The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Read about life for ordinary Iraqis at The BBC's daily Iraq log (November 29 until December 12)
A high-risk election in Iraq
By Tony Karon,, December 1, 2004

The idea of staging an election two months from now, when much of the country, including the capital and even the heavily protected "Green Zone" that houses government and U.S. headquarters, is within daily reach of insurgent car bombs, mortars, rockets and other implements of destruction is certainly a gamble. Electoral preparations have been stymied by the ongoing violence in Sunni areas, and the performance of the newly minted Iraqi security forces, which would be required to guard polling stations, has fallen far short of the expectations of U.S. commanders. The U.S. wants Iraqi forces to provide the tens of thousands of men needed to guard polling stations on election day, both to minimize the impression of the vote being held under the guns of a foreign army whose presence is widely resented, and also to avoid exposing large numbers of American troops to insurgent attack. But it's far from clear that the Iraqi forces are up to the challenge.

If the U.S. and its allies hope to bring Sunnis on board by sticking to the election schedule and presenting the Sunnis with the specter of being left out of discussion over a new constitution, the insurgents plainly hope to do the opposite. They hope their campaign of violence and calls by their political allies for an election boycott will convince Sunnis that a January 31 election will not be the last word on Iraq's future. They're tapping into widespread Sunni anger over Fallujah and other counterinsurgency efforts, and a more general fear for the future among the Sunni minority for whom democracy represents an end to the relative privilege they've enjoyed since Iraq was first created by the British. [complete article]

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Outgunned and trapped, Iraqi police are stormed by insurgents
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, December 4, 2004

Insurgents stormed a police station in Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 16 policemen in one of the deadliest attacks in weeks. The well-organised assault shows the continuing effectiveness of the resistance forces despite the capture of their headquarters in Fallujah by US Marines last month.

Early yesterday, some 30 masked and heavily armed men opened fire from the roofs of neighbouring houses on al-Amil police station near the airport road in the south of the capital.

"The attack started at 6am," a wounded policeman said in hospital. To conceal his identity, he asked to be referred to only as Mohammed. "I was asleep when it began. They surrounded the police station and opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades at us. They wiped out our men with the heavy machine-gun on the roof. Then they stormed the gate."

The policeman said he and his colleagues, some with only pistols or old Kalashnikovs, were less well-armed than the resistance fighters attacking them. It is a persistent complaint of the Iraqi police that the US has not provided them with bullet-proof vests or modern machine-guns. [complete article]

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Iraq rebels in Mosul try to avoid Fallujah mistakes
By Mujahid Mohammed, Middle East Online, December 3, 2004

Mobile, discreet and relatively tolerant of public morals: rebels in Mosul are avoiding the traps that led to the fall of their comrades in Fallujah.

"Hide your weapons and disperse" was the advice to the mujahedeen printed on flyers when US-led forces began an assault to retake Iraq's third largest city on November 18.

That tactical dispersal came after insurgents yielded control of this city of 1.5 million for over a week, having chased out or killed most of the police.

"The Americans came back and the mujahedeen turned into ghosts. They are very present, but invisible," says Anas Mohammed Abdallah, a former army officer.

While rebels transformed Fallujah into a citadel, insurgents in Mosul refuse to make the same mistake. [complete article]

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Car bomb attack on Baghdad mosque
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, December 4, 2004

Gunmen stormed a police station and bombed a Shia mosque in two simultaneous dawn attacks in Baghdad yesterday which killed at least 30 Iraqis and injured several.

Dozens of prisoners were freed and weapons were looted from the police station, a brazen show of strength by the insurgents. Shortly afterwards guerrillas attacked at least two police stations in the northern city of Mosul.

The attacks marked the most serious day of violence in Iraq for some weeks and raised the spectre of sectarian clashes.

Although the US has largely completed its operation against guerrillas in Falluja, west of Baghdad, the insurgency appears to remain a considerable force in large areas of Iraq. [complete article]

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On war
By Chris Hedges, New York Review of Books, December 16, 2004

War is presented primarily through the distorted prism of the occupiers. The embedded reporters, dependent on the military for food and transportation as well as security, have a natural and understandable tendency, one I have myself felt, to protect those who are protecting them. They are not allowed to report outside of the unit and are, in effect, captives. They have no relationships with the victims, essential to all balanced reporting of conflicts, but only with the Marines and soldiers who drive through desolate mud-walled towns and pump grenades and machine-gun bullets into houses, leaving scores of nameless dead and wounded in their wake. The reporters admire and laud these fighters for their physical courage. They feel protected as well by the jet fighters and heavy artillery and throaty rattle of machine guns. And the reporting, even among those who struggle to keep some distance, usually descends into a shameful cheerleading.

Those who cover war dine out on the myth about war and the myth about themselves as war correspondents. Yes, they say, it is horrible, and dirty and ugly; for many of them it is also glamorous and exciting and empowering. They look out from the windows of Humvees for a few seconds at Iraqi families, cowering in fear, and only rarely see the effects of the firepower. When they are forced to examine what bullets, grenades, and shells do to human bodies they turn away in disgust or resort to black humor to dehumanize the corpses. They cannot stay long, in any event, since they must leave the depressing scene behind for the next mission. The tragedy is replaced, as it is for us at home who watch it on television screens, by a light moment or another story. It becomes easier to forget that another human life has been ruined beyond repair, that what is unfolding is not only tragic for tens of thousands of Iraqis but for the United States. [complete article]

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White House getting used to idea of Shia government
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, December 2, 2004

As American troop reinforcements head to Iraq, the Bush administration is slowly coming to terms with the realisation that elections scheduled for next month could spell the end of Iyad Allawi, prime minister and the secular US favourite, and usher in a quasi-theocracy.

Nothing is certain, not even the January 30 election date, yet there is a growing expectation in Washington that a coalition dominated by religious parties of the Shia majority is likely to emerge as the first Shia Muslim government in the Arab world.

One US official, an expert on the Middle East, reflected on the unforeseen consequences of last year's invasion.

"Now we are willing to countenance a limited theocracy in Iraq, limited by a weak basic law that guarantees basic civil liberties," said the official, who asked not to be named. "That was not the original idea." [complete article]

In Iraq, a preelection power play
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 2004

With elections less than a month away, Iraq's would-be politicians are getting a crash course in one of democracy's least glamorous features: preelection backroom haggling.

As the deadline looms for submitting party slates to Iraq's electoral commission, Iraqi candidates are vying for plum positions on the all-important lists, which will determine who gets a seat in Iraq's new national parliament.

In a sense, these backroom bargains are the elections before the elections, pitting big players - mainly well-organized former exiles - against more-popular homegrown leaders, including top Shiite figures, the real king-makers in the process.

"The election is like an exam," says Sheikh Fatih Kashif al-Ghitta, a Shiite cleric from a prominent Najaf political family. "[It] will show who really has a base of popular support and who is a fake; who has religious authority and who does not. It will clarify many things." [complete article]

Chalabi in comeback, siding with Shiites
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 3, 2004

Throughout the autumn, a startling set of posters could be seen plastered across a neighborhood of western Baghdad.

Scrawled in Arabic were the words "We'll be back to end the slaughter in Najaf." Above them loomed the wan, pudgy face of the former exile leader and onetime darling of the Pentagon's neoconservatives, Ahmad Chalabi.

The posters were an appeal to Shiite Arabs enraged in August when American troops killed hundreds of militiamen fighting for the renegade Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

With his campaign against the siege of the holy city of Najaf, Mr. Chalabi, a secular politician who until May was bankrolled by the Bush administration, brazenly cast his lot with both the staunchly anti-American Mr. Sadr and the Shiite religious establishment led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful cleric in Iraq.

Now, after months of strengthening those alliances, Mr. Chalabi is poised to compete in the coming elections with a strong chance of winning a seat in the 275-member national assembly, which is expected to appoint a prime minister and other executives from its ranks and to draft a permanent constitution. Elections for a full-term government are scheduled for the end of 2005. [complete article]

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U.S. free-trade deals include few Muslim countries
By Paul Blustein, Washington Post, December 3, 2004

The war on terrorism was high on the mind of U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick as he signed a free-trade agreement with the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain in mid-September. "A contest for the soul of Islam" is raging, and "we can help" by striking trade deals that generate jobs and reduce poverty, Zoellick said.

But Bahrain, an island nation with a population of 678,000, is an exception in securing access to the giant U.S. market. Excluding oil, imports from Muslim countries have increased by just 3.2 percent since 2000, their growth suppressed by tariffs of 20 percent or more on key goods such as textiles, according to an analysis of U.S. trade statistics.

Meanwhile, countries in the Andean region, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere -- granted preferential, duty-free access to the U.S. market -- have enjoyed a comparative boom, with exports to the United States rising nearly 40 percent in some cases.

The figures reflect a bias in U.S. trade rules that work against strategic allies such as Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey. Under current rules, for example, T-shirts made in Lesotho or Peru or El Salvador come into the country duty-free, while shirts from Turkey or Pakistan are hit with a 20 percent tariff. Looking at trade statistics in light of the 2001 terrorist attacks, some analysts question whether U.S. trade policy is adequately backing the country's national security goals. [complete article]

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Fate of Guantanamo detainees is debated in federal court
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, December 3, 2004

Could the president of the United States imprison "a little old lady from Switzerland" as an enemy combatant if she donated to a charity not knowing that her money was eventually used to finance the activities of Qaeda terrorists?

Possibly, a government lawyer replied Wednesday to this hypothetical case posed by a federal judge as they wrangled over the limits of a president's powers to detain people he deems enemy combatants and whether the administration has satisfied the requirements set out in a June Supreme Court decision to provide a justification for their detention acceptable to federal courts.

The courtroom of Judge Joyce Hens Green on Wednesday served as the stage for the beginning of what is expected to be a long and bruising second phase of the legal battle over the Bush administration's efforts to keep the fate of the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in the hands of the military instead of federal judges.

On June 29, the Supreme Court ended the first phase when it ruled against the administration, saying that the detainees, who now number about 550, have some right to challenge their detentions in federal court. But Brian Boyle, a Justice Department lawyer, told Judge Green that the military had satisfied the Supreme Court's ruling by holding hearings at the naval base in which each inmate was given a chance to argue he was not properly deemed an enemy combatant.

"The detainees have been provided a process," and that was all they were entitled to under the ruling, Mr. Boyle argued. [complete article]

Evidence from torture is usable, U.S. asserts
Associated Press (via LAT), December 3, 2004

U.S. military panels reviewing the detention of foreigners as enemy combatants would be allowed to use evidence gained through torture in deciding whether to keep them imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government said in court Thursday.

The acknowledgment by Deputy Associate Atty. Gen. Brian Boyle came during a U.S. District Court hearing. Boyle said, however, that he did not believe any torture had occurred at Guantanamo. [...]

Attorneys for the prisoners argued that some were held solely on evidence gained through torture, which they said violated fundamental fairness and U.S. due process standards.

But Boyle argued in a similar hearing Wednesday that the detainees "have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court."

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon asked whether a detention would be illegal if it were based solely on evidence gathered by torture, because "torture is illegal; we all know that."

Boyle replied that if the military's combatant status review tribunals "determine that evidence of questionable provenance were reliable, nothing in the due process clause [of the Constitution] prohibits them from relying on it." [complete article]

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Coalition seeks FBI's files on protest groups
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, December 3, 2004

The American Civil Liberties Union joined with dozens of activist groups yesterday in demanding information about federal counterterrorism surveillance efforts, alleging that the FBI and local police departments have targeted peaceful protest groups and law-abiding citizens for scrutiny based on their political beliefs.

In Freedom of Information Act requests filed in the District and 10 states, the ACLU and its affiliates are seeking FBI files about groups and individuals allegedly under surveillance. They are also asking for details about the operations of Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which include federal and local law enforcement officers and which coordinate counterterrorism probes regionally.

