The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Among Palestinians, evidence of change
By Khalil Shikaki, Washington Post, December 12, 2004

The Palestinian presidential elections are inextricably tied to the peace process. Abbas, who has criticized the intifada, is viewed by almost two-thirds of Palestinians as the candidate most able to reach a peace agreement with Israel; Barghouti, who earlier this year was given five life sentences by a Tel Aviv court for murder, is viewed by most Palestinians as the candidate most likely to keep the intifada going.

Barghouti's decision to run, reversing his initial pronouncement, has consequences far beyond the fate of the intifada. His candidacy has become a vehicle for young guard nationalists who want to seize the moment and shake up the Palestinian political system. A true contest will help the young guard to displace the old, if not today, then tomorrow. With policies being challenged and power openly contested, a transition to democracy is underway.

The desire for democracy is pervasive among Palestinians, according to a poll our center conducted early this month. Even though the Islamists, who represent a major force in Palestinian politics, have decided to boycott the presidential elections, an overwhelming 90 percent of Palestinians say that they were determined to vote. Moreover, the Islamists themselves are asserting that they will participate in local and parliamentary elections, tentatively scheduled to take place over the next few months. After four years of political paralysis, people are not willing to miss the opportunity to determine their future. [complete article]

See also, Behind Barghouti's Palestinian presidential run (Tony Karon).

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'Unknowns' stirring Palestinian race
By Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 2004

In an election dominated by a jailed intifada leader and a moderate veteran negotiator who both come from the ruling Fatah party, an alternative voice is struggling to emerge.

It belongs to Mustafa Barghouthi, ranked a distant third in polls, whose candidacy is seen as a chance to develop a "third way" in Palestinian politics, distinct from both Fatah and Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist opposition that is boycotting the election.

Mr. Barghouthi is unlikely to become president, but his campaign may lay the foundations for the creation of a viable secular opposition in Palestinian politics, analysts say. [complete article]

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Sharon victory boosts Gaza withdrawal plan
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, December 10, 2004

Ariel Sharon beat off resistance to his Gaza pull-out plan yesterday to win the backing of his ruling Likud party to invite the Labour opposition into the government.

The prime minister's victory appears to assure his plans to close Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank next year. But the ultimate price of Labour joining the government and keeping the "disengagement plan" alive may be that it results in surrendering more territory than Mr Sharon has in mind.

Likud's 3,000 central committee members voted by nearly two-to-one in favour of a coalition with Labour just four months after it forbade Mr Sharon from bringing the party into his administration. Had he lost the vote, the prime minister would probably have been forced to call an election.

Mr Sharon says he expects to form a new government in about 10 days after talks with Labour and two small religious parties. The Labour leader, Shimon Peres, has said he wants to join the administration to ensure the survival of Mr Sharon's plan to remove 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and dismantle most of the military bases there. The government also plans to close four small settlements in the north of the West Bank. [complete article]

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Israeli soldiers' testimony supports claims of abuse
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, December 11, 2004

A rash of allegations that Israeli soldiers have killed Palestinians wrongfully and abused corpses in the field has been disclosed by human rights organizations and Palestinians -- but also by soldiers who contend that the long conflict is undermining basic concepts of decency in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the military's chief of staff, told foreign reporters this week that the string of recent cases would "seem to call into question the moral standard of IDF soldiers," and said he would initiate investigations of the incidents. Yaalon, the army's top general, said he had spent much of the last two weeks meeting with officers in the field to discuss the allegations.

Many troops have been making their concerns known through the news media, Web sites, military courts and soldiers' organizations, according to soldiers, human rights officials and analysts. Critics contend that the Israeli military has a poor record of investigating and prosecuting allegations of wrongdoing by soldiers.

"These are not exceptions, but the reality itself," Yehuda Shaul, organizer of a group of soldiers called "Breaking the Silence," wrote on the organization's Web site, which lists dozens of testimonials from soldiers describing abuses they said they had witnessed. "Horrible and shameful as it is, this is the normative situation." [complete article]

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Homeland Security nominee Kerik pulls out
By Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, December 11, 2004

Former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik withdrew as President Bush's nominee for secretary of homeland security last night, saying he had not paid taxes for a domestic worker who may have been an illegal immigrant.

The White House made the announcement in a two-sentence e-mail at 10 p.m. but did not give any cause beyond saying that Kerik "is withdrawing his name for personal reasons."

Kerik, 49, elaborated in a written statement, saying that in filling out forms required for Senate confirmation he "uncovered information that now leads me to question the immigration status of a person who had been in my employ as a housekeeper and nanny." [...]

Republican officials said the White House counsel's office had asked Kerik about the matter repeatedly in investigating his background before the nomination was announced last week. A Republican source said some White House officials found it highly suspicious that Kerik was not aware of a potential problem with a nanny who left the country very recently. [...]

Even before the nanny issue arose, Democrats had targeted Kerik as the most vulnerable of Bush's second-term nominations. White House officials realized he was becoming a lightning rod, although they had thought he would survive.

Democrats were focusing on the quick riches Kerik had accumulated since resigning in 2002 as police commissioner, a post he held during the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Since leaving his city office, he had received $6.2 million by exercising stock options he received as a consultant and director for Taser International, a maker of stun guns that did business with the Department of Homeland Security.

Democrats had raised numerous questions about Kerik's records and qualifications, including his role in training Iraqi police as interim minister of interior and senior policy adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. [complete article]

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Humvee makers dispute Rumsfeld remarks
By George Edmonson, Cox News (via Seattle P-I), December 10, 2004

The manufacturer of Humvees for the U.S. military and the company that adds armor to the utility vehicles are not running near production capacity and are making all that the Pentagon has requested, spokesmen for both companies said.

"If they call and say, 'You know, we really want more,' we'll get it done," said Lee Woodward, a spokesman for AM General, the Indiana company that makes Humvees and the civilian Hummer versions.

At O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, the Ohio firm that turns specially designed Humvees into fully armored vehicles at a cost of about $70,000 each, spokesman Michael Fox said they, too, can provide more if the government wants them. [complete article]

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Kurds try to invest 14 tons of cash
By Thomas Catan, Financial Times, December 10, 2004

A Washington-based lobbying firm with strong ties to the US Republican party has been in talks with international banks to facilitate the placing by the Iraqi Kurds of more than half a billion dollars in cash.

The money is part of $1.4bn in Iraqi oil revenues paid in cash by the US-led occupation authority to the Kurds in June 2004, just days before it handed power to an interim Iraqi government.

Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, a firm founded by two senior aides of President George H.W. Bush and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is representing the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Washington. Robert Blackwill, until last month White House chief adviser on Iraq, has also joined the firm. [...]

No one has alleged that the transactions being mooted are improper. But the lack of transparency has fuelled questions about that payment, as well as billions of dollars handed out by the CPA in the weeks before the handover.

Before dissolving on June 28, the CPA spent or earmarked around $20bn from the DFI, which contained the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales, Iraqi government bank accounts frozen in 1991 and money left over from the UN-administered "oil-for-food" programme.

The International Advisory and Monitoring Board, a UN-mandated watchdog made up of several international financial institutions, is scheduled to issue its opinion on the CPA's stewardship of Iraqi funds on Monday. The CPA's Inspector General is also preparing to publish a hard-hitting report on the issue. A draft of the report is understood to have angered senior US Pentagon officials and Paul Bremer, the former US administrator of Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Makes you wonder, has the hullabaloo about the UN and the oil-for-food program been stirred up as a kind of pre-emptive strike designed to diminish the impact of this report on the CPA?

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Fear hamstrings quest for intelligence in N. Iraq
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, December 11, 2004

In the numbingly cold hours before dawn, dozens of Iraqi men raised their hands and pressed them against the wall of a low building in this village, under the watch of American troops. The only sounds were the buzz of attack helicopters and howls of dogs. Silhouetted by the headlights of a hulking U.S. Army assault vehicle, the men cast shadows against a scrawl of graffiti. "Support the Islamic Movement. There is no party but God," it read.

"Thumbs down," a voice crackled over an Army radio after one man, tousled and confused, stood in the headlights. His picture had been snapped moments earlier by a young sergeant, and his name checked against a laminated list held by another soldier. An Iraqi informant inside the armored vehicle, too afraid even to appear masked in the dark streets, had linked the man to Iraq's elusive insurgency.

Over the next four hours last Tuesday, more than 200 men endured the same procedure, as U.S. troops compiled a book of mug shots that included almost every man of military age in this village of mud-walled houses on the Tigris River. Thirty-four were linked to the insurgency by at least one of two informants, who later reviewed the men's pictures at an Army post in Mosul, 10 miles north of here.

"I don't care about their hearts and minds, because in a place like this we know where their hearts lay," said Lt. Col. Todd McCaffrey as he watched the suspects, some frightened, others nonchalant, all shivering. "I'm more interested in what they know."

The search for information about Iraq's insurgency has become the most crucial task facing battlefield commanders as they struggle to subdue violent regions like this one before the scheduled Jan. 30 elections. But intelligence-gathering by the front-line forces that need to know the most is proving difficult in a region increasingly gripped by fear. [complete article]

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Iraq without a plan
By Michael E. O'Hanlon, Policy Review, December, 2004

The broad argument of this essay is that the tragedy of Iraq -- that one of the most brilliant invasion successes in modern military history was followed almost immediately by one of the most incompetently planned occupations -- holds a critical lesson for civil-military relations in the United States. The country's Constitution makes the president commander in chief and requires military leaders to follow his orders. It does not, however, require them to remain mute when poor plans are being prepared. Nor does it require them to remain in uniform when they are asked to undertake actions they know to be unwise or ill-planned. [complete article]

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You're voting for whom?
By Rod Nordland, Newsweek, December 10, 2004

The much-anticipated Shiite list of candidates for the forthcoming elections in Iraq was presented today -- in partial anonymity and peculiar secrecy. This is the slate of candidates who will almost certainly win elections if they take place on schedule next Jan. 30. And in a few days it will have to begin campaigning.

