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

There are two sets of numbers relating to the war in Iraq that are -- according to the Bush administration -- in one case much more significant than the number suggests, while in the other case much less significant. Coincidently, the two numbers are roughly the same: The number of non-US forces in Iraq (23,900) and the number of insurgents (estimated to be 20,000 including active sympathisers or covert accomplices).

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How to skew intelligence
Editorial, New York Times, October 23, 2004

It's long been obvious that the allegations about Saddam Hussein's dangerous weapons and alliance with Osama bin Laden were false. But as the election draws closer, the remaining question is to what extent President Bush's team knew the allegations were wrong and used them anyway to persuade Americans to back the invasion of Iraq.

A report issued Thursday by the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan, shows that on the question of an Iraqi-Qaeda axis, Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others offered an indictment that was essentially fabricated in the office of Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy.

Mr. Levin's report does not prove that President Bush knew that the Hussein-bin Laden alliance was fiction. But officials like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz - as well as Mr. Cheney's chief of staff and the deputy national security adviser - knew that Mr. Feith's tailored conclusions were contrary to the views of the entire intelligence community. Mr. Cheney presented them to the public as confirmed truth about Iraq and Al Qaeda.

The Levin report is a primer on how intelligence can be cooked to fit a political agenda. It is another sad reminder of this administration's refusal to hold anyone accountable for the way the public was led into the war with Iraq. [complete article]

See the complete Report of an Inquiry into the Alternative Analysis of the Issue of an Iraq-al Qaeda Relationship (PDF format).

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'When?' is the big political issue for troops in Iraq
By Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2004

From his machine gun perch here in the Iraqi capital, Staff Sgt. Jose Gonzalez has glimpsed insurgent rockets streaking through the night sky and seen numerous car bombs erupt into pillars of smoke.

What he hasn't watched in Iraq, though, is a presidential debate.

"I really don't have time to sit down in front of a TV and listen," said the 38-year-old California National Guardsman. "I wish I could, but I just don't have the time."

Like many soldiers in Iraq, Gonzalez said he's relying on snippets of campaign news coverage, his experiences on the ground and plain old gut instincts to decide who should be his next commander in chief. Iraq -- and when U.S. troops will leave -- is a key issue. [complete article]

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Officials fear Iraq's lure for Muslims in Europe
By Craig S. Smith and Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times, October 23, 2004

France's antiterrorist police on Friday identified a young Frenchman killed fighting the United States in Iraq, the first confirmed case of what is believed to be a growing stream of Muslims heading from Europe to fight what they regard as a new holy war.

Redouane el-Hakim, 19, the son of Tunisian immigrants, died during an American bombardment of insurgents in Falluja on July 17, according to an intelligence official close to the case.

Intelligence officials fear that for a new generation of disaffected European Muslims, Iraq could become what Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya were for European Islamic militants in past decades: a galvanizing cause that sends idealistic young men abroad, trains them and puts them in touch with a more radical global network of terrorists. In the past, many young Europeans who fought in those wars came back to Europe to plot terrorist attacks at home. [complete article]

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Islamophobia in U.K. linked to war on terror, says prosecutor
By Robert Verkaik, The Independent, October 23, 2004

An explosion in racist crime and a sharp rise in the number of young Asian men being stopped by the police threatens to alienate Britain's Muslim communities, the Director of Public Prosecutions has warned.

Ken Macdonald QC, speaking to The Independent after his first year in charge of prosecutions, said that the war on terror had sparked a growth in Islamophobia and led to a more divided society. He warned: "Terrorism is creating divisions between our diverse societies. We have to be careful that we respect diverse cultures and we prosecute cases without discrimination.

"What the figures are showing is that a large number of young Asian men have been stopped by the police." He added: "This is a period of heightened security around the issue of terrorism and that's a position that has to be managed. It would be dangerous for us to alienate whole communities, we just have to tread carefully."

Home Office figures show that stop and searches of Asians under anti-terror laws have soared by 302 per cent in a year. At the same time the figures for race hate crime revealed an increase of 50 per cent in the past two years with 2,000 more cases being prosecuted than when the law was introduced in 1999. [complete article]

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Afghanistan, Iraq: Two wars collide
By Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, October 22, 2004

In the second half of March 2002, as the Bush administration mapped its next steps against al Qaeda, Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin brought an unexpected message to the White House Situation Room. According to two people with firsthand knowledge, he told senior members of the president's national security team that the CIA was scaling back operations in Afghanistan.

That announcement marked a year-long drawdown of specialized military and intelligence resources from the geographic center of combat with Osama bin Laden. As jihadist enemies reorganized, slipping back and forth from Pakistan and Iran, the CIA closed forward bases in the cities of Herat, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar. The agency put off an $80 million plan to train and equip a friendly intelligence service for the new U.S.-installed Afghan government. Replacements did not keep pace with departures as case officers finished six-week tours. And Task Force 5 -- a covert commando team that led the hunt for bin Laden and his lieutenants in the border region -- lost more than two-thirds of its fighting strength.

The commandos, their high-tech surveillance equipment and other assets would instead surge toward Iraq through 2002 and early 2003, as President Bush prepared for the March invasion that would extend the field of battle in the nation's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Bush has shaped his presidency, and his reelection campaign, around the threat that announced itself in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Five days after the attacks, he made it clear that he conceived a broader war. Impromptu remarks on the White House South Lawn were the first in which he named "this war on terrorism," and he cast it as a struggle with "a new kind of evil." Under that banner he toppled two governments, eased traditional restraints on intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and reshaped the landscape of the federal government.

As the war on terrorism enters its fourth year, its results are sufficiently diffuse -- and obscured in secrecy -- to resist easy measure. Interpretations of the public record are also polarized by the claims and counterclaims of the presidential campaign. Bush has staked his reelection on an argument that defense of the U.S. homeland requires unyielding resolve to take the fight to the terrorists. His opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), portrays the Bush strategy as based on false assumptions and poor choices, particularly when it came to Iraq.

The contention that the Iraq invasion was an unwise diversion in confronting terrorism has been central to Kerry's critique of Bush's performance. But this account -- drawn largely from interviews with those who have helped manage Bush's offensive -- shows how the debate over that question has echoed within the ranks of the administration as well, even among those who support much of the president's agenda. [complete article]

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Senator says Pentagon unit hyped terror tie
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, October 22, 2004

A small Pentagon unit set up after Sept. 11, 2001, to review raw intelligence later exaggerated the relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq, leading White House officials to make overblown or inaccurate comments in the run-up to the Iraq war, according to the Democratic staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The staff's report, based on a 15-month investigation and released yesterday by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's top Democrat, accused the office of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith of compiling "selective reinterpretations of intelligence" that went beyond the views of American spy agencies in order to help make the case for an invasion of Iraq.

The 46-page report concluded that Feith and his staff were convinced that a significant relationship existed between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and that the office had advanced that perspective by trying to change the intelligence community's views and "by taking its interpretation straight to policymakers." [complete article]

See the complete Report of an Inquiry into the Alternative Analysis of the Issue of an Iraq-al Qaeda Relationship (PDF format).

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Religious leaders ahead in Iraq poll
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, October 22, 2004

Leaders of Iraq's religious parties have emerged as the country's most popular politicians and would win the largest share of votes if an election were held today, while the U.S.-backed government of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is losing serious ground, according to a U.S.-financed poll by the International Republican Institute.

More than 45 percent of Iraqis also believe that their country is heading in the wrong direction, and 41 percent say it is moving in the right direction.

Within the Bush administration, a victory by Iraq's religious parties is viewed as the worst-case scenario. Washington has hoped that Allawi and the current team, which was selected by U.S. and U.N. envoys, would win or do well in Iraq's first democratic election, in January. U.S. officials believe a secular government led by moderates is critical, in part because the new government will oversee writing a new Iraqi constitution.

"The picture it paints is that, after all the blood and treasure we've spent and despite the [U.S.-led] occupation's democracy efforts, we're in a position now that the moderates would not win if an election were held today," said a U.S. official who requested anonymity because the poll has not been released. [complete article]

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Estimates by U.S. see more rebels with more funds
By Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, October 22, 2004

Senior American officials are beginning to assemble a new portrait of the insurgency that has continued to inflict casualties on American and Iraqi forces, showing that it has significantly more fighters and far greater financial resources than had been estimated.

When foreign fighters and the network of a Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, are counted with home-grown insurgents, the hard-core resistance numbers between 8,000 and 12,000 people, a tally that swells to more than 20,000 when active sympathizers or covert accomplices are included, according to the American officials.

These estimates contrast sharply with earlier intelligence reports, in which the number of insurgents has varied from as few as 2,000 to a maximum of 7,000. The revised estimate is influencing the military campaign in Iraq, but has not prompted a wholesale review of the strategy, officials said.

In recent interviews, military and other government officials in Iraq and Washington said the core of the Iraqi insurgency now consisted of as many as 50 militant cells that draw on "unlimited money'' from an underground financial network run by former Baath Party leaders and Saddam Hussein's relatives. [complete article]

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Israel may have Iran in its sights
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2004

Increasingly concerned about Iran's nuclear program, Israel is weighing its options and has not ruled out a military strike to prevent the Islamic Republic from gaining the capability to build atomic weapons, according to policymakers, military officials, analysts and diplomats.

Israel would much prefer a diplomatic agreement to shut down Iran's uranium enrichment program, but if it concluded that Tehran was approaching a "point of no return," it would not be deterred by the difficulty of a military operation, the prospect of retaliation or the international reaction, officials and analysts said.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his top aides have been asserting for months that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a clear threat to Israel's existence. They have repeatedly threatened, in elliptical but unmistakable terms, to use force if diplomacy and the threat of sanctions fail.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper last month that "all options" were being weighed to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability. The army chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, declared: "We will not rely on others." [complete article]

See also, The Iran problem awaiting Bush or Kerry (Tony Karon,

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Black Watch ordered to join U.S. cordon for assault on Fallujah
By Colin Brown, The Independent, October 22, 2004

The Black Watch regiment was yesterday ordered by the Cabinet to help US forces throw a "ring of steel" around Fallujah before an all-out assault on insurgents in the city.

The 850-strong 1st battalion, including three companies of armoured infantry, totalling some 500 men, equipped with 50 Warrior armoured troop carriers, is being ordered to hold an approach road into Fallujah, where extremists including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ­ who is believed to have murdered Kenneth Bigley ­ are thought to have their strongholds.

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary who resigned over the war, last night warned Tony Blair that Britain will be associated with the blame if the assault on Fallujah resulted in heavy civilian casualties.

There are fears that the number of troops in Iraq is being increased under cover of the moves to replace the 1st Battalion, the Black Watch as the main reserve force, fuelling anxiety among Labour MPs that Britain will be sucked into a Vietnam-style war. Mr Blair denied on Wednesday in the Commons that the number of British troops in Iraq was being increased, but Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, refused to repeat that denial last night when challenged on BBC radio. [complete article]

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Muslim scholars arrested in Iraq
By Ahmed Janabi, Aljazeera, October 21, 2004

The head of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) office in Kubeisa in western Iraq was arrested along with four other members. They were on their way back from Baghdad when US forces stopped their convoy and arrested them.

The AMS had organised the gathering in Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss the US military offensive against Falluja and other Iraqi towns.

Dozens of Iraqi Muslim scholars and clerics attended Wednesday's meeting, which they said was held at the request of residents of Falluja.

A delegation from Falluja blamed the interim Iraqi government for driving the negotiations to a deadlock.

A people's spokesman said delegates from Falluja offered all manner of possible solutions to the crisis, but the negotiations collapsed when interim Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi threatened to storm the town unless it handed over the Jordanian fugitive, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [complete article]

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Britain to send 850 troops toward Baghdad
By Patrick E. Tyler, New York Times, October 21, 2004

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon announced today that 850 British troops currently deployed in southern Iraq would advance toward Baghdad to replace American fighting units that are expected to mount an assault on Iraqi insurgents west of the capital near Falluja.