The ACLU points to several incidents over the past year involving antiwar protesters, environmental groups and religious organizations that have raised questions about the scope of counterterrorism investigations. The organization argues that the evidence suggests a pattern of broader harassment of left-leaning groups. [complete article]

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Fatah arrayed against candidacy of jailed Palestinian
By Steve Erlanger, New York Times, December 3, 2004

Senior Palestinian figures in the main political group, Fatah, closed ranks on Thursday against the on-again off-again presidential candidacy of the popular Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison.

The old guard was joined by some prominent younger Fatah militants of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, who once saw Mr. Barghouti, 45, as their leader, but now criticize him for putting himself above Palestinian unity.

His decision on Wednesday to revive a candidacy he had forsworn threatens to split Fatah, which unanimously nominated Mahmoud Abbas, 69, for the Palestinian Authority presidency. Mr. Abbas has already succeeded Yasir Arafat as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. [complete article]

See also, Barghouti's natural constituents show doubts (The Guardian).

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A way forward on global security
By Kofi Annan, International Herald Tribune, December 3, 2004

While the world has come to a remarkable degree of consensus over the last 10 years on how to grow economies, alleviate poverty and protect the environment, we are still some way from similar agreement on how to make the world more secure. There, things have, if anything, gotten worse in the last few years.

A moment of global solidarity against terrorism in 2001 was quickly replaced by acrimonious arguments over the war in Iraq, which turned out to be symptomatic of deeper divisions on fundamental questions. How can we best protect ourselves against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction? When is the use of force permissible - and who should decide? Is "preventive war" sometimes justified, or is it simply aggression under another name? And, in a world that has become "unipolar," what role should the United Nations play?

Those new debates came on top of earlier ones that arose in the 1990s. Is state sovereignty an absolute principle, or does the international community have a responsibility to resolve conflicts within states - especially when they involve atrocities?

To suggest answers to such questions, a year ago I appointed a panel of 16 people from all parts of the world and from different fields of expertise, asking them to assess the threats facing humanity today and to recommend how we need to change, in both policies and institutions, in order to meet those threats. On Thursday, they delivered their report, "A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility." Its 101 recommendations are the most comprehensive and coherent set of proposals for forging a common response to common threats that I have seen. [complete article]

Lynch mob's real target is the U.N., not Annan
By James Traub, Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2004

Kofi Annan must be wondering whose dog he shot. A right-wing mob is gathering around him, howling for his head. And why? Because the gentle and generally accommodating leader of the United Nations has, as New York Times columnist William Safire recently put it, "brought dishonor on the Secretariat of the United Nations" through mismanagement of the U.N.'s "oil-for-food" scandal. The secretary-general must have been surprised indeed to learn that Safire and the anti-U.N. crowd hold the organization's honor so dearly. [...]

The oil-for-food program was developed and directed not by U.N. civil servants but by the U.N. Security Council, as are all the organization's sanctions regimes. The diplomats who ran the program worked for the council's member states, including the United States and the four other permanent members. And they ran it according to the interests of those states, with the U.S. and Britain determined to prevent Iraq from importing items that could be used for military purposes and the French, Russians and Chinese equally determined to give the Iraqis the benefit of every doubt. Preventing theft was at the bottom of everyone's to-do list. The U.S. government had dozens of people monitoring the contracts but didn't hold back a single one on the grounds of corruption, price irregularities or kickbacks. [complete article]

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Iraq's civilian dead get no hearing in the United States
By Jeffrey D. Sachs, Daily Star, December 2, 2004

Evidence is mounting that America's war in Iraq has killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and perhaps well over 100,000. Yet this carnage is systematically ignored in the United States, where the media and government portray a war in which there are no civilian deaths, because there are no Iraqi civilians, only insurgents.

American behavior and self-perceptions reveal the ease with which a civilized country can engage in large-scale killing of civilians without public discussion. In late October, the British medical journal Lancet published a study of civilian deaths in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion began. The sample survey documented an extra 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths compared to the death rate in the preceding year, when Saddam Hussein was still in power - and this estimate did not even count excess deaths in Fallujah, which was deemed too dangerous to include.

The study also noted that the majority of deaths resulted from violence, and that a high proportion of the violent deaths were due to U.S. aerial bombing. The epidemiologists acknowledged the uncertainties of these estimates, but presented enough data to warrant an urgent follow-up investigation and reconsideration by the Bush administration and the U.S. military of aerial bombing of Iraq's urban areas.

America's public reaction has been as remarkable as the Lancet study, for the reaction has been no reaction. On Oct. 29 the vaunted New York Times ran a single story of 770 words on page 8 of the paper. The Times reporter apparently did not interview a single Bush administration or U.S. military official. No follow-up stories or editorials appeared, and no Times reporters assessed the story on the ground. Coverage in other U.S. papers was similarly meager. The Washington Post, also on Oct. 29, carried a single 758-word story on page 16. [complete article]

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At least 200,000 fled Falluja
By Luke Baker, Reuters, December 2, 2004

More than 200,000 people who fled Falluja ahead of the U.S. offensive have yet to return and many are in desperate need of aid, with temperatures in Iraq heading towards freezing, a new U.N. emergency report says.

Figures compiled by the International Organisation for Migration show that 210,600 people, or more than 35,000 families, took refuge in towns and villages around Falluja in the build up to the U.S. assault, launched on November 8.

Nearly all those people remain outside the city, where the population was estimated at 250,000-300,000 before the attack.

U.S. forces are maintaining a cordon around Falluja as sporadic fighting continues and are preventing refugees from returning, saying they want to stagger the return so that basic facilities can be restored before people go home.

Most areas of the city remain without power, water, sewage and other basic services and it is expected to take much longer than previously thought to start reconstruction as hundreds of buildings are completely destroyed.

"The return to Falluja may take a matter of months rather than days, as was previously suggested by multi-national forces," the document entitled "Emergency Working Group -- Falluja Crisis" and distributed by the United Nations said. [complete article]

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The Sunni problem
By John Yaukey, Gannett (via Tuscon Citizen), December 1, 2004

Pentagon war planners have talked optimistically about starting to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as this summer, but that can't happen until U.S. and Iraqi forces get a handle on the Sunni problem.

The resistance in Iraq is now largely being waged by tenacious Sunni guerrillas using insurgency tactics hauntingly reminiscent of the strategies the Algerians used in their campaign to drive out the French half a century ago.

According to a GNS analysis of Pentagon casualty reports, 70 percent of the nearly 1,000 Americans killed in combat since the war began 20 months ago have died in the infamous "Sunni Triangle." That area north and west of Baghdad includes the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah.

The Sunnis - about 20 percent of Iraq's people - have populated the nation's ruling classes for 80 years and now fear dominance by the long-oppressed majority Shiites as soon as elections are held. [complete article]

Allawi rejects talks with Sunni exiles
By Nicolas Pelham, Financial Times, December 1, 2004

Ayad Allawi, Iraq's prime minister, backed out yesterday from plans for a reconciliation conference in Jordan with Iraq's exiled opposition, setting back hopes of a government accommodation with tribal affiliates of Sunni rebels ahead of January parliamentary elections.

Thair Naqeeb, Mr Allawi's spokesman, said in Amman that there would be "no big meeting" with opposition figures outside Iraq and organisers were told to put a conference planned for next week on hold. Mr Allawi, however, did meet individual exiles yesterday, including tribal figures.

"We don't negotiate with the likes of those who killed the Iraqi people," said Mr Allawi. Mr Thair added: "He who wants to oppose should go to Baghdad, and voice his opinion in the elections."

The collapse of plans for a conference came in the wake of staunch criticism in Baghdad from Shia politicians. Representatives of the Shia majority denounced any steps either to accommodate a regime that oppressed them or postpone an election expected to catapult the Shias to power for the first time in hundreds of years.

The move disappointed Sunni exiles in Jordan who said they had received a fax from Mr Allawi's office in Amman to prepare for a reconciliation conference on December 7. They said they had secured approval from Jordan's intelligence department, which oversees the country's dealings with Iraq, for 120 people to attend. [complete article]

Allawi woos Sunni Arabs to take part in election
By Hassan M. Fattah and Edward Wong, New York Times, December 2, 2004

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq met here on Wednesday with Iraqi exiles and tribal and religious leaders as part of a campaign to coax reluctant Sunni Arabs into taking part in the coming Iraqi elections.

Dr. Allawi spent much of the day seated on a red couch in the middle of the Intercontinental Hotel, welcoming visitors in a decidedly public effort to bolster the image he has tried to nurture since taking office last June as a bridge builder between the new Iraq and the disenfranchised officials of the old regime.

In the last week, prominent Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq have called for pushing back the Jan. 30 election date, saying violence in Sunni regions of Iraq and calls for a boycott from Sunni clerics must be addressed before the vote can take place. The Sunnis ruled Iraq until the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Now many fear the majority Shiites will vastly dominate the elections.

Dr. Allawi advertised his visit here as an effort to open a dialogue with the resistance by talking first to potential Sunni mediators from restive Anbar Province. But the fact that he held his talks in such an open setting, and that some of the tribal sheiks he met were old friends, lent the aura of a public relations event. [complete article]

Key Sunni leader calls for January elections
Associated Press (via LAT), December 2, 2004

Iraq's interim president, an influential Sunni Muslim, Wednesday threw his support behind holding elections as scheduled on Jan. 30, despite insurgent threats that he said had paralyzed voter registration in some Sunni areas.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi met Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders in Amman, Jordan, trying to drum up support for the election, which is seen as vital for building a democratic government in Iraq.

Allawi ruled out meeting leaders of the insurgency but conferred with figures who are influential in Sunni regions of central Iraq, where insurgent violence has been fiercest.

Leading Sunni clerics have called for a boycott to protest the battle for Fallouja and the continued American military presence in Iraq. That prompted several key Sunni politicians to call for delaying the balloting by up to six months.

However, President Ghazi Ajil Yawer, who wields considerable influence among Sunni tribal figures, told reporters in Baghdad that he opposed any delay. [complete article]

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After Fallujah, son is gone but fervor remains
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 1, 2004

In a cramped room that has become his refuge, with walls of grimy plaster and sloppy brickwork, a man known as Abu Mohammed sat with his children.

It was evening in Baghdad, and the Muslim call to prayer wafted over the neighborhood that takes its name from its main avenue, Palestine Street. As the invocation became audible, scratchy but melodic, Abu Mohammed paused for a moment in respectful silence. Soon after, the electricity returned to his shack, powering a lone fluorescent light that offset the gray of dusk. He sipped his sweet, dark tea and dragged again from a locally made Miami cigarette.

Then, with humility and pride, 39-year-old Abu Mohammed began his story -- a tale of death, life and prospective martyrdom. Unlike so many accounts of a conflict that has reshaped Iraq, it came not from the U.S. forces prosecuting the war, but from among the ranks of the men they fought.

A blacksmith turned insurgent, Abu Mohammed undertook an odyssey this month that carried him from the battlefields of Fallujah, roiled with religion, to a harrowing escape across the Euphrates River and a lonely exile in Baghdad, where he waits to fight another day. It began with the death of his son, Ahmed, whose short life was ended by an American bullet.

"He was only 13, but he was the equal of a thousand men," Abu Mohammed said, in words that served as an epitaph. [...]

The disparate forces that make up the insurgency in Iraq are, in many ways, united by what they lack: a political program. In its stead, among many Iraqi guerrillas at least, is a visceral nationalism more and more reflected through the lens of religion, a force that has come to mold the insurgency. Islam provides the vocabulary, the imagery and the faith in death itself as a cause. There is little ideology beyond God, no prescription for a future government.

Before the war, Abu Mohammed called himself a sympathizer of Hussein. No longer.