The grouping of 228 candidates, a coalition running together as the newly formed United Iraqi Alliance, today formally filed for a place on the ballot at the Baghdad offices of the Independent Elections Commission for Iraq and then held a press conference at which representatives of the group refused to reveal the names of those on their list, or even who was at its head. A media spokesman for the IECI also refused to reveal the contents of the Shiite list. The head of the elections commission, Adel Hindawi, reached by telephone, said, "I haven't seen the list, and I don't know anything about it."

The United Iraqi Alliance list will presumably eventually become public, when the Dec. 15 deadline for candidates to file passes and campaigning begins -- assuming that candidates do not contemplate campaigning in secrecy. The secrecy is apparently motivated by security concerns for some of those on the list, and by horse-trading still going on among members of the coalition over what positions they'll get in the new government. Some of the names on the list have come out, but the most stunning thing about it is who is left out: notably, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his Iraqi National Accord party. This makes it almost impossible for Allawi to be re-elected prime minister, and could even mean he would not win a seat in the National Assembly. [complete article]

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Elections are no savior
By Marwan Bishara, International Herald Tribune, December 11, 2004

Today, the Bush administration is peddling the ethnic factor as a precondition for Iraq's (numeric) democracy. It argues that since the Shiites make up a majority 60 percent of the population, their vote will guarantee the legitimacy of the elections and pave the way toward democracy, with Sistani's indispensable encouragement. Wrong.

Referred to as a "moderate" for not advocating resistance against the American occupation, the fundamentalist cleric is also seen as a "democrat" for being adamant on holding elections when parts of the country burn. Beyond that, little is known about how he thinks or what he is planning.

What is certain, however, is that the ayatollah is a spiritual leader with no political experience or interest, whose only connection to the rest of Iraq, indeed the world, is a network of politically minded functionaries and clergies with sectarian agendas and ambiguous liaisons within and outside Iraq. They feed him information and implement his general directives as they see fit. Today, they are dividing the assembly seats among their close allies in the Shiite parties. That is hardly a cause for optimism. [complete article]

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1 million U.S. troops have gone to war
By Mark Benjamin, UPI (via Washington Times), December 9, 2004

Nearly a million U.S. troops have been deployed for war in Iraq or Afghanistan since those conflicts began, according to Pentagon data.

The data also show that one out of every three of those service members has gone more than once.

The Pentagon confirmed to United Press International Wednesday that a cumulative total of 955,000 troops from all military services had been deployed for Operation Iraqi or Enduring Freedom by the end of September. More than 300,000 of those troops have been deployed more than once, the Pentagon said.

One government source said the total number of troops deployed has likely hit 1 million since then. [complete article]

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U.S. Army plagued by desertion and plunging morale
By Elaine Monaghan, The Times, December 10, 2004

While insurgents draw on deep wells of fury to expand their ranks in Iraq, the US military is fighting desertion, recruitment shortfalls and legal challenges from its own troops.

The irritation among the rank and file became all too clear this week when a soldier stood up in a televised session with Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, to ask why the world's richest army was having to hunt for scrap metal to protect its vehicles.

The same night, interviews with three soldiers who are seeking refugee status in Canada, where they have become minor celebrities, dominated prime time television. They are among more the than 5,000 troops that CBS's 60 Minutes reported on Wednesday had deserted since the war began. [complete article]

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Armor scarce for big trucks transporting cargo in Iraq
By Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 10, 2004

Congress released statistics Thursday documenting stark shortages in armor for the military transport trucks that ferry food, fuel and ammunition along dangerous routes in Iraq, while President Bush and his defense secretary both spoke out to defuse public criticism.

Soldiers confronted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday with complaints that the Pentagon was sending them to war without enough armored equipment to protect them. One soldier who challenged Mr. Rumsfeld was apparently prompted by a reporter traveling with his unit. The commander of American ground forces in the Middle East responded Thursday to the complaints with a vow to provide armored transportation into Iraq for all troops headed there.

"The concerns expressed are being addressed, and that is, we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment," Mr. Bush said. "And I have told many families I met with, we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones in a mission which is vital and important."

The House Armed Services Committee released statistics on Thursday showing that while many Humvees are armored, most transport trucks that crisscross Iraq are not.

The committee said more than three-quarters of the 19,854 Humvees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait carry protective armor, which can vary in quality. The most secure are factory-armored Humvees, and the Pentagon has received only 5,910 of the 8,105 that commanders say they need. But only 10 percent of the 4,814 medium-weight transport trucks have armor, and only 15 percent of the 4,314 heavy transport vehicles. [complete article]

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Reporter prompted query to Rumsfeld
By Howard Kurtz and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, December 10, 2004

A reporter traveling with a National Guard unit prodded one of its soldiers to ask Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the lack of armor for some U.S. military vehicles in Iraq, an exchange that made worldwide news Wednesday when the assembled troops cheered the question.

Edward Lee Pitts of the Chattanooga Times Free Press told colleagues in an e-mail that he and members of the Tennessee Army National Guard now in Kuwait "worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor" and that Spec. Thomas Wilson posed the question at his request.

President Bush and Rumsfeld both said yesterday that they welcomed the pointed questions that soldiers posed and that the concerns they raised were being addressed. The Pentagon held a briefing to make a similar point, but congressional Democrats continued to pound on Rumsfeld for his responses to the troops in Kuwait.

Two media analysts said Pitts should have disclosed his role in the story he wrote. But Tom Griscom, the paper's publisher and executive editor, said yesterday in a telephone interview that "the soldier asked the question" and could have rejected Pitts's idea. [complete article]

Comment -- Commentators -- mostly conservative, I expect -- will likely suggest that Edward Lee Pitts acted inappropriately as a journalist, but his email (appearing on the Drudge Report) makes it clear that he is committed to telling the truth and that as an embedded reporter traveling on an unarmored truck, he has a very personal interest in the issue.

Some journalists seem to live in such fear of being accused of bias that their endeavor to cover "all sides" results in meandering, incoherent reporting. Bias is prejudice and conflicts with anyone's ability to give an accurate account, but few people can claim the privelaged position of true objectivity. The job of the journalist is to tell the truth as clearly as it can be seen from his or her unique vantage point.

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An ambush on U.S. troops and an election
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, December 10, 2004

While President Bush and Iraq's interim leadership insist that the country's first free elections are going to be held on schedule, two days of patrolling Iraq's third-largest city with U.S. forces suggests that the security necessary for that to happen remains a distant goal. U.S. troops come under daily attack from insurgents determined to derail the voting. Meanwhile, fledgling Iraqi security forces -- meant to put a local face on the military presence and win over fearful civilians -- are a shambles. [complete article]

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Shiites signal concern over Sunni turnout amid violence
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, December 10, 2004

A leading Shiite political figure showed signs of unease on Thursday about the risks that the continuing violence here poses for the elections. It was the first signal that members of Iraq's powerful Shiite political alliance might be willing to ease their insistence on holding them on Jan. 30.

The official, Hussein al-Shahristani, did not say Shiite leaders would be open to delaying the election, but he spoke about the extraordinary dangers voters faced in many Sunnidominated areas, in warnings that sounded much like those issued by Sunni leaders calling for a postponement. He added that Shiite leaders did not want to see an election that might be viewed as illegitimate.

"We are insistent that the right conditions should be created, especially in Sunni areas, because an election without their full participation is not in the interests of the Iraqi people," Dr. Shahristani said. [complete article]

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Scary surprises in Mosul
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, December 10, 2004

The insurgents' most powerful weapon is raw fear. According to U.S. commanders, they distribute DVDs showing beheadings of their captives. The message: Here's what we'll do if you try to stop us. After U.S. troops patrolled one Mosul neighborhood recently, insurgents arrived in eight cars. They seized a man and shot him in the head as a warning against cooperating with the Americans.

Mosul's slide into this cauldron accelerated in July when the provincial governor was assassinated. He was by all accounts a charismatic politician who managed to maintain his independence as an Iraqi while also working with the Americans. After he was killed, Mosul lacked effective leadership to dispense the tens of millions of dollars that had been allocated for reconstruction projects. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi brought a brief moment of optimism when he visited the city carrying $65 million in cash to pay back salaries for government workers. He promised that more financial help was on the way, but it has yet to arrive.

Security in the city has been eroding all year, but it collapsed when the insurgents staged a well-coordinated series of attacks that overran the local police on Nov. 10. The simultaneous attacks came from more than a dozen bands of insurgents, according to Ham. Policemen fled their posts, and in the aftermath, Mosul had just 1,000 police left in a force that on paper had numbered 8,000. Of those who stayed, only about 400 were reliable.

Ham says of the November assault that shattered the police, "I did not see that coming." Indeed, Mosul illustrates what may be the biggest problem for the United States and its allies throughout Iraq, which is the scarcity of good intelligence about the insurgency's command-and-control structure. [complete article]

Comment -- Though I know nothing more about the insurgency than what I can glean from the press, it seems to me likely that what is now known as "the insurgency" may come to be described by historians as the regime's "post-war plan." The lack of an American post-war plan can in large part be attributed to the fact that the neoconservatives believed in their own propaganda. Saddam was both demonized and mocked and the regime was misconstrued as a brittle power structure that would fall apart once it had been decapitated. But as has often been said, power is not relinguished without a struggle, and the power of the regime was great, far-reaching, intricately dispersed and deeply entrenched. Regime change might have sounded like a simple proposition, but if the goal had been more accurately stated it would have amounted to saying, America is going into Iraq to bring about a total transformation of Iraqi society. Naturally, such a proposition would have brought forth the response: Does the American government have either the right, the insight or the means to accomplish such a far-reaching goal?

