The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Fundamentalism begins at home
By Josie Appleton, Spiked, December 14, 2004

After 9/11 the Koran became a bestseller in the West, as readers scoured the text for phrases that might explain the hijackers' actions. Some argued that violence is inherent in Islam; others said that Islam means peace. The 'understanding Islam' industry boomed, with debates, books and pamphlets professing to unearth the mysterious depths of Islamic culture, politics and history.

In Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, the French sociologist Olivier Roy criticises this 'confused' and 'sterile' debate. 'It is based on an essentialist view', he tells me, 'the idea that Islam is this or that. But you can find anything in Islam. The problem is not what is in the Koran, but what people think is in the Koran'. His concern is to look at the lived reality of Islam, rather than its canonical or historical background. For example, in the book he argues that the idea that Islamic suicide attacks are an attempt to win virgins in paradise is 'not very helpful. Why should Muslims have discovered only in 1983 that suicide attacks are a good way to enter paradise?'.

In a decade of research for the book, Roy travelled throughout the Middle East, searched Islamic websites on the internet, and studied Muslim immigrants in France. Far from having roots in the seventh century, he found that new religious forms are a response to Westernisation - to the modernisation of Muslim societies, and the migration of increasing numbers of Muslims to the West. [complete article]

See also, Islam in a changing world (Olivier Roy in discussion with Fouad Ajami, Council on Foreign Relations, November 15, 2004).

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Poll: Nearly half of all Americans support restricting rights of Muslim-Americans
By William Kates, Associated Press (via Detroit FP), December 17, 2004

Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.

Researchers also found that respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim-Americans. [complete article]

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Coming geopolitical quakes
By Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI (via Washington Times), December 15, 2004

The world can now count on one geopolitical earthquake every 10 years. Between 1985 and 1995, it was the fall of the Berlin Wall, the implosion of the Soviet Union, the collapse of communist parties the world over, and America's emergence as the world's only superpower.

Between 1995 and 2005, it was the September 11, 2001, attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that triggered a war on, and the defeat of, Afghanistan's despotic Taliban regime followed by a war on, and the defeat of, Saddam Hussein's bloody tyranny. So between 2005 and 2015, what's on the global menu?

Movers and shakers as well as long-range thinkers and planners meet in a wide variety of intelligence and think-tank huddles. These over-the-horizon, out-of-the-box appraisals range from good news scenarios (the minority) to the kind of global unraveling funk whose only antidote would be a desert island.

Behind all the geopolitical jargon about the "functioning core of globalization," "system perturbations," and "dialectics of transformation," there is the underlying fear of a Vietnamlike debacle in Iraq that would drive the U.S. into isolationism -- a sort of globalization in reverse. [complete article]

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U.S. isn't winning against Iraqi insurgents, agencies warn
By Warren P. Strobel, John Walcott and Jonathan S. Landay,
Knight Ridder, December 17, 2004

The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department have warned President Bush that the United States and its Iraqi allies aren't winning the battle against Iraqi insurgents who are trying to derail the country's Jan. 30 elections, according to administration officials.

The officials, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because intelligence estimates are classified, said the battle in Iraq wasn't lost and that successful elections might yet be held next month.

But they said the warnings -including one delivered this week to Bush by CIA Director Porter Goss - indicated that U.S. forces hadn't been able to stop the insurgents' intimidation of Iraqi voters, candidates and others who want to participate in the elections.

"We don't have an answer to the intimidation," one senior official said.

Nor have the United States and interim Iraqi government been able to find any divisions they can exploit to divide and conquer the Sunni Muslim insurgency, the intelligence reports say. [complete article]

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Westerner beheaded on Mosul street as American forces lose control of key city
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, December 18, 2004

Gunmen raked a car with machine-gun fire in the northern city of Mosul yesterday, killing three foreigners and their driver. They then cut off the head of one of their victims.