In a conversation that lasted hours, he rejected the idea of muqawima, the Arabic word for resistance. The word is too secular. It is a jihad, he said, and the men who fight are mujaheddin, obligated by religion to fight non-Muslim occupiers. [complete article]

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Insurgency broken? Far from it
By Joseph L. Galloway, Knight Ridder, December 1, 2004

The American-led offensive was loudly announced in advance to empty Fallujah of its 200,000-plus civilian populace. Civilians weren't the only ones who left. Along with them went the top leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's gang of foreign terrorists and many of his fighters and other local insurgents.

The American attack accounted for perhaps 1,200 of the estimated 3,000-plus armed enemies who had occupied the city.

The capture of a single strongpoint does not break the back of an insurgency as widely spread and deeply motivated as the one that has tormented Baghdad and the cities and towns of the Sunni triangle.

That insurgency will only be broken when the Sunni population, 20 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, is convinced that they have a viable future in the Iraq that is being rebuilt on a different model. [complete article]

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CIA was wary of U.S. interrogation methods in Iraq
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2004

CIA officers in Iraq were ordered to stay away from a U.S. military interrogation facility last year because agency officials questioned the way detainees were being interrogated, according to a December 2003 report on a secret special operations unit.

The report warning of possible abuses of Iraqi detainees in U.S. custody was sent to commanders in Iraq a month before the now infamous photographs of the Abu Ghraib prison emerged early this year, the Pentagon said Wednesday in confirming some of the findings.

The report by retired Army Col. Stuart A. Herrington -- who visited Iraq in 2003 to assess U.S. intelligence gathering operations against Iraqi insurgents -- warned that U.S. special operations troops and CIA operatives might be abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Herrington's report went up the chain of command to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time, who ordered that the possible abuses be investigated, Pentagon officials said. [complete article]

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Arms inspectors said to seek access to sites in Iran
By William J. Broad, David E. Sanger and Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, December 2, 2004

International inspectors are requesting access to two secret Iranian military sites where intelligence suggests that Tehran's Ministry of Defense may be working on atomic weapons, despite the agreement that Iran reached this week to suspend its production of enriched uranium, according to diplomats here.

The inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency base their suspicions on a mix of satellite photographs indicating the testing of high explosives and procurement records showing the purchase of equipment that can be used for enriching uranium, the diplomats said. Both are critical steps in the development of nuclear arms.

The suspicions were aired here as an Iranian opposition group was preparing to release what it called new information that Iran was secretly developing a nuclear-capable missile whose range is significantly greater than what the Iranians have publicly acknowledged to date.

Iran has insisted that its uranium enrichment program is entirely for civilian nuclear energy production, but the areas the I.A.E.A. wants to visit are all in secure military bases. Traditionally, such facilities are considered off limits to the agency, whose primary mandate is to monitor civilian nuclear programs, unless there is strong evidence of covert nuclear activity at the military sites. Weapons experts cautioned that the equipment purchases and other activities could have nonnuclear purposes. [complete article]

Iran reportedly hides work on a longer-range missile
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 2, 2004

Iran is secretly developing a longer-range ballistic missile than it has publicly acknowledged, with the capacity to strike targets as far away as Berlin, an opposition group plans to assert publicly on Thursday.

The group says the missile, which it says could have the capacity to carry nuclear warheads, is being developed with help from North Korean scientists, even as Iran has agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in a new pact with three European countries.

The dissident group says the new missile would have a range of more than 1,500 miles, hundreds of miles longer than the most advanced missiles now in Iran's arsenal, an upgraded version of the Shahab-3 that was tested in the summer.

The group, the National Council of Resistance, is the political arm of the People's Mujahedeen, and is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization. It has had a mixed record of credibility about developments in Iran. But several of its disclosures have proved accurate and have played a significant role in unearthing secret Iranian nuclear activities. [complete article]

U.S. told of Iranian effort to create nuclear warhead
By Bill Gertz, Washington Times, December 2, 2004

Mr. Powell two weeks ago told reporters traveling with him to Santiago, Chile, that the intelligence shows that Iran is "actively working on [nuclear delivery] systems."

"You don't have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon," he said.

Other officials said the intelligence revealed that Iranians belonging to the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran were conducting research and testing on development of a nuclear warhead for a missile. The information came from reliable intelligence sources and was not provided by an Iranian opposition group, they said. [complete article]

Don't stop worrying about Iranian nukes just yet
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, November 30, 2004

Iran's new pledge to halt its advance toward a nuclear arsenal is at best a gamble, more likely a deception. But the awful truth of our predicament (and, by "our," I mean the world's) is that we have no real choice but to swallow hard and make the best of it.

The obstacles to even this course are considerable. The Iranians have a long record of lies and coverups about their nuclear program. The Europeans, who negotiated the new accord, are too willing to see the bright side of ambiguity in order to preserve harmony and commerce. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has no Iranian policy, apart from a passive-aggressive yearning for "regime change," and so seems unwilling to take part in any talks at a moment when shrewd U.S. engagement might make a difference. (Given the administration's inter-term disarray, it might also be unable to focus on the subject.) [complete article]

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Pentagon, analysts hit anti-U.S. bias at Red Cross
By Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, December 1, 2004

A Pentagon adviser, who asked not to be named, said in his dealings with the Red Cross, there is always an attitude that "al Qaeda had a moral equivalence to the United States. They didn't trust anything we said."

Asked whether there is a belief inside the Pentagon that the ICRC harbors an anti-U.S. bias, the official answered, "Absolutely."

The ICRC says it follows a practice of submitting confidential reports so as not to offend the government from which it is seeking better treatment of prisoners.

But conservatives see a different pattern when it comes to how the ICRC comments on U.S.-held prisoners in Iraq and terrorists.

Some reports have leaked to the press, although the Red Cross denies that it released them. In other cases, the organization has issued public statements lambasting the United States. [complete article]

Comment -- What's the connection between Martha Stewart, George Bush, and Ariel Sharon? Their supporters frequently employ the same structure of argument when deflecting criticism. Criticism of their conduct is treated as an attack on their identity. Stewart's critics are attacking her because she is a woman, Bush is attacked because he is an American, and Sharon attacked because he is a Jew. By impugning the motives of their critics, the substance of the criticism is regally cast aside. The response in effect is to proclaim, "I am who I am. The problem is yours."

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The Nascar Nightly News: Anchorman get your gun
By Frank Rich, New York Times, December 5, 2004

If Democrats want to run around like fools trying to persuade voters in red America that they are kissing cousins to Billy Graham, Minnie Pearl and Li'l Abner, that's their problem. Pandering, after all, is what politicians do, especially politicians as desperate as the Democrats. But when TV news organizations start repositioning themselves to pander to Nascar dads and "moral values" voters, it's a problem for everyone.

There's a war on. TV remains by far the most prevalent source of news for Americans. We need honest information to help us navigate, not bunkum skewed to flatter one segment of the country, whatever that segment might be. Yet here's how Jeff Zucker, the NBC president, summed up the attributes of Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw's successor, to Peter Johnson of USA Today: "No one understands this Nascar nation more than Brian." Mr. Zucker was in sync with his boss, Bob Wright, the NBC Universal chairman, who described America as a "red state world" on the eve of Mr. Brokaw's retirement. Though it may come as news to those running NBC, we actually live in a red-and-blue-state country, in a world that increasingly hates all our states without regard to our provincial obsession with their hues. Nonetheless, Mr. Williams, who officially took over as anchor on Dec. 2, is seeking a very specific mandate. "The New York-Washington axis can be a journalist's worst enemy," he told Mr. Johnson, promising to spend his nights in the field in "Dayton and Toledo and Cincinnati and Denver and the middle of Kansas." (So much for San Francisco - or Baghdad.)

I don't mean to single out Mr. Williams, who is prone to making such statements while wearing suits that reek of "New York-Washington axis" money and affectation. But when he talks in a promotional interview of how he found the pulse of the nation in Cabela's, a popular hunting-and-fishing outfitter in Dundee, Mich., and boasts of owning both an air rifle and part interest in a dirt-track stock-car team, he is declaring himself the poster boy for a larger shift in our news culture. He is eager to hunt down an audience, not a story. [complete article]

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President outlines foreign policy
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 2, 2004

In his most significant comments on the Middle East since the death last month of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, [addressing Canadian officials, President] Bush signaled that he would intensify pressure on the Palestinians to democratize. Europeans had been seeking a U.S. policy that put more pressure on Israel, but Bush indicated he was heading in the other direction.

"Achieving peace in the Holy Land is not just a matter of pressuring one side or the other on the shape of a border or the site of a settlement," Bush said. "This approach has been tried before without success. As we negotiate the details of peace, we must look to the heart of the matter, which is the need for a Palestinian democracy."

That formulation removed expectations Bush had for Israel in the past. In his June 2002 speech on Middle East policy, Bush declared that "Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop." In Wednesday's speech, Bush said this was "a time of change and a time of hope," but he said peace could be reached by only "one path: the path of democracy and reform and the rule of law."

Aides said Bush's message on his two-hour stop in Halifax was a preview of the sentiment he would voice on a trip to Europe this winter: extolling the importance of international cooperation while holding his ground on policy. A White House official said after the speech that the looming foreign challenges of Bush's second term -- Iran, North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- are likelier to be solved through diplomacy than with the sort of force used in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Diplomacy," the official said, "is essential to consolidate the gains of the first term." [complete article]

Comment -- President Bush no doubt likes Chou En-Lai's dictum that "diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means," but he might do better to remember John F. Kennedy's observation that "lofty words cannot construct an alliance or maintain it; only concrete deeds can do that."

When it comes to advancing the Middle East peace process, George Bush is perhaps not as impotent as he imagines. Can the commander-in-chief of the greatest and most powerful nation on Earth who has a breathtaking vision of freedom and democracy sweeping the world, do nothing more than twiddle his thumbs while he waits to see whether Israelis and Palestinians can settle their differences?

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Powell: Barghouti candidacy may be 'problematic' [scroll down]
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, December 2, 2004

The sudden re-emergence of Barghouti as a rival candidate to Abbas as chairman of the Palestinian Authority has spurred widespread criticism within Fatah, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the challenge noted that the candidacy of the jailed militant Fatah leader could be "problematic." [...]

"He is in Israeli custody for crimes he was found guilty of, which makes it somewhat problematic for his candidacy," Powell said during a brief visit to Haiti.

Other State Department officials were assiduous in refraining from comment over the prospect of the militant's succeeding the late Yasser Arafat. "As far as we're concerned, he's a Palestinian in an Israeli jail, end of story," deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters in Washington.

Pressed as to why the United States would not take a position on Barghouti when it had refused to deal with Arafat after President George W. Bush called him unfit to lead the Palestinian people and called for a change in leadership, Ereli demurred. [complete article]

Comment -- If Marwan Barghouti becomes Yasser Arafat's successor the Bush administration's ambivalence about democracy will again become transparent. Democracy, it would seem, is a very fine thing but only so long as voters make the right choice.

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Four AIPAC directors subpoenaed
By Janine Zacharia, Jersalem Post, December 2, 2004

FBI officials issued subpoenas to four senior officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday, requesting that they appear before a grand jury.

The subpoenas appeared to be part of an ongoing probe into whether two other staff members at the lobby may have passed secrets to Israel.

The four subpoenaed officials are Executive Director Howard Kohr, Managing Director Richard Fishman, Communications Director Renee Rothstein, and Research Director Rafi Danziger, a source familiar with the investigation told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday night.

FBI officials on Wednesday also seized computer files from the two AIPAC employees who have been the main focus of the investigation – Steve Rosen, director of foreign policy issues at the lobby, and Keith Weissman, a senior Middle East analyst. [complete article]

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Middle East upheaval as Sharon provokes crisis
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, December 2, 2004

The Israeli and Palestinian leaderships were in upheaval last night as Ariel Sharon's government faced collapse after the prime minister broke with his main coalition partner, and a popular Palestinian military commander launched a strong challenge from his jail cell to succeed Yasser Arafat in next month's election.

