrival in Chechnya. [complete article]

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The race is on
By Brian Braiker, Newsweek, October 2, 2004

With a solid majority of voters concluding that John Kerry outperformed George W. Bush in the first presidential debate on Thursday, the president's lead in the race for the White House has vanished, according to the latest Newsweek poll. In the first national telephone poll using a fresh sample, Newsweek found the race now statistically tied among all registered voters, 47 percent of whom say they would vote for Kerry and 45 percent for George W. Bush in a three-way race.

Removing Independent candidate Ralph Nader, who draws 2 percent of the vote, widens the Kerry-Edwards lead to three points with 49 percent of the vote versus the incumbent's 46 percent. Four weeks ago the Republican ticket, coming out of a successful convention in New York, enjoyed an 11-point lead over Kerry-Edwards with Bush pulling 52 percent of the vote and the challenger just 41 percent. [complete article]

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Al-Zarqawi: maniac or myth?
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph (via Chicago Red Streak), October 1, 2004

Intelligence obtained through bribery may have seriously overstated the role of the most wanted fugitive in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in the latest insurgency.

In interviews near Fallujah and in Baghdad, U.S. agents revealed a series of botched and tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one, "told us what we wanted to hear."

"We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack," an agent said.

"Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one."

Officials in Washington have cast the Jordanian as leader of the insurgency, mastermind of suicide bombings and beheadings. But critics say the administration deliberately skewed his level of involvement. [complete article]

Comment -- Whether the Pentagon's characterization of Zarqawi's role in the Iraqi insurgency has been influenced by advice from the Rendon Group or other communications experts we may never know. But the choice of making Zarqawi the face of the enemy is a clever strategy. It transforms guerilla warfare -- shadowy and amorphous -- into a mythological form of combat. Zarqawi's actual beheading of hostages is symbolically mirrored by making him the head of the insurgency -- a head that once severed would surely result in the swift demise of the body of his terrorist army. Conjure up such imagery and it then becomes much easier to declare, "freedom is winning." But acknowledge that most of the time you don't know who your enemies are, where they are, or how numerous they are, and victory becomes an open question.

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How the White House embraced disputed arms intelligence
By David Barstow, William J. Broad, and Jeff Girth, New York Times, October 3, 2004

In 2002, at a crucial juncture on the path to war, senior members of the Bush administration gave a series of speeches and interviews in which they asserted that Saddam Hussein was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. Speaking to a group of Wyoming Republicans in September, Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States now had "irrefutable evidence" - thousands of tubes made of high-strength aluminum, tubes that the Bush administration said were destined for clandestine Iraqi uranium centrifuges, before some were seized at the behest of the United States.

Those tubes became a critical exhibit in the administration's brief against Iraq. As the only physical evidence the United States could brandish of Mr. Hussein's revived nuclear ambitions, they gave credibility to the apocalyptic imagery invoked by President Bush and his advisers. The tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.

The White House, though, embraced the disputed theory that the tubes were for nuclear centrifuges, an idea first championed in April 2001 by a junior analyst at the C.I.A. Senior nuclear scientists considered that notion implausible, yet in the months after 9/11, as the administration built a case for confronting Iraq, the centrifuge theory gained currency as it rose to the top of the government. [complete article]

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U.S. policies stir more fear than confidence
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2004

The white guard shack still stands, but the American GIs have long since departed and there's a nostalgic cheapness to the postcards, gas masks, helmets and rusted Maxwell House coffee tins. Checkpoint Charlie, the fabled slice of concrete and barbed wire that epitomized the Cold War, seems an innocent artifact in a world awash in new dangers.

"There was a time when World War III could have started right here," said Juergen Thiel, standing amid bits of the Berlin Wall that sell for less than $20. "That's all changed."

International terrorism has given rise to new ground zeros. Much of Europe and the world feel insecure, but a growing number of nations no longer look to the U.S. for leadership and sanctuary. The Bush administration's unilateralist policies in Iraq and its perceived aloofness have left it less trusted at a time of widening global vulnerability, according to polls and interviews in more than 30 countries.

Osama bin Laden remains on the loose. Videos of hostage beheadings in Iraq flicker across the Internet. The nuclear aspirations of North Korea and Iran are troubling. Many countries feel powerless to stop the onslaught and recognize that the U.S. is the only nation militarily strong enough to serve as a bulwark against increasing dangers. But they also feel powerless to persuade Washington to adopt a more nuanced, multilateral strategy. [complete article]

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Bush tempers argument for pre-emptive strikes
Experts say Iraq war precludes similar future engagements

By James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle, October 2, 2004

George Bush has insisted repeatedly on the campaign trail that his presidency has been characterized by unwavering policies based on core convictions. But a key component of his security and military strategy -- a willingness to wage war "pre-emptively" against perceived enemies -- lies largely in tatters, say experts and policy-makers.