The killings show that at the same time as the US was recapturing Fallujah in a heavily publicised assault it largely lost control of Mosul, Iraq's northern capital. Though US troops launched a counter-attack, their grip on the city remains tenuous. The four men who died yesterday were travelling in a white sedan when it was attacked with automatic weapons and set on fire at a traffic intersection in Mosul.

One of the foreigners was briefly captured by the insurgents, according to an eyewitness. When he tried to escape they cut his head off and left his body in a pool of blood. [complete article]

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Will Iran win Iraq's election?
By Tony Karon,, December 15, 2004

It would be wrong... to measure Iranian influence by the extent to which a new government in Iraq emulates Iran's example -- U.S. influence in the Arab world, after all, is strongest in regimes whose domestic political arrangements can hardly be likened to America's. Tehran's priority is to ensure that Iraq's long marginalized Shiite majority becomes the dominant voice in Baghdad, believing that their voice will be friendlier toward Tehran. Iraq has long been viewed as a kind of pan-Arab frontline against Persian influence, and it was on that basis that even the likes of Saudi Arabia and Jordan backed Saddam's regime against Iran in their eight-year war. Iran's more immediate concern may be to avoid seeing Iraq turned into a platform for new "regime-change" initiatives against the "Axis of Evil" by Washington's hawks. To that end, Tehran is more likely to back a broad-based Shiite political movement capable of prevailing in elections, rather than to insist on an ideological rigidity. Iran has been the foremost advocate among Iraq's neighbors of early democratic elections, precisely because it recognized that they represent an opportunity to shift Iraq's geopolitical posture towards a friendlier disposition. [complete article]

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The rising tab for U.S. war effort
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, December 17, 2004

The grinding insurgency in Iraq continues to exert upward pressure on at least one important aspect of the US war effort: monetary cost.

Deployment of extra troops, plus the need for new armor and other changes to counter insurgent tactics, may increase war spending by at least 25 percent for fiscal 2005, say experts. The total cost of the US military effort in Afghanistan and Iraq through next year will almost certainly surpass $200 billion.

Congress is likely to approve whatever war budget the White House asks for. But the current rate of spending is far higher than officials predicted before hostilities began - and at some point it may begin to crowd out other US spending priorities. [complete article]

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Guard reports serious drop in enlistment
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 17, 2004

In the latest signs of strains on the military from the war in Iraq, the Army National Guard announced on Thursday that it had fallen 30 percent below its recruiting goals in the last two months and would offer new incentives, including enlistment bonuses of up to $15,000.

In addition, the head of the National Guard Bureau, Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, said on Thursday that he needed $20 billion to replace arms and equipment destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan or left there for other Army and Air Guard units to use, so that returning reservists will have enough equipment to deal with emergencies at home.

The sharp decline in recruiting is significant because National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers now make up nearly 40 percent of the 148,000 troops in Iraq, and are a vital source for filling the ranks, particularly those who perform essential support tasks, like truck drivers and military police. [complete article]

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For rebuilders of Sadr City, gratitude tainted by mistrust
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 17, 2004

...nearly two years on, many Iraqis say, the occupation has become more than a simple ledger of tasks completed. The American experience has become like the three-inch bulletproof windshield of a Humvee -- the U.S. military can gaze through the glass while not always hearing what's being said in the streets. In Sadr City, even in neighborhoods clouded with the acrid haze of newly laid asphalt, words of appreciation are often clouded with lingering suspicions. The disenchantment is so deep in some places that it leaves a question most U.S. officials prefer not to address: Is the battle for hearts and minds already lost? [complete article]

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Hamas may give peace a chance
By Scott Atran, New York Times, December 18, 2004

Two unlikely factors - the maneuverings of Hamas, a group the United States considers a chief sponsor of terrorism, and a widespread fear of chaos among Palestinians - are combining to create some hope in the runup to next month's election to choose Yasir Arafat's successor as head of the Palestinian Authority.