The unexpected decision by Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in an Israeli prison, to break with the dominant Fatah movement and register as a presidential candidate in the Palestinian election appeared to complicate Mr Sharon's coalition problems.

The Israeli prime minister's administration is facing collapse after his main coalition partner, the Shinui party, caused the defeat of the annual budget in parliament, threatening the planned Israeli with drawal from the Gaza Strip. [complete article]

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Barghouti to run for president
By Michael Glackin, Daily Star, December 2, 2004

Jailed Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti declared his candidacy for president on Wednesday, in a stunning last-minute reversal that shook up Palestinian politics ahead of the Jan. 9 vote for Yasser Arafat's replacement.

Word of Barghouti's candidacy came just hours after Abbas called for a renewal of peace talks with Israel and said the two sides would meet after the election. "We must have a dialogue with the Israelis," Abbas said at his campaign headquarters. "After the elections, we will meet again" to discuss the "road map."

"If there are good intentions, let us start now, without prejudicing the road map, to deal with issues of the final period so we achieve the peace settlement as scheduled in 2005," he told Egyptian magazine Almussawar. [complete article]

Hamas to boycott Palestinian presidential elections
By Ibrahim Barzak, Associated Press (via WP), December 1, 2004

A Hamas leader announced Wednesday that the militant group will boycott upcoming Palestinian presidential elections, the first sign of open tensions between the interim Palestinian leadership and the Islamic opposition group since the death of Yasser Arafat.

The announcement by Hamas leader Ismail Hanieh could undercut the legitimacy of the Jan. 9 election, though Hamas said it would honor the outcome. Hamas has tens of thousands of supporters and is particularly strong in the Gaza Strip.

"We are not calling on the Palestinian people to boycott the election, but Hamas members will follow the decision to boycott the election," Hanieh said. [complete article]

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Sunnis warn of civil war if Iraq poll goes ahead
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, December 2, 2004

The largest Sunni party in Iraq gave warning yesterday of civil war unless the January 30 elections are delayed to allow it to compete on equal terms.

The Iraqi Islamic Party said that the once-powerful Sunni minority could turn against fellow Iraqis if they are left with little stake in a future National Assembly dominated by Shias and Kurds. The warning came as Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawer, the Sunni interim president, admitted that calls for a postponement were causing a growing rift between the communities, although he played down the threat of violence.

But Yousef Ghadban, technical director of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which recently withdrew from the government in protest at the US-led assault on Fallujah, said that internecine violence was a very real prospect unless electoral commissioners delayed the poll for six months.

He said that death threats against candidates and continuing violence in the Sunni Triangle had made it impossible for his and other Sunni parties to match the Shias' and Kurds' progress in registering and canvassing supporters. He said: "Many experts have warned of a civil war after the elections, and certainly this could happen in Iraq." [complete article]

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Sistani pulls main Shia parties together to dominate Iraq poll
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, December 1, 2004

Iraq's Shia parties have built a powerful political alliance uniting moderates with extremists and seem likely to dominate next month's general election. The coalition, formed in weeks of private negotiations, will put forward a joint list of candidates.

The process has been overseen by Iraq's most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has designated aides to unite the diverse Shia parties and to vet the many independent candidates standing with them.

Although he seeks no political role for himself, the influence of the Iranian-born ayatollah will ensure that the government has a deeply religious character and that Islam is a central tenet of the constitution that must be written next year.

Shia politicians are highly organised and intent on holding the elections on time, despite the violence that still grips Iraq and the pressure for a delay from their Sunni and Kurdish political rivals. If they succeed it will be the first time for centuries that the Shia have run the country, achieving what many have come to regard as their birthright. [complete article]

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U.S. to increase troop strength in Iraq by 12,000
By David Stout, New York Times, December 1, 2004

American forces in Iraq will be expanded by about 12,000 troops to provide better security as the Jan. 30 elections approach, military officials said today.

There had been reports in recent weeks that troop strength might be increased by more than 6,000, but today's announcement almost doubled that figure.

The increase, which will raise American troop strength in Iraq to about 150,000 - the highest level since the war began in March 2003 - will be accomplished by extending the combat tours of about 10,400 troops already in Iraq and sending an additional 1,500 soldiers to Iraq from their stateside posts. [complete article]

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Outsourcing torture
By Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, November 29, 2004

Most here know Hill & Plakias as a family law firm that handles real estate and civil squabbles for the residents of this Boston suburb.

But the inconspicuous office above a Sovereign Bank, across from the red, white, and blue flags of a used car lot called Patriot Motors, is also the address of a shadowy company that owns a Gulfstream jet that secretly ferried two Al Qaeda suspects from Sweden to Egypt.

That prisoner transfer, which occurred outside the normal extradition procedures and without notifying the men's lawyers, sparked an international uproar after the two men contended that they had been forcibly drugged by masked US agents and tortured with electric shocks in Egypt.

This spring, the Swedish government launched a series of investigations into the 2001 operation.

Since that time, the jet -- apparently on long-term lease to the US military -- has surfaced in other alleged cases of what the CIA calls "extraordinary" rendition -- the secret practice of handing prisoners in US custody to foreign governments that don't hesitate to use torture in interrogations.

The covert procedure, which must be authorized by a presidential directive, has gained little attention inside the United States.

Yet, "extraordinary rendition," one of the earliest tools employed in the war against terror, has outraged human rights activists and former CIA agents, who say it violates the international convention on torture and amounts to "outsourcing" torture. [complete article]

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Abu Ghraib, Caribbean style
Editorial, New York Times, December 1, 2004

Ever since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the Bush administration has claimed that the abuses depicted in those horrible photos were an isolated problem that was immediately fixed. The White House has repeatedly proclaimed its respect for the Geneva Conventions, international law and American statutes governing the treatment of prisoners.

An article in The Times on Tuesday by Neil A. Lewis showed how hollow those assurances are. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, where the United States warehouses men captured in Afghanistan, have been subject to unremitting abuse that is sometimes "tantamount to torture." This continued well after the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light, and it may still be going on.

The Red Cross said it first complained about Guantánamo in January 2003. It found mistreatment similar to that at Abu Ghraib, including beatings, prolonged isolation, sexual humiliation and prolonged "stress positions" for prisoners. But the Red Cross found a new, disturbing practice at Guantánamo: the use of medical personnel to help interrogators get information.

The Red Cross reported the same level of abuse in the spring of 2003. By this June, it said, the regime was "more refined and repressive." The Red Cross did say fearful Guantánamo prisoners complained less frequently in 2004 than in 2003 about female interrogators who exposed their breasts, kissed prisoners, touched them sexually and showed them pornography. But it's hard to see that as progress.

The administration's response to the Red Cross report was unsurprising. The military brushed off the Red Cross's complaints when they were made, just as it did at Abu Ghraib. Yesterday, Lawrence Di Rita, a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld, said the Red Cross had "their point of view," which was not shared by the Bush administration. The Red Cross's point of view, however, is reflected in the Geneva Conventions and in American law. The recent debate over prisoner abuse has not been brought to the courts, but the Supreme Court has ruled that Mr. Bush cannot suspend due process for prisoners of his choosing. [complete article]

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German suit accuses U.S. of condoning Iraq torture
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2004

An American civil rights group filed a criminal complaint in Germany on Tuesday alleging Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials condoned torture and human rights violations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and four former Iraqi prisoners filed a 170-page brief asking the German federal prosecutor to investigate Bush administration officials and senior military officers for war crimes and other offenses. Germany has a progressive law that allows its judicial officials to probe human rights abuses around the world.

"It's time to have a serious investigation of what they [U.S. officials] did," Michael Ratner, a lawyer and president of the center, said at a news conference in Berlin. He added that filing the complaint in Germany was a "last resort" because U.S. investigations and congressional committees had failed to hold the administration accountable for encouraging an environment for abuse.

The complaint, filed at the federal prosecutor's headquarters in the city of Karlsruhe, details the alleged mistreatment of four Iraqis by American soldiers and intelligence services. The men say they were beaten, given electric shocks, threatened with dogs and doused with cold water. [complete article]

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U.S. generals in Iraq were told of abuse early, inquiry finds
By Josh White, Washington Post, December 1, 2004

A confidential report to Army generals in Iraq in December 2003 warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees, a finding delivered more than a month before Army investigators received the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison that touched off investigations into prisoner mistreatment.

The report, which was not released publicly and was recently obtained by The Washington Post, concluded that some U.S. arrest and detention practices at the time could "technically" be illegal. It also said coalition fighters could be feeding the Iraqi insurgency by "making gratuitous enemies" as they conducted sweeps netting hundreds of detainees who probably did not belong in prison and holding them for months at a time.

The investigation, by retired Col. Stuart A. Herrington, also found that members of Task Force 121 -- a joint Special Operations and CIA mission searching for weapons of mass destruction and high-value targets including Saddam Hussein -- had been abusing detainees throughout Iraq and had been using a secret interrogation facility to hide their activities. [complete article]

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U.S. troops still dying in Ramadi amid 'relative peace, tranquillity'
By John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2004

The capital of Iraq's most rebellious province is undergoing a week of "relative peace and tranquillity," Army Col. Gary S. Patton said.

Minutes later, a roadside bomb exploded beneath his Humvee — the seventh time in the last 2 1/2 months.

"I'm not going anywhere with that guy," said Lt. Jonathan Morgenstein, a 32-year-old former teacher from Arlington, Va. "He's like a shrapnel magnet."

Immediately after the bombing, Patton left his wounded translator and gunner in the care of medics and headed to a memorial service for a slain Marine, where he apologized for his late arrival.

During a four-day period ending Monday, another roadside bomb and what soldiers here call routine ambushes killed four U.S. troops and wounded several more in downtown Ramadi and neighboring Habbaniya.

An insurgent rocket soared harmlessly into the gap between a reporter's tent and the mess hall. Small-arms fire on the outskirts of Camp Ramadi is so commonplace that troops no longer look up from their books and magazines. [complete article]

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U.S. to boost Iraq troop strength
By Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, November 29, 2004

Faced with the real threat of terrorist attacks during Iraqi elections next month, U.S. military officials tell NBC News the Pentagon is now planning to raise the number of American troops in Iraq by 10,000-11,000 to provide additional security. That's twice the number of needed reinforcements first anticipated and will temporarily raise the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to about 150,000.

That means soldiers from the Army's 1st Infantry and 1st Cavalry and some U.S. Marines who were scheduled to leave Iraq this month may be ordered to stay longer, while soldiers from the 3rd Infantry and 82nd Airborne could be ordered into Iraq earlier than scheduled.

Even then, it would seem impossible to protect all 9,000 polling places in Iraq from terrorist attack. [complete article]

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PR meets psy-ops in war on terror
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2004

On the evening of Oct. 14, a young Marine spokesman near Fallouja appeared on CNN and made a dramatic announcement.

"Troops crossed the line of departure," 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert declared, using a common military expression signaling the start of a major campaign. "It's going to be a long night." CNN, which had been alerted to expect a major news development, reported that the long-awaited offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Fallouja had begun.

In fact, the Fallouja offensive would not kick off for another three weeks. Gilbert's carefully worded announcement was an elaborate psychological operation -- or "psy-op" -- intended to dupe insurgents in Fallouja and allow U.S. commanders to see how guerrillas would react if they believed U.S. troops were entering the city, according to several Pentagon officials.

In the hours after the initial report, CNN's Pentagon reporters were able to determine that the Fallouja operation had not, in fact, begun.

"As the story developed, we quickly made it clear to our viewers exactly what was going on in and around Fallouja," CNN spokesman Matthew Furman said.