"The government has decided that we should accept the U.S. request for assistance," Mr. Hoon told Parliament at midday. He said the deployment would take "a matter of weeks, not months" and that it would be "limited in scope, time and space."

Mr. Hoon's announcement ended weeks of speculation about the role of British forces in American-led efforts to suppress an insurgency that is threatening to delay and disrupt Iraq's national elections, set for January.

"After careful evaluation, the chiefs of staff have advised me that U.K. forces are able to undertake the proposed operation, that there is a compelling military operational justification for doing so, and that it entails a militarily acceptable level of risk for U.K. forces," Mr. Hoon told the House of Commons.

Opposition members of Parliament have questioned why the United States, with 130,000 troops in Iraq, needed 850 British forces for the approaching mission.

The Iraqi war is deeply unpopular with the British public, and Mr. Blair has come under increasing criticism for the involvement of Britain, which has about 9,000 troops in Iraq. [complete article]

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Iraq called 'springboard' for insurgency figure
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 21, 2004

Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who has become a leader in the Iraq insurgency, is using his role to become a major figure in the broader Islamic jihad movement, according to senior counterterrorist and intelligence experts both inside and outside the government.

Although Zarqawi earlier this week pledged his loyalty and that of his organization to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, "he doesn't see himself in a subordinate role," said one senior counterterrorism expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity yesterday. "He is using Iraq as a springboard, and he now wants to look beyond Iraq and the region."

Zarqawi and some subordinates traveled in and out of Iraq starting in 2001, after leaving Afghanistan and having fought the Soviets in the 1990s. U.S. intelligence analysts have watched his movements since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003. Since Zarqawi's declaration of loyalty to bin Laden was posted on an Islamic Web site, intelligence officials and others have sought to determine what it means for his current position in Iraq and his intentions for the future.

After the U.S. invasion, Zarqawi saw an opportunity for his small network to play a role in the resistance, the counterterrorism official said. Since that time, the official said, he has shown himself to be "an astute organizer, very smart, crafty and thoughtful." [complete article]

See also, The executioner's song (Christopher Dickey, Newsweek).

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Shia leader cuts ties with Sadr
BBC News, October 21, 2004

A senior religious leader in Iran has severed ties with radical Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr for encouraging his followers to fight US troops.

Grand Ayatollah Kazem Haeri, one of the top authorities in Shia Islam, said Mr Sadr was no longer his representative in the holy city of Najaf.

A spokesman said that Mr Sadr's actions no longer reflected the ideas of the Grand Ayatollah's teachings.

But he praised a scheme to disarm Shia militias in Baghdad's Sadr City slum.

Speaking on behalf of the Grand Ayatollah in the Iranian seminary town of Qom where he lives, his brother, Mohammed Hossein Haeri, told the BBC that Mr Sadr had not been blamed for damage to Najaf's holy shrines during heavy fighting in August.

The Grand Ayatollah wholly blamed the US and British for damage to the shrine, his spokesman said.

But Mr Haeri stressed that direct fighting with US forces was not a correct move. [complete article]

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The costs of war - a mother's view
By Teri Wills Allison, TomDispatch, October 20, 2004

I know something about the costs of an unjust war, for my son, Nick -- an infantryman in the U.S. Army -- is fighting one in Iraq. I don't speak for my son. I couldn't even if I wanted to, for all I hear through the Mom Filter is: "I'm fine, Mom, don't worry, I'm fine, everything is fine, fine, fine, we're fine, just fine". But I can tell you what some of the costs are as I live and breathe them.

First, the minor stuff: my constant feelings of dread and despair; the sweeping rage that alternates with petrifying fear; the torrents of tears that accompany a maddening sense of helplessness and vulnerability. My son is involved in a deadly situation that should never have been. I feel like a mother lion in a cage, my grown cub in danger, and all I can do is throw myself furiously against the bars…impotent to protect him. My tolerance for bullshit is zero, and I've snapped off more heads in the last several months than in all my 48 years combined.

For the first time in my life, and with great amazement and sorrow, I feel what can only be described as hatred. It took me a long time to admit it, but there it is. I loathe the hubris, the callousness, and the lies of those in the Bush administration who led us into this war. Truth be told, I even loathe the fallible and very human purveyors of those lies. I feel no satisfaction in this admission, only sadness and recognition. And hope that -- given time -- I can do better. I never wanted to hate anyone. [complete article]

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"Journalism by remote control"
By Jack Shafer, Slate, October 20, 2004

To keep routine trips from morphing into suicide missions, most Western reporters [in Iraq] have cut back on travel. Reporters who might have been out and about constantly last year reduced daily outings to three or so in the early summer in the name of security. Now, they may venture out just once a day in Baghdad, but not before carefully plotting their excursions. Many of them feel "stalked" and hunted. Chandrasekaran says the [Washington] Post bureau put a halt to all non-essential travel, parties, and dinners on the town by September.

To compensate for their loss of mobility, most Western reporters have increasingly turned to their Iraqi news stringers in the provinces and trusted Iraqi staffers -- translators, drivers, fixers -- to collect first-hand information from news scenes and conduct interviews with Iraqis. [complete article]

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Both parties call on CIA to issue report on agency
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, October 21, 2004

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence Committee have called on the Central Intelligence Agency to release an internal report examining the agency's performance in the run-up to the Sept. 11 attacks, Congressional officials said on Wednesday.

The leaders, Representatives Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, and Jane Harman, Democrat of California, have not made the letter public, and their offices declined to comment on any request.

But one Democratic member of the panel, Representative Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, mentioned the request in a written statement in which he said the C.I.A. "should avoid any appearance of holding back this report for fear that it would reflect badly on the administration." [complete article]

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Europe's silent revolution
By Omayma Abdel-Latif, Al-Ahram, October 21, 2004

"Who is Tariq Ramadan?" a British journalist asked me recently, reflecting the debate currently raging in certain European media circles over the young Muslim intellectual. But this question also reflected the general sense of confusion, often verging on scepticism, as to what to make of Ramadan and the intellectual project he has been developing for almost two decades now.

To some he is a brilliant young philosopher who brings together what is best in both Islam and the West. He is a bridge builder between two civilisations, a vocal activist calling for universal justice, and one of the shaping forces of our time. His detractors, however, accuse him of double-talk, delivering a gentle message in English and French, and a radical one in Arabic; of projecting a liberal face in order to conceal his true "Islamist agenda". Worse still, some have even labelled him "the Trojan horse of Jihad in Europe". As such, he is now a central figure in any debate around the future of Islam on the continent. [complete article]

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Dreams of empire
By Tony Judt, New York Review of Books, November 4, 2004

Talk of "empire" makes Americans distinctly uneasy. This is odd. In its westward course the young republic was not embarrassed to suck virgin land and indigenous peoples into the embrace of Thomas Jefferson's "empire for liberty." Millions of American immigrants made and still make their first acquaintance with the US through New York, "the Empire State." From Monroe to Bush, American presidents have not hesitated to pronounce doctrines whose extraterritorial implications define imperial authority and presume it: there is nothing self-effacing about that decidedly imperious bird on the Presidential Seal. And yet, though the rest of the world is under no illusion, in the United States today there is a sort of wishful denial. We don't want an empire, we aren't an empire -- or else if we are an empire, then it is one of a kind.

This nervous uncertainty has given rise to an astonishing recent spate of books and essays. Some of these display a charming insouciance. America, write William E. Odom and Robert Dujarric, is an empire of a new type,
unipolar, based on ideology rather than territorial control, voluntary in membership, and economically advantageous to all countries within it.

Others -- like the essays collected by Andrew Bacevich in The Imperial Tense: Prospects and Problems of American Empire -- are a curious amalgam of military hubris and cultural anxiety: they dutifully document both America's truly awesome military reach and the widespread national uncertainty about what to do with it.

The United States is different from other countries. But as an imperial power it is actually quite conventional and even familiar. True, modern America eschews territorial acquisitions. But that is irrelevant. Like the British at the height of their imperial majesty, the US prefers to get its way by example, pressure, and influence. Lord Palmerston's dictum -- "trade without rule where possible, trade with rule where necessary" -- has been applied by Washington with even greater success. Whereas the British were constrained (after some initial reluctance) to exercise formal -- and costly -- imperium over whole sub-continents, the US has hitherto perfected the art of controlling foreign countries and their resources without going to the expense of actually owning them or ruling their subjects. [complete article]

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Iran - the next target

One: The enemy beyond
By Ehsan Ahrari, Asia Times, October 21, 2004

After the US dismantlement of the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iran has emerged as a major target of the acrimonious rhetoric of the Bush administration and Israel's threats related to that country's nuclear aspirations. Given the fact that Iran's active nuclear program has been the focus of US concern since the early 1990s, it is likely to acquire a crisis situation in the near future. [complete article]

Two: The US-Israel tag-team act
By Ehsan Ahrari, Asia Times, October 22, 2004

As the US presidential election campaign is coming to a close and Iraq continues to burn, another dangerous diplomatic tussle is taking place: the United States and Israel are acting as a tag-team against the potential emergence of Iran as a nuclear power. The stakes are high in this tussle. At a minimum, that tag-team will make sure that Iran never emerges as a regional power, challenging the hegemonies of the US and Israel. At worst, the intention of this tag-team is to prepare grounds for a regime change of a different type - not necessarily through military invasion, but by taking concerted actions to weaken the Islamic government of Iran so much that it is ousted from within. [complete article]

The dangers of playing hardball
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi,Asia Times, October 21, 2004

The month of November in a US presidential-election year is not supposed to be particularly eventful, but this year may be an exception, in the light of the gathering storm over Iran's nuclear program, due to be reviewed by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in late November. November is also important because of the Egypt summit on the future of Iraq, bringing the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries and Iraq's neighbors together, with the United States and Iran eyeball to eyeball. [complete article]

Iran moving methodically toward nuclear capability
By Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2004

Iran has made steady progress toward producing nuclear fuel and could make significant quantities of enriched uranium in less than a year, according to new estimates by diplomats, scientists and intelligence officials.

Mastering enrichment will move Tehran a big step closer to being able to build an atomic bomb. Iran's progress already has intensified its confrontation with the United States and other countries that fear it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Despite persistent suspicions, however, a report due next month by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency is not expected to provide proof that Tehran has a weapons program, diplomats said.

Nearly two years of inspections have uncovered a pattern of concealment and deception by Iran over two decades. But when it comes to whether Iran is secretly pursuing an atomic bomb, the case remains circumstantial. [complete article]

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Israel on alert as rumours circulate of right-wing plot to assassinate Sharon
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, October 21, 2004

Security around the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Knesset has been further tightened in the approach to next week's vote on disengagement from Gaza that also threatens to divide sections of the army as well as Mr Sharon's own Likud Party.

The security services are reportedly on high alert against possible attacks on the Prime Minister, and his personal bodyguard has been augmented in an atmosphere turning increasingly volatile about next week's vote on the plan to withdraw 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza.

In the latest sign of growing tensions between the authorities and religious leaders on the right who oppose the plan, heads of the Hesder Yeshivas, colleges at which students combine religious studies with military service, yesterday abruptly cancelled a meeting with a senior Israeli Defence Forces general. [complete article]

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Israel warns of civil war risk as Gaza vote looms
By Dan Williams, Reuters, October 21, 2004

Israel's justice minister said on Thursday far-right rabbis who urged soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip risked provoking civil war and could face prosecution.

Tensions over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan have risen ahead of a parliamentary vote next week that could make or break his government and show whether Israel is ready to cede occupied land for the first time in more than two decades.