The best news is that Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Arafat's successor as leader of the Fatah faction, has emerged as the candidate favored not only by Israel and the United States, but also by the European Union and, most surprisingly, by Hamas. On Tuesday, Mr. Abbas (who is also known as Abu Mazen) called for an end to the four-year-old intifada, saying that the "the use of weapons is harmful and it should stop."

Hamas leaders, who would be expected to fight against any such compromise, actually worked behind the scenes to undermine the candidacy of Mr. Abbas's main rival, Marwan Barghouti, the jailed intifada leader who is a beacon to the younger generation of Fatah militants. He withdrew from the race on Sunday.

Although Mr. Barghouti is in spirit closer than Mr. Abbas to Hamas, the group's leaders decided that his candidacy was interfering with formation of a Palestinian political consensus and could have led to political anarchy. The fact is, with the intifada bearing little fruit in terms of Israeli concessions, Hamas is now embroiled in infighting. Its West Bank leaders are leaning toward historic compromise, while its Gaza militants want to step up violence. [complete article]

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Likud, Labor agree to form government
By Mazal Mualem, Haaretz, December 18, 2004

Likud and Labor have struck a deal which will enable the Labor Party to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ruling coalition, it was reported Friday night.

According to the report, Labor leader Shimon Peres phoned the head of the Likud negotiation team, attorney Yoram Raved, on Friday morning. The two met in Tel Aviv and finalized details of the agreement that will enable Labor to join the government.

"They have reached an agreement. They will meet tomorrow (Saturday) to summarize it," Shariv said on Friday. [complete article]

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Neocons' serious message
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, December 17, 2004

If you were ever in any doubt that, on occasions, news organisations agree on a common strategy for presenting a position, consider the fact that within the space of a few days the neoconservative triumvirate -- the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, and National Review -- all sent out an identical message: It's time to get "serious about Syria."

The Bush administration is now apparently weighing up this advice and Syria expert, Joshua Landis, at the University of Oklahoma, says the following assessment "would seem quite accurate," even though it comes from the exiled opposition group, The Reform Party of Syria.

U.S. mulling military options against Syria
Reform Party of Syria News (via Maariv), December 15, 2004
Washington is reassessing its policy towards Syria, in light of increasing evidence that President Assad has no intention of keeping his promises to the US to stop cooperating with the Iraqi Sunni insurgency.

A senior intelligence source has confirmed that the administration is currently conducting discussions over Syria at senior levels. These discussions are not only limited to the policy itself, but include possible operational scenarios in the event it is decided to change US policy.

The main debate is whether any US military strike should be confined to a few targets, destruction of which would inflict enough pain on Bashar Assad and his regime to prompt them to rein in the anti-US forces operating from Syria, or whether a broad military campaign aimed at regime change would be preferable. [complete article]

General: Iraqi insurgents directed from Syria
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, December 17, 2004
A top Army general said yesterday that the Iraqi insurgency was being run in part by former senior Iraqi Baath Party officials operating in Syria who call themselves the "New Regional Command."

These men, from the former governing party of deposed president Saddam Hussein, are "operating out of Syria with impunity and providing direction and financing for the insurgency," said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the U.S. commander in Iraq. "That needs to stop," Casey said at a Pentagon briefing.

He called on the government of President Bashar Assad to do more to stop the insurgency from being managed by Iraqis hiding in Syria. "The Syrians are making some efforts on the border," he said. "But they are not going after the big fish, which is really the people that we're interested in. And we're really interested in them going after the senior Baathists."

Casey's comments echoed remarks by President Bush on Wednesday but provided new details, including the name of the leadership organization in Syria. In recent weeks, new intelligence on anti-U.S. forces in Iraq has led officials to focus increasingly on the sanctuary being provided there.

Casey contrasted his view of Syria's role with what he described as the more distant threat presented by Iran. The Iranian government's influence on Iraq needs to be watched, he said, but does not appear to pose a major problem in affecting next month's elections. [complete article]

See also, Are they serious about Syria? (Jim Lobe).