Officials at the Pentagon and other U.S. national security agencies said the CNN incident was not an isolated feint -- the type used throughout history by armies to deceive their enemies -- but part of a broad effort underway within the Bush administration to use information to its advantage in the war on terrorism. [complete article]

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In Falluja's ruins, big plans and a risk of chaos
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, December 1, 2004

Standing in the rubble outside an empty medical clinic here, Dr. Basam Mohamed, dressed in a blue blazer and work boots, gazed out at the ruins of his native city. He had just heard a group of American civil affairs officers explain their plans to rebuild the clinic and install a huge water tank behind it until the water pipes - smashed by bombs - could be fixed.

But Dr. Mohamed, a Health Ministry official in the Iraqi interim government, had other worries. His parents are among the residents who fled Falluja just before the American military offensive here earlier this month, he said. They are eager to return but have no idea how badly the fighting damaged the city.

"They will feel hard toward the Americans," Dr. Mohamed said with a wince, as his American guides led him off to look at another ruined clinic.

As military officials here prepare to start letting the first residents return to Falluja, possibly as soon as mid-December, they face an unusual challenge: how to win back the confidence of the people whose city they have just destroyed. [complete article]

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As Iraqis register to vote, Shiites enthusiastic while fear grips Sunnis
By Yasser Salihee, Knight Ridder, November 30, 2004

As one of the thousands of food-ration agents who are entrusted with handing out voter registration forms in Iraq, Fadhil Muhsen Salom has a feel for the mood of his Shiite Muslim neighborhood, and he described it as enthusiastic.

"The people here are ready and counting the days to reach Jan. 30," he said, referring to the historic date when Iraqis will vote freely for the first time in five decades.

Across Baghdad, another food-ration agent, Salah Mahmood, nearly recoiled in fear when asked about the voter registration drive.

With a little coaxing, Mahmood acknowledged that he's been threatened and no longer hands out registration forms in his mainly Sunni Muslim neighborhood.

"Twenty days ago, I found a letter stuck on the door of my shop warning me to stop distributing the forms," Mahmood said. If he ignores the warning, Mahmood said, he knows what will happen: "I'm going to be killed with my family."

Block by block, and neighborhood by neighborhood, Iraq's election process is unfolding in starkly different ways. In areas populated by Shiites, who are the majority in Iraq, the process is going relatively smoothly. In contrast, intimidation and fear are rampant in some areas where Sunnis reside. [complete article]

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U.S. envoy says Iraq vote on track
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, December 1, 2004

"There's a couple of months to go," said [Ambassador] Negroponte [while speaking to foreign reporters over lunch at the U.S. Embassy], emphasizing that the violence threatening the elections is centered largely in western Iraq. "Steps are being taken to improve the situation, the security situation there, and they will continue. And every effort is going to be made to improve and better the security situation as much as possible."

Negroponte's comments served as a U.S. response to more than a dozen Sunni organizations that in recent days have threatened to boycott the voting and thereby potentially undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis. The January election, the first of three planned for next year, is intended to select a National Assembly that would choose an interim government and draft a new constitution.

Many Sunni Arabs, who account for roughly 20 percent of Iraq's population but exercised extraordinary political power under Hussein, are calling for the vote to be delayed until U.S. and Iraqi forces are able to tame the violence concentrated mostly in Sunni areas. But the long-oppressed Shiite Muslim majority has rejected those appeals, and Negroponte warned Tuesday that Sunni parties should consider how much they stand to lose if they follow through with their threat.

"I think once they realize that the elections will go forward as planned, then they are going to have to deal with that reality," Negroponte said. "Do they want to really opt out of an electoral process that is going to pick a National Assembly that drafts the constitution and shapes the political future of their country? Or do they wish to be represented in some way so they have a seat at the table?" [complete article]

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U.N. to issue alert over spread of nuclear arms
By Mark Turner, Financial Times, November 30, 2004

The world system to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons is being rapidly eroded, threatening a "cascade of proliferation," a high-level panel on UN reform will say this week. [...]

The panel examined a wide range of threats, including terrorism, disease, poverty and environmental degradation. But the risk of nuclear Armageddon may be the most pressing of all, and has led to growing disagreement over how to tackle nuclear advances in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

It argues that nuclear weapons states "must honour their commitments to move towards disarmament", and reaffirm promises not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. The Security Council pledge for "collective action" could help ease non-nuclear states' concerns. [complete article]

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Experts fear nuke genie's out of bottle
Arms technology spreading beyond Iran, North Korea

By James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle, November 22, 2004

The three-decade-old system for preventing the spread of nuclear arms may be eroding irreversibly as the spread of technology for producing weapons fuel circulates among smaller powers, experts warn, signaling that a quiet, low-scale arms race may be taking shape.

Despite occasional positive news, there are numerous ill omens. European diplomats appeared to score a success last week by persuading Iran to freeze its programs for enriching uranium, the heart of nuclear bombs. But a range of specialists said the success could prove temporary because Iran still has the know-how to transform peaceful facilities for creating reactor fuel into weapons plants. And the administration of President Bush charged over the weekend that Iran was hastily enriching a large amount of uranium before the freeze, which Iranian officials said would take effect today.

Not only do Iran and North Korea have the capability to make the fuel, the experts warn, but so do several dozen other countries -- from Brazil, Japan and South Korea to Turkey, Syria and Egypt.

As a result, after decades of nonproliferation policies based on the idea that the global community could prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by controlling nuclear materials and technology, such containment strategies may no longer be possible, these experts reluctantly agree. [complete article]

See also, The nuclear factor (The Globalist).

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Iran hails U.N. nuclear 'victory'
BBC News, November 30, 2004

A top Iranian official has claimed a "great victory" over the US after the UN said it would not punish Iran's nuclear activities with sanctions.

Hassan Rohani said Iran would never give up its right to nuclear power.

He stressed its freeze in uranium enrichment was only temporary during talks with European countries.

The UN atomic agency IAEA has welcomed Iran's offer to freeze enrichment in a statement on Monday that did not mention any threat of future sanctions.

Washington had been pushing for Iran to be censured by the UN Security Council.

Mr Rohani said the "whole world had turned down America's calls".

"We have proved that, in an international institution, we are capable of isolating the US. And that is a great victory," Mr Rohani said.

He added that the US representative at the IAEA meeting in Vienna "was enraged and in tears, and everybody said that the Americans had failed and we had won". [complete article]

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Nuclear agency praises Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, November 30, 2004

The International Atomic Energy Agency praised Iran yesterday for suspending its uranium-enrichment work and removed an immediate threat of sanctions against the Islamic republic, which built its program in secret over 18 years.

The resolution endorses an agreement Iran struck with Britain, France and Germany two weeks ago to suspend its nuclear activity in exchange for assurances that it will not be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

The European trio began negotiating with Iran a year ago in the hope of slowing its nuclear advances and convincing Washington the issue could be solved through diplomacy. Iran has maintained that its nuclear program was for producing energy, but others have suspected that it could be diverted to making weapons.

The passage of the resolution marked a new chapter for the Islamic republic, despite the questions about its nuclear ambitions, and made it clear there was little international support for the Bush administration's drive to ratchet up diplomatic pressure against Iran.

The Bush administration did not block the IAEA resolution but criticized it afterward and said for the first time that it is willing to take Iran to the Security Council on its own. [complete article]

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The Langley lobotomy
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, November 30, 2004

Driving past the George Bush Center for Intelligence, as the CIA headquarters is officially known, you can't help wondering how on earth America's spy service has become the favorite whipping boy of the right wing.

It's crazy for a nation at war to be purging its spies. But that's what has been happening in the weeks since former representative Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and a phalanx of conservative congressional aides took over at the CIA. What makes the putsch genuinely scary is that it seems to be driven by an animus toward the CIA that could do real damage to the nation's security.

Goss's supporters argue that he's just trying to rebuild an agency that needs a shakeup. And certainly the CIA could improve its performance: It is too risk-averse, too prone to groupthink, too mired in mediocrity. But the cure for these problems is hardly to send in a team of ideologues from Capitol Hill and drive out the agency's most experienced intelligence officers. This politicization can only make the agency's underlying problems even worse. And heaven knows what foreign intelligence services, which are America's crucial partners in the war on terrorism, make of the spectacle at Langley. [complete article]

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Fear of ethnic conflict charges Mosul unrest
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, November 30, 2004

After Saddam Hussein was ousted and his security apparatus collapsed, many Iraqis predicted ethnic war. They feared ethnic militias like the Kurdish Peshmerga would fill the security vacuum and engage in a bloody power struggle.

Such dire predictions failed to materialize in the 18 months following Hussein's fall. But the recent explosion of violence in this ethnically divided northern city has deteriorated to the brink of widespread ethnic conflict.

The rising tensions spilled over last week as the corpses of Iraqi soldiers, many of them Kurds, continued to pile up in the streets of Mosul. Most of them were killed by single gunshots to the head. Some were beheaded. The prime suspects are Arab Islamists allied with local Ba'athists, operating in the Old City on Mosul's west bank. [complete article]

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Think small in Iraq
By Robert Malley and Joost Hiltermann, New York Times, November 30, 2004

With the Bush administration, the Iraqi government and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the religious leader of the country's Shiites, insisting that national elections must proceed as scheduled in late January, and a coalition of Sunni Arabs saying they should not, it seems more likely that the voting will be delayed, discredited or both. But a train wreck can be avoided: by delaying national elections while holding votes for provincial governments wherever possible, an acceptable compromise may yet be found.

The apparently successful re-occupation of Falluja aside, war is raging and anger is boiling in most of the country's predominantly Sunni Arab regions. Organizing elections there in two months' time is increasingly fanciful. Some have suggested holding them everywhere else. But because Iraq will not elect legislators by region like the United States Congress, but through a single nationwide ballot in which seats are to be allocated proportionately, setting aside a predetermined number of seats for regions where voting cannot occur will not work.

In addition, because the legislature is to double as an assembly for drafting a permanent constitution, Sunni Arabs would be excluded not only from immediate political life but also from having a voice in the longer-term makeup of the nation. This would decisively alienate the very segment of the population at the heart of the insurrection.

Delaying the entire election is also unappetizing. It would likely embolden the insurgents and enrage the Shiites, who see elections as their chance to finally exercise political power.

Seeking a way out of this dilemma, the Bush administration is resorting to force (seeking to pacify insurgent strongholds by January) and subterfuge (arguing that the presence of Sunni Arabs as candidates will make up for their absence as voters). Both ideas are preposterous. It is an odd worldview that hopes to enlist voters by militarily overpowering them, and assumes that they will feel represented by legislators for whom they have never cast a ballot. [complete article]

Comment -- At the moment, the most compelling argument for sticking with the current timetable for elections is that if they are delayed for six months, security in Iraq by that point will probably be even worse than it is now. So far, the only prediction about the future in Iraq that has proved accurate is that it will get worse before it gets better. And if the administration has learnt one lesson from previous experience it is that landmarks -- such as the symbolic transfer of sovereignty -- have an important function in the story of the war. They don't do much to change the reality on the ground, but they significantly change media representation of America's involvement in Iraq. If the elections happen on time, Americans will soon start heading home -- not the troops, but much of the press.

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U.S. officials say Iraq's forces founder under rebel assaults
By Richard A. Oppel Jr. and James Glanz, New York Times, November 30, 2004

Iraqi police and national guard forces, whose performance is crucial to securing January elections, are foundering in the face of coordinated efforts to kill and intimidate them and their families, say American officials in the provinces facing the most violent insurgency.

For months, Iraqi recruits for both forces have been the victims of assassinations and car bombs aimed at lines of applicants as well as police stations. On Monday morning, a suicide bomber rammed a car into a group of police officers waiting to collect their salaries west of Ramadi, killing 12 people, Interior Ministry officials said.

While Bush administration officials say that the training is progressing and that there have been instances in which the Iraqis have proved tactically useful and fought bravely, local American commanders and security officials say both Iraqi forces are riddled with problems.