These experts, from both sides of the political spectrum, say the brutal experience in Iraq has eroded many elements of what has come to be called the "Bush doctrine," leaving the United States with less flexibility in the war on terror.

President Bush himself appeared to dial back on the doctrine during Thursday night's debate when asked whether he would launch future pre-emptive strikes in the wake of the Iraq war. Bush replied, somewhat unenthusiastically, that "a president must always be willing to use troops," but only "as a last resort."

That is a far cry from the bold policy the president articulated in 2002, which rejected the traditional focus on containing threats or responding only after an enemy had staged a clear act of aggression.

In fact, say policy experts, the violent insurgency in Iraq, which has tied down 140,000 U.S. troops, has all but removed Americans' stomach for a similar pre-emptive engagement against an enemy who has not actually launched or prepared an imminent attack on the United States. [complete article]

Comment -- The irony of the Bush doctrine has been that while the expression of America's willingness to engage in pre-emptive wars provoked fear across the world, the use of pre-emptive war has in fact exposed America's weakness. If Dick Cheney truly believes that America was attacked on 9/11 because it was then perceived as being weak, how can he now avoid the conclusion that the failure of the pre-emptive doctrine makes America look even weaker? What Bush and Cheney have succeeded in doing is alienating America's friends and emboldening its enemies.

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The option nobody's pushing - yet
By James Dao, New York Times, October 3, 2004

In the worried steel town of Weirton, W.Va., last week, the first question from the crowd that came out to hear Senator John Edwards was not about the economy, tariffs or health care. It was about the draft: Is a new one coming?

The Democratic candidate for vice president was unequivocal. Not in a Kerry-Edwards administration, he replied. But Erika Lontz, a 19-year-old college sophomore, was not reassured. "Students worry about it a lot," she said later. "With the way the war is going, how could you not?"

Though President Bush and Senator John Kerry talk about it in only the most glancing ways - the president pledged to defeat terrorism with "an all-volunteer army" during Thursday's presidential debate - many people across the country are wondering just who will fight the nation's wars.

There is good reason to ask. By most accounts, the military, particularly the Army, has been spread thin by America's global commitments, and signs of strain are mounting. [complete article]

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Influx of wounded strains VA
By Josh White, Washington Post, October 3, 2004

Thousands of U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with physical injuries and mental health problems are encountering a benefits system that is already overburdened, and officials and veterans' groups are concerned that the challenge could grow as the nation remains at war.

The disability benefits and health care systems that provide services for about 5 million American veterans have been overloaded for decades and have a current backlog of more than 300,000 claims. And because they were mobilized to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 150,000 National Guard and reservist veterans had become eligible for health care and benefits as of Aug. 1. That number is rising.

At the same time, President Bush's budget for 2005 calls for cutting the Department of Veterans Affairs staff that handles benefits claims, and some veterans report long waits for benefits and confusing claims decisions.

"I love the military; that was my life. But I don't believe they're taking care of me now," said Staff Sgt. Gene Westbrook, 35, of Lawton, Okla. Paralyzed in a mortar attack near Baghdad in April, he has received no disability benefits because his paperwork is missing. [complete article]

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Onslaught on Samarra escalates in 'dress rehearsal' for major U.S. assault on rebels
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, October 3, 2004

US-led forces continued their offensive on the rebel stronghold of Samarra yesterday, with the death toll rising to 125 Elsewhere, 12 people were killed in clashes in Sadr City, and seven died in US "precision strikes" in Fallujah. At al-Amel in Baghdad, funerals began of the 35 children slaughtered by suicide bombers while queuing for sweets from American troops.

The attack on Samarra, by more than 5,000 US and Iraqi interim government troops, is the first on a "no-go" rebel enclave. It is seen as a dress rehearsal to wrest back other such areas, including Sadr City on the outskirts of Baghdad, and, especially, Fallujah, where the Jordanian-born militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is based.