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Election outcome might not please U.S.
Shiite victory likely to take nation in Islamic direction

By Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, December 16, 2004

President Bush has been vigorously advocating the Jan. 30 election in war-ravaged Iraq, but is he ready for the consequences?

Should Bush's wish come true, the new Iraqi government that will rise to power probably will bear little resemblance to the Washington-friendly, pro- Western leadership of secular interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, analysts say.

"They will have a Shia-dominated, Islamic-oriented government in Iraq," said Rashid Khalidi, director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. "Is the United States ready for that?"

Iraq's Shiites make up 60 percent of the country's nearly 26 million people and are more likely to vote in January's election than Sunni Muslims, who represent 20 percent of Iraqis. Most Sunnis live in central Iraq, where raging violence threatens to prevent voters from going to the polls, and leading Sunni clerics have called for a boycott of the election.

In this situation, a powerful alliance of Shiite groups, formed at the initiative of Iraq's most revered spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, is poised to win a dominant share of the 275-seat National Assembly, which will elect a prime minister and Cabinet from within its ranks. [complete article]

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Allawi to run for election, but with whom?
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2004

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi formally threw his hat into the ring Wednesday for Iraq's Jan. 30 election, announcing a slate of 240 candidates that is likely to become a key contender in the race.

But Allawi, who will head the slate, delayed his announcement by several hours Wednesday morning and declined to release other names on his list. That raised speculation about last-minute haggling behind the scenes.

In particular, it was unclear whether interim President Ghazi Ajil Yawer would join Allawi's list of candidates for the new national assembly or form his own slate. Voters will choose from among the lists, rather than select individual candidates. The elected assembly will be charged with appointing a new prime minister and drafting a permanent constitution. [complete article]

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Intrigue, power plays as Iraq campaign season starts
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, December 16, 2004

Mass graves, war criminals, and Iranian agents: welcome to the campaign trail in Iraq.

Even before he announced his candidacy, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi began using his interim office to kick off his campaign for Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.

Yesterday, Mr. Allawi went public with a formal announcement of his party's list for the elections.

But over the past several days, both Allawi and his deputies have made politically charged announcements - about war-crimes trials, mass graves, and political interference from Iran - calculated to play on Iraqi fears and stir up sentiment against his main competitor. [complete article]

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Nearly 900 children in America have lost a parent in Iraq
By Lsa Hoffman and Annette Rainville, Scripps Howard, December 15, 2004

Sad to the depths of his 4-year-old soul, Jack Shanaberger knew what he didn't want to be when he grows up: a father.

"I don't want to be a daddy because daddies die," the child solemnly told his mother after his father, Staff Sgt. Wentz "Baron" Shanaberger, a military policeman from Fort Pierce, Fla., was killed March 23 in an ambush in Iraq.

On that terrible day, Jack and his four siblings joined the ranks of the largely overlooked American casualties who, until now, have gone uncounted. Although almost daily official announcements tally the war dead, the collateral damage to the children left behind has not been detailed.

But, from Defense Department casualty reports, obituaries and accounts in hometown newspapers, and family interviews, Scripps Howard News Service has identified nearly 900 U.S. children who have lost a parent in the war, from the start of the conflict in March 2003 through November, when a total of 1,256 troops had died. [complete article]

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America's sinister plan for Falluja
By Michael Schwartz (introduction by Tom Engelhardt), TomDispatch, December 17, 2004

The chilling reality of what Falluja has become is only now seeping out, as the American military continues to block almost all access to the city, whether to reporters, its former residents, or aid groups like the Red Crescent Society. The date of access keeps being postponed, partly because of ongoing fighting -- only this week more air strikes were called in and fighting "in pockets" remains fierce (despite American pronouncements of success weeks ago) -- and partly because of the difficulties military commanders have faced in attempting to prettify their ugly handiwork. Residents will now officially be denied entry until at least December 24; and even then, only the heads of households will be allowed in, a few at a time, to assess damage to their residences in the largely destroyed city. [complete article]

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Israel supports U.K. peace summit, but won't participate
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, December 17, 2004

Israel supports a Middle East peace conference planned by British Prime Minister Tony Blair for February, but won't participate in it, senior political sources said Friday.