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U.S. gives rosy picture of rebuilding Iraq, while people on the streets seethe
By Tim Johnson and Omar Jassim, Knight Ridder, December 9, 2004

Deep within the Green Zone, the fortified home of Iraq's interim administration, U.S. officials offered an upbeat assessment Thursday of their multibillion-dollar efforts to rebuild the country. Out in the streets of Baghdad, though, it's a parallel universe.

Twenty months after Saddam Hussein's removal from power, electricity blinks on and off. Jobs are scarce. The rat-a-tat of automatic gunfire erupts nearly hourly. Criminal kidnappings for ransom have soared. Parents fear to let their children out for long periods, even to go to school.

Stop just about anyone on the street, and the complaints spill out in torrents.

"The Americans keep saying that they are making things better and better," said Ali Ayad, a 17-year-old school dropout. "If things are getting better, why did I have to leave school to support my family?" [complete article]

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Blair rejects call for count of Iraqi deaths
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, December 9, 2004

General Tommy Franks, the US commander in the Iraq war last year, spelled it out before the invasion began.

"We don't do body counts," he said, referring to the Iraqis that might be killed in the forthcoming conflict.

His deputies were left to explain why a careful toll of American dead was kept but Iraqi deaths went unrecorded.

"It just is not worth trying to characterise by numbers," Brigadier General Vince Brooks, the deputy director of operations at US central command, said just days before the fall of Baghdad.

"And, frankly, if we are going to be honourable about our warfare, we are not out there trying to count up bodies. This is not the appropriate way for us to go."

Occasionally the generals have not been able to resist. After the assault on Falluja last month commanders said at least 1,200 rebels were killed. [complete article]

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Prominent Western Muslim rejects 'clash of civilizations' idea
By Don Hill, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 2, 2004

After U.S. historian Samuel Huntington of Harvard University published his article "The Clash of Civilizations" in 1993, many people adopted the idea of an impending confrontation between Islam and the West.

And after the 2001 terrorist attacks on America and the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that idea took on an aura of inevitability.

But Tariq Ramadan says the notion of a "clash of civilizations" fails to take into account the fact that Muslims already comprise an integral part of Western civilization.

"I think we have to go beyond this binary vision of reality, you know, and the struggle is not on the borders. The struggle is within our [Muslim] society, because we are experiencing democracy. We are free. We can speak. Even though it is very difficult, even though we have still prejudices, discrimination. But the Muslims -- the European, the American, the Canadian -- should be involved in their society," Ramadan says. [complete article]

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Muslim scholars increasingly debate unholy war
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, December 10, 2004

Muhammad Shahrour, a layman who writes extensively about Islam, sits in his engineering office in Damascus, Syria, arguing that Muslims will untangle their faith from the increasingly gory violence committed in its name only by reappraising their sacred texts.

First, Mr. Shahrour brazenly tackles the Koran. The entire ninth chapter, The Sura of Repentance, he says, describes a failed attempt by the Prophet Muhammad to form a state on the Arabian Peninsula. He believes that as the source of most of the verses used to validate extremist attacks, with lines like "slay the pagans where you find them," the chapter should be isolated to its original context.

"The state which he built died, but his message is still alive," says Mr. Shahrour, a soft-spoken, 65-year-old Syrian civil engineer with thinning gray hair. "So we have to differentiate between the religion and state politics. When you take the political Islam, you see only killing, assassination, poisoning, intrigue, conspiracy and civil war, but Islam as a message is very human, sensible and just."

Mr. Shahrour and a dozen or so like-minded intellectuals from across the Arab and Islamic worlds provoked bedlam when they presented their call for a reinterpretation of holy texts after a Cairo seminar entitled "Islam and Reform" earlier this fall. [complete article]

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A public peace process
By Shamil Idriss, Al-Hayat, November 14, 2004

Many Americans and Europeans now believe that Islam espouses violence, oppresses women, and opposes democracy and it would be a mistake to think these views are held only by the closed-minded. People see what is done in the name of Islam and can't help wondering if there is something essentially barbaric about the religion.

In Muslim countries, views of the U.S. are more complicated. Polls reflect that while U.S. policies are largely despised, Americans are viewed favorably. But despite this nuance, those speaking loudest on behalf of Islam are those videotaping beheadings, blowing up civilians in Iraq, Indonesia, Egypt, and Israel, and murdering schoolchildren in Russia. Muslim opposition to such atrocities is increasingly vocal but tempered, perhaps because we sympathize with the causes of Palestinian, Chechen, and Iraqi independence even as we abhor the means that some use to pursue them. This equivocal response feeds Western suspicions of Islam. [complete article]

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Iranians unite behind nation's nuclear plans
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2004

From this country's divided political sphere to its disaffected streets, one thing binds Iranians of all ideologies: a fervent belief in the Islamic Republic's right to its nuclear program.

Even Iranians who oppose weapons development, including some members of the government, insist that the nation has a right to the technology. In a country that still tends to think of itself as a superpower, nuclear capabilities represent progress and modernity to a people hypersensitive to any perceived inequities.

"Iran has paid dearly, really dearly, to prove its independence internationally," said Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's former representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency. "Maybe we made mistakes in the past, but we want to decide our own destiny. We don't want others to decide for us." [complete article]

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A cult is trying to hijack our Iran policy
By Reza Aslan, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2004

About 15,000 people, most of them Iranian Americans or exiles, recently flocked to Washington to denounce the fundamentalist Islamic government of Iran. The crowd shouted slogans against Iran's reviled clerical regime and hoisted placards encouraging President Bush to take whatever action necessary -- including preemptive military strikes -- to ensure that Iran did not develop nuclear weapons.

By all appearances, the march seemed like a protest by concerned Iranians who supported regime change in Iran. In reality, it was a meticulously orchestrated political rally in support of a violent, pseudo-Marxist Iranian religious cult -- the People's Mujahedin of Iran, also known as the Mujahedin Khalq (MEK) -- an organization that has been on U.S. and European Union terrorist watch lists for years.

Ever since the invasion of Iraq, the MEK (and its Paris-based political front, the National Council of Resistance in Iran) has tried to establish itself as the Iranian equivalent of Ahmad Chalabi's "government in exile," the Iraqi National Congress -- and not without success. Like the INC before the war, the MEK has advocates in the highest levels of government. And like the INC, the MEK has been inundating the U.S. intelligence community with uncorroborated and, according to some intelligence officials, highly suspect information meant to encourage the White House to carry out the same policy of regime change in Iran that it did in Iraq. But the United States will probably discover that the MEK -- just like the INC -- can't be trusted. [complete article]

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Pakistan to let IAEA question Khan
By Roula Khalaf and Farhan Bokhari, Financial Times, December 9, 2004

Pakistan is expected to allow United Nations nuclear investigators to put questions in writing to Abdel Qadeer Khan, the scientist at the centre of an illegal smuggling network that supplied nuclear materials and expertise to at least three countries, according to western diplomats.

Such indirect access would fall short of the face-to-face interviews the International Atomic Energy Agency has been seeking but it could still prove an important step in the agency's efforts to untangle the network of manufacturers and middleman that supplied sensitive machinery and know-how to Libya, Iran, North Korea and perhaps others.

Western diplomats familiar with the investigation into the illicit network said the IAEA was also making progress towards gaining access to Mr Khan's key associate, Bukhari Sayed Abu Tahir, the Dubai-based businessman who is in custody in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Abu Tahir has been held under a security act that prevents all contact with him. But investigators are now expecting to be allowed to see him. [complete article]

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Abuse allegations from detainee at Guantanamo
By Associated Press (via LAT), December 10, 2004

Prisoners at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been beaten while blindfolded and handcuffed, terrorized by attack dogs and forced to take drugs, an Australian detainee said in an affidavit released Thursday.

David Hicks, 29, was one of the first prisoners to arrive at the camp in eastern Cuba in January 2002. He is one of only four terrorism suspects who has been formally charged among 550 detainees there accused of links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

"At one point, a group of detainees, including myself, were subjected to being randomly hit over an eight-hour session while handcuffed and blindfolded," Hicks said in an affidavit released by his attorneys Thursday. "I have been struck with hands, fists, and other objects, including rifle butts. I have also been kicked." [complete article]

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All hail to Caligula's horse
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, December 9, 2004

In the legend of the war on terrorism, Bernard Kerik, with his trademark shaven head, bristling moustache and black belt in karate, occupies a special place as rough and ready hero. Having risen from military policeman to narcotics detective to New York City police commissioner, he finds himself on 9/11 shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Rudy Giuliani. As the towers crumble the mayor confides in his buddy: "Bernie, thank God George Bush is president."

After the invasion of Iraq, Bush assigns Kerik to train the new Iraqi security forces. Mission accomplished, he returns to Giuliani Partners and becomes motivational speaker to captains of industry, his net worth skyrocketing. One of his most notable aphorisms: "Political criticism is our enemies' best friend." Kerik, the decorated detective, leads an investigation into the safety of cheaper Canadian prescription drugs and accompanies Giuliani before the Senate subcommittee on investigations where he testifies on their danger. (Kerik and Giuliani are rewarded handsomely by their client, the US pharmaceutical drug lobby.)

After John Kerry closes the gap in the presidential debates, Kerik rushes to the rescue, ominously warning of terrorist attacks, "If you put Senator Kerry in the White House, I think you are going to see that happen." Finally, Bush announces Bernard Kerik as the new secretary of homeland security. [complete article]

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A new bid to delay Iraq's vote
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, December 10, 2004

Until recently, the struggle over Iraq's election date has divided along sectarian lines. Sunnis, whose religious authorities have largely disdained the elections, want a delay. Shiites, whose powerful religious leaders pushed hard for the poll, won't budge from the scheduled date of Jan. 30.