But those who have witnessed US aircraft firing missiles into packed tenements in Sadr City, and have seen the resulting carnage, treat claims of "precision strikes" on Zarqawi-linked targets in Fallujah with deep scepticism. Yesterday the US military claimed the casualties in Samarra were all insurgents, but doctors in the city reported women, children and the elderly among the dead. [complete article]

Comment -- If assauts on Fallujah and other no-go areas in Iraq are now being brought forward and will start this month, this may reflect a decision not in the Pentagon but in the Bush campaign. The thinking until recently appeared to be that it would be preferable if Iraq and in particular U.S. casualities could stay out of the headlines during the final weeks of the campaign. Now that Bush is looking increasingly vulnerable the thinking may have changed. The new high-risk stategy may rest on the assumption that either a few swift "victories" will renew confidence in Bush's leadership or that alternatively, if battles are raging out of control across Iraq, American voters might conclude that this is simply the wrong time to consider changing the commander in chief.

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Sadr considers entry into Iraqi politics
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, October 3, 2004

The Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has begun laying the groundwork to enter Iraq's nascent democratic process, telling Iraqi leaders that he is planning to disband his militia and possibly field candidates for office.

After weeks of watching his militia wither before American military attacks, Mr. Sadr has sent emissaries to some of Iraq's major political parties and religious groups to discuss the possibility of involving himself in the campaign for nationwide elections, according to a senior aide to Mr. Sadr and several Iraqi leaders who have met with him.

According to those Iraqis, Mr. Sadr says he intends to disband his militia, the Mahdi Army, and endorse the holding of elections. While Mr. Sadr has made promises to end his armed resistance before, some Iraqi officials believe that he may be serious this time, especially given the toll of attacks on his forces. [complete article]

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Guantanamo has 'failed to prevent terror attacks'
By Martin Bright, The Observer, October 3, 2004

Prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, the controversial US military detention centre where guards have been accused of brutality and torture, have not prevented a single terrorist attack, according to a senior Pentagon intelligence officer who worked at the heart of the US war on terror.

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Christino, who retired last June after 20 years in military intelligence, says that President George W Bush and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have 'wildly exaggerated' their intelligence value.

Christino's revelations, to be published this week in Guantanamo: America's War on Human Rights, by British journalist David Rose, are supported by three further intelligence officials. Christino also disclosed that the 'screening' process in Afghanistan which determined whether detainees were sent to Guantanamo was 'hopelessly flawed from the get-go'.

It was performed by new recruits who had almost no training, and were forced to rely on incompetent interpreters. They were 'far too poorly trained to identify real terrorists from the ordinary Taliban militia'.

According to Christino, most of the approximately 600 detainees at Guantanamo - including four Britons - at worst had supported the Taliban in the civil war it had been fighting against the Northern Alliance before the 11 September attacks, but had had no contact with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda. [complete article]

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The real truth about Camp Delta
By David Rose, The Observer, October 3, 2004

[Former Camp Delta commander, Major-General Geoffrey Miller] made no secret of his belief that subjecting the unco-operative to harsher conditions had boosted the yield of intelligence.

Shafiq Rasul, one of the Tipton Three from Staffordshire, who was freed in March, described to me the effect of Miller's system, which after three months' in solitary led him to make a false confession of attending a 9/11 planning meeting with Osama bin Laden and the fanatical Mohamed Atta in Afghanistan in January 2000. He was told the meeting had been videotaped.

'The walls [of the interrogation room] were rusty, and they seemed to be soundproofed. There was no ventilation; it was roasting in there. One interrogator told me that anyone who was in Afghanistan was guilty of the murders of 9/11 - even the women and children killed by the American bombing.

'But they said my position was much worse, because the meeting in this video was to plan 9/11, and loads of people had told them that this guy in a beard standing behind bin Laden was me. I told them that in 2000 I didn't leave the country, that I was working at the Wednesbury branch of Currys [an electronics chain store in the UK], who would have my employment records. They told me I could have falsified those records - that I could have had someone working with me at Currys who could have altered the data the company held, and travelled on a false passport.'

Finally, as his isolation continued and the interrogators deployed their full range of techniques, Rasul said, he cracked. In a final session, a senior official had come down from Washington: 'My heart is beating, beating, I'm saying it's not me, it's not me, but I'm thinking: "I'm going to be screwed, I'm on an island in the middle of nowhere, there's nothing I can do."