They said Israel sees the conference as a forum for encouraging reforms in the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian, European and American representatives will be attending the conference.

Blair is slated to visit Israel and the PA in a trip starting next Tuesday.

Blair's senior foreign policy advisor, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, visited Israel early this week and assured Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Britain was not trying to jump-start a final peace deal, the British daily The Independent reported Friday. The paper said Britain has rejected any idea it ever sought a big international Middle East summit. [complete article]

The Independent reports that: "There was still doubt last night about Israel's precise role at the London conference. While Mr Weisglass's [Sharon's senior adviser] formulation broadly corresponded to the characterisation of the event by Britain, Raanan Gissin, Mr Sharon's spokesman, said that Israel had been invited to attend and was ready to do so at whatever level Mr Blair chose to pitch the event."

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At Guantanamo, a prison within a prison
By Dana Priest and Scott Higham, Washington Post, December 17, 2004

Within the heavily guarded perimeters of the Defense Department's much-discussed Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, the CIA has maintained a detention facility for valuable al Qaeda captives that has never been mentioned in public, according to military officials and several current and former intelligence officers.

The buildings used by the CIA are shrouded by high fences covered with thick green mesh plastic and ringed with floodlights, officials said. They sit within the larger Camp Echo complex, which was erected to house the Defense Department's high-value detainees and those awaiting military trials on terrorism charges.

The facility has housed detainees from Pakistan, West Africa, Yemen and other countries under the strictest secrecy, the sources said. "People are constantly leaving and coming," said one U.S. official who visited the base in recent months. It is unclear whether the facility is still in operation today. The CIA and the Defense Department declined to comment. [complete article]

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Recording said to be bin Laden praises attack in Saudi Arabia
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, December 16, 2004

A recording broadcast today of a voice that seems to be Osama bin Laden's accuses the ruling dynasty in his Saudi homeland of being the "agents of infidels" and applauds last week's attack against the United States Consulate in Jidda.

The recording materialized the same day that a London-based Saudi opposition figure called for tens of thousands of Saudis to pour onto the streets of the country's two main cities to demonstrate their opposition to the absolute monarchy.

Although it was improbable that any demonstration would have attracted such numbers, a fierce dragnet by security services in downtown Riyadh, the capital, and in Jidda, the commercial hub, prevented even small clusters of protesters from gathering.

Experts in the workings of Al Qaeda believe that its founder, with his own movement inside Saudi Arabia largely broken into small disjointed cells after 18 months of widespread arrests, evidently wanted to try to draw attention to his own desire to overthrow the Saudi regime on what was supposed to be a day of demonstrations. None of his previous 17 or so recordings focused so pointedly on the kingdom. [complete article]

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Exodus of staff hobbles the FBI
By Richard B. Schmitt, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2004

The rapid turnover of top-level managers and highly trained specialists since Sept. 11 is causing disorder within the FBI and undercutting its efforts to meet the mandate of Congress to dramatically expand its intelligence and counter-terrorism capabilities.

Its new intelligence arm, which is to form the core of a transformed FBI, is losing dozens of analysts who are supposed to connect the dots to protect the country from another terrorist attack.

All four members of the top management team announced by Director Robert S. Mueller III shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks have left their jobs -- as have their successors. Some other officials have had three or even four jobs since the attacks.

Since Sept. 11, five people have held the bureau's top counter-terrorism job. Five others filled the top computer job within a 24-month period. [complete article]

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The risks of the al-Zarqawi myth
By Scott Ritter, Aljazeera, December 14, 2004

According to former Iraqi intelligence personnel I have communicated with recently, the Mukhabarat [intelligence service], under instructions from Saddam Hussein, had been preparing for some time before the invasion of Iraq on how to survive, resist and defeat any US-led occupation of Iraq. A critical element of this resistance was to generate chaos and anarchy that would destabilise any US-appointed Iraqi government.