The stalemate is exacerbating tensions between Iraq's Sunni minority and its majority Shiites, keen to take power after years of rule by a Sunni elite.

It's also put President Bush in a tricky position. Any delay would mean US troops stay longer. So far, Mr. Bush has insisted that elections go forward on time, despite a growing groundswell for a delay from Sunni moderates, who fear that violence will keep Sunnis from participating in the ballot.

But a moderate Shiite cleric has been quietly floating a proposal that could break this dead- lock. Sheikh Fatih Kashif al-Ghitta, a cleric from the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, is trying to gather support for a delay that would last no longer than April. If the delay is accompanied by a strict timeline and guarantees of no further postponements, Mr. Ghitta believes it would help increase voter participation. [complete article]

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Moqtada followers omitted as Shia finalise polls list
By Steve Negus and Dhiya Rasan, Financial Times, December 9, 2004

Shia politicians said on Thursday they had finalised an electoral alliance of Iraq's main Shia parties, but that it excluded the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, the former insurgent leader.

The United Iraqi Alliance, backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the senior Shia cleric, includes figures from the al-Dawa party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri).

Alliance members said it also contained the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi, the maverick Shia politician, the largely Sunni National Democratic party, and Kurdish and Turcoman figures.

The absence of Mr Sadr's followers, however, damps hopes that a movement that plunged much of southern Iraq into rebellion over the summer had committed itself to peaceful electoral politics. [...]

Hussein al-Shahristani, a nuclear scientist involved in compiling the list, said that the Sadr supporters were not included for bureaucratic reasons, but would back the list.

"The Sadr movement is not registered as a political entity, and therefore is not part of the alliance. but they are supporting the Marja'iya [Shia clergy] in its call for elections and they are asking their followers to vote for this list," Mr Shahristani said.

However, a leading Sadr loyalist politician was quoted by the Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper on Tuesday that Mr Sadr's followers would "suspend" its participation in the elections, and denied reports of support for Mr Sistani's list. [complete article]

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The grand elector Sistani
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, December 10, 2004

The Iraqi elections won't happen on January 30 because the Bush administration wants them: they will happen because Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wants them. The Shi'ite leader knows it's now or never for the Shi'ite majority in the country to take power. The majority of Sunnis - because of the Fallujah offensive - won't vote: Sunnis comprise from 20% to 30% of Iraq's population. The elections will have no effect on the Sunni Iraqi resistance against the occupation. Secular Sunnis in Baghdad are already saying post-election Iraq will not resemble a democracy, but a Shi'ite "elective oligarchy". [...]

Many secular Shi'ites are furious with the fact that 40% of the seats in Sistani's list were allotted to religious parties, believers in velayat al-faqih - the theory of Iran's ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of the primacy of theology over jurisprudence. Thirty-eight small secular parties threatened to abandon the list - but in the end didn't. All 50 women on the list must wear the Islamic veil: this basically means they were selected because they are conservative Shi'ites.

Whatever happens, disaster looms. The Sunni Iraqi resistance's ultimate political aim is to cut off the majority of Sunnis from the US-imposed political calendar. They are succeeding because Sunnis have realized the elections will take place - whatever their complaints about their legitimacy. Iraq cannot possibly have a meaningful permanent constitution without Sunni input. For instance, if there's only one chamber in parliament, Shi'ites will always have the majority. There's also the crucial question of who gets Kirkuk and its oilfields: Sunni Arabs or Kurds? The consequences of the majority of Sunnis boycotting the election and thus being under-represented in parliament spells only one thing: civil war. [complete article]

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Violence persists throughout Iraq
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, December 8, 2004

While American officials and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government are touting the retaking of Fallujah and upcoming national elections as blows to Iraq's insurgents, the guerrilla fighters look as deadly as ever, carrying out ambushes and bombings seemingly at will.

Since last Friday, dozens of Iraqis, many of them police and national guardsmen, and 13 Americans have been killed in attacks throughout the country. Another 70 Iraqis have died in Mosul during the past two weeks in what appears to be a campaign to intimidate Iraqi security forces.

There is no comprehensive way to quantify how rebel activity has been affected nationwide by the Fallujah assault. American officials no longer make available to reporters a daily tally of the number of incidents reported around the country.

U.S. deaths so far are lower than the November pace. But November featured the Fallujah assault, making that month the deadliest since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003. Military officers see little change in guerrilla tactics, however. [complete article]

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Baghdad gas crisis blamed on insurgent sabotage
By Ashraf Khalil and Suhail Affan, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2004

A monthlong gasoline crisis that has paralyzed the Iraqi capital is the result of an insurgent sabotage campaign aimed at choking off fuel supplies to Baghdad, officials say.

Although attacks on the country's overall oil infrastructure have decreased, pipelines and supply depots around the capital have been increasingly targeted, Western and Iraqi officials report. And with ambushes and bombings making many roads to Baghdad unsafe, fewer tanker trucks are able to deliver fuel to the capital.

Lines at Baghdad gas stations stretch for miles. Officials say the attacks seem designed to further stress the beleaguered population, sow tension and diminish confidence in the U.S.-backed interim government. The shortage is a testament, they say, to insurgents' increasing sophistication. [complete article]

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Lawsuit says CIA urged false reporting on Iraqi arms
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, December 9, 2004

A senior CIA operative who handled sensitive informants in Iraq asserts that CIA managers asked him to falsify his reporting on weapons of mass destruction and retaliated against him after he refused.

The operative, who remains under cover, asserts in a lawsuit made public yesterday that a co-worker warned him in 2001 "that CIA management planned to 'get him' for his role in reporting intelligence contrary to official CIA dogma."

The subject of that reporting has been blacked out by the CIA, and the word "Iraq" does not appear in the heavily redacted version of the legal complaint, but the remaining language and context make clear that the officer's work related to prewar intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. [complete article]

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Pakistan tests 'nuclear' missile
BBC News, December 8, 2004

Pakistan has test-fired a short-range nuclear-capable missile, the second in just over a week, officials said.

The latest test came nine days after Pakistan test fired a medium-range missile, and said it would carry out more tests in the coming days.

A day later, India tested a missile in apparent response.

Pakistan said its latest missile test would not have a negative effect on current peace moves with its nuclear-armed neighbour. [complete article]

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U.S. tied over nuclear kingpin
By Kaushik Kapisthalam, Asia Times, December 10, 2004

The United States is selling the theory that the Pakistan-based nuclear proliferation ring has been broken up and its mastermind, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, has been "brought to justice". He is under house arrest in Pakistan. Unfortunately, as much as the Bush administration would like to wish away the Khan issue, it continues to dog two of the biggest foreign-policy crises for the US.

The first one is Iran. With the re-election of President George W Bush, the neo-conservatives within the administration want to ensure that the Bush second term looks at every option, including a military one, to prevent Tehran from developing and deploying nuclear weapons.

But then again, the neo-conservatives do not want to talk directly to the hardline Iranian regime, and have let Britain, France and Germany do the negotiations with Iran, in conjunction with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) doing the verification. But so far, the Iranians have been playing a clever game of hide-and-seek by agreeing to stop uranium enrichment one day, and denying it the next. And IAEA inspectors, mindful of the Iraq weapons of mass destruction assessments, have been cautious about giving conclusive findings on Iran's nuclear weapons program. In this ambiguity, Iran could stall and dodge its way into presenting the world a set of nukes as a fait accompli.

One man holds the key to this puzzle - Khan. It now appears that Khan not only sold advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges to Iran; he likely sold it an actual nuclear weapon design along with nuclear fuel material, according to a report issued by the US Central Intelligence Agency on November 23. [complete article]

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Arab Internet users are caught in a terrible web
By William Fisher, Daily Star, December 7, 2004

Here is the view of Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization, commenting on the arrest of five Iranian bloggers in less than two months, the latest on November 28: "The government is now attacking blogs, the last bastion of freedom on a network that is experiencing ever tighter control. At the same time, an Iranian delegate is sitting on a UN-created working group on Internet governance. The international community should condemn this masquerade."

The Iranian bloggers were arrested for criticizing their government, for speaking out against the arrests of other bloggers and, according to the authorities, for allegedly "publishing false information with the aim of disrupting public order." Five other bloggers, arrested earlier, are also being detained for contributing to reformist websites.

However, Iran is not alone in its crackdown on the Internet. Governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa are taking similar actions. A study of 11 countries carried out by the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRINFO), titled "The Internet in the Arab World: A New Space of Repression?" finds many of the area's estimated 14 million Internet users facing shutdowns of Web sites, the closing of Internet cafes and prosecution for a variety of crimes, real or imagined. [complete article]

See also, Five Iranian bloggers jailed and The Internet in the Arab world: A new space of repression?.

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The hounding of Kofi Annan
By Anne Penketh, The Independent, December 9, 2004

It allegedly involves sex, lies, a webcast - and above all, lorryloads of cash. The whiff of scandal has been swirling around the UN for months. But now Kofi Annan himself, the man handpicked by the Americans to lead the organisation seven years ago, is on the ropes.

UN officials - excluding Mr Annan - are among those accused of benefiting from a gigantic scam in which Saddam Hussein was able to skim billions of dollars from a UN programme intended to help the sanctions-hit Iraqi people. But the clamour only reached fever pitch when influential Republicans, acting with the assumed backing of the White House, called for the resignation of Mr Annan. Some would not stop there: Congressman Scott Garrett said earlier this week that the question was "whether he should be in jail".

Yesterday the rest of the world rose up to show the Bush administration what they thought about such suggestions, by blowing the equivalent of a diplomatic raspberry in the direction of Washington. The ambassadors of 191 countries, gathered in the General Assembly hall to hear Mr Annan present a blueprint for UN reform, rose to their feet to give the beleaguered secretary-general a spontaneous standing ovation. Even the head of the American delegation was shamed into clapping. "Everybody stood up. It lasted a good few minutes," said one diplomat present. [complete article]

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Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
By Mark Benjamin, UPI (via Washington Times), December 7, 2004

U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.