Joining an outcry against ultra-nationalist rabbis fiercely opposed to the plan, Justice Minister Yosef Lapid told Reuters: "We have reached the outer limits of our patience with statements that could pose a danger to public security." [complete article]

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Influential American Jewish coalition balks at endorsing Sharon's Gaza plan
By Ori Nir, The Forward, October 22, 2004

Despite a strong pitch from Israel's ambassador to the United States, American Jewry's top representative body balked this week at adopting a statement directly endorsing Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan.

In a dramatic series of events, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations held a stormy meeting October 14 in its Manhattan headquarters, where a majority of member groups called for an immediate endorsement. Ignoring the call for a firm endorsement, the group's chairman, James Tisch, instead issued a statement this week that stopped short of backing Sharon's plan, though it noted that "a substantial majority" of the group's members supported the government's stance.

The conference, a coalition of 52 national organizations that is commonly seen as the community's consensus voice on Middle East affairs, wields significant influence in Washington, as well as in Jerusalem and other foreign capitals. A clear endorsement could have served as a significant tool for Sharon, who is scheduled to submit his unilateral disengagement plan to the Knesset for ratification next week. Sharon is struggling to secure a parliamentary majority in favor of his plan, and is attempting to sway wavering lawmakers in his own Likud Party in advance of an expected October 25 vote. [complete article]

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Cloak and swagger
By Laura Rozen and Jason Vest, The American Prospect, November 2, 2004

To Washington's small and sometimes fractious community of Iran experts, it was becoming obvious: What to do about Iran and its fast-developing nuclear program was set to rival Iraq as the most pressing foreign-policy challenge for the person elected president in 2004. By the spring and early summer of this year, the city was awash in rival Iran task forces and conferences. Some recommended that Washington engage in negotiations with Tehran's mullahs on the nuclear issue; they drew scorn from the other side, which preached regime change or military strikes.

In late July, as this debate raged, a Pentagon analyst named Larry Franklin telephoned an acquaintance who worked at a pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The two men knew each other professionally from their long involvement in the Washington Iran and Iraq policy debates. A Brooklyn-born Catholic father of five who put himself through school, earning a doctorate, as an Air Force reservist, Franklin had served as a Soviet intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency until about a decade ago, when he learned Farsi and became an Iran specialist. At their July meeting, Franklin told the AIPAC employee about his frustration that the U.S. government wasn't responding aggressively enough to intelligence about hostile Iranian activities in Iraq. As Franklin explained it, Iran had sent all of its Arabic-speaking Iranian agents to southern Iraq, was orchestrating attacks on Iraqi state oil facilities, and had sent other agents to northern Iraq to kill Israelis believed to be operating there. Iran had also transferred its top operative for Afghanistan to the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad. The move, Franklin implied, signified Tehran's intention to cause more trouble in Iraq. [complete article]

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Falluja in their sights
By Patrick Graham, The Guardian, October 21, 2004

As the British government prepares to send its soldiers north to free up the US army to attack Falluja, it is necessary to focus on what this coming onslaught will mean for the city and its people. Falluja is already now being bombed daily, as it is softened up for the long-awaited siege. It has been a gruelling year for its people. First, they were occupied by the US army's 82nd Airborne, an incompetent group of louts whose idea of cultural sensitivity was kicking a door down instead of blowing it up. Within eight months of the invasion, the 82nd had killed about 100 civilians in the area and lost control of Falluja, leaving it to the US marines to try and retake the city last April. After killing about 600 civilians, the marines retreated, leaving the city in the hands of 18 armed groups, including tribesmen, Islamists, Ba'athists, former criminals and an assortment of non-Iraqi Arab fighters said to be led by the Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Fallujans have now been offered a choice: hand over the outsiders they dislike (mostly Arabs) who are protecting them from the outsiders they really hate (the Americans), or get blown apart by the world's most lethal killing machine, the US marines. Zarqawi's influence on the resistance has been wildly exaggerated - indeed, many people in Falluja don't even believe he exists, and most find the non-Iraqi Arabs' brand of Salafi fundamentalism at odds with their local Sufi traditions. Today, many Fallujans are tired even of their own mujahideen, but trust the US army even less, and with good reason. Recently, a Bush administration official told the New York Times the bombing was driving a wedge between the citizenry and the non-Iraqi fighters. If, indeed, the civilian population is being bombed for this end, this is a grave war crime. [complete article]

(See also an earlier article about Patrick Graham's reporting from Fallujah, Embedded with the resistance (WP, June 1, 2004). Graham's feature article -- "Beyond Fallujah: A Year With the Iraqi Resistance," appeared in print (but not online) in the June issue of Harper's magazine.)

U.S. raids kill family of six
By Yasser Faisal, Reuters, October 20, 2004

U.S. warplanes killed a family of six in raids against rebels led by al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, while a top international aid agency suspended Iraq operations on Wednesday after its manager was kidnapped.

A Reuters witness saw a man and a woman and four children, two boys and two girls, being pulled out of the rubble of a razed home in the rebel-held city of Falluja, about 30 miles west of Baghdad.

The U.S. military denied a family of six was killed, saying it launched four strikes against safehouses used by Zarqawi's fighters.

"Intelligence sources indicate a known Zarqawi propagandist is passing false reports to the media," it said in a statement.

Reuters television footage showed men chanting "There is no God but Allah!" as they carried the body of the father of the family of six.

"Is this the gift that (interim Iraqi Prime Minister) Iyad Allawi is giving to the people of Falluja?" asked one man, pointing to the small bodies of two of the children lying in the trunk of a car. "Every day they strike Falluja." [complete article]

Sunni group is to urge an election boycott over attack on Falluja
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, October 21, 2004

A group representing thousands of Sunni Arab mosques around the country said Wednesday that it would call for a boycott of the elections in January if the American military and the Iraqi government continued the military operations around the insurgent-controlled city of Falluja.

In a statement read aloud at the Umm al Qura Mosque in Baghdad, a cleric with the Association of Muslim Scholars, which claims to speak for as many as 3,000 Sunni mosques, denounced what he said was a campaign of "aggression" against Falluja and called on "Arabs and Islamic peoples" from around the world to support their resistance to American forces in the country.

"The use of the elections as a pretext to launch incursions into cities is unacceptable and disgraceful," said the cleric, Sheik Qasim al-Hanafi. "The clerics will call upon all the Iraqi people to boycott the elections and consider them bogus if Falluja continues to be subject to the incursions and bombardments." [complete article]

U.S., Iraqi forces gear up to retake Fallujah
By Jim Michaels, USA Today, October 20, 2004

An imminent offensive to break the resistance in Fallujah, a rebel stronghold about 35 miles west of Baghdad, could be one of the most decisive battles since the fall of Baghdad 18 months ago.

Once little more than a giant truck stop on the road from Baghdad to Jordan, the city of about 300,000 has become a symbol of the Iraqi resistance that has resonated throughout the Arab world. [complete article]

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Debate lingering on decision to dissolve the Iraqi military
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, October 21, 2004

When Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus flew to Baghdad on June 14, 2003, he had a blunt message for the American-led occupation authority. As the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, General Petraeus had been working tirelessly to win the support of Iraqis in Mosul and the neighboring provinces in northern Iraq.

But the authority's decree to abolish the Iraqi Army and to forgo paying 350,000 soldiers had jolted much of Iraq. Riots had broken out in cities. Just the day before, 16 of General Petraeus's soldiers had been wounded trying to put down a violent demonstration.

Arriving at the huge Abu Ghraib North Palace for a ceremony, General Petraeus spied Walter B. Slocombe, an adviser to L. Paul Bremer III, who headed the authority. Sidling up to him, General Petraeus said that the decision to leave the soldiers without a livelihood had put American lives at risk.

More than a year later, Mr. Bremer's disbanding of the Iraqi Army still casts a shadow over the occupation of Iraq. The American military had been counting on using Iraqi soldiers to help rebuild the country and impose order along its borders. Instead, as a violent insurgency convulsed the nation, overstretched United States forces found themselves deprived of a way to put an Iraqi face on the occupation.

While Mr. Bremer soon reversed himself on paying salaries to the ex-soldiers, his decision to formally dissolve the Iraqi military and methodically build a new one, battalion by battalion, still ranks as one of the most contentious issues of the post-war. [complete article]

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Poor intelligence misled troops about risk of drawn-out war
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, October 20, 2004

In early 2003, as the clock ticked down toward the war with Iraq, C.I.A. officials met with senior military commanders at Camp Doha, Kuwait, to discuss their latest ideas for upending Saddam Hussein's government.

Intelligence officials were convinced that American soldiers would be greeted warmly when they pushed into southern Iraq, so a C.I.A. operative suggested sneaking hundreds of small American flags into the country for grateful Iraqis to wave at their liberators. The agency would capture the spectacle on film and beam it throughout the Arab world. It would be the ultimate information operation.

Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of allied ground forces, quickly objected. To avoid being perceived as an occupying army, American forces had been instructed not to brandish the flag.

The idea was dropped, but the C.I.A.'s optimism remained.

The agency believed that many of the towns were "ours," said one former staff officer who attended the session. "At first, it was going to be U.S. flags," he said, "and then it was going to be Iraqi flags. The flags are probably still sitting in a bag somewhere. One of the towns where they said we would be welcomed was Nasiriya, where Marines faced some of the toughest fighting in the war." [complete article]

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Bush receives endorsement from Iran
By Ali Akbar Dareini, Asssociated Press (via Newsday), October 19, 2004

The head of Iran's security council said Tuesday that the re-election of President Bush was in Tehran's best interests, despite the administration's axis of evil label, accusations that Iran harbors al-Qaida terrorists and threats of sanctions over the country's nuclear ambitions.

Historically, Democrats have harmed Iran more than Republicans, said Hasan Rowhani, head of the Supreme National Security Council, Iran's top security decision-making body.

"We haven't seen anything good from Democrats," Rowhani told state-run television in remarks that, for the first time in recent decades, saw Iran openly supporting one U.S. presidential candidate over another.

Though Iran generally does not publicly wade into U.S. presidential politics, it has a history of preferring Republicans over Democrats, who tend to press human rights issues. [complete article]

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By David Ignatius, Washington Post, October 19, 2004

A good leader, almost by definition, is someone who learns from mistakes. Yet when Bush was asked during the debates what mistakes he had made, he treated it almost as a trick question, intended to lure him into introspection and self-doubt that would be a show of weakness. In reality, this sort of iterative learning is an essential part of leadership. The philosopher George Santayana famously observed in "The Life of Reason," published in 1905: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Less well known is his admonition in that same volume: "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim." [complete article]

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Bush and Kerry dance to the tune of Ariel Sharon
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, October 20, 2004

In the Middle East maelstrom, all parties acknowledge one fixed point: forceful US diplomatic engagement is essential if the central Israel-Palestine conflict is ever to be resolved.

But far from taking the lead over the past four years, the Bush administration has been mostly led by the nose. The man responsible for this extraordinary feat is Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

Mr Sharon was running a "war on terror" when George Bush was still running a baseball team in Texas. So not surprisingly, perhaps, it is Mr Bush who, since 9/11, has followed Mr Sharon's example rather than the other way round. In his many visits to the Bush White House, Mr Sharon has exerted telling influence on America's post-9/11 agenda. Knowing Mr Bush was bent on war in Iraq, he helpfully highlighted Saddam Hussein's links to terrorist groups and financial aid to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Now he eggs on the US in its confrontations with Israel's enemies, Iran and Syria. [complete article]

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A schoolgirl riddled with bullets. And no one is to blame
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, October 21, 2004

The undisputed facts are these: it was broad daylight, 13-year-old Iman al-Hams was wearing her school uniform, and when she walked into the Israeli army's "forbidden zone" at the bottom of her street she was carrying her satchel. A few minutes later the short, slight child was pumped with bullets. Doctors counted at least 17 wounds and said much of her head was destroyed.