Another factor was to shift the attention of the US military away from the true heart of the resistance - Saddam's Baathist loyalists - and on to a fictional target that could be manipulated in an effort to control the pace, timing and nature of the US military response.

According to these sources, the selection of al-Zarqawi as a front for these actions was almost too easy. The Bush administration's singling out of al-Zarqawi prior to the war, highlighted by Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council in February 2003, made the Jordanian an ideal candidate to head the Mukhabarat's disinformation effort.

The Mukhabarat was desperate for a way to divert attention from the fact that it was behind the attacks against Iraqi civilians. Iraqis killing Iraqis would turn the public against the resistance. It needed a foreign face, and al-Zarqawi provided it. A few planted CD disks later, and the al-Zarqawi myth was born. [complete article]

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Bombing kills 10 near Shiite shrine
By Saad Sarhan and Karl Vick, Washington Post, December 16, 2004

A bomb exploded near one of Shiite Islam's most sacred shrines at the close of evening prayers here Wednesday, killing 10 people and wounding 41, including the cleric who represents Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in the holy city.

Abdel-Mahdi Salami, the apparent target of the attack, suffered shrapnel wounds to both legs, but aides said the injuries were not life-threatening. The bomb exploded at 5:45 p.m. as the cleric made his way from the shrine of Imam Hussein toward his modest home and office along a narrow alley, a route he travels at regular intervals four times each day.

The blast damaged the western wall of the shrine, which is adorned by one of two splendid domes in the heart of Karbala, often called the second-holiest city in Shiite Islam. The tidy city is a destination for pilgrims who under normal circumstances impart a sense of both serenity and festivity.

"The whole thing was targeting Abdel-Mahdi Karbalai," said Hassanain Ali Abdel-Zahra, a clothing store owner, using the name by which Salami is known in Karbala. "They're trying to start strife among the Shiite people." [complete article]

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For faith and country: insurgents fight on
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, December 16, 2004

He sat at a plain white table in a deserted building not far from Haifa Street, a stronghold of militancy in the heart of the Iraqi capital. Before him was a tray bearing cups of sweet dark tea and a plate of bananas, and as American helicopter gunships carved circles in the sky above, he described how he had become the commander of a hardline Islamic cell in the Iraqi insurgency.

The man, in his mid-30s with a trimmed dark beard, studious black-rimmed spectacles and a red-and-white keffiyeh thrown loosely over his shoulders, gave his name only as Abu Mojahed.

Before the war he had been a labourer in Baghdad and was jailed four times under Saddam Hussein's regime because of his adherence to the Salafi creed of Sunni Islam, a strict and conservative belief. He would gather with friends for secret Salafi classes and discussions.

He did not fight when America invaded last year, but did not welcome the war either. "I didn't fight. I stayed at home. If you fight for Saddam and he wins, you are not winning. If America wins, you are not winning," he said. "They freed us from evil but they brought more evil to the country."

As the weeks passed, the clerics in the mosques instructed him and his friends to take up arms."We fight the Americans because they are non-believers and they are coming to fight Islam, calling us terrorists," he said.

Theirs is a story rarely told, a brief insight into the lives of thousands of Iraqi men who have spent the past 18 months fighting a costly guerrilla war against the most powerful army in the world. [complete article]

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A flood of troubled soldiers is in the offing, experts predict
By Scott Shane, New York Times, December 16, 2004

The nation's hard-pressed health care system for veterans is facing a potential deluge of tens of thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq with serious mental health problems brought on by the stress and carnage of war, veterans' advocates and military doctors say.

An Army study shows that about one in six soldiers in Iraq report symptoms of major depression, serious anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, a proportion that some experts believe could eventually climb to one in three, the rate ultimately found in Vietnam veterans. Because about one million American troops have served so far in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures, some experts predict that the number eventually requiring mental health treatment could exceed 100,000.