'This woman had come down and she plays me the video. I say: "Are you blind? That doesn't look anything like me." But it makes no difference. I'd got to the point where I just couldn't take any more. "Do what you have to do," I told them. I'd been sitting there for three months in isolation, so I say, "Yes, it's me. Go ahead and put me on trial."' [complete article]

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DCI Goss picks petty thief as deputy at CIA
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 3, 2004

Michael V. Kostiw, chosen by CIA Director Porter J. Goss to be the agency's new executive director, resigned under pressure from the CIA more than 20 years ago, according to past and current agency officials.

While Kostiw, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, longtime lobbyist for ChevronTexaco Corp. and more recently staff director of the terrorism subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has been through the CIA security vetting procedure, final clearance to take the job has not been completed pending review of the allegations. The job is the third-ranking post at the CIA.

In late 1981, after he had been a case officer for 10 years, Kostiw was caught shoplifting in Langley, sources said. During a subsequent CIA polygraph test, Kostiw's responses to questions about the incident led agency officials to place him on administrative leave for several weeks, according to four sources who were familiar with the past events but who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information.

While on leave, Kostiw told friends he decided to resign. Agency officials at the time arranged for misdemeanor theft charges to be dropped and the police record expunged in return for his resignation and his agreement to get counseling, one former official said. [complete article]

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At large, material to make 15,000 nuclear bombs
By Geoffrey Lean, The Independent, October 3, 2004

Enough weapons-grade plutonium to make more than 15,000 nuclear bombs will be vulnerable to hijack by terrorists and rogue states as the result of a disarmament initiative.

An unprecedented shipment of 300lb of the material from the United States was last night heading towards the French port of Cherbourg on two British ships. The shipment is the first instalment of 68 tons of plutonium from US and Russian weapons stockpiles to be put on to the world's roads and seas at a time when terrorists are actively seeking the material.

The move severely undermines the war on terror and casts further doubt on the rationale advanced for the Iraq war by Tony Blair at last week's Labour conference - keeping weapons of mass destruction out of terrorist hands.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted that al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups will make nuclear bombs and explode them in Western cities if they can get hold of the material for them. [complete article]

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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:

Is Bush's biggest mistake too awful to admit?
By William Saletan, Slate, October 1, 2004
How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

That's what it all comes down to -- this debate, this war, this election. For all the differences between Iraq and Vietnam, the awful question John Kerry posed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 is the same one hanging over us now.

This time, however, Kerry isn't raising the question. His opponent, the president of the United States, is raising it. Why? Because Iraq is different from Vietnam. We were attacked on 9/11. We thought Saddam Hussein was behind it. We thought Iraq posed the next threat. We don't want to believe that we were wrong, that we've committed $200 billion and sacrificed more than 1,000 American lives in error. We can't imagine asking thousands more to die for a mistake.

Bush can't imagine it, either. So, he offers himself -- and you -- a way out. Ignore the bad news, he says. Ignore the evidence that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs had deteriorated. Ignore the evidence that Saddam had no operational relationship with al-Qaida. Ignore the rising casualties. Ignore the hollowness and disintegration of the American-led "coalition." If these reports are true, as Kerry suggests, then it was all a mistake. How can we ask our troops to die for a mistake? We can't. Therefore, these reports must be rejected. They must be judged not by evidence, but by their offensiveness to the assumptions we embraced when we went to war.

Is anyone ever truly prepared to kill?
By Jane Lampman, Christian Science Monitor, September 29, 2004
One dark night in Iraq in February 1991, a U.S. Army tank unit opened fire on two trucks that barreled unexpectedly into its position along the Euphrates river. One was carrying fuel and burst into flames, and as men scattered from the burning trucks, the American soldiers shot them.

"To this day, I don't know if they were civilians or military - it was over in an instant," says Desert Storm veteran Charles Sheehan-Miles. But it wasn't over for him.

"For the first years after the Gulf War it was tough," says the decorated soldier. He had difficulty sleeping, and when he did, the nightmares came. "I was very angry and got drunk all the time; I considered suicide for awhile."

Like many young Americans sent off to war, he was highly skilled as a soldier but not adequately prepared for the realities of combat, particularly the experience of killing.

Much is rightly made of the dedication and sacrifice of those willing to lay down their lives for their country. But what is rarely spoken of, within the military or American society at large, is what it means to kill - to overcome the ingrained resistance most human beings feel to slaying one of their own kind, and the haunting sense of guilt that may accompany such an action. There is a terrible price to be paid by those who go to war, their families, and their communities, say some experts, by ignoring such realities.

A vast arms buildup, yet not enough for wars
By Tim Weiner, New York Times, October 1, 2004
Amid one of the greatest military spending increases in history, the Pentagon is starved for cash.