Beyond that there is little agreement between the army top brass and Palestinian witnesses as to how Iman came to die last week, or even among members of the military unit responsible for killing the child in Gaza's Rafah refugee camp.

Palestinian witnesses described the shooting as cold-blooded. They say soldiers could not have failed to see they were firing at a child, and she was killed as she already lay wounded and helpless.

"Some soldiers were lying on the ground and shooting very heavily toward her," said Basim Breaka, who saw the killing from her living room. "Then one of the soldiers walked to her and emptied his clip into her. For sure she died on the second or third bullet. I could see her lying on the ground, not moving. I can't imagine why that soldier wanted to shoot her after she was dead." [complete article]

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Pat Robertson: I warned Bush on Iraq casualties
President's response: 'We're not going to have any'

CNN, October 19, 2004

The founder of the U.S. Christian Coalition said Tuesday he told President George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq that he should prepare Americans for the likelihood of casualties, but the president told him, "We're not going to have any casualties."

Pat Robertson, an ardent Bush supporter, said he had that conversation with the president in Nashville, Tennessee, before the March 2003 invasion. He described Bush in the meeting as "the most self-assured man I've ever met in my life."

"You remember Mark Twain said, 'He looks like a contented Christian with four aces.' I mean he was just sitting there like, 'I'm on top of the world,' " Robertson said on the CNN show, "Paula Zahn Now."

"And I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, 'Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.' "

Robertson said the president then told him, "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties." [complete article]

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The 9/11 secret in the CIA's back pocket
By Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2004

The Bush administration is suppressing a CIA report on 9/11 until after the election, and this one names names. Although the report by the inspector general's office of the CIA was completed in June, it has not been made available to the congressional intelligence committees that mandated the study almost two years ago.

"It is infuriating that a report which shows that high-level people were not doing their jobs in a satisfactory manner before 9/11 is being suppressed," an intelligence official who has read the report told me, adding that "the report is potentially very embarrassing for the administration, because it makes it look like they weren't interested in terrorism before 9/11, or in holding people in the government responsible afterward."

When I asked about the report, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she and committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) sent a letter 14 days ago asking for it to be delivered. "We believe that the CIA has been told not to distribute the report," she said. "We are very concerned."

According to the intelligence official, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, release of the report, which represents an exhaustive 17-month investigation by an 11-member team within the agency, has been "stalled." First by acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and now by Porter J. Goss, the former Republican House member (and chairman of the Intelligence Committee) who recently was appointed CIA chief by President Bush.

The official stressed that the report was more blunt and more specific than the earlier bipartisan reports produced by the Bush-appointed Sept. 11 commission and Congress.

"What all the other reports on 9/11 did not do is point the finger at individuals, and give the how and what of their responsibility. This report does that," said the intelligence official. "The report found very senior-level officials responsible." [complete article]

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Anti-Kerry film won't be aired
By Frank Ahrens and Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, October 20, 2004

Under mounting political, legal and financial pressure, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. yesterday backed away from its plan to carry a film attacking John F. Kerry's Vietnam War record, saying it would air only portions of the movie in an hour-long special scheduled for Friday. [...]

Sinclair's stock has dropped more than 15 percent since the controversy erupted 10 days ago. Alan G. Hevesi, the Democratic comptroller of New York whose state pension fund holds 257,000 shares of Sinclair, questioned in a letter to the company yesterday whether airing the movie would further depress the shares.

The Sinclair announcement came hours after Deborah Rappaport, a major Democratic donor with her husband, Andy, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, said they had offered to buy one hour on Sinclair stations. This would finance a 42-minute version of a pro-Kerry documentary, "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," by George Butler. Rappaport said she was "deeply, deeply outraged" by Sinclair's action and was offering $1 million more than the company's usual ad rate in response.

Adding to the pressure on Sinclair, a group of institutional investors alleged yesterday that Smith's three brothers, who serve on the company board, sold millions of dollars in Sinclair shares late last year just before the stock began its decline. Prominent shareholder lawyer William S. Lerach said the family would face a lawsuit unless the company is repaid. [complete article]

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Seeking out monsters
By Arthur Schlesinger, The Guardian, October 19, 2004

President Bush is a militant idealist. He proposes to use America's military, economic and cultural power to spread "liberty". However, there are a lot of bad guys on the planet. Is the US obliged to eliminate them all? Does the US serve as the world's judge, jury and executioner?

As John Quincy Adams, perhaps our greatest secretary of state, said, America, while sympathising with struggling peoples, "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy". Should America seek out monsters, Adams continued, "the fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force ... She might become the dictatress of the world: she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit."

That is the significance, for America and the world, of the American presidential election. [complete article]

Can the Brits swing Ohio?
By Jefferson Morley, Washington Post, October 19, 2004

Around the world, online pundits and readers are obsessing about the U.S. presidential election as if it were their own. With polls showing Bush unpopular in most countries, the mounting interest reflects a feeling that U.S. voters are not merely choosing between Bush and Kerry, but deciding what kind of country America will be in the world's eyes.

For U.S. voters this unprecedented interest may feel meddlesome.

Last week, for example, the Guardian of Great Britain launched a campaign to help defeat Bush in the battleground state of Ohio.

"In the spirit of the Declaration of Independence's pledge to show 'a decent respect to the opinions of mankind,' " the liberal London daily declared, "we have come up with a unique way for non-Americans to express your views on the policies and candidates in this election to some of the people best placed to decide its outcome."

The paper's Clark County Project targets voters in one swing county in Ohio. The newspaper supplies readers with the names and addresses of voters and urges them to write letters opposing Bush. [complete article]

Comment -- As a long-time Guardian reader who can attest not only to the fact that the majority of the Guardian's readers have the best of intentions but also that Guardian newsprint is the best material for starting a fire, I want to offer my own letter to the independent voters of Clark County:

Please don't take offense at some well-meaning advice from your British friends over the pond. It goes without saying that none of them like Mr. Bush. But it's good to find out how it feels when foreigners tell you how to run your own country. That's how Iraqis feel.

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Sinclair fires critic of plan to broadcast anti-Kerry film
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, October 19, 2004

The Washington bureau chief of Sinclair Broadcast Group was fired yesterday after accusing the media company of "indefensible" conduct for planning to air a movie attacking Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam record in the coming days.

Jon Leiberman, who also was the lead political reporter for the 62-station television chain, told CNN last night that he was terminated for his criticism, which was quoted in yesterday's Baltimore Sun. He spoke out, he said, because "I feel so strongly that our credibility is at issue here. . . . I feel our company is trying to sway this election."

The Baltimore-based firm, which has drawn harsh criticism from Kerry and the Democrats, found itself explaining why it dismissed a top journalist for speaking to the media. [complete article]

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Fallujans flee from U.S., Zarqawi fight
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, October 19, 2004

The collapse of peace talks between Fallujah representatives and the Iraqi government signaled an end of hope for Ahmad Salim last Thursday. The generator mechanic loaded his tearful family into a car and escaped the embattled city of Fallujah by way of dusty farm tracks.

Already 80 percent of the city's population of 300,000 has made the same decision, he estimates, even as the intense US bombardments over the weekend gave way to relative quiet Monday.

"We were happy when the negotiations started, but were shocked when they arrested [chief Fallujah representative Sheikh Khaled] al-Jumaili," says Mr. Salim, speaking at a relative's home in Baghdad, where he has brought his wife and three children to wait out the conflict. "I think the Americans will wipe Fallujah from the map." [complete article]

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Iraqi government's peace talks with Falluja break off; U.S. drive against rebels expected
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, October 19, 2004

The chief negotiator for the city of Falluja said Monday that he had called off peace talks with the Iraqi government on the orders of guerrillas who control the city, in the latest development that seemed to signal the likelihood of an all-out offensive by the Americans and the Iraqi government to retake the city.

The negotiator, Khalid al-Jumali, said only hours after being released from American custody that the "council of holy warriors" had sent him a message telling him to end any negotiations with the Iraqi government. Mr. Jumali suggested that he had little choice but to go along and said talks might start again, but only with the insurgents' consent.

"The continuous bombing in Falluja is what led the mujahedeen council to tell me to suspend the negotiations," Mr. Jumali said.

His statement seemed to answer a crucial question that had hung over the long-running talks to reach a peaceful settlement in Falluja: whether Mr. Jumali and tribal leaders like him could force the insurgents to disarm if that were called for in a peace agreement.

In previous interviews, Mr. Jumali suggested that the tribal leaders, with deep roots in the city, maintained enough leverage over the guerrillas. On Monday, he suggested that his leverage was minimal. [complete article]

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Zarqawi-bin Laden link is 'credible,' U.S. says
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2004

U.S. counter-terrorism officials Monday described as "credible" an Internet announcement in which Abu Musab Zarqawi's network in Iraq purportedly "pledged allegiance" to Osama bin Laden.

The CIA, other U.S. intelligence agencies and foreign counter-terrorism officials are working to decipher what led to the apparent alliance, according to one U.S. counter-terrorism official.

In a message posted Sunday on a website linked to Zarqawi's network, someone claiming to be Zarqawi said that Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad recently "joined under the banner of Al Qaeda."

"We announce that the Tawhid wal Jihad group, its prince and soldiers, have pledged allegiance to the sheik of the mujahedin Osama bin Laden," the statement said.

"We view it as credible," the U.S. official said, adding that U.S. authorities believed it was evidence that the two groups had entered into a formal and "mutually beneficial" arrangement. [complete article]

Zarqawi and al-Qaeda, unlikely bedfellows
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, October 20, 2004

It's a match made in (virtual) mujahideen paradise: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his group al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Unity and Holy War), swearing loyalty to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda on the Internet.

Now that's a real October surprise. The "Zarqawi" letter, in Arabic, goes straight to the point: "Oath of loyalty of leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi towards the Sheikh of the Mujahideen, Osama bin Laden." It is signed by "Zarqawi". It qualifies bin Laden as the supreme jihad commander. And then the most intriguing part: it implies that al-Qaeda had finally recognized the merits of Zarqawi's strategy. "Slowly our honorable brothers in al-Qaeda began to understand the strategy of al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in the land of two rivers ... and they began to rejoice over our program." That's odd: if al-Qaeda thinks Zarqawi is so effective, it should consider joining al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, and not the other way around.

Washington officials say the letter may be an al-Qaeda warning call before an imminent major attack against the United States. Cynics say the letter - showing up only two weeks before the presidential election - may be a warped endorsement of President George W Bush on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin's (according to whom not voting for Bush means supporting terrorism). [complete article]

Comment -- If, as Pepe Escobar suggests, this "Zarqawi declaration" is actually a US-Iraqi "black operation" designed to set the stage for an all-out assault on Fallujah, it's interesting that the US would emphasize the credibility of a claim that actually undermines the credibility of the previous Cheney claims that Zarqawi is the key connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. Doesn't this make Zarqawi a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to bin Laden's cause?

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It has been clear for several months that the United States is losing its war in Iraq. What remains to be seen is whether Americans will come to realize this fact before the election or after it. Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, November, 2004

British soldiers near Baghdad would give Bush a big boost
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, October 19, 2004

The Pentagon's request for Britain to move troops to more dangerous areas closer to Baghdad underlines how over-extended United States forces are, on the eve of an expected major assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

Speaking in New Jersey yesterday, President George Bush made no mention of the request as he promised to see through the campaign in Iraq to a victorious conclusion. But the issue of a redeployment of British troops might yet feature in the campaign, especially if London agrees to do so before election day on 2 November.