"There's a train coming that's packed with people who are going to need help for the next 35 years," said Stephen L. Robinson, a 20-year Army veteran who is now the executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, an advocacy group. Mr. Robinson wrote a report in September on the psychological toll of the war for the Center for American Progress, a Washington research group. [complete article]

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The pattern of discontent in U.S. ranks
By Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, December 16, 2004

Griping among the troops is as old as armed conflict, illustrated most memorably by cartoonist Bill Mauldin's "Willie and Joe" characters during World War II. But something more than that is happening now in Iraq with what appears to be growing resistance from the troops.

Evidence includes numbers of deserters (reportedly in the thousands), resignations of reserve officers, lawsuits by those whose duty period has been involuntarily extended, and a refusal to go on dangerous missions without proper equipment. There's also been a willingness at grunt level to publicly challenge the Pentagon - as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld found out recently in a trip to the war zone, where he got an earful about unarmored humvees.

While some don't see much defiance - and, in fact, have been surprised by the depth of solidarity - others see an unusual amount of tension surfacing for an all-volunteer military force.

"What is driving the resistance is the same thing that drove it during Vietnam - a lack of trust in the civilian leadership and a sense that the uniformed leaders are not standing up for the forces," says retired Army Col. Dan Smith, a military analyst with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington. Colonel Smith doesn't expect the kind of "fragging" incidents that occurred in Vietnam where soldiers attacked their own officers. "This force is too professional," he says. "But the lack of trust and the inequity of the tours will very likely be reflected in the numbers of Guard and reservists who vote no-confidence with their feet." [complete article]

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In bed with terrorists
By Laura Rozen, AlterNet, December 16, 2004

A battle is brewing within the ranks of neoconservatives in Washington. Public flashes of private quarrels are uncommon among this rarefied circle of uber-hawks, who have been unanimous in shaping and supporting the Bush administration's aggressive foreign policy. Yet they find themselves at odds over the most unlikely of issues: an Iranian terrorist group.

The neoconservatives have been unanimous in their skepticism that recent European-led negotiations to curtail Iran's nuclear program will hold. But here, unanimity breaks down. One faction of neoconservative Iran hawks believes that the Bush administration should pursue a more traditional set of diplomatic, economic and military carrots and sticks to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear aspirations. But another faction argues that the only real long-term solution is to change the Iran regime itself. "Even if you believe that a nuclear Iran is inevitable," Michael Ledeen, one of the leading Iran regime change advocates, recently wrote in National Review, "is it not infinitely better to have those atomic bombs in the hands of pro-Western Iranians, chosen by their own people, than in the grip of fanatical theocratic tyrants?" [complete article]

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U.K. can't hold terror suspects indefinitely
By Beth Gardiner, Associated Press (via The Guardian), December 16, 2004

Britain's highest court dealt a huge blow to the government's anti-terror policy Thursday by ruling that it cannot detain foreign terror suspects indefinitely without trial.

Nine judges in the House of Lords ruled in favor of a group of foreign men jailed without charge for up to three years. Their lawyers say their detention is a violation of human rights.

The British government had argued that the detention without trial of some terrorist suspects is a tough but necessary measure to protect a free society from the threat of devastating attacks.

The Home Office said Parliament would now decide whether detention without trial continues, and that the suspects would remain in prison for the time being. [complete article]

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First flight test of new missile defense interceptor fails
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, December 15, 2004

The Bush administration's ambitious national missile defense program suffered a major setback on Wednesday when a malfunction forced a shutdown of the first test flight of a new high-speed interceptor missile just before its launch.

The test failure raised serious questions about the reliability of the seven multimillion-dollar interceptor missiles that already have been loaded into underground silos in California and Alaska.

The failure also made it unlikely that President Bush will be able to make good on a 2002 pledge to have the first components of a national missile defense system to protect the United States operational by the end of this year.