The United States will spend more than $500 billion on national security in the year beginning today. That represents a high-water mark, and it is creating boom times in the armaments industry.

Yet the military says it has run $1 billion a month short over the last year paying for the basics of war fighting in Iraq: troops, equipment, spare parts and training.

The disparity between spending on the arsenals of the future and the armies of today is great, and growing.

The Pentagon will spend $144 billion in the coming year researching and building weapons for future wars, another record and twice the annual costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by most independent estimates.

The Pentagon says it has 77 major weapons programs under development. They include the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter project, a fleet of next-generation aircraft; a $112 billion Army program to create networks of weapons and communications systems; and an experimental Navy destroyer, the world's first $10 billion warship.

Those 77 arms systems have a collective price tag of $1.3 trillion. That is nearly twice what they were supposed to cost, and 11 times the yearly bill for operating and maintaining the American military.

Just how bad is Iraq?
By Farnaz Fassihi, personal email (via The Forward), September 27, 2004
[Farnaz Fassihi is the Wall Street Journal's Mideast correspondent in Baghdad. The following email was sent to friends in the US but has since been circulated widely on the Internet.]
Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't ....

There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.
[In case anyone doubts that the WSJ's Mideast correspondent wrote this email, she confirmed that it was authentic when asked by The Poynter Institute's Jim Romenesko.]

Freedom's just another word
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, September 29, 2004
I can tell you the week the United States lost the war in Iraq. It was 18 months ago. Baghdad had fallen with almost no resistance. The dictator Saddam Hussein had fled. A U.S. Marine draped an American flag over the tyrant's statue and then Symbolic Saddam was dragged to the ground, proclaiming Iraq's freedom with a photo op.

Freedom. What could that mean to Iraqis? Many things. What did it mean? Looting. Baghdad, which surrendered virtually intact, was soon torn apart by mobs of scavengers sacking government buildings, pillaging the great museums, ransacking the struggling hospitals, vivisecting the electrical guts of the national infrastructure just to strip copper from the wiring. Meanwhile the American soldiers on the scene stood by, and watched, and did nothing, because nobody told them to do otherwise and, anyway, there weren’t enough of them on the ground to impose order.

When asked that week about the chaos sweeping Baghdad's streets, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had a simple explanation. "Freedom's untidy," he said. "Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that's what's going to happen here."

Iraqis are still waiting for that last part, and their hopes are fading by the day.

That same week, Rumsfeld's deputy secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, the man with the grand plan to remake the Middle East as a bastion of democracy, couldn't give the Senate a very good sense of how that would happen now that the great moment of liberation had arrived. "Democracy is a messy thing," he explained.

Did these guys have any idea what they were talking about then? Do they now? The question's worth asking as we hear President George W. Bush repeat his mantra "freedom is winning," despite all the indications to the contrary.

4 years later: 4,342 Palestinians and Israelis have been killed
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, September 29, 2004
Four years ago this week, the Palestinians erupted in a spontaneous intifada against the Israeli occupation that began in 1967.

While Iraq and global terrorism have captured much of the world's attention since 2001, the intifada and the wider Palestinian-Israeli struggle fester at the core of a concentric circle of conflicts and tensions that continue to spread menacingly from Palestine-Israel, to the wider Middle East, to the entire world. Focusing diplomatic and political energy on this core issue in the Middle East would pay substantial dividends in reducing tensions and active conflicts elsewhere in the region and the world.

As the intifada enters its fifth year this week, two new credible reports highlight the deteriorating situation for Palestinians and the political dynamics that must be addressed to get out of this worsening cycle. A well-documented report by the information clearinghouse of Palestinian non-governmental organizations, the Palestine Monitor, provides a chilling overview of the human and economic toll of occupation and resistance - 4,342 killed on both sides. The respected independent research organization the International Crisis Group (ICG) for its part outlines the virtual chaos inside Palestinian political society in the West Bank, blaming this on both the Israeli occupation and indigenous Palestinian political paralysis. These two short but powerful reports make compelling reading, and deserve widespread consideration for what they portend if the current situation persists.
(See the Palestine Monitor's report and the ICG's report.)

President of Iraq says U.S. is using Israeli-style "collective punishment"
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2004
U.S. forces have launched multiple offensives targeting Shiite rebels in the densely populated district [of Sadr City]. U.S. forces said a "precision strike" Monday killed four insurgents, but hospital officials said 10 people, including civilians, were killed.