His opponent, John Kerry, has repeatedly attacked the President for failing to assemble a genuine coalition in Iraq, saying that the US was taking 90 per cent of the casualties and facing 90 per cent of the cost of the war. With crack British troops closer to the most dangerous insurgency in the centre and north of the country, Mr Bush could use British reinforcements to hit back at those claims. [complete article]

Blair plan to shift Iraq force assailed
By Glenn Frankel, Washington Post, October 19, 2004

British lawmakers in the ruling and main opposition parties alike sharply criticized Prime Minister Tony Blair's government on Monday for planning to dispatch hundreds of British troops to an area just south of Baghdad to supplement U.S. forces.

Speaking during a government presentation in the House of Commons, legislators accused U.S. forces of showing reckless disregard for Iraqi civilians and expressed alarm that the deployment of British troops would help free up the Americans for an all-out assault on the city of Fallujah. Some lawmakers also accused the Bush administration of seeking greater British participation as an election ploy to demonstrate to U.S. voters that there is international support for the Iraq campaign.

The criticism came not just from the war's long-standing critics, but from several of Blair's most ardent Labor Party loyalists. They contended that their leader is being dragged into a Vietnam-style quagmire by his close ally, President Bush. [complete article]

Black Watch facing test that the GIs failed
By Colin Freeman, The Scotsman, October 19, 2004

"Whenever we get trouble with the locals, it's because the Americans have been here," one British sergeant told me last year near Basra. "It gets to the point where we'd rather not have them coming into our sector at all."

Some of these impressions are no doubt partly informed by what they read in British newspapers, which have taken great pride in portraying "Our Boys" as softly-softly heroes and the Yanks as trigger-happy cowboys. In fact, opportunities for direct comparisons are generally limited, given that the British and American sectors of Iraq are mostly separated by several hundred miles of sandy desert.

But among the one group whose opinion really does count - Iraqis themselves - the perception of a good-soldier/bad-soldier divide has developed entirely on its own. Many who travel between American-controlled Baghdad and British-controlled Basra insist - without any prompting from me - that things are more relaxed, better-run and more friendly down south.

The real difference between the UK and the US, though, is not about cheery smiles at checkpoints or foot patrols in soft berets: American soldiers, when faced with crowds of friendly Iraqis, are every bit as good, if not better, at responding in kind. Instead, it is when things go wrong - when there are crowds of unfriendly Iraqis - that a yawning gulf quickly opens up so noticeably. [complete article]

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Iraqi forces may need five years, report says
The Guardian, October 19, 2004

The US-led coalition may need to spend another five years in Iraq before the country's own security forces are able to take over and guarantee security, a London thinktank said today.

And even then, success in Iraq is not a foregone conclusion, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in its annual report.

The IISS said that bringing peace to Iraq will depend on the Iraqi interim government taking control of the country's security and winning public confidence. The report highlighted efforts to build up Iraqi government forces, but said the task was still in a very early stage. [complete article]

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Limited U.N. role hinders Iraq vote
By Robin Wright and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, October 19, 2004

The United Nations has failed to fully staff its operation in Iraq, imperiling the timing and quality of the elections there and forcing inexperienced Iraqis to take the lead in preparing for the country's first democratic balloting, due in January, U.S. officials and election experts said.

Of the 35 U.N. officials in Iraq, only four or five are election experts, U.N. officials said. In Afghanistan, which has a similar-size population, the U.N. had 600 international staff, including 266 election experts, for the first democratic poll this month. A major increase in Iraq is unlikely soon because of deteriorating security and the U.S. failure to quickly mobilize Georgian and Fijian troops for a protection force or provide an acceptable alternative, U.S. and U.N. officials said. [complete article]

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Catastrophic success
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, October 19, 2004

Gen. Tommy R. Franks climbed out of a C-130 plane at the Baghdad airport on April 16, 2003, and pumped his fist into the air. American troops had pushed into the capital of liberated Iraq little more than a week before, and it was the war commander's first visit to the city.

Much of the Sunni Triangle was only sparsely patrolled, and Baghdad was still reeling from a spasm of looting. Apache attack helicopters prowled the skies as General Franks headed to the Abu Ghraib North Palace, a retreat for Saddam Hussein that now served as the military's headquarters.

Huddling in a drawing room with his top commanders, General Franks told them it was time to make plans to leave. Combat forces should be prepared to start pulling out within 60 days if all went as expected, he said. By September, the more than 140,000 troops in Iraq could be down to little more than a division, about 30,000 troops.

To help bring stability and allow the Americans to exit, President Bush had reviewed a plan the day before seeking four foreign divisions - including Arab and NATO troops - to take on peacekeeping duties.

As the Baghdad meeting drew to a close, the president in a teleconference congratulated the commanders on a job well done. Afterward, they posed for photos and puffed on victory cigars. [complete article]

Insurgency threw a wrench into military's supply planning
By John Hendren and Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2004

Prewar forecasts that failed to account for a lengthy and bloody insurgency have left the military struggling to provide all the equipment needed to do battle in Iraq, defense officials said Monday.

The Army has made substantial progress in equipping soldiers since December, when the top ground commander in Iraq complained of shortages to his superiors. But post-invasion projections that did not account for persistent assaults on U.S. troops have left supply strategists straining to catch up, even as they contend with equipping the troops over increasingly perilous Iraqi roads. [complete article]

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Killing drives wedge between troops
By Edmund Sanders and Suhail Ahmed, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2004

Like most men from his impoverished Bedouin village, 17-year-old Falah Zaggam joined the Iraqi national guard for a job and steady paycheck.

Federico Merida, 21, was raising a family and working at a furniture business in North Carolina when his U.S. National Guard unit was sent to Iraq earlier this year.

Late one night last spring, the two guardsmen found themselves alone in a lookout tower at a military base here in Ad Dawr, near Tikrit in northern Iraq. They were supposed to be working together to ward off insurgents.

But before the shift ended, Merida shot the Iraqi to death and threw his body off the tower. [complete article]

Soldiers fear that they are 'sleeping with the enemy'
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, October 18, 2004

If the US marines and Iraqi national guardsmen living at the Karmah military barracks near Fallujah talk at all, they speak through the bars of a small window.

The Americans peer out from the ammunition room, filled with weapons confiscated from suspected insurgents, trading banter with the Iraqis who stand on tiptoes in a huddle outside, their eyes squinting against the glare of the late summer sun.

Though there is laughter, things are not as they should be at Karmah barracks. "This is camp poison," whispers a marine. "Watch your back."

The sinister atmosphere at Karmah barracks is not difficult to understand. The marines are convinced that many, perhaps most, of the 140 members of the Iraqi National Guard (ING) they share the camp with are double agents working on behalf of the insurgents holding Fallujah.

In the past week alone the marines have arrested five of the guardsmen, including their commanding officer, Capt Ali Mohammed Jasim. [complete article]

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Iraqis tried by al Sadr for aiding U.S. remain missing
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, October 18, 2004

In a vault three stories beneath the sprawling Shiite Muslim cemetery in the holy city of Najaf, Hatem Khashan awaited his execution.

The 56-year-old Iraqi border policeman's crime was collaborating with the Americans. His judge and jury were henchmen of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, the head of the largest Iraqi-bred insurgency, which had been battling U.S. troops in the center of the city. His sentence, handed down in al Sadr's religious court, would be swift with no appeal.

Khashan was to be tied facedown on a rickety bed frame in the vault. He would then be beaten with a rock-filled section of garden hose until he was dead. [complete article]

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Two pictures emerge of militants' power
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, October 18, 2004

Top American military officials said in interviews that they won't shy from an all-out confrontation with militants in Fallujah, and they expect victory over a nationwide insurgency that they described as fragmented, weakened, and losing popular support.

But on the ground, a different picture of the resistance is emerging. Military statistics indicate that insurgents across the country have killed more Americans with every passing month since June, even as the number of attacks has fluctuated widely.

And the outpouring of pro-resistance sentiment in the streets and Sunni Muslim mosques of Baghdad over the past few days suggests that a full US ground invasion of Fallujah could further embolden opposition to the government and the United States, while unleashing a wave of popular anger like that which gripped Iraq in April, when Marines briefly entered the rebel-held city.

The picture of an insurgency whose ranks are growing and whose attacks are increasingly lethal is starkly at odds with the official US military assessment of a desperate, fractious array of fighters presented to a reporter in a recent background briefing.

Senior military officials disputed Iraqi assertions that the insurgency has deep roots among nationalists across the country who support armed resistance to US forces but vehemently oppose terrorist groups like Tawhid and Jihad, which has beheaded two Americans and a Briton.

"I think it's wrong to call this a nationalist insurgency. They aren't nationalists," said US Army Brigadier General John Defreitas III, deputy chief of staff for intelligence of the Multinational Force-Iraq. "I don't see anything positive that's being offered by the former regime elements."

But at Sunni mosques across Baghdad on Friday, and across the western Anbar Province where guerrillas have operated freely out of headquarters in Fallujah and Ramadi, clerics exhorted Iraqis to prepare for a showdown in Fallujah with US and Iraqi government troops that most Iraqis view as imminent and inevitable. [complete article]

Comment -- Fallujah is likely to represent the core of this conflict precisely because Americans refuse to see its centrality. Americans see Fallujah as the heart of the insurgency, yet as they continue to pound the city it is becoming the heart of Iraq.

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Soldiers saw refusing order as their last stand
By Neela Bannerjee and Ariel Hart, New York Times, October 18, 2004

What does it take for a man like Staff Sgt. Michael Butler, a 24-year veteran of the Army and the Reserve who was a soldier in the first Persian Gulf war and a reserve called up to fight in the current war in Iraq, to risk everything by disobeying a direct order in wartime?

On the morning of Oct. 13, the military says, Sergeant Butler and most of his platoon, some 18 men and women from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, refused to deliver a shipment of fuel from the Tallil Air Base near Nasiriya, Iraq, to another base much farther north.

The Army has begun an inquiry, and the soldiers could face disciplinary measures, including possible courts-martial. But Jackie Butler, Sergeant Butler's wife, and her family in Jackson say he would not have jeopardized his career and his freedom for something impulsive or unimportant.

The soldiers, many of whom have called home this weekend, said their trucks were unsafe and lacked a proper armed escort, problems that have plagued them since they went to Iraq nine months ago, their relatives said. The time had come for them, for her husband, to act, Ms. Butler said.

"I'm proud that he said 'no,' " Ms. Butler said. "They had complained and complained for months to the chain of command about the equipment and trucks. But nothing was done, so I think he felt he had to take a stand."

Other soldiers completed the mission the platoon turned down, the military kept functioning, and the Army has cast the incident as isolated.

But as the soldiers involved in the refusal in Tallil and others begin to speak out, it is growing more apparent that the military has yet to solve the lack of training, parts and equipment that has riddled the military operation in Iraq from the outset, especially among National Guard and Reserve units. [complete article]

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Marine returns from Iraq to emotional ruin, suicide
By Adam Gorlick, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), October 16, 2004

Now, nearly four months after his suicide, the Luceys are trying to make sense of how Jeff became unraveled after serving in Iraq.

Shaun Lamory, one of Jeff's friends since high school, figures it this way: "He was always the happiest kid in the world he was too nice. And he was put into hell. And nice people don't go to hell."