"When we already have people from Iraq on the streets, my God," said Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. "I have talked to enough (shelters) to know we are getting them. It is happening and this nation is not prepared for that."

"I drove off in my truck. I packed my stuff. I lived out of my truck for a while," Seabees Petty Officer Luis Arellano, 34, said in a telephone interview from a homeless shelter near March Air Force Base in California run by U.S.VETS, the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless veterans.

Arellano said he lived out of his truck on and off for three months after returning from Iraq in September 2003. "One day you have a home and the next day you are on the streets," he said. [complete article]

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Casualties of war - military care for the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan
By Atul Gawande, M.D., M.P.H., New England Journal of Medicine, December 9, 2004

Each Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Defense provides an online update of American military casualties (the number of wounded or dead) from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. According to this update, as of November 16, 2004, a total of 10,726 service members had suffered war injuries. Of these, 1361 died, 1004 of them killed in action; 5174 were wounded in action and could not return to duty; and 4191 were less severely wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours. No reliable estimates of the number of Iraqis, Afghanis, or American civilians injured are available. Nonetheless, these figures represent, by a considerable margin, the largest burden of casualties our military medical personnel have had to cope with since the Vietnam War.

When U.S. combat deaths in Iraq reached the 1000 mark in September, the event captured worldwide attention. Combat deaths are seen as a measure of the magnitude and dangerousness of war, just as murder rates are seen as a measure of the magnitude and dangerousness of violence in our communities. Both, however, are weak proxies. Little recognized is how fundamentally important the medical system is - and not just the enemy's weaponry - in determining whether or not someone dies. U.S. homicide rates, for example, have dropped in recent years to levels unseen since the mid-1960s. Yet aggravated assaults, particularly with firearms, have more than tripled during that period. The difference appears to be our trauma care system: mortality from gun assaults has fallen from 16 percent in 1964 to 5 percent today.

We have seen a similar evolution in war. Though firepower has increased, lethality has decreased. In World War II, 30 percent of the Americans injured in combat died. In Vietnam, the proportion dropped to 24 percent. In the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 10 percent of those injured have died. At least as many U.S. soldiers have been injured in combat in this war as in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, or the first five years of the Vietnam conflict, from 1961 through 1965. This can no longer be described as a small or contained conflict. [complete article]

If the NEJM server is busy, see a Los Angeles Times review of the NEJM report; amputation rate for US troops twice that of past wars (Boston Globe).

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Caring for the wounded in Iraq - a photo essay
By George E. Peoples, M.D., James R. Jezior, M.D., and Craig D. Shriver, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine, December 9, 2004

Images of war: Photos provided by the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. include a common type of injury associated with roadside improvised explosive device run over by a Humvee, a typical large-fragment wound of the leg, a blast injury from exploding ordnance. [complete article]

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Who does this war belong to?
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, December 8, 2004

In May, 2003, Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer, wrote:
Iraqi society is highly fractured along lines of ethnicity, religion, tribe, region and class. It is in the interest of all of them, most particularly the Kurdish and Sunni minorities who together make up about 40 percent of the country, to ensure that no one group wields absolute, dictatorial power over the rest. And, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld correctly pointed out, America is there to make sure that doesn't happen.

Neoconservative commitment to pluralistic democracy in Iraq turned out to be short-lived. A year later, Krauthammer had decided that "we should lower our ambitions and see Iraqi factionalization as a useful tool." Now, with elections less than two months away, he sees America "making a costly last ditch effort to midwife a new, unitary Iraq." With civil war already "raging before our eyes," the problem is that the Shia and Kurds have in effect outsourced "their civil war" to American troops. This is apparently no longer America's war.

One by one, neoconservatives have weaseled their way out of a cause whose success they were eager to claim as their own, but whose failure they insist belongs least, if at all, to the war's very own architects. It turns out that the neocons knew all about moral clarity but possessed very little moral fiber.

So, though President Bush still insists that American troops will remain in Iraq for as long as it takes to achieve success, it remains far from clear how success will be defined. Moreover, as America's ability to determine the outcome of the war that it launched becomes increasingly questionable, the national sense of a loss of control brings in its wake a diminished sense of responsibility.

This is a war for which most people in this country gave their tacit consent, yet consent carried with it little calculation of the implications of the choice. Though Bush got re-elected as a wartime president, he would surely have lost had he been more forthright than to simply respond to a popular, visceral desire for a strong leader. Had he instead sought tangible support in the form of a war tax or a draft, perhaps more Americans would have seriously considered what it means to support this war. Bush now says in "this season of giving, let us stand with the men and women who stand up for America, our military." How can we help? Donate frequent flyer miles.

While President Bush, addressing Marines in California, made his broad appeal to fellow Americans, troops in Kuwait were making a much more focused appeal to Secretary Rumsfeld. "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" asked Spc. Thomas Wilson as shouts of approval and applause arose from the 2,300 soldiers who had assembled to see Rumsfeld.

A war for which the country was truly willing to accept responsibility would never have begun with such little thought. It could not have been sold to the public like a piece of merchandise. It could not have become the background to everyday life -- a background that now occupies a space no wider than a television screen. America gave its consent to go to war so long as life here could go on as normal -- so long as for most Americans this would be someone else's war.

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Secret intelligence and the 'war on terror'
By Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books, December 16, 2004

Now is a good time for Americans to pause and consider our progress in what the Bush administration chooses to call the war on terror. Osama bin Laden remains at large three years after the attacks of September 11, the war in Iraq has reached a kind of stasis of escalating violence matched by an erosion of our ability to control events there, new crises loom with other members of the "axis of evil" defined by President Bush in January 2002, and the President's reelection rules out the likelihood of any sudden change in American policy. With suspense on that point ended for the moment, we ought to weigh what we have learned from the linked disasters of September 11 and the war in Iraq, and what we should fear or expect next as American plans and facts on the ground sort themselves out in the Middle East. [complete article]

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Islam in jail: Europe's neglect breeds angry radicals
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, December 8, 2004

Abdullah, tall and muscular, with a shaved head and closely cropped goatee, sat on a metal bunk in the cramped cell here and described how he got religion.

"When I was in La Santé, I read books about the Prophet," he said, referring to a notorious Parisian detention center, the third of five jails where he has spent time during the past two years for dealing drugs and stealing cars.

When he arrived at the fourth, Fleury-Merogis, Europe's largest, another inmate gave him a DVD about the life of Muhammad and later, while enduring a three-week stint in solitary confinement, he vowed to devote himself to Islam.

"People here find God," he said.

In less than a decade, there has been a radical shift in France's prison population, a shift that officials and experts say poses a monumental challenge.

Despite making up only 10 percent of the population, Muslims account for most of the country's inmates and a growing percentage of the prison populations in many other European countries, an indication of their place at the bottom of the Continent's hierarchy.

With radical strains of Islam percolating through Europe, authorities are unsure how to address the spiritual needs of the prisoners while guarding against the potentially toxic mix of extremist ideology and a criminal past. One result is often neglect, which officials say can be a still greater force for radicalization. [complete article]

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Bush administration planning to increase pressure on Iran
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, December 7, 2004

As 150,000 U.S. troops battle to stabilize Iraq, some officials in the Bush administration are already planning to turn up the heat on another member of the president's axis of evil.

Officials in the White House and the Defense Department are developing plans to increase public criticism of Iran's human rights record, offer stronger backing to exiles and other opponents of Tehran's repressive theocratic government and collect better intelligence on Iran, according to U.S. officials, congressional aides and others.

Iran has embarked on a nuclear program that some specialists fear cannot be prevented from producing an atom bomb; is trying to extend its influence in Iraq and remains a prime sponsor of Hezbollah and other international terrorist groups. U.S. intelligence officials also believe some top lieutenants of Osama bin Laden have sought refuge in Iran.

However, with the U.S. military now stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new campaign may be intended not to build support for military action against Iran, but to pressure Iran to change its behavior so military action isn't necessary. [complete article]

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Iraq, Jordan see threat to election from Iran
By Robin Wright and Peter Baker, Washington Post, December 8, 2004

The leaders of Iraq and Jordan warned yesterday that Iran is trying to influence the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30 to create an Islamic government that would dramatically shift the geopolitical balance between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East.

Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar charged that Iran is coaching candidates and political parties sympathetic to Tehran and pouring "huge amounts of money" into the campaign to produce a Shiite-dominated government similar to Iran's.

Jordanian King Abdullah said that more than 1 million Iranians have crossed the 910-mile border into Iraq, many to vote in the election -- with the encouragement of the Iranian government. "I'm sure there's a lot of people, a lot of Iranians in there that will be used as part of the polls to influence the outcome," he said in an interview. [complete article]

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For displaced Falloujans, a new battle underway
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2004

At nightfall, when temperatures here drop into the 40s, Fallouja laborer Hatam Allawi and his veiled wife, Nadia, gather their seven small children into a 10-by-10-foot canvas tent, where the youngsters jostle for position close to a kerosene heater.

They sit on the ground under a naked lightbulb hanging from a cord that runs to a nearby mosque. The only chair is a red plastic child's seat reserved for their oldest son, 10, who has a disability that makes his arms and legs shake. Two other children, ages 5 and 2, have physical and mental disabilities that require their parents to constantly coddle them.

Life was difficult enough a month ago, when the family shared an apartment in Fallouja and Allawi eked out a living making mattresses by hand.

"At least we had a home," said Allawi, one of more than 500 people now living at a makeshift camp in Baghdad for displaced Falloujans. They left another encampment two weeks ago when food and supplies ran out. "Now we are refugees," he said.