Tuesday's attack injured at least three people, officials at Sadr City's Jawader Hospital said. It was unclear whether any insurgents were killed or injured.

In recent weeks, U.S. forces have also launched regular airstrikes on the town of Fallouja, west of Baghdad, which is controlled by Sunni Muslim insurgents. Although U.S. military operations supposedly are coordinated with Iraqi leaders, the Americans' increasing reliance on air attacks drew criticism Tuesday from the U.S.-backed interim Iraqi president.

Drawing a parallel between U.S. tactics in Iraq and Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, President Ghazi Ajil Yawer said the U.S. strikes were viewed by the Iraqi people as "collective punishment" against towns and neighborhoods.

Footage of injured and dead women and children being pulled from bombed buildings "brings to mind Gaza," Yawer said in an interview on CNN.

Yawer's comments echo criticism of American military tactics in the spring, when members of the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council stridently protested a Marine siege of Fallouja.

Insurgents are mostly Iraqis, U.S. military says
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2004
The insistence by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and many U.S. officials that foreign fighters are streaming into Iraq to battle American troops runs counter to the U.S. military's own assessment that the Iraqi insurgency remains primarily a home-grown problem.

In a U.S. visit last week, Allawi spoke of foreign insurgents "flooding" his country, and both President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, have cited these fighters as a major security problem.

But according to top U.S. military officers in Iraq, the threat posed by foreign fighters is far less significant than American and Iraqi politicians portray. Instead, commanders said, loyalists of Saddam Hussein's regime -- who have swelled their ranks in recent months as ordinary Iraqis bristle at the U.S. military presence in Iraq -- represent the far greater threat to the country's fragile 3-month-old government.

"They say these guys are flowing across [the border] and fomenting all this violence. We don't think so," said a senior military official in Baghdad. "What's the main threat? It's internal."

Europe's terror fight quiet, unrelenting
By Charles M. Sennott, Boston Globe, September 26, 2004
A city-bound train rumbled along with purpose on the same commuter line where bombs inflicted brutal carnage more than six months ago, killing 191 people and wounding hundreds in the worst terrorist attack in Europe in decades.

Passengers read their newspapers, snoozed, and chatted, as, on a day this month, a digital clock clicked to 7:38 a.m., the moment on March 11 when members of a Moroccan terrorist cell inspired by Al Qaeda set off the first of 10 bombs stuffed inside backpacks along the train line.

There was no visible increase in security on this suburban Madrid train, and there is no sense of panic among commuters. The mood suggests that Spaniards, hardened by decades of struggle against terrorism, have moved on from the attack -- and that the Europeans have responded in vastly different ways than the Americans to the threat of global terrorism.

For the United States, the response to Sept. 11 was to launch a "war on terrorism," one cast in terms of good and evil and marked with somber ceremonies, fought more with armies than with indictments. But for Spain as well as for France, Germany, and Britain, all countries that have suffered a history of terrorist violence, the focus is a "struggle" against a criminal element.

These European countries have expressed a more quiet but collective resolve to work within an international consensus to fight terrorism. In the eyes of many European counterterrorism specialists and officials, the Bush administration's reliance on conventional military means can serve to provoke more terrorism.

The contrasting strategic visions translate into diverging tactics on the ground. The US confrontation with terrorism turns now on a long-term commitment of troops in Iraq. Spain's newly elected prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, fulfilled a campaign promise to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, but also increased Madrid's commitment to peacekeeping in Afghanistan. And at home, Spanish authorities have staged a series of raids against Islamic extremist cells, making numerous arrests.

The wounds of war
By Matthew McAllester, Newsday, September 27, 2004
Nowhere is it less possible to escape the horrors of the war in Iraq for American soldiers than Landstuhl. Nestled among the tall trees of a forest on the outskirts of this small town in southwestern Germany, the largest American military hospital outside the United States is the first stop for nearly all injured American personnel when they are flown out of Iraq or Afghanistan. Dedicated and compassionate doctors, nurses and support staff push aside curtains of fatigue and what the hospital's psychologists call "vicarious trauma" to patch up and tend to soldiers before they fly to the United States for longer term care.

This month politicians focused on the unwelcome tally of the 1,000th American soldier to die in Iraq. Landstuhl has its own set of figures, numbers that flesh out the suffering occurring on the battlefields of Iraq and in homes across the United States.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 18,000 military personnel have passed through the hospital from what staff refer to as "down range": Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, nearly 16,000 have come from Iraq. [complete article]

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