But the Luceys don't spend too much time wondering what may have happened to their son in the desert, where he told his family he was ordered to shoot two unarmed Iraqi prisoners at close range. [complete article]

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Losing Mosul?
By Andrew Lee Butters, Time, October 16, 2004

Life still appears normal in many parts of Mosul, especially in the Kurdish neighborhoods on the eastern side of the Tigris River. Stores are open, traffic is thick and the Iraqi National Guard patrols the streets. But much of Mosul has become an incubator for regional terrorist groups like Ansar al-Islam, the Kurdish fundamentalists, and for foreign fighters crossing the still unsecured border from Syria, according to U.S. and Iraqi security officials. "Many kinds of criminals and terrorists come into Mosul from Syria. It's like the Super Bowl for them," says Salim Kako, a top official of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, which represents many Christians in Mosul. The outsiders have mixed with Mosul's homegrown fundamentalist Islamic opposition and a potent Baathist resistance fueled by the city's large number of unemployed soldiers. This stew of local and outside insurgents is stepping up attacks on American and Iraqi security forces — and anyone suspected of collaborating with them. Week after week, car bombings, improvised explosives and shootings take a steady toll of Iraqi National Guard and U.S. personnel

The insurgents hope to pull Mosul apart by targeting those people best-placed to help unify it. Threats and assassinations often target the city's professional classes, workers in its economically vital oil industry and known political moderates. "Anyone who advocates freedom and democracy is considered to be publicly for America and a target," says Rooa al-Zrary, a Mosul journalist whose father, the editor of a moderate newspaper, was murdered last year. Doctors are fleeing, finding work in Erbil. "The situation is bad and getting worse," says a surgeon at Salaam Hospital, the city's largest. Adds a colleague: "We feel like there are eyes watching everyone, and that the resistance is growing stronger every day." At Mosul University, teaching is now a dangerous occupation. The dean of the college of law was found dead outside her home, along with her husband. And three professors have been murdered, including the head of the political science and the translation departments. [complete article]

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Cash from chaos
By Christopher Dickey and Tom Masland, Newsweek, October 25, 2004

Wasn't it just last year that we heard the invasion of Iraq would help make oil cheaper, safer, more secure? President George W. Bush came to office alarmed about increasing U.S. dependence on autocratic and corrupt regimes that rule atop the world's biggest oilfields: among them the mullahs of Iran, the royal family of Saudi Arabia, the democratic yet venally corrupt government in Nigeria. And then there was Saddam Hussein. By invading Iraq, American forces would remove one dictator and the threat he posed to the interests and security of the United States. They would also stabilize one of the world's biggest oil producers, and begin spreading democracy. More oil would flow to market, and more freedom would flow to the region. Yet we've seen the opposite. The world's autocratic and corrupt oil producers are richer than they have been in years. OPEC members alone expect an estimated $300 billion in total revenues this year, much of it in windfall profits. [complete article]

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The Middle East awaits
Editorial, New York Times, October 18, 2004

The increasingly bloody stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians is certain to force itself onto the agenda of the next American president. That should be evident from the growing toll of innocent lives on both sides and the anger and despair spreading across an already inflamed region. Yet with barely two weeks left in the campaign, President Bush and Senator John Kerry have all but ignored this important issue, with neither offering any serious proposals to break the deadlock.

Instead, they have joined in offering Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, virtually uncritical support for whatever military operations or settlement expansions he chooses to undertake. After pronouncing anathemas on the discredited Yasir Arafat, they have stood by waiting for a new, less compromised Palestinian leadership to somehow emerge miraculously to replace him. This is not a policy. It is an abdication of leadership that costs Israeli and Palestinian lives, deepens mistrust and makes an eventual peace that much harder to achieve. Washington cannot afford to remain on such a destructive course. It must work to rebuild its influence as a force for Middle East peace.

Although the United States has long been a close ally of Israel and firmly committed to its security, Washington had also managed, prior to the Bush administration, to convince the Palestinians of its good faith as a peace broker. Over the past three and a half years, that trust has been needlessly and recklessly forfeited. This administration has allowed itself to become the pawn of Mr. Sharon's machinations. How far this has now gone is clear from a recent Israeli newspaper interview in which the prime minister's chief of staff bragged that Mr. Sharon had secured American endorsement for positions designed to postpone serious discussion of Palestinian statehood until the far distant future.

To re-establish America's credibility as a peace broker, the next president must show that the United States remains committed to the fair and viable two-state solution that Mr. Bush endorsed two years ago and will vigorously oppose all actions by either side that undermine it. It is vitally important for Washington to condemn any official Palestinian connivance in terrorism. But it must once again learn to raise its voice against Israeli settlement expansions and provocative military operations. [complete article]

Comment -- When the New York Times gets tough, it reminds me of the British politician Dennis Healey describing a challenge from his Conservative opponent. It's like being savaged by a dead sheep. George Bush and Ariel Sharon probably feel flattered to be incurring the NYT's "wrath."

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Alliance breeds influence for Israel
By Susan Taylor Martin, St. Petersburg Times, October 17, 2004

During their debate on foreign policy, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry wrangled over Iraq. They also tussled over Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.

But except for two fleeting references, there was no discussion of the issue that so often commands center stage: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was an omission that surprised few experts.

"This is an area where both candidates, at least in their declared policies, agree solidly," says Duncan Clarke, professor of international relations at American University. "Both of them have repeatedly stated their undying commitment to Israel and Israel's interests."

Born in 1948 from the ashes of the Holocaust, Israel has inspired fierce loyalty among generations of American policymakers. In part, that stems from a genuine feeling that Israel, with its democratic, pro-Western government, is the United States' most reliable ally in a tumultuous region rife with dictatorships.

But the support has been deftly cultivated by pro-Israel organizations, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Through an aggressive network of members, lobbyists and friends high in the Bush administration, AIPAC wields a power that keeps politicians toeing a pro-Israel line. [complete article]

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Children of the revolution
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, October 18, 2004

No one knows how 12-year-old Mohammed al-Najar came to be killed by an Israeli tank shell. Although his school in the Jabaliya refugee camp was closed by the Israeli incursion, he had left home early. His father, Diab, 32, who was taking a shower when Mohammed slipped out, had repeatedly warned him not to go near the school in a perilous no-man's land between the Israeli tanks and a sandbagged position used by the gunmen. "I didn't know he had gone. "

Diab, dazed with grief, said at the mourning tent for the boy, adding before his voice trailed off: "He just went out. Nobody saw it. He was alone." It took the family till the afternoon to track his body down at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. Part of his head had been blown off; he was only recognisable because of a burn mark on his left arm left by a kitchen fire two weeks earlier. Some time between 7.30am and noon Mohammed became a statistic, one of at least 10 children under 14 who, even the Israeli army acknowledges, were killed during the 17-day ground incursion into the overcrowded neighbourhoods of northern Gaza which ended at the weekend.

The Israelis sometimes argue that militants use children as human shields; the Palestinians that the Israeli army is too brutal or too undisciplined to worry, in its pursuit of militants, about the deaths of innocent bystanders, however young. Each side, in other words, accuses the other of indifference towards the fate of children caught up in the conflict. [complete article]

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Settlers warn of civil war; PM rejects referendum call
By Nadav Shragai and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, October 18, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday rejected calls by settler leaders to let the public decide on the disengagement plan either through new elections or by means of a referendum.

Meeting with leaders of the Yesha Council of settlers for the first time since announcing his pullout plan, Sharon stressed that Israel was under intense international pressure and that it had to implement the disengagement plan and evacuate the illegal outposts.

"I am making an effort to save as much as possible," the prime minister said at the start of the meeting, pointing out the U.S. position, as well as that of the rest of the world and the political parties in Israel.

"Don't profess to represent the nation more than I do," Sharon said to the settler leaders, adding: "I have no intention of capitulating to the threats of the rabbis."

Last week, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, a leading religious Zionist rabbi, urged soldiers to refuse to evacuate settlements; and on Friday, 60 other prominent religious Zionist rabbis joined his call. [complete article]

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'When we came back they had destroyed all the houses'
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, October 18, 2004

The Israeli general who commanded the destruction of the only Jewish settlement in the Sinai before it was returned to Egypt recently offered Ariel Sharon advice on how to carry out his pledge to remove settlers from the Gaza strip.

"Evicting someone from the home they've lived in for 20 years isn't a simple matter," wrote Brigadier General Obed Tira. "To remove a family from its home is embarrassing and difficult, and that is why the removal needs to be done with a lot of love and a lot of wisdom."

The soldiers who arrived outside the home of Ghalia Abu Radwan, her octogenarian parents, blind siblings and assortment of children in Khan Yunis in the middle of the night showed no love, and, if they were embarrassed, there was no way to know it because they were hidden behind the armour of their bulldozers and tanks.

As the loudspeakers on the tanks ordered the families out, and bursts of gunfire sharpened the terror, Mrs Abu Radwan shepherded her blind brother and sister to safety.

"I grabbed them by the hand and shouted to my mother to follow us," said Mrs Abu Radwan. "Think of it - 25 children, two blind adults and my parents who cannot run. My sister-in-law left her three year-old behind in the chaos and had to go back to get him. When we came back they had destroyed all the houses." [complete article]

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Killing children is no longer a big deal
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, October 17, 2004

More than 30 Palestinian children were killed in the first two weeks of Operation Days of Penitence in the Gaza Strip. It's no wonder that many people term such wholesale killing of children "terror." Whereas in the overall count of all the victims of the intifada the ratio is three Palestinians killed for every Israeli killed, when it comes to children the ratio is 5:1. According to B'Tselem, the human rights organization, even before the current operation in Gaza, 557 Palestinian minors (below the age of 18) were killed, compared to 110 Israeli minors.

Palestinian human rights groups speak of even higher numbers: 598 Palestinian children killed (up to age 17), according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, and 828 killed (up to age 18) according to the Red Crescent. Take note of the ages, too. According to B'Tselem, whose data are updated until about a month ago, 42 of the children who have been killed were 10; 20 were seven; and eight were two years old when they died. The youngest victims are 13 newborn infants who died at checkpoints during birth.

With horrific statistics like this, the question of who is a terrorist should have long since become very burdensome for every Israeli. Yet it is not on the public agenda. Child killers are always the Palestinians, the soldiers always only defend us and themselves, and the hell with the statistics. [complete article]

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Gaza girl death officer cleared
BBC News, October 18, 2004

The Israeli army has cleared an officer accused of repeatedly firing into the lifeless body of a young Palestinian girl of "unethical" behaviour.

But the officer remains suspended for poor relations with subordinates.

An inquiry began after soldiers told the story of 13-year-old Iman al-Hams's death to the media, provoking an outcry among many Israelis. [...]

Without revealing their identities, soldiers from the Givati brigade platoon told Israeli television how their officer sprayed Iman al-Hams with automatic gunfire on 5 October in the Tel Sultan neighbourhood of Rafah - a restricted area near Gaza's border with Egypt.

"We saw her from a distance of 70m. She was fired at ... from the outpost. She fled and was wounded," a soldier said.

While Iman was lying, wounded or dead, about 70m from the Israeli guard post, the platoon commander approached her and fired two bullets from close range at her head, the soldiers said.

He then went back a second time, put his weapon on the automatic setting and - ignoring their objections on the walkie-talkie - emptied his entire magazine into her body.

But the army says it accepts the commander's claim that he fired into the ground near the girl after coming under fire in a dangerous area.

It has not explained why the officer shot into the ground rather than at the source of the fire. [complete article]

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Bush said no to plan to send Muslim peacekeepers to Iraq to help U.N. organize elections
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, October 18, 2004

President George W. Bush rebuffed a plan last month for a Muslim peacekeeping force that would have helped the United Nations organize elections in Iraq, according to Saudi and Iraqi officials.

As a result, the UN continues to have a skeletal presence in Iraq, with only four staff members working full time on preparing for elections set for the end of January. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has refused to establish a new UN headquarters in Baghdad unless countries commit troops for a special force to protect it.

Saudi leaders, including Crown Prince Abdullah, personally lobbied Bush in July to sign off on the plan to establish a contingent of several hundred troops from Arab and Muslim nations. Abdullah discussed the plan in a 10-minute phone conversation with Bush on July 28 after meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, according to Saudi officials familiar with the negotiations.