For thousands of the displaced, the struggle continues even though major combat in Fallouja ended weeks ago. More than 200,000 civilians fled the city before the U.S.-led invasion last month, moving in with relatives, filling up hotels or leaving the country. [complete article]

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Rebels aided by allies in Syria, U.S. says
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, December 8, 2004

U.S. military intelligence officials have concluded that the Iraqi insurgency is being directed to a greater degree than previously recognized from Syria, where they said former Saddam Hussein loyalists have found sanctuary and are channeling money and other support to those fighting the established government.

Based on information gathered during the recent fighting in Fallujah, Baghdad and elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle, the officials said that a handful of senior Iraqi Baathists operating in Syria are collecting money from private sources in Saudi Arabia and Europe and turning it over to the insurgency.

In some cases, evidence suggests that these Baathists are managing operations in Iraq from a distance, the officials said. A U.S. military summary of operations in Fallujah noted recently that troops discovered a global positioning signal receiver in a bomb factory in the western part of the city that "contained waypoints originating in western Syria." [complete article]

Comment -- Though it's possible that the insurgency is being managed from Syria, it's likely that a number of other factors are linked to this assertion. Generals having limited succes in fighting an insurgency would sooner believe that their efforts are being thwarted by the cunning of similarly high-ranking adversaries. The grandeur of military operations and the inherent logic of a centralized command structure is seriously undermined when your adversary turns out to be a freelance insurgent with a garage-door remote control who can set off a homemade bomb with devasting impact. Moreover, when it comes to pacifying the frustrations of one's superiors it's tempting to excuse limited success by attributing it to enemies who have found sanctuary beyond one's reach, rather than to an enemy who has the capacity to be both present and elusive.

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Hold Iraq death probe, Blair told
BBC News, December 8, 2004

Forty-six eminent figures including military men, ex-diplomats and bishops have written to Tony Blair urging a inquiry into civilian deaths in Iraq.

It comes after a study in medical journal the Lancet said nearly 100,000 died following the invasion.

The study, by US and Iraqi researchers, suggested the risk of violent death was higher after the war than before.

UK ministers rejected October's Lancet figures, but have offered no alternative estimate of their own. [complete article]

The letter calling for an inquiry into civilian deaths in Iraq.

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Iraqi prisoner abuse reported after Abu Ghraib disclosures
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, December 8, 2004

Two Defense Department intelligence officials reported observing brutal treatment of Iraqi insurgents captured in Baghdad in June, several weeks after disclosures of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison created a worldwide uproar, according to a memorandum disclosed Tuesday.

The memorandum, written by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency to a senior Pentagon official, said that when the two members of his agency objected to the treatment, they were threatened and told to keep quiet by other military interrogators.

The memorandum said the Defense Intelligence Agency officials had seen prisoners being brought in to a detention center with burn marks on their backs and complaining about sore kidneys.

The document was disclosed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained it as part of a cache of papers from a civil lawsuit seeking to discover the extent of abuse of prisoners by the military. [complete article]

See the documents obtained by the ACLU.

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What spy reforms mean
By Peter Grier and Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 2004

If historic legislation to reform the US intelligence community can be summed up in a word, it might be this: centralization.

The bill - which now seems assured of passage - attempts to reorganize the constellation of US spy agencies in a manner that focuses their counterterrorism efforts. It's an effort to integrate the military, covert actions, diplomacy, law enforcement, border security, and other aspects of national power into a seamless protective force.

This kind of cooperation might be easier legislated than done, as the teething problems of the Department of Homeland Security make clear. Nor can Congress pass laws mandating personnel competence and dedication. But in terms of changing the processes of government, the bill is historic, its proponents argue - the biggest change in the US spy business since the end of World War II. [complete article]

See also, The new national intelligence director will be a toothless figurehead (Fred Kaplan).

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Iraq's election wild card: Kirkuk
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 2004

Six months ago, Asso Hama Amin went to the official government storefront for picking up UN food rations and switched his registration card - which determines where he can vote - from Sulaymaniyah to Kirkuk, the city where he was born.

There's just one problem: Mr. Amin lives in Sulaymaniyah, a white-knuckled, hourlong drive and world apart from Kirkuk.

In the months leading up to Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, thousands of Kurds originally from Kirkuk have virtually "moved" back here by switching their registration cards from the places where they actually live.

Some hope to eventually return or to get money and land from Kurdish political parties; others see this as a way to move a large influential Sunni voting block to Kirkuk, a symbol for Kurds who were brutally expelled from this city by Saddam Hussein decades ago. They hope to use this mass registration as new clout to force the return of Kirkuk to Kurdistan and make it their homeland once again. [complete article]

Shiites plan autonomous region
Agence France Presse (via The Australian), December 7, 2004

About 600 leaders from central Iraq's Shiite Muslim provinces announced plans to begin setting up their own autonomous region, following a meeting today in the holy city of Najaf.

Representatives agreed to set up a security committee for their five provinces and a regional council to stimulate the economy of their neglected region.

Iraq's provisional constitution recognises the federal nature of Iraq, most of whose Kurdish population lives in three northern provinces with a large degree of autonomy.

Participants of the Najaf meeting underlined the importance of holding elections on January 30, and backed Shiite leaders' rejection of largely Sunni calls to delay the vote. [complete article]

Iraq's Shiite clergy push to get out the vote
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 7, 2004

Maher Hamra pointed to a stack of papers piled high on his desk with the commanding air of being in charge. More than 10,000 leaflets were distributed with the message that participation in Iraq's Jan. 30 elections is "a religious and national duty." The Shiite Muslim sheik also boasted that his office hung 150 banners fluttering along streets with the same message.

Over the past month, Hamra said, that message was uttered daily by turbaned prayer leaders in the 50 mosques in his neighborhood of Kadhimiya, built around Baghdad's most prominent Shiite shrine. Delegates were dispatched to more than 20 high schools. And the elections were the subject of seminars and lectures organized every few days by Hamra's office, which wields religious authority in the name of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's preeminent religious figure.

"We're deciding our destiny," said Hamra, 48, a burly, bearded man with an ever-present cigarette next to a scalding glass of sweetened tea. "We have a responsibility to help build the new Iraq."

As Iraq's first nationwide elections in more than a generation near, Hamra and other Shiite clergy, perhaps the country's most powerful institution, have led an unprecedented mobilization of the Shiite majority population through a vast array of mosques, community centers, foundations and networks of hundreds of prayer leaders, students and allied laypeople. The campaign has become so pitched that many Iraqis may have a better idea of Sistani's view of the election than what the election itself will decide. [complete article]

Rift among Shiite factions may hurt them in election
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, December 7, 2004

A rift has developed among the major Shiite political groups here, raising the prospect of fierce competition for votes among rival Shiite factions in the coming elections and possibly altering the religious and political alignment of the country's new national assembly.

The development is a major setback for Iraq's most powerful religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali alSistani, who appointed a committee in October to create a single coalition dominated by Shiite religious parties. A majority of Iraqis are Shiites, but their leaders have expressed concern that without a united front, they may lose the allegiance of more secular voters and fail to dominate the new government.

On Monday a coalition of several dozen groups and individuals calling itself the Shiite Council announced plans to break away from the United Iraqi Alliance, the new umbrella group formed under Ayatollah Sistani's auspices.

Ayatollah Sistani was reportedly trying to repair the rift through intermediaries as late as Monday evening. But the divisions over power sharing and other issues appeared to be so deep that it was "almost impossible" to reconcile the two sides, officials with the Shiite Council said. [complete article]

Sistani backs list for parliamentary vote
By Anthony Shadid and Karl Vick, Washington Post, December 7, 2004

The United Iraqi Alliance's slate underscores the risks of identity politics in the country. Though it pointedly includes candidates from the country's minority Sunni Arab sect and ethnic Kurdish and Turkmen populations, its overarching Shiite cast -- more than two-thirds of the candidates are Shiite -- reinforces sectarian differences in Iraq, which is divided even on whether elections should go forward as scheduled.

Sunni religious leaders have called for a boycott of the January ballot, and elements of a violent, overwhelmingly Sunni insurgency have warned voters against taking part.

"We consider that this alliance has really made a historic impact on Iraqi society," said Shahristani, 62, who was imprisoned for 12 years by the Hussein government. "This is a historic moment for the birth of a new, democratic and just Iraq."

The 240 names on the United Iraqi Alliance list are drawn from a mix of parties. Independent candidates will account for half of the slate.

The candidates highest on the list, who would be the first to receive seats, will clearly distinguish the slate as Sistani's, Shahristani said. [complete article]

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Two CIA reports offer warnings on Iraq's path
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 7, 2004

A classified cable sent by the Central Intelligence Agency's station chief in Baghdad has warned that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon, according to government officials.

The cable, sent late last month as the officer ended a yearlong tour, presented a bleak assessment on matters of politics, economics and security, the officials said. They said its basic conclusions had been echoed in briefings presented by a senior C.I.A. official who recently visited Iraq.

The officials described the two assessments as having been "mixed," saying that they did describe Iraq as having made important progress, particularly in terms of its political process, and credited Iraqis with being resilient.

But over all, the officials described the station chief's cable in particular as an unvarnished assessment of the difficulties ahead in Iraq. They said it warned that the security situation was likely to get worse, including more violence and sectarian clashes, unless there were marked improvements soon on the part of the Iraqi government, in terms of its ability to assert authority and to build the economy. [complete article]

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Warlords, poppies and slow progress
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, December 7, 2004

The first act of America's war on terrorism in 2001 was a blockbuster victory. As the twin towers still smouldered, US bombers and Afghan rebels drove the Taliban from power.

Afghans emerged from the rubble of to hear enthusiastic pledges of a phoenix-like resurrection for their wrecked country. Children would go to school, parents would have jobs, peace would prevail.