In the most violent provinces, they say, the Iraqis are so intimidated that many are reluctant to show up and do not tell their families where they work; they have yet to receive adequate training or weapons, present a danger to American troops they fight alongside, and are unreliable because of corruption, desertion or infiltration. [complete article]

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Iraq health care 'in deep crisis'
BBC News, November 30, 2004

Iraq's health system is in a far worse condition than before the war, a British medical charity says.

Doctors from the group Medact conducted surveys with international aid groups and Iraqi health workers in September.

They exposed poor sanitation in many hospitals, shortages of drugs and qualified staff and huge gaps in services for mothers and children.

Medact, which monitors healthcare in post-conflict areas, called for an inquiry into the situation. [complete article]

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Al-Zawahri vows to keep fighting U.S.
By Salah Nasrawi, Associated Press (via The Guardian), November 29, 2004

Osama bin Laden's top deputy vowed in a videotape aired Monday to keep fighting the United States until Washington changed its policies.

In a brief excerpt broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, Ayman al-Zawahri offered Americans "one last advice" for dealing with Muslims, adding, "I am sure that they will not heed it."

"You have to choose between one of two methods to deal with Muslims: either on mutual respect and exchange of interests, or to deal with them as if they are spoils of war," al-Zawahri said. "This is your problem and you have to choose yourself. You have to realize that we are a nation of patience and endurance. We will stand firm to fight you with God's help until doomsday." [complete article]

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U.S. firm on Iraq election date in face of rising concerns
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, November 29, 2004

In the calculation of the Bush administration, Iraq faces a turning point on Jan. 30, when the first authentic elections in modern history are to take place. But a fresh wave of doubts about whether the violent Iraqi insurgency will undermine the elections' legitimacy or force their delay have posed a major challenge to the administration as it guides Iraq on a bumpy road to democratization.

For now, administration officials are standing firm in the face of a fresh round of demands from some respected Sunni leaders in Iraq that the elections be postponed. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell heard similar concerns last week from Arab envoys at a meeting on Iraq's future in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, and he summarily rejected them.

Administration officials say they cannot rule out that elections might not occur on time but that a decision on whether to delay them is unjustified at present.

"It's going to be very hard to hold elections by the end of January, and we would be foolish to guarantee that we'll make it," said a senior administration official. "Some developments are working against us. But a lot of them are also working in our favor, and there is no reason to give up on our timetable right now." [complete article]

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Radical cleric's movement re-energized, may make a bid in January vote
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via San Francisco Chronicle), November 28, 2004

Followers of radical Islamic cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are trying to re-energize support for him in the movement's stronghold in Baghdad's Sadr City by reaching out to its 2 million mainly Shiite residents with relief work, protection and spiritual counseling.

After two bloody revolts against U.S. forces this year, the "Sadrists" are back to what they do best -- street politics -- and they seem likely to cash in on the new energy and make a bid for the January elections.

A truce reached in early October between militiamen loyal to al-Sadr and U.S. troops ended weeks of fighting in Sadr City, the sprawling Baghdad district where the Sadrist movement rose in the chaotic and lawless aftermath of Saddam Hussein's ouster 19 months ago.

But recently the Sadrists have begun turning their attention to the peaceful tasks that won them significant support among poor Shiites, the majority of the community that makes up about 60 percent of Iraq's estimated 26 million people. [complete article]

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Mosul's militants fight mostly from shadows
By C. Mark Brinkley, Army Times, November 29, 2004

These days, the violence in Iraq's third-largest city is more like "The Sopranos" than "Black Hawk Down."

About 40 dead bodies turned up across Mosul last week. Most of them had been bound and shot in the head in hit-man fashion, then left in public for local residents to see. Nearly a dozen of the dead were identified as members of Iraq's fragile security forces. Some of the others were contract workers for the U.S.-led coalition. Many are still unidentified.

The message from insurgents to the public was simple: We're here, and we're watching.

An ethnically diverse city of about 1.7 million in Iraq's mostly peaceful north, Mosul has steadily grown more violent. On Nov. 11, as U.S. and Iraqi government forces were fighting insurgents in Fallujah, militants in Mosul attacked police stations. The insurgents were pushed back, but most of the city's 4,000 police officers retreated.

The violence came amid new concerns that the organization of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may now be operating in Mosul. Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for numerous kidnappings, hostage beheadings and large bomb attacks in Iraq. [complete article]

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Shadow of Vietnam falls over Iraq river raids
By John F. Burns, New York Times, November 29, 2004

As marines aboard fast patrol boats roared up the Euphrates on a dawn raid on Sunday, images pressed in of another American war where troops moved up wide rivers on camouflaged boats, with machine-gunners nervously scanning riverbanks for the hidden enemy.

That war is rarely mentioned among the American troops in Iraq, many of whom were not yet born when the last American combat units withdrew from Vietnam more than 30 years ago. A war that America did not win is considered a bad talisman among those men and women, who privately admit to fears that this war could be lost.

But as an orange moon sank below the bulrushes on Sunday morning, thoughts of Vietnam were hard to avoid. [complete article]

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Inside Fallujah's war
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, November 28, 2004

The battle of Fallujah this month pitted the world's most powerful military force against fighters in tennis shoes wielding homemade rocket launchers. Military planners had decided to use the blunt instrument of heavy armor against an insurgency that they acknowledge cannot be defeated by force alone -- betting that the blow to the guerrillas would outweigh the resentment stirred by the attack. So the job fell to the soldiers from Task Force 2-2, who were accompanied by a Globe reporter.

Afterward, even as they took pride in their speed and sheer destructive power, grunts and officers alike reflected that their handiwork could cause a backlash -- and that the battle has yet to be won in the hearts of Fallujah's people.

"I think it's going to get hotter for a while, when people come back and see what we did," said Specialist Todd Taylor, 21.

US commanders gave the unit a contradictory task: Take back the city with minimal US casualties, but leave it as intact as possible. The latter proved difficult. [complete article]

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Military recruiters target schools strategically
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, November 29, 2004

Military recruiting saturates life at McDonough High, a working-class public school where recruiters chaperon dances, students in a junior ROTC class learn drills from a retired sergeant major in uniform, and every prospect gets called at least six times by the Army alone.

Recruiters distribute key chains, mugs, and military brochures at McDonough's cafeteria. They are trained to target students at schools like McDonough across the country, using techniques such as identifying a popular student -- whom they call a "center of influence" -- and conspicuously talking to that student in front of others.

Meanwhile, at McLean High, a more affluent public school 37 miles away in Virginia, there is no military chaperoning and no ROTC class. Recruiters adhere to a strict quota of visits, lining up behind dozens of colleges. In the guidance office, military brochures are dwarfed by college pennants. Posters promote life amid ivy-covered walls, not in the cockpits of fighter jets.

Students from McDonough are as much as six times more likely than those from McLean to join the military, a disparity that is replicated elsewhere. A survey of the military's recruitment system found that the Defense Department zeroes in on schools where students are perceived to be more likely to join up, while making far less effort at schools where students are steered toward college. [complete article]

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You can't get here from there
By Joseph S. Ne Jr., New York Times, November 29, 2004

Last year, the number of foreign students at American colleges and universities fell for the first time since 1971. Recent reports show that total foreign student enrollment in our 2,700 colleges and universities dropped 2.4 percent, with a much sharper loss at large research institutions. Two-thirds of the 25 universities with the most foreign students reported major enrollment declines.

The costs to the American economy are significant. Educating foreign students is a $13 billion industry. Moreover, the United States does not produce enough home-grown doctoral students in science and engineering to meet our needs. The shortfall is partly made up by the many foreign students who stay here after earning their degrees.

Equally important, however, are the foreign students who return home and carry American ideas with them. They add to our soft power, the ability to win the hearts and minds of others. As Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, "I can think of no more valuable asset to our country than the friendship of future world leaders who have been educated here."

One cause of the recent decline has been increased competition from universities elsewhere, particularly in English-speaking countries like Britain and Australia. But most observers attribute our loss to a self-inflicted wound. Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, getting an American visa has been a nightmare of red tape, and the hassle has deterred many foreign student applicants. [complete article]

See also, When science flees the U.S. (Los Angeles Times).

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Israel shocked by image of soldiers forcing violinist to play at roadblock
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, November 29, 2004

Of all the revelations that have rocked the Israeli army over the past week, perhaps none disturbed the public so much as the video footage of soldiers forcing a Palestinian man to play his violin. [...]

The violinist, Wissam Tayem, was on his way to a music lesson near Nablus when he said an Israeli officer ordered him to "play something sad" while soldiers made fun of him. After several minutes, he was told he could pass.

It may be that the soldiers wanted Mr Tayem to prove he was indeed a musician walking to a lesson because, as a man under 30, he would not normally have been permitted through the checkpoint.

But after the incident was videotaped by Jewish women peace activists, it prompted revulsion among Israelis not normally perturbed about the treatment of Arabs.

The rightwing Army Radio commentator Uri Orbach found the incident disturbingly reminiscent of Jewish musicians forced to provide background music to mass murder. "What about Majdanek?" he asked, referring to the Nazi extermination camp.

The critics were not drawing a parallel between an Israeli roadblock and a Nazi camp. Their concern was that Jewish suffering had been diminished by the humiliation of Mr Tayem.

Yoram Kaniuk, author of a book about a Jewish violinist forced to play for a concentration camp commander, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the soldiers responsible should be put on trial "not for abusing Arabs but for disgracing the Holocaust". [complete article]

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Barghouti had no choice but to support Abbas
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, November 28, 2004

The jailed Palestinian leader of the Tanzim in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, had little choice but to avoid declaring his candidacy for the post of head of the Palestinian Authority - and instead offer his support to Mahmoud Abbas.

The absence of choice stemmed from the fact that the vast majority of members of the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement were united in their view that the organization must put forth a single, acceptable candidate, in order to avoid any possible semblance of division within Fatah. As such, the support of the Fatah members for Abbas (Abu Mazen) is total. [complete article]

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Hamas leader signals group has halted attacks on Israelis
By Mohammed Daraghmeh, Associated Press (via The Independent), November 29, 2004

A senior Hamas leader indicated today that the militant group is halting attacks on Israelis while the Palestinians prepare to choose a new leader, the latest sign of change following the death of Yasser Arafat.

Sheik Hassan Yousef, the group's top leader in the West Bank, said Hamas also would consider a formal truce with Israel. Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks, killing hundreds of Israelis during four years of fighting.

Since Arafat's death on 11 November, there has been a sharp drop in violence. The Palestinians have turned their attention to the 9 January presidential elections, while Israel has curtailed its military activity and made a series of gestures meant to ensure that the vote goes smoothly. [complete article]

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Iran agrees to suspension of its nuclear program
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, November 29, 2004

Dropping a last-minute demand yesterday, Iran agreed to fully suspend its nuclear programs and won some additional concessions from Europe for a resolution that excludes many of the Bush administration's proposals for increasing pressure on the Islamic republic.

The resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, is the mildest of the seven previous resolutions against Iran and does not include the explicit threat the White House had sought for reporting Tehran to the U.N. Security Council if it breaks the latest suspension.

Instead, the resolution, which The Washington Post obtained yesterday, calls on the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency to inform countries if Iran does not adhere to its pledges. But the weaker language makes clear the IAEA's verification is "essential" for knowing whether the commitment is being kept, and U.S. officials said that wording at least made clear it was up to the agency, not Iran, to determine whether the agreement was being honored.

Washington also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince allies that Iran should be the target of more aggressive U.N. inspections, as Iraq had been before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Iran has been under IAEA investigation for two years, and inspectors frequently visit the country. But under international treaty laws, Iran is not obligated to provide access to its military sites and has been cooperating voluntarily with the investigation. [complete article]

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Iran's conservatives consolidate power
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, November 29, 2004

After eight years of a bold but bungled experiment with reform, Iran's government is in the throes of a takeover by conservatives determined to restore the revolution's Islamic purity, according to Iranian politicians and analysts.