Diplomats said Annan accepted the plan. But the Bush administration objected because the special force would have been controlled by the UN instead of by U.S. military officers who run the Multi-National Force in Iraq. Muslim and Arab countries refused to work under U.S. command, and the initiative died in early September. [complete article]

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Post-war planning non-existent
By Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, October 17, 2004

In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.

Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."

A Knight Ridder review of the administration's Iraq policy and decisions has found that it invaded Iraq without a comprehensive plan in place to secure and rebuild the country. The administration also failed to provide some 100,000 additional U.S. troops that American military commanders originally wanted to help restore order and reconstruct a country shattered by war, a brutal dictatorship and economic sanctions.

In fact, some senior Pentagon officials had thought they could bring most American soldiers home from Iraq by September 2003. Instead, more than a year later, 138,000 U.S. troops are still fighting terrorists who slip easily across Iraq's long borders, diehards from the old regime and Iraqis angered by their country's widespread crime and unemployment and America's sometimes heavy boots.

"We didn't go in with a plan. We went in with a theory," said a veteran State Department officer who was directly involved in Iraq policy. [complete article]

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'They want Zarqawi. They can't kill him so they're killing us'
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, October 17, 2004

The missiles struck at just after 3am with devastating effect. Eight members of the al-Jabouri family were killed as they slept, their home destroyed. The following morning the US military issued a statement saying that fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, America's number one enemy in Iraq, had been taken out in a precision strike in Fallujah.

The town had been pounded nightly for three weeks, with the Americans insisting that those killed and maimed were insurgents mainly from Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group, which kidnapped and murdered the British hostage Ken Bigley and his two American colleagues. Repeated protests by doctors in local hospitals that the vast majority of the casualties are civilians have been dismissed as rebel propaganda. Now the town is waiting for an imminent ground and air assault, amid fears of a bloodbath.

Among the dead in the al-Jabouri family were 26-year-old Atika, who was six months pregnant, her three-year-old son Omar, her husband Thamir, 28, her sister Athra and her mother. Atika's prematurely born baby lived for a few hours after her, but they were buried in the same grave. [complete article]

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Inside besieged Falluja
BBC News, October 16, 2004

The mood in the city is grim. It is start of Ramadan, but there is nowhere to celebrate and no food to celebrate with.

Falluja's most popular kebab restaurant used to be the place to go at the end of the day to break the Ramadan fast - but that was bombed by the Americans this week.

Many families have used a lull in the bombing to leave the city.

Fighters are engaged in skirmishes with US forces in the eastern and southern areas. US positions are about half a kilometre from Falluja.

No single militia force controls the whole city. Different clans in the city have their own militias but they all seem to be working together to fend off US forces.

The people of Falluja are very clannish - but they have also always been very religious and right now faith is a stronger bond than family. [complete article]

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Iraq's barbed realities
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, October 17, 2004

In July 2003, when travel around Iraq didn't require armored cars and armed guards, my translator and I took a day trip to Fallujah. Unrest was on the rise there and we were curious about who was behind the violence. Was it indeed former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party? We wanted to get some truth on the ground. Even if the reporting foray was a bust, we planned to stuff ourselves at Haji Hussein, our favorite kebab restaurant.

At the mayor's office and the police station, my translator, Naseer, tried to find someone who would speak with candor. "They're all liars," he declared after a few interviews. Then, as we were about to give up, a mayoral aide told us to look up the city's senior tribal chief, Sheik Khamis Hassnawi. "He'll tell you what's really happening," the aide whispered.

In a city where residents often began conversations with diatribes against the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, Hassnawi was a refreshing exception. Although he appeared to come from central casting, with his prominent nose, weathered face and checkered headscarf, he talked for much of the afternoon -- over Dunhill cigarettes and takeout from Haji Hussein -- about how Fallujah could be saved with the help of the U.S. military. The Americans, he said, needed to find a way to employ the legions of former soldiers and other disaffected young men milling about the city. Unlike Shiites in the south, who had grown accustomed to unemployment and poverty, Sunnis in Fallujah had thrived on government contracts, smuggling and graft. Postwar joblessness was a new, embarrassing -- and dangerous -- phenomenon. "Either you put them to work," Hassnawi said, "or they will turn to the resistance." [complete article]

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We've seen the enemy and they are ... who, exactly?
By Edward Wong, New York Times, October 17, 2004

To hear the American commanders in Iraq tell it, William Butler Yeats could well be the poet laureate of Iraq's insurgency. If the guerrillas were to win this war with their suicide car bombs and televised beheadings, what would come next? Nothing, the commanders say, but a widening gyre, and things falling apart, and, finally, mere anarchy being loosed in the cradle of civilization.

"This is a negative insurgency," Brig. Gen. Erwin Lessel, deputy director of operations for the multinational forces, said in an interview inside the fortified American headquarters here, near where two powerful bombs killed five people on Thursday and left the Americans bracing for more mayhem at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. "Unlike a classical insurgency, these groups don't offer anything."

"They've got differing goals, competing ideologies,'' he continued, "and don't offer anything positive for the government."

The general's assertion raised a salient point about the guerrillas, particularly those in Sunni Muslim groups: A year and a half after Baghdad fell, the insurgency has yet to develop a full-fledged political wing, or a coherent political program. Classic insurgencies often have a division of labor between military and political arms, with the latter defining the goals of the struggle and pursuing them through opposition politics. The Vietcong and the Irish Republican Army, for example, had tactical commanders fighting on the battlefield while politicians hammered away at the bargaining table.

But to think that the Sunni resistance's end goal is to spread chaos, or to assume that its lack of any apparent political machinery is a weakness that can be exploited, is to underestimate the fighters, say scholars of insurgencies who have been to Iraq. [complete article]

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Blair is 'using our troops to boost Bush'
By Patrick Hennessy, Sean Rayment and Melissa Kite, Telegraph, October 17, 2004

Tony Blair last night stood accused of conspiring to use British troops in Iraq as a "political gesture" to help George W Bush in the US presidential election.

The Prime Minister faced protests from all sides over plans to redeploy British forces to an area 25 miles south of Baghdad, freeing the US 24th Marine Expeditionary Force for an expected assault on the rebel stronghold of Fallujah.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, is preparing to make a Commons statement tomorrow announcing that about 650 soldiers from the Black Watch will leave Basra and come under US command "for a few weeks".

The Sunday Telegraph understands, however, that the deployment is being resisted by Gen Sir Michael Walker, the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Nicholas Soames, the Conservative defence spokesman, also expressed concern yesterday and suggested that British troops were being moved for political reasons. "We need to watch the timing of all this," he said, "and to be careful that this isn't just being used as a kind of political gesture to reassure the Americans of Prime Minister Blair's support for the American efforts. [complete article]

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Neo-Ba'athists vs. the Shi'ites
By Juan Cole,, October 16, 2004

Brig. Gen. Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, the head of the Iraqi secret police, has charged 27 employees in the Iranian embassy in Baghdad with espionage and sabotage. He blames them for the assassination of over a dozen members of the Iraqi secret police in the past month. He claims to have seized from "safehouses" Persian documents that show that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its militia, the Badr Corps, served as Iranian agents in helping with the assassinations.

SCIRI is represented in the caretaker government by Adil Abdul Mahdi, the finance minister, and the party has been an ally of convenience of the U.S. against the Sadr Movement. The party was formed in Tehran by Iraqi exiles in 1982 and was close to Iranian hardliners. SCIRI officials vigorously denied Shahwani's charges on Thursday. They said that the neo-Ba'ath network in the Allawi government is seeking to discredit Iraqis who fought against Saddam from Iran in the 1980s.

SCIRI is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and there is some danger that if the neo-Ba'athists attack this Shi'ite party they will push Sistani into opposition to the government. Indeed, insofar as most of the neo-Ba'athists are Sunnis, this sort of campaign could finally produce the kind of Sunni-Shi'ite violence many feared before the war, but which has largely so far been avoided. [complete article]

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Keep your eye on Chalabi
By Bartle Breese Bull, New York Times (IHT), October 16, 2004

Moqtada al-Sadr's headquarters in Najaf is in a tiny alley next to the city's famous shrine of the Imam Ali. As the fighting between American forces and his Mahdi Army wound down in August, I went there with two of his men, who showed me a piece of paper bearing two seals: One belonged to their boss, the other to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the ultimate Shiite religious authority in Iraq. Below the seals were the five promises of Sadr's cease-fire, including his commitment to "participate actively in the political process" and to "work cooperatively" toward Iraq's January elections.

At the time, many observers scoffed at the deal, citing Sadr's previous broken promises and the failure of his men to turn over their arms after the Najaf siege. Yet two recent developments - one covered in the international press, the other unnoticed - show that such skepticism may have been misplaced.

The first is Sadr's stated intention to form a political party; the second is the behind-the-scenes rejuvenation of Ahmad Chalabi, the former exile leader and longtime favorite of the Pentagon who so notoriously split with his American sponsors in May. Sadr's commitment is for real, it represents momentous progress for the democratic project in Iraq and it signals the emergence of a broad and powerful Shiite front - with Chalabi at its center. [complete article]

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Shiites considering alliance for election
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters (via Toronto Star), October 16, 2004

Iraq's Shiite parties may form an alliance to contest January elections as the race shapes up along sectarian and ethnic lines, senior politicians say.

Such an alliance could secure a dominant place for majority Shiites for the first time since Western powers carved out Iraq from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s.

"We are in the early stages of talks to form an all-Shiite list," said Daawa party official Haidar al-Obadi.

"But even if Shiites win a majority in parliament, no single group should be allowed to monopolize post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. We will be seeking consensus in power," he said.

Obadi said there were also talks about a national list bringing together all main Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni groups, but that such a list could prove too difficult to agree.

Top Shiite politicians have been knocking on the door of Iraq's most influential cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to seek his support in the election. Sistani has endorsed no party, but his aides say he wants all Iraqis to vote in the polls. [complete article]

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Without a doubt
By Ron Suskind, New York Times, October 17, 2004

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that "if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3." The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

"Just in the past few months," Bartlett said, "I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do." Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say: "This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them....

"This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts," Bartlett went on to say. "He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence." Bartlett paused, then said, "But you can't run the world on faith." [complete article]

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In the GOP, the long knives are out for the neoconservatives
By Thomas Omestad, US News and World Report, October 25, 2004

There's no question whom Richard Viguerie wants to see in the White House for the next four years. A founding father of the modern conservative movement, he is foursquare behind President Bush despite what he regards as undue influence from one wing of the GOP, the neoconservatives. In this, Viguerie reflects a hallowed Republican Party tradition: Mute policy differences and unite at election time.

But for Viguerie and other conservative leaders, maintaining that discipline this year is harder than usual. The Republicans' united front masks a growing struggle sparked by the president's hawkish and ambitious foreign policy--one that may burst into the open soon after the polls close, whoever wins. "Most conservatives are not comfortable with the neocons," Viguerie says. He decries the neocons as "overbearing" and "immensely influential.... They want to be the world's policeman. We don't feel our role is to be Don Quixote, righting all the wrongs in the world."

Viguerie's disquiet is widely shared by veteran conservative activists, who are increasingly blaming neoconservatives for placing Iraq at the center of the war on terrorism. "I'm hearing more discussion about foreign policy and the direction of the country than I have heard probably in the last 35 years," says Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation. [complete article]

See also Who'd be in, who'd be out (NYT).

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Broad use of harsh tactics is described at Cuba base
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, October 17, 2004

Many detainees at Guantanamo Bay were regularly subjected to harsh and coercive treatment, several people who worked in the prison said in recent interviews, despite longstanding assertions by military officials that such treatment had not occurred except in some isolated cases.