But this second act, now drawing to a close three years later, has had no Hollywood ending. Warlords control entire provinces, bankrolled by a drugs boom that has spread like a rash. Police, army and government institutions are being built, but too slowly.

Insecurity is rife; so is poverty. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar has not been caught; neither has Osama bin Laden.

Yet most Afghans say life is demonstrably better - which says more about their wretched living conditions before 2001 than the success of reconstruction since. [complete article]

How to find the elusive Taliban: pop down to the shops in Quetta
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, December 4, 2004

The Taliban's failure to disrupt Afghanistan's election on October 9, which was won by President Hamid Karzai, sparked a flurry of predictions that the Islamists' demise was near. The US military suggested their troops were demoralised and their leaders divided. Reports of impending defections to the government side appeared in the press.

But now the tempo of violence is quickening again. In the past week two US soldiers and four Afghans, three of them aid workers, have died in attacks. Meanwhile, thousands of American soldiers are preparing raids on the Taliban's winter sanctuaries. They hope to stave off the Taliban's spring offensive which could endanger parliamentary elections scheduled for April.

The Taliban is once again proving a slippery foe, partly thanks to its easy refuge in Pakistan. As cities like Quetta offer a new home to the Taliban, officials at the old bases in Afghanistan are infuriated by the apparent ease with which they slip across the border.

The police chief in Kandahar, the former Taliban homeland 120 miles north of Quetta, says Pakistani support is stalling efforts to crush the rebellion. "Look, the top 10 Taliban leaders are still living in Pakistan. How is that possible without assistance?"

Mullah Naquib, a hardline religious leader and former Taliban commander in Kandahar, echoes the accusation. "That Pakistan supports the Taliban is obvious. We do not trust their promises."

Pakistan vehemently denies the charges. President Pervez Musharraf dropped his support for the Taliban in 2001, realigning his government with the US. Since then Mr Musharraf has stood behind the new Afghan government and sent thousands of soldiers to the border in search of al-Qaida militants and sympathetic locals.

Nevertheless, his officials argue that securing the long border is a near impossible task. Balochistan province, of which Quetta is capital, has just 6 million inhabitants but covers 44% of the country. [complete article]

Afghan poppy farmers say mystery spraying killed crops
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, December 5, 2004

Farmers and tribal leaders in this picturesque farming village in eastern Afghanistan have confirmed statements by the Afghan government that unidentified planes have been spraying opium poppy fields with a toxic chemical.

More than a month ago, a dark plane rattled windows through the night as it flew back and forth, spraying a chemical on houses, orchards and fields, farmers and tribal elders said Friday. The poppy seedlings were now turning yellow. The crop would die, they said.

"People are surprised and unhappy," said Muhammad Hasham, 45, a village elder whose poppy fields began dying after the spraying.

His brother, Hajji Kamaluddin Popalzai, the village chief, said the government had told them to stop growing poppies, but they were expecting some assistance to grow alternative crops first. "Just coming and spraying, that's unfair," he said.

The spraying is something of a mystery, apparently even to the Afghan government. This week, President Hamid Karzai called in the ambassadors of Britain and the United States, the two main donors involved in efforts to combat narcotics in Afghanistan, to explain the aerial spraying in several districts of Nangarhar Province. [complete article]

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Palestinian polls show tie between Abbas and Barghouti
By Greg Myre, New York Times, December 7, 2004

The two leading Palestinian presidential candidates, Mahmoud Abbas and Marwan Barghouti, are in a statistical dead heat ahead of the election next month to succeed Yasir Arafat, two opinion polls released Monday indicate.

A third poll gave a comfortable lead to Mr. Abbas, 69, a former prime minister and the official nominee of the dominant Fatah movement.

The soft-spoken, gray-haired Mr. Abbas appeared to be coasting to victory in the Jan. 9 election until the charismatic Mr. Barghouti, who is also a member of Fatah, decided last week to enter the race despite being imprisoned in Israel.

Mr. Abbas has a slim lead of 40 percent to 38 percent according to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. Mr. Barghouti has a narrow advantage of 46 percent to 44 percent according to a poll conducted by Bir Zeit University's Development Studies Program. Both polls, based on surveys last week of more than 1,000 Palestinians, have a margin of error of three percentage points. [complete article]

Palestinian candidate supports talks, violence
By Dan Ephron, Boston Globe, December 7, 2004

Marwan Barghouthi, the jailed Palestinian lawmaker and presidential candidate, will try to turn next month's election into a referendum on the four-year-old Palestinian uprising by pledging more attacks against Israel alongside efforts to revive negotiations, according to family members and supporters involved in his campaign.

By promising to combine violence and diplomacy, Barghouthi, 45, hopes to distinguish himself from the other leading candidate, Mahmoud Abbas, and assume the mantle of Yasser Arafat, the long-serving Palestinian leader who died last month.

Abbas, 69, Arafat's deputy for decades, has condemned suicide bombings and other attacks as "terrorism" and is trying to persuade militant groups to abide by a truce.

If both men hold to those positions, the Jan. 9 ballot for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority could mark the first time the public gets a chance to decide whether to press ahead with the intifadah or to end it, as polls suggest many Palestinians are ready to do. The violence has taken a heavy economic and political toll and led to the deaths of more than 3,000 Palestinians, most of them in clashes with Israeli troops, as well as 1,000 Israelis, mostly in suicide bombings within Israel. [complete article]

'We will not boycott elections and are willing to declare a truce with Israel'
Sheikh Hassan Yusuf, the recently released Hamas leader, talks to Donald Macintyre, The Independent, December 6, 2004

Hamas will not ask Palestinians to boycott the presidential elections and will react "responsibly" to any official call for a ceasefire from the Palestinian Authority leadership, one of the faction's leaders said yesterday.

Sheikh Hassan Yusuf was speaking on the eve of talks in Damascus between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation chairman, and Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas. Sheikh Hassan said Hamas was "seriously" considering participation in elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council next year.

In the longer term, Sheikh Hassan, who was released two weeks ago after a 27-month sentence in an Israeli prison, repeated that the faction, which is formally committed to the elimination of Israel, would be ready for a two-state agreement based on pre-1967 borders at least in the interim, and said "any subject" would be open for discussion after that. [complete article]

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Attack tests Saudi security strategy
By Faiza Saleh Ambah and Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 2004

The daring daytime attack Monday on the fortresslike US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's second-largest city, is calling into question one of the basic precepts of the country's security strategy: that killing or capturing enough militants will eventually bring security back to the troubled kingdom.

Instead, it seems to be evidence of the militants' ability to regenerate quickly in the face of concerted government efforts to disrupt their networks, and then target some of the country's most closely guarded installations. Recent Al Qaeda videotapes threatening assaults on US interests had seen Saudi Arabia beef up security. [complete article]

More details from Arab News; also, Saudi Qaeda wing claims attack on US mission in Jeddah (Reuters).

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Musharraf attacks war on terror
BBC News, December 6, 2004

The war on terror has made the world less safe and is not addressing the underlying causes of conflict, Pakistan's president has told the BBC.

In an interview for the Newsnight programme, it was suggested to Gen Pervez Musharraf the world was less safe - in part because of the campaign.

"Absolutely," he said, adding that the social grievances that helped recruit terrorists were not being addressed. [complete article]

See also, Musharraf: Iraq war has made world 'less safe' (CNN).

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Wave of violence by Iraqi rebels kills 80 in 3 days
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, December 6, 2004

Militants surrounded a bus full of unarmed Iraqi contractors employed by American forces as they rode to work on Sunday morning and gunned down 17 of them. It was the latest in a series of increasingly brazen attacks that have left more than 80 people dead in the past three days and deepened the sense of growing mayhem here as the January elections approach.

The bus ambush in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, also underscored the increasing risks faced by Iraqis who work for the American-led occupation and are singled out as collaborators. The ambush was part of an intensified insurgent campaign aimed at terrorizing Iraq's fledgling security forces and fomenting sectarian divisions that could undermine the elections or perhaps force a delay.

Since Friday, militants have detonated a car bomb in front of a Shiite mosque, singled out Shiite officers for slaughter in a police station attack, and killed 18 Kurdish militiamen.

Citing the deepening violence, more political leaders added their voices to a growing movement to delay the national and provincial elections now scheduled for Jan. 30. Leaders of Iraq's majority Shiite community have responded to earlier calls by insisting that the elections go forward as planned, and President Bush said Thursday that they must not be postponed.

But the political leaders who gathered in Baghdad on Sunday, mostly Sunni Arabs representing about 40 political parties and individuals, said that the insurgents' campaign of violence and intimidation made credible elections impossible for the moment, and that holding them in January would achieve an illegitimate result that could provoke further civil conflict. [complete article]

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Returning Fallujans will face clampdown
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, December 5, 2004

The US military is drawing up plans to keep insurgents from regaining control of this battle-scarred city, but returning residents may find that the measures make Fallujah look more like a police state than the democracy they have been promised.

Under the plans, troops would funnel Fallujans to so-called citizen processing centers on the outskirts of the city to compile a database of their identities through DNA testing and retina scans. Residents would receive badges displaying their home addresses that they must wear at all times. Buses would ferry them into the city, where cars, the deadliest tool of suicide bombers, would be banned.

Marine commanders working in unheated, war-damaged downtown buildings are hammering out the details of their paradoxical task: Bring back the 300,000 residents in time for January elections without letting in insurgents, even though many Fallujans were among the fighters who ruled the city until the US assault drove them out in November, and many others cooperated with fighters out of conviction or fear.

One idea that has stirred debate among Marine officers would require all men to work, for pay, in military-style battalions. [complete article]

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Mayhem in Iraq is starting to look like a civil war
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 5, 2004

Common wisdom holds that if American troops withdraw anytime soon, Iraq will descend into civil war, as Lebanon did in the late 1970's. But that ignores a question posed by events of recent weeks:

Has a civil war already begun?