The transformation is symbolized by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose limited scholarly credentials were questioned even by his peers when he was selected 15 years ago. His authority caused a national debate during the reform era, when he was in danger of being sidelined politically, analysts said.

Today, however, they said, Khamenei is more powerful than at any time since 1989, when he succeeded the leader of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Critics said his control is as far-reaching as that of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi before he was overthrown in 1979.

"The pendulum has swung. Khamenei is in a better position than he's ever been," a senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the subject. "There's a real cockiness in the stride of his camp."

Khamenei's consolidation of power, partly through a new parliament that took office in May, has given even more leverage to religious institutions, including the judiciary, the Revolutionary Guards and vigilante groups such as Ansar Hezbollah, analysts said.

As a result, fear, intimidation and harassment have become instruments of the state in ways reminiscent of the early fervor following the 1979 revolution, Iranians complain. Women can still get away with relaxed dress, but the debates over political openings and reforming Islam have gone behind closed doors, or ended. [complete article]

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Will Iran be next?
Soldiers, spies, and diplomats conduct a classic Pentagon war game - with sobering results

By James Fallows, The Atlantic, December, 2004

As a preview of the problems Iran will pose for the next American President, and of the ways in which that President might respond, The Atlantic conducted a war game this fall, simulating preparations for a U.S. assault on Iran.

"War game" is a catchall term used by the military to cover a wide range of exercises. Some games run for weeks and involve real troops maneuvering across oceans or terrain against others playing the role of the enemy force. Some are computerized simulations of aerial, maritime, or land warfare. Others are purely talking-and-thinking processes, in which a group of people in a room try to work out the best solution to a hypothetical crisis. Sometimes participants are told to stay "in role" -- to say and do only what a Secretary of State or an Army brigade commander or an enemy strategist would most likely say and do in a given situation. Other times they are told to express their own personal views. What the exercises have in common is the attempt to simulate many aspects of conflict -- operational, strategic, diplomatic, emotional, and psychological -- without the cost, carnage, and irreversibility of real war. The point of a war game is to learn from simulated mistakes in order to avoid making them if conflict actually occurs.
[Participants in The Atlantic's war game were a "principals committee" in which David Kay played CIA Director, Kenneth Pollack and Reuel Marc Gerecht shared the role of Secretary of State, the White House chief of staff was Kenneth Bacon, and the Secretary of Defense was Michael Mazarr.][complete article]

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Iran 'has secret nuclear lab'
By Peter Conradi, The Sunday Times, November 28, 2004

Iran is working on a secret nuclear programme for military purposes despite its promise to halt all uranium enrichment activities, a German news magazine claimed yesterday.

Citing documents from an unnamed intelligence agency, Der Spiegel said Iran had set up a laboratory in a secret tunnel near a nuclear facility in Isfahan. This would be able to produce large amounts of uranium hexafluoride gas which could, in turn, be used to enrich uranium -- a vital component for a nuclear bomb.

Orders to build the tunnel were given last month by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, the magazine said.

The claims emerged as Britain, France and Germany warned Iran last night it could face sanctions if it does not agree to freeze key parts of its nuclear programme by tomorrow. [complete article]

U.S. lacks reliable data on Iran arms
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2004

Although convinced that Iran is "vigorously" pursuing programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the U.S. intelligence community has few sources of reliable information on any illicit arms activities by the Islamic republic, current and former intelligence officials and Middle East experts say.

The United States has struggled to get more than glimpses and incomplete accounts of Tehran's weapons programs, they say, despite the fact that American spy agencies are in a better position to collect information on Iran since U.S.-led invasions and occupations of two of the country's neighbors in the last three years.

The dearth of quality intelligence has complicated American efforts to convince other nations to more aggressively confront Iran, and accounts for the caution expressed by some U.S. intelligence officials last week when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he had seen important new evidence that Iran was pursuing ways to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile. [complete article]

Iran reasserts its right to enrich uranium as standoff persists
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, November 28, 2004

Iran's foreign minister said Saturday that Iran had every right to keep, for research purposes, some centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium, an indication that a standoff on the country's nuclear program may not be easily resolved.

"Iran's demand to keep 20 centrifuges is not against its commitments," said the minister, Kamal Kharrazi, the IRNA news agency reported.

In talks in Paris with Britain, Germany and France, Iran agreed on Nov. 15 to freeze all its nuclear activities. But this week, Iran said it wanted to retain 20 centrifuges for research purposes, stunning negotiators. The Paris accord was meant to pave the way for a resolution to be passed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear monitoring body, in Vienna, to say that Iran was in compliance. [complete article]

Engage Iran
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, November 26, 2004

A visitor to Washington this Thanksgiving week might well feel caught in a time warp: The CIA is warning about a Middle Eastern country's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction; Europeans are pushing a plan for inspections and international monitoring; the Bush administration is talking tough; and neoconservative hawks are thumping for military action.

It is, as foreign policy expert Yogi Berra would put it, a case of "déjà vu all over again." But this time, the weapons of mass destruction menace is Iran. And the question for the Bush administration, struggling with a difficult and still-unfinished war of preemption against Iraq, is how to get it right the second time around.

The best advice I've heard for dealing with Iran comes from former CIA analyst David Kay. He's the man who finally uncovered the truth about Iraq's weapons program -- namely that, contrary to the expectations of nearly every intelligence service, it had been dismantled. Kay offered his analysis this week at a conference on Iran hosted by the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Kay argues that, after the Iraq weapons blunder, it's important to level with the world about the quality of our intelligence. He distinguishes carefully between "what we know," "what we think we know" and "what we don't know." [complete article]

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Iran and the nuclear threat
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, November 28, 2004

The Bush administration would serve its own interests well if it followed David Kay's advice -- carefully distinguish between the knowns and the unknowns on Iran -- but anyone who thinks this administration is by nature inclined to apply a military solution to a political problem needs to reconsider the way the issue is being framed. If the issue is allowed to hinge on the reliability of intelligence, this time around the hawks stand on much firmer ground than they did with Iraq. If their warnings are confirmed, it's going to be hard to argue against their preferred solution. The hawks will have the final word if they continue to define the issue.

However, the big issue is not Iran -- it's nuclear proliferation. The administration's current policy could be described as swatting nuclear flies. It wrestles with the individual threats while attempting to do nothing more than maintain the nuclear status quo. Nevertheless, a country such as Iran sees no reason why it must be excluded from the nuclear club while Pakistan's nuclear status goes unchallenged -- even though the latter's role in proliferation is widely acknowledged. Meanwhile, America apparently has no greater ambition than to serve as a burly bouncer at the doors of the nuclear club

Since George Bush has modeled his presidency on that of Ronald Reagan, he would do well to remember what Reagan said in January, 1984: " dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth." If Reagan could express this dream even while he challenged the Soviet Union, is it unthinkable that Bush could revive the same vision at a time when the communist threat has vanished and missile defense is nothing more than a fanciful (and expensive) dream?

The greatest nuclear threat in the world today is of a clandestine nuclear attack from terrorists. Nuclear deterrence provides no protection from such an attack. In fact, it is the existence of state-controlled nuclear arsenals (such as what remains of the Soviet arsenal) that currently provides the most likely source for a nuclear weapon that could be used by terrorists. The secrecy with which these weapons are guarded is, paradoxically, one of the greatest sources of vulnerability. From the A.Q. Khan network to the security breaches at Los Alamos, it is clear that a culture of secrecy, by its nature, provides fertile ground for corruption.

Now, as the drumbeat grows concerning the urgency of dealing with the threat from Iran, it's time to decisively reframe the issue. The threat does not come Iran -- it comes from nuclear weapons. And an American president who is willing to present himself as the champion of such sweeping goals as the eradication of evil and the promotion of global freedom, should not balk from the much more modest, verifiable, and achievable goal, of banishing nuclear weapons from the Earth. If Reagan was the visionary that the Bushies say he was, why should they not now strive to realize his dream?

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New find in a nuclear network
By Douglas Frantz and William C. Rempel, Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2004

Authorities pursuing traffickers in nuclear weapons technology recently uncovered an audacious scheme to deliver a complete uranium enrichment plant to Libya, documents and interviews show.

The discovery provides fresh evidence of the reach and sophistication of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's global black market in nuclear know-how and equipment. It also exposes a previously undetected South African branch of the Khan network.

The startling dimensions of the plot began to emerge in September, when police raided a factory outside Johannesburg. They found the elements of a two-story steel processing system for the enrichment plant, packed in 11 freight containers for shipment to Libya.

South African officials have disclosed only that they discovered nuclear components. The Times has learned that the massive system was designed to operate an array of 1,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

Once assembled in Libya, the plant could have produced enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture several nuclear bombs a year. Delivery of the plant would have greatly accelerated Libya's efforts to develop nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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Lockheed and the future of warfare
By Tim Weiner, New York Times, November 28, 2004

Lockheed Martin doesn't run the United States. But it does help run a breathtakingly big part of it.

Over the last decade, Lockheed, the nation's largest military contractor, has built a formidable information-technology empire that now stretches from the Pentagon to the post office. It sorts your mail and totals your taxes. It cuts Social Security checks and counts the United States census. It runs space flights and monitors air traffic. To make all that happen, Lockheed writes more computer code than Microsoft.

Of course, Lockheed, based in Bethesda, Md., is best known for its weapons, which are the heart of America's arsenal. It builds most of the nation's warplanes. It creates rockets for nuclear missiles, sensors for spy satellites and scores of other military and intelligence systems. The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency might have difficulty functioning without the contractor's expertise.

But in the post-9/11 world, Lockheed has become more than just the biggest corporate cog in what Dwight D. Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. It is increasingly putting its stamp on the nation's military policies, too.

Lockheed stands at "the intersection of policy and technology," and that "is really a very interesting place to me," said its new chief executive, Robert J. Stevens, a tightly wound former Marine. "We are deployed entirely in developing daunting technology," he said, and that requires "thinking through the policy dimensions of national security as well as technological dimensions."

To critics, however, Lockheed's deep ties with the Pentagon raise some questions. "It's impossible to tell where the government ends and Lockheed begins," said Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group in Washington that monitors government contracts. "The fox isn't guarding the henhouse. He lives there." [complete article]

Comment -- Cold Warriors like to sustain the myth that the Cold War was an ideological contest between communism and free-market capitalism, but whatever sustains companies such as Lockheed Martin, let's not pretend it's free-market capitalism.

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Neocons join the lynch mob for 'arrogant' Rumsfeld
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, November 28, 2004

The American defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, should be sacked, according to a growing chorus of conservative commentators who want him replaced by a figure with wider appeal.

In a seemingly innocuous Thanksgiving message to readers last week, William Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard magazine, slipped in a surprise demand for Rumsfeld's dismissal.

"What remains to be done is to announce new leadership for the department of defence," wrote Kristol. "This, surely, would be an important opportunity for a strong, Bush-doctrine-supporting outsider, someone who of course would be a team player, but someone who could also work with the military and broaden support for the president's policy."

Boiled down, this meant: almost anybody but Rumsfeld, whose performance has not always matched his swagger. His failure to install enough troops on the ground after last year's invasion of Iraq has upset American generals and alienated supporters of the war. [complete article]

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Congress seeks to curb International Court
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, November 26, 2004

The Republican-controlled Congress has stepped up its campaign to curtail the power of the International Criminal Court, threatening to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid to governments that refuse to sign immunity accords shielding U.S. personnel from being surrendered to the tribunal.