The people, military guards, intelligence agents and others, described in interviews with The New York Times a range of procedures that included treatment they said was highly abusive occurring over a long period of time, as well as rewards for prisoners who cooperated with interrogators.

One regular procedure that was described by people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison facility at the naval base in Cuba, was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels, said one military official who witnessed the procedure. The official said that was intended to make the detainees uncomfortable, as they were accustomed to high temperatures both in their native countries and their cells.

Such sessions could last up to 14 hours with breaks, said the official, who described the treatment after being contacted by The Times.

"It fried them," the official said, who said that anger over the treatment the prisoners endured was the reason for speaking with a reporter. Another person familiar with the procedure who was contacted by The Times said: "They were very wobbly. They came back to their cells and were just completely out of it." [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:

International poll: The world opposes Bush, except Israel
Haaretz, October 15, 2004
Two weeks before the U.S. election, hostility toward President George W. Bush has reached new heights internationally. A joint poll taken by 10 newspapers worldwide reveals that most of those surveyed oppose Bush's policies, want to see him defeated, and paint his influence on the global situation in the gloomiest colors.

Israelis, perhaps not surprisingly, are alone in their support of the American president. While in other countries, 60-80 percent of those asked said they believed the war in Iraq to have been a mistake, in Israel most thought it justified.

While more than half of those polled elsewhere stated their attitude toward the U.S. had deteriorated, most respondents in Israel said their opinion had improved, and 76 percent said the U.S. contributed to peace in the world. Among Israelis polled, 50 percent said they would like to see George Bush reelected, with only 24 percent for Kerry. (Read the complete results of the poll here.)

Sharon, Arafat, Kerry and Bush
By Tony Karon,, October 13, 2004
John Kerry and John Edwards scarcely miss an opportunity to skewer President Bush for his handling of Iraq, but when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the challengers give the administration a free pass. Teed up in the vice-presidential debate by moderator Gwen Ifill, who suggested the U.S. had been largely absent from the peace process under President Bush and asked what a Kerry administration would do differently, John Edwards half agreed with the idea that the Bush team had been on the sidelines but then restricted his own comments to an endorsement of Israel's security wall and of the Bush administration's refusal to deal with Yasser Arafat. In essence, he presented nothing different from the positions of the "absent" Bush administration. [...]

The next U.S. administration will inherit not just a stalled peace process, but a brush fire whose dangers are less acute for Israel than they are for the wider American battle against al-Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission argues, in its final report, that al-Qaeda thrives on Arab hostility to the U.S. fueled principally by two grievances: the invasion of Iraq, and U.S. support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. "America's policy choices have consequences," the Commission notes. "Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world." Bin Laden has constantly sought to justify his attacks on the U.S. in light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hoping to shackle the widespread Muslim identification with the Palestinians to his own agenda. The war on terror is, the 9/11 Commission notes, fundamentally, a battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. And given the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian issue to defining Muslim attitudes towards the U.S., it's hard to see America making much headway in the political war against al-Qaeda without substantial progress toward a fair resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether the U.S. election is won by Bush or Kerry, the new administration will have to do a lot more on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the posture implied by their campaign rhetoric.

Afghan warlords poised to take up power
By Nick Meo, The Independent, October 14, 2004
Alleged war criminals are poised to take positions of power in Afghanistan's new government, threatening hopes of democracy taking shape after last week's historic election, a human rights group has warned.

Men with bloody records from years of conflict will become judges, police chiefs and government ministers unless their appointments are blocked by presidential decree, according to a report by Afghanistan Justice Project.

The United States-based group has conducted detailed research into the darkest periods in recent Afghan history - the wars between 1978 and 2001 - and accuses some of the most powerful men in the country of involvement in murders, mass rapes, summary executions and indiscriminate rocketing and bombing of civilians.

James Baker's double life
By Naomi Klein, The Nation, October 12, 2004
When President Bush appointed former Secretary of State James Baker III as his envoy on Iraq's debt on December 5, 2003, he called Baker's job "a noble mission." At the time, there was widespread concern about whether Baker's extensive business dealings in the Middle East would compromise that mission, which is to meet with heads of state and persuade them to forgive the debts owed to them by Iraq. Of particular concern was his relationship with merchant bank and defense contractor the Carlyle Group, where Baker is senior counselor and an equity partner with an estimated $180 million stake.

Until now, there has been no concrete evidence that Baker's loyalties are split, or that his power as Special Presidential Envoy--an unpaid position--has been used to benefit any of his corporate clients or employers. But according to documents obtained by The Nation, that is precisely what has happened. Carlyle has sought to secure an extraordinary $1 billion investment from the Kuwaiti government, with Baker's influence as debt envoy being used as a crucial lever.

The secret deal involves a complex transaction to transfer ownership of as much as $57 billion in unpaid Iraqi debts. The debts, now owed to the government of Kuwait, would be assigned to a foundation created and controlled by a consortium in which the key players are the Carlyle Group, the Albright Group (headed by another former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright) and several other well-connected firms. Under the deal, the government of Kuwait would also give the consortium $2 billion up front to invest in a private equity fund devised by the consortium, with half of it going to Carlyle.

Study ties Hussein, guerrilla strategy
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, October 11, 2004
The "shock and awe" attack that toppled Saddam Hussein in three weeks is often touted as a brilliant strategy that defeated Iraq with relatively few US casualties. But new information suggests that the United States may have played into Hussein's plans for a quick war followed by a long guerrilla insurgency.

The report last week of the Iraq Survey Group, based partly on interviews with captured leaders of the secretive Iraqi regime, said Hussein planned to have his troops and loyalists pull back after an initial US thrust and engage the Americans under terms more favorable to the Iraqis.

The quick fall of Baghdad was once seen as vindication of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's belief in the power of smaller numbers of fast-moving troops. But recently, even President Bush has conceded that the early victory of the US-led coalition helped lay the groundwork for an insurgency that has claimed the lives of 929 US troops since the end of major combat on May 1, 2003.

Bush portrayed the insurgency as an accidental consequence of a war plan that worked too well. Last week, however, the Iraqi survey report declared a guerrilla insurgency is exactly what Hussein envisioned.

Iraq faces soaring toll of deadly disease
By Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, October 13, 2004
Soaring rates of disease and a crippled health system are posing a new crisis for the people of Iraq, threatening to kill more than have died in the aftermath of the war. Deadly infections including typhoid and tuberculosis are rampaging through the country, according to the first official report into the state of health in the country.

The alarming evidence is the legacy of years of neglect, crippling sanctions and two bloody conflicts. Iraq's network of hospitals and health centres, once admired throughout the Middle East, has been severely damaged by war and looting, leaving staff struggling to cope and adding to the crisis.

The report, compiled by the Ministry of Health in Baghdad, provides the first detailed portrait of the health of the Iraqi population and the state of its health services since the 2003 war. It is being launched today by Dr Ala'din Alwan, the Iraqi interim government's Minister of Health, at a conference of international donors in Tokyo.

Breaking ranks
By David Goodman, Mother Jones, October 11, 2004
Mike Hoffman would not be the guy his buddies would expect to see leading a protest movement. The son of a steelworker and a high school janitor from Allentown, Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1999 as an artilleryman to "blow things up." His transformation into an activist came the hard way—on the streets of Baghdad.

When Hoffman arrived in Kuwait in February 2003, his unit's highest-ranking enlisted man laid out the mission in stark terms. "You're not going to make Iraq safe for democracy," the sergeant said. "You are going for one reason alone: oil. But you're still going to go, because you signed a contract. And you're going to go to bring your friends home." Hoffman, who had his own doubts about the war, was relieved -- he'd never expected to hear such a candid assessment from a superior. But it was only when he had been in Iraq for several months that the full meaning of the sergeant's words began to sink in.

"The reasons for war were wrong," he says. "They were lies. There were no WMDs. Al Qaeda was not there. And it was evident we couldn"t force democracy on people by force of arms."

The revolution next time
By Laura Rozen, Boston Globe, October 10, 2004
As international concern mounts about Iran's nuclear aspirations, a fractious debate is emerging in Washington over what to do if multilateral diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear program.

Some basic facts are agreed upon: that Iran's nuclear program has become broadly popular in that country and has given further political strength and cohesion to a clerical regime that has also been under growing internal pressure from its population to reform. But here consensus ends.

To some American observers, these facts imply that the United States should grit its teeth and deal directly with a regime that calls America the Great Satan, perhaps even offering to lift US sanctions in exchange for Tehran abandoning its nuclear program. Another faction believes the United States should pursue the Bush administration's current course of multilateral diplomacy to its logical conclusion: Encourage the International Atomic Energy Agency to report Iran in noncompliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to the UN Security Council, thus triggering discussion of a host of various punitive measures, from travel bans and an oil embargo to possible enforced disarmament.

To another group, however, the current facts argue for an entirely different solution: Change the Iranian regime, their thinking goes, and the nuclear issue will take care of itself.

Leading the charge in favor of this idea is neoconservative writer and political operative Michael Ledeen. For years, Ledeen -- currently the Freedom Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and acontributing editor at National Review -- has argued that the chief source of international terrorism in the world is Tehran. In numerous articles and his most recent book, "The War Against the Terror Masters" (2002), Ledeen has insisted not only that overthrowing the regime in Tehran should have come before military intervention in Iraq (though he continues to strongly support that operation), but that it would be relatively easy. "You don't have to fire a shot," he told The New York Sun in November 2002. "The Iranians are dying to bring down the government themselves."

We must ask why
By Jason Burke, The Observer, October 10, 2004
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is 37, from a dirty, poor, industrial city in Jordan. Thuggish, politically unsophisticated and poorly educated, Zarqawi is representative of the new wave of militants filling the gap left by Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al-Qaeda whose influence on international terrorism is now limited to infrequent exhortations to violence issued from a hiding place high on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier.

Like bin Laden, Zarqawi's primary tactic is 'propaganda by deed'. His aim is not to inflict damage on the West or to scare us but to radicalise and mobilise the Islamic world. Unlike bin Laden, who has used carefully calibrated violence against targets symbolic of the cultural, economic, political or military power of the West, Zarqawi's favoured tactic is to shock with widely seen brutality.

Zarqawi turns to dramatic violence to rouse the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. Though more politically conscious than at any time since the wars with Israel of 1967 and 1973, they have so far failed to answer the radicals' call to arms. Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anger at America may be widespread but, even in Iraq, that has yet to translate into broad backing for the militants.

To have and to hold
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, October 7, 2004
"After the American elections there will be great massacres," a leading Lebanese statesman told me the other day. I listened closely, because the Lebanese have more experience with massacres than most of us, and this particular guy is also very well connected in Paris and Washington. "The Americans will clean out these people who are fighting them," he said. They will go into Fallujah. They will drive into the other no-go towns around the country. "But it will be a big, big massacre," repeated the very portly politician, nodding and sipping his Splenda-sweetened tea. The Lebanese got so experienced with slaughter during their 15-year civil war that they sometimes sound as if they’re talking about mowing the lawn.

Mr. Splenda figures the U.S.-led massacres in Iraq will be successful enough to allow the government of U.S.-anointed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to hold a vote in January, and get itself elected, and gradually -- very gradually -- build sufficient credibility to hold on to the U.S. backing that keeps it in power. Meanwhile the United States will keep trying to build some sort of effective Iraqi internal security force to lighten the American burden of fighting and dying to defend the Allawi regime. Mr. Splenda thinks this will work, in the sense of finally stabilizing Iraq enough for the United States to pull out at least a few of its troops in a couple of years, even if it has no intention of leaving the country altogether.

But Mr. Splenda was trying to be diplomatic. The blood-soaked history of his own country is our surest set of precedents for what's happening in Iraq, and several of them are potentially disastrous for the Bush administration’s ill-conceived and oft-revised plans.

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