Iraq is no Lebanon yet. But evidence is building that it is at least in the early stages of ethnic and sectarian warfare.

Armed Iraqi groups have mounted ever more deadly and spectacular assaults on fellow Iraqis, in bids to assert political and territorial dominance. This fighting is generally defined by ethnic and religious divisions: rebellious Sunni Arabs clashing with Shiite Arabs and Kurds. On Friday, in Baghdad, mortar attacks on a police station and the suicide car bombing of a Shiite mosque left at least 27 dead.

Some academic and military analysts say the battle lines have been hardened by the American policy of limiting the power of the minority Sunni Arabs, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein's rule and make up most of the rebellion. The Americans have handed the bulk of authority to the Shiites, who represent a majority of Iraqis, and a lesser share to the Kurds, who are about a fifth of the population. This has increased the influence of the two major groups that were brutally suppressed by Mr. Hussein, and raised Sunni fears about sharing power with them as a minority.

Some of the country's most prominent Sunni Arab leaders are expressing indifference or opposition to taking part in the elections for a constitution-writing legislature, while the Shiites and Kurds are eager to participate. Iraqi electoral officials and President Bush insist the vote will take place as scheduled, despite calls from Sunni leaders for a significant delay. Thus, the specter of civil conflict could grow as the Jan. 30 vote approaches. [complete article]

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Fresh doubts over Iraq elections
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, December 5, 2004

Iraq's security forces are unable to handle the challenge presented by the first elections since the fall of Saddam, even with extra American soldiers being deployed to help them, according to one of the US military's most senior officers.

The comments from General John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, follows months of statements by senior officials - from George Bush downwards - talking up Iraq's new police and national guard forces.

It comes as UN election adviser Lakhdar Brahimi cast fresh doubt on whether elections could take place in the present circumstances.

Brahimi told a Dutch newspaper in an interview published yesterday: 'Elections are no magic potion, but part of a political process. They must be prepared well and take place at the right time to produce the good effects that you expect from them.'

Asked if elections under present conditions were possible, Brahimi said: 'If the circumstances stay as they are, I personally don't think so. It is a mess in Iraq.'

The comments came after fresh attacks on Iraqi police this weekend and a week in which the US embassy banned its employees from using the road to Baghdad airport because of the dangers involved. [complete article]

See also, Why Jan. 30 won't work (Peter W. Galbraith and Leslie H. Gelb).

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Ethnic violence kills dozens in Iraq
By Anthony Shadid and Karl Vick, Washington Post, December 5, 2004

Insurgents plowed a car bomb into a bus carrying Kurdish militiamen in northern Iraq on Saturday, while Sunni and Shiite militias fought a pitched battle south of Baghdad. The day's violence, which killed dozens, underscored the rise in ethnic and sectarian tensions as Iraq heads toward nationwide elections in January.

Across the country, other insurgent attacks claimed the lives of U.S. soldiers and allied Iraqi forces. Two American GIs were killed in roadside bombings in the capital and near the central Iraqi city of Baqubah, and two U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded when their patrol came under attack in Mosul.

Two other U.S. soldiers died in a suicide bombing of their post near the Jordanian border Friday, the military said.

In Baghdad, insurgents detonated two car bombs simultaneously at an Iraqi police station near the fortified headquarters of the U.S. Embassy and the interim Iraqi government, killing at least three Iraqi policemen and wounding dozens of others.

The attacks illustrated both the geographical reach and diverse goals of the country's tenacious insurgency. [complete article]

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An obsession the world doesn't share
By Roger Cohen, New York Times, December 5, 2004

The United States has a strategic problem: its war on terror, unlike its long fight against Communism, is not universally seen as the pivotal global struggle of the age.

Rather, it is often portrayed abroad as a distraction from more critical issues - as an American attempt to impose a bellicose culture, driven by the cultivation of fear, on a world still taken with the notion that the cold war's end and technology's advance have opened unprecedented possibilities for dialogue and peace.

Here in Brazil, plagued by problems of poverty and development, the policies of the International Monetary Fund arouse more interest than Al Qaeda's. The violence that is debated is not that of Islamic holy warriors but of drug barons and their private militias occupying the favelas, or slums, of Rio and São Paulo.

In South Africa, the issues of the day are 40 percent unemployment, crime, disease and addressing the problems of a continent that is home to many of the 1.3 billion people in the world who live on less than $1 a day. Terrorism is not the theme of the hour. [complete article]

Comment -- Roger Cohen is correct in suggesting that other countries want to be heard by the Bush administration. But being heard is not enough. The real shift that many people outside America hope for (even if few expect it to occur) is for Americans to realize that this country is not the center of the Universe. The question is, what would need to happen for this Copernican cultural revolution to take place?

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Al Qaeda's next target?
By Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune, December 4, 2004

Europe seems increasingly likely to be the target of the next major Qaeda attack, a trend that could intensify when scores of Qaeda-affiliated militants who left European countries to fight in Iraq return home, several top terror analysts said.

Europe is vulnerable in ways that the United States is not, said many of those attending what was described as the largest conference ever on Al Qaeda, the group behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

Europe's large, growing and poorly integrated Muslim population, its prisons and fundamentalist mosques where extremism is nurtured and laws that constrain the European police more than their American counterparts are all factors, said the analysts, who included former CIA counterterror officials and foreign terror specialists.

Experts at the conference Thursday, sponsored by the nonprofit New America Foundation, said that they did not expect new attacks to match the breadth of the Sept. 11 attacks, in large part because of improved security. Instead, they expect more operations resembling the coordinated March 11 bombings in Madrid, which killed 191 people.

"We are blind to the real danger facing us," said Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer who worked in Islamabad, Pakistan, with the Afghan mujahedeen, where Osama bin Laden had his terrorist roots. [complete article]

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Musharraf: Bin Laden's location is unknown
By Robin Wright and Peter Baker, Washington Post, December 5, 2004

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said yesterday that the search for Osama bin Laden has gone completely cold, with no recent intelligence indicating where he and his top lieutenants are hiding.

More than three years after al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed almost 3,000 people, Musharraf insisted that Pakistani forces are still aggressively pursuing the world's most notorious terrorist. But he acknowledged that recent security force operations and interrogations have been able to determine only one fact -- that bin Laden is still alive.

"He is alive, but more than that, where he is, no, it'll be just a guess and it won't have much basis," Musharraf said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters. Pressed on whether the trail had gone cold, he said, "Yes, if you mean we don't know, from that point of view, we don't know where he is." [complete article]

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Global nuclear inquiry stalls
By William C. Rempel and Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2004

The global investigation into Abdul Qadeer Khan's black market trade in nuclear technology has stalled in a clash of national interests that threatens a full accounting of his secret partners and clients, according to interviews with diplomats and officials from several countries.

International authorities fear the full scope of the Pakistani scientist's ring may never be known.

Senior investigators said they were especially worried that dangerous elements of the illicit network of manufacturers and suppliers would remain undetected and capable of resuming operations once international pressures eased.

Investigators also said that records obtained in Libya and elsewhere showed that some nuclear equipment purchased or manufactured by the network had yet to be found, raising the possibility that it was diverted to still unidentified customers. [complete article]

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U.S. slows bid to advance democracy in Arab world
By Joel Brinkley, New York Times, December 5, 2004

When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other senior American officials arrive at a summit meeting in Morocco next week that is intended to promote democracy across the Arab world, they have no plans to introduce any political initiatives to encourage democratic change.

President Bush started speaking in 2002 about the need to bring democracy to the Arab nations. Since then, however, the popular view of the United States in the region has grown so dark, even hateful, that American officials are approaching the meeting with caution and with a package of financial and social initiatives that have only a scant relationship to the original goal of political change.

Administration officials and their allies defend the change in strategy, saying the United States should no longer try to take the lead.

"Others have gotten involved in the political side, and that is a good thing," said Lorne W. Craner, who was assistant secretary of state for democracy and human rights until August and now is president of the International Republican Institute, a government-financed organization dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide. But administration officials said some senior officials in the State Department were frustrated by the unwillingness of their colleagues to raise political initiatives at the meeting. [complete article]

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Israel's new road plans condemned as 'apartheid'
By Conal Urquhart, The Observer, December 5, 2004

The message has been consistent: Israel believes the US-backed road-map is the way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It has been repeated by Ariel Sharon and by ministers, yet now government papers suggest that Israel intends to bypass the peace plan, creating a Palestinian state of enclaves, surrounded by walls and linked by tunnels and special roads.

Israel has released plans for the upgrade of roads and construction of 16 tunnels which would create an 'apartheid' road network for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Existing roads would be reserved for Jews, linking their settlements to each other and to Israel. The plans came to light when Giora Eiland, Israel's director of national security, requested international funding for the project. At a meeting with World Bank officials, he told them the roads would maximise freedom of movement for Palestinians without compromising security for Jewish settlers.

Eiland asked for an estimated £110 million, which would come from taxpayers in Europe, the US and Japan. The international community unanimously rejected the request, stating they could not finance a project not supported by the Palestinian Authority. [complete article]

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Hamas official hints at softening toward Israel
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2004

A leader of Hamas said Friday that the militant group could endorse the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hinting at acceptance of Israel's right to exist.

However, it was unclear whether the official, Sheik Hassan Yousef, spoke with the full backing of the organization. Israel called his statements highly conditional and said they would need to be backed by deeds. [complete article]

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Now, as pressure mounts on recruiters to find 180,000 volunteers amid casualty counts from Iraq and Afghanistan that have surpassed 1,300 dead and 10,000 wounded, the fairness of the system by which the nation persuades young people to take on the burden of national defense is coming under increasing scrutiny.

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.

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.]

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."

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.

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