The move marks an escalation in U.S. efforts to ensure that the first world criminal court can never judge American citizens for crimes committed overseas. More than two years ago, Congress passed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act, which cut millions of dollars in military assistance to many countries that would not sign the Article 98 agreements, as they are known, that vow not to transfer to the court U.S. nationals accused of committing war crimes abroad.

A provision inserted into a $338 billion government spending bill for 2005 would bar the transfer of assistance money from the $2.52 billon economic support fund to a government "that is a party" to the criminal court but "has not entered into an agreement with the United States" to bar legal proceedings against U.S. personnel. The House and Senate are to vote on the budget Dec. 8.

Congress's action may affect U.S. Agency for International Development programs designed to promote peace, combat drug trafficking, and promote democracy and economic reforms in poor countries. For instance, the cuts could jeopardize as much as $250 million to support economic growth and reforms in Jordan, $500,000 to promote democracy and fight drug traffickers in Venezuela, and about $9 million to support free trade and other initiatives with Mexico. [complete article]

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The end of the Muslim Brotherhood?
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, November 24, 2004

On the face of it, a little-noticed report in a London-based Arabic-language newspaper last week seemed to signal a major victory in the Bush administration's international campaign to crack down on alleged financiers of Islamic terrorism. According to the Nov. 11 edition of Al-Sharq-al-Awsat, the Muslim Brotherhood Organization, an international fundamentalist movement that spawned many of the world's key Islamic extremist and terrorist groups—including Al Qaeda—recently held a secret conference at which its leaders discussed whether to dissolve their organization in the wake of Washington's moves to crack down on some of its leading members and corporate organizations.

But like other developments in what the administration calls the global war on terror, the alleged move by the Brotherhood to abolish itself may have less substance than meets the eye. Indeed, it may even mean that efforts by the U.S. and its allies to move against financiers of Islamic terror groups will become more difficult. [complete article]

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Pakistan pulls troops from Afghan border area
CNN, November 28, 2004

After more than two years of battling remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistan's government has announced it will end its military operation in the tense tribal region of South Waziristan.

The province along the border with Afghanistan is among the potential hiding places for Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants.

The announcement late Friday came a day after a Pakistani army commander said repeated searches by the military have failed to turn up any trace of bin Laden in the tribal lands. [complete article]

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Shiites reject delay of election
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, November 28, 2004

Iraq's Shiite Muslim parties and the religious leadership headed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Saturday rejected a demand by other communities for a delay in nationwide elections scheduled for Jan. 30, in an escalating dispute that magnifies the country's ethnic and sectarian fault lines.

Parties representing Iraq's Sunni Muslim Arab minority, as well as ethnic Kurds and other secular groups, had called for a delay of up to six months in the vote for a National Assembly, which will be charged with appointing a government and drafting a constitution. The postponement would allow more time to persuade groups boycotting the election to take part and to bring calm to regions roiled by a tenacious insurgency.

But Shiite politicians quickly denounced the request, issuing a statement Saturday in the name of 42 parties insisting the elections be held on time. More important, the Shiite religious leadership in the sacred city of Najaf said the date could not be negotiated. [complete article]

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In Mosul, grisly discoveries follow in insurgents' footsteps
By Kirsten Scharnberg, Chicago Tribune (via The State), November 25, 2004

Almost every morning for the past several days, American soldiers have made the gruesome discovery. Sometimes the bodies are partly burned; sometimes they are dismembered; sometimes they are shot in the head.

When two more victims were found slumped on a busy street corner this week, Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla finally lost it. The Army commander, a bear of a man who usually is the first to crack a joke even in the direst of circumstances, stormed across the street and began chastising the Iraqis gathered there.

"Why do you not have the common decency to clean them up?" shouted Kurilla, who is in charge of securing much of historic Mosul, as he angrily motioned to the bodies.

"Your fellow Iraqis are lying dead in the streets, and you sit there doing nothing. To say nothing is to support the insurgents. These were Iraqi soldiers who were trying to help your country, to serve you. How can you do nothing?" [complete article]

Comment -- At the outset of the war there was one thing about which everyone inside and outside Iraq could have agreed: The agent of regime change was not the will of the Iraqi people. Saddam relied on the support of a powerful minority; the rest of the population either endured a brutal status quo or, as in the case of the Kurds, already enjoyed de facto independence. As much as the neocons and Iraqi exiles wanted to portray Iraq as a nation ripe for revolution, none believed that the fruit was ripe enough to fall without a hefty tug from an American hand. Nevertheless, the war started and continues under the conceit that Americans are serving as a catalyst for the expression of the Iraqi will. Hence the frustration of US commanders who regard the passivity of many Iraqis as in some sense a failure to hold up their half of the bargain. The truth is, no bargain was ever made. This is America's project and if it fails, America's failure. The problem for most Iraqis now is that their fate largely rests in the hands of a nation that gladly disowns the past as it insists on defining itself through the future.

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After Falluja, U.S. troops fight a new battle just as important, and just as tough
By John F. Burns, New York Times, November 28, 2004

As American commanders turn their concentration toward the area of sullen towns and villages that straddle the southern approaches to Baghdad, they face a battle that is in many ways as crucial to their hopes as Falluja has been. And they enter a battleground where loyalties to Saddam Hussein and the burning enmity for America are at least as intense.

Without a major success here, the battle for Falluja, 50 miles to the northwest, could come to be seen as a Pyrrhic victory, one that reduced much of the city to rubble, cost more than 50 American combat deaths and prompted many insurgents to move on and regroup for yet more chapters in an ever-lengthening war.

The first days of the new campaign suggest it may outstrip Falluja in the demands it will make on American patience and tactical skills.

Once again, marines are leading the fight here, with the best of Iraq's American-trained troops alongside them. But in this area, known for its ceaseless rounds of suicide bombings and ambushes, there will be no knockout blows with tanks and bombs. Rather, as Marine commanders emphasized when 5,000 troops began the offensive this week, success will be built raid by raid, arrest by arrest, until the latticework of rebel cells in virtually every village and town is weakened and the will to sustain the insurgency is broken. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication (PDF format)
Department of Defense, September, 2004
American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.
• Muslims do not "hate our freedom," but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
• Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that "freedom is the future of the Middle East" is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World -- but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
• Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.
• Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack -- to broad public support.
• What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of "terrorist" groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.
• Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic -- namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is -- for Americans -- really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves.
[The Defense Science Board (DSB), composed of members designated from civilian life by the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics), advises the Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on scientific, technical, manufacturing, acquisition process, and other matters of special interest to the Department of Defense.]

An Israeli hawk accepts the president's invitation
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, November 23, 2004
Those looking for clues about President Bush's second-term policy for the Middle East might be interested to know that, nine days after his reelection victory, the president summoned to the White House an Israeli politician so hawkish that he has accused Ariel Sharon of being soft on the Palestinians.

Bush met for more than an hour on Nov. 11 with Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident now known as a far-right member of the Israeli cabinet. Joined by Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., incoming national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and administration Mideast specialist Elliot Abrams, Bush told Sharansky that he was reading the Israeli's new book, "The Case for Democracy," and wanted to know more. Sharansky, with co-author Ron Dermer, had a separate meeting with Condoleezza Rice, later chosen by Bush to be the next secretary of state. [...]

Sharansky's ideas are clear: no concessions, funds or legitimacy for the Palestinians unless they adopt democracy, but a modern-day Marshall Plan for the Palestinians if they embrace democratic ways. The same hard line that worked for Ronald Reagan against the Soviet Union, Sharansky argues in his book, would work for Israel against the Palestinians.

In his book, Sharansky echoes many of Bush's favorite lines, talking of the need for "moral clarity" in fighting evil. Likening the fight against terrorism to the struggle with Nazism and communism, he described a world "divided between those who are prepared to confront evil and those who are willing to appease it" -- a common Bush dichotomy. "I am convinced that all peoples desire to be free," Sharansky writes. "I am convinced that freedom anywhere will make the world safer everywhere. And I am convinced that democratic nations, led by the United States, have a critical role to play in expanding freedom around the globe."

Dangers of the '80 percent solution'
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, November 23, 2004
When you push Bush administration officials to explain America's strategy for the new year in Iraq, you get an answer that I'll call "the 80 percent solution." This analysis is at the root of the administration's hopes for the future, so it's worth giving it a careful look.

President Bush's strategists argue that no matter how bloody the insurgency in Iraq may seem, it will never grow beyond the 20 percent of the Iraqi population that is Sunni Muslim. The rest of Iraq -- roughly 60 percent Shiite and 20 percent Kurdish -- may dislike the U.S. occupation, but it will never unite with the Sunnis, who dominated the former regime of Saddam Hussein that brutalized them.

Thus the quiet in the rest of Iraq as U.S. forces pounded the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah this month. You could almost hear Iraq's Shiites and Kurds muttering: "They had it coming." An Arabic expression conveys the schadenfreude emotion: "The misery of some is for others an advantage." In that phrase lies the cold logic of the 80 percent solution.

Not much of an opening in the mullahs' robes
By Dan De Luce, Washington Post, November 21, 2004
A real live American is a rare find in Iran these days. At an official "Death to America" rally in Tehran last year, a horde of giggling chador-clad high school girls asked for my autograph. Like many other Iranians I talked to during the 18 months I spent working there, they were tired of the regime's rants about the "Great Satan" and greeted me like a long-lost cousin.

Our absence has made the Iranian heart grow fonder, though that emotion reflects resentment toward the clerics at the top more than innate enthusiasm for America. Despite widespread frustration with the regime's repressive methods and rank hypocrisy, no organized opposition movement or leader has emerged to harness public anger. Contrary to what some neoconservatives might tell you, Iran is not on the verge of revolution. [...]

Even if revolution seems far away, Islamic militancy has proved a colossal failure. Once in power, Islamists found their simplistic, distorted ideology could not satisfy the needs of the population. Instead of social harmony and spiritual revival, the Islamic revolution has turned young people away from the mosque, widened the gap between the rich and poor, oppressed women and stifled freedom of expression. But because there is no Lech Walesa or Nelson Mandela organizing against the theocracy, change will not come soon.

One sure way to derail the cause of democracy would be heavy-handed U.S. action. Iranians retain a deep sense of national pride, and a clumsy covert operation or a stray bomb from the United States would be a gift to the mullahs. Air raids or other intervention of this kind would turn the focus away from the regime's failures and revive the idea of America as the villainous imperial meddler. The troubled American-led occupation of Iraq next door has already given the regime a rationale for cracking down on dissent at home and painting its critics as traitors.

Theatre of terror
By Jason Burke, The Observer, November 21, 2004
When they kicked down the door of the living room of a house in the western Iraqi city of Falluja on Friday, US marines from the 3/5 Lima Company discovered an improvised television studio equipped with video cameras, banks of computers and cutting-edge editing equipment.

According to Captain Ed Batinga, who led the soldiers, an off-white wall behind a wooden table at one side of the room was spattered with blood and draped with the black-and-gold flag of the Islamic militant group believed to be behind the killing of dozens of hostages in Iraq in recent months.

The marines were too late to save Margaret Hassan, a slim, spry, 59-year-old Irish-born woman who had lived in Iraq for 32 years, and was shot dead at point-blank range by an Iraqi insurgent some time last week. She had been held captive for nearly a month and died dressed in a Guantanamo Bay-style orange jumpsuit.

The first and last act of Mrs Hassan's abductors was to release a videotape. The first reached the television station al-Jazeera within hours of Mrs Hassan being taken hostage. The last, which has not yet been broadcast, shows her death.

The videos are one of the most shocking elements of the war in Iraq. Scores have now been released by Iraqi insurgents. To many the terrorists' use of the media seems a radical innovation. It isn't. The Iraqi videos are part of a genre of propaganda tools developed over decades. This is simply the moment that the terrorist film-makers have started to reach a mass audience. In the longer term, the videos are rooted in the essence of the militants' project, which is the project of all terrorists - dramatic spectacle. Or, put another way, theatre.

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