The system is intended to protect the country from limited missile attacks by North Korea or other adversaries.

The Bush administration has sunk more than $15 billion into the national missile defense program over the past four years. Critics say such a system isn't technologically feasible and that the pace of the effort is being driven by politics, rather than defense needs.

Opponents also argue that a foe is more likely to smuggle a nuclear, biological or chemical warhead into the country, rather than risk devastating retaliation by firing missiles whose launch points can be immediately detected by U.S. early warning satellites. [complete article]

See also, The naked shield (NYT).

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Ex-military lawyers object to Bush cabinet nominee
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, December 16, 2004

Several former high-ranking military lawyers say they are discussing ways to oppose President Bush's nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales to be attorney general, asserting that Mr. Gonzales's supervision of legal memorandums that appeared to sanction harsh treatment of detainees, even torture, showed unsound legal judgment.

Hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination are expected to begin next month. While Mr. Gonzales is expected to be confirmed, objections from former generals and admirals would be a setback and an embarrassment for him and the White House.

Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, who served as the Navy's judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000 before he retired, said that while Mr. Gonzales might be a lawyer of some stature, "I think the role that he played in the one thing that I am familiar with is tremendously shortsighted."

Mr. Gonzales, as White House counsel, oversaw the drafting of several confidential legal memorandums that critics said sanctioned the torture of terrorism suspects in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and opened the door to abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. [complete article]

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President gets to fill ranks of new intelligence superstructure
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, December 16, 2004

President Bush is searching not only for a new director of national intelligence to become his chief adviser on intelligence but also for three other senior officials who will work atop the new organization created by the intelligence reform act he is scheduled to sign into law tomorrow.

Along with the job of the intelligence director, or DNI, there is to be a principal deputy DNI, a director of a new national counterterrorism center, and a general counsel to the DNI, all of whom must be presidential appointees subject to Senate confirmation. [...]

CIA Director Porter J. Goss had been expected by many to be the administration's choice for DNI, so much so that his former House colleagues put a provision in their version of the intelligence bill that would have allowed him to take over the post without another confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a vote in the Senate. But the Senate refused to accept that provision, and so the DNI nominee -- Goss or not -- will have to go before the panel early next year.

Goss has described his two days before that panel last September at his CIA confirmation hearings as "grueling." If Goss were named DNI, he would inevitably be questioned in depth about the personnel troubles and retirements at the CIA after he arrived, bringing with him four Republican former staff members from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, administration and congressional sources said.

"Neither the White House nor Goss apparently wants that," said one senior administration official, who like others has said the CIA director is no longer the leading contender for the DNI job. [complete article]

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Pentagon official wants Yaron fired
By Aluf Benn and Amnon Barzilai, Haaretz, December 16, 2004

A crisis of confidence has broken out between the Pentagon and the Israeli Defense Ministry in the wake of U.S. complaints about Israeli deviations from weapons purchasing and sales rules and an Israeli report to the U.S. about a weapons sale to China.

According to Israeli sources, as a result of the crisis that broke out some months ago, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith cut off ties with Defense Ministry Director General Amos Yaron.

Feith, the number 3 man in the Pentagon, told people who tried to mediate to solve the problem, "it's either me or Amos Yaron." Feith is one of the ideological neoconservative Jews in the American administration and is considered one of the architects of the war in Iraq.

Part of Feith's job is to oversee the defense relationship with Israel. He and Yaron jointly chair a joint committee for planning defense policy. Channel 2 reported last night that the Americans are demanding Yaron be fired and that he will leave the Defense Ministry in the near future. An Israeli defense source denied this, saying that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is fully behind Yaron and does not intend to replace him. [complete article]

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Neocon vs. neocon on Iran
By Franklin Foer, The New Republic, December 14, 2004

From Bosnia to Iraq, polarization has been a defining feature of post-cold-war foreign policy debates. But the Iran debate doesn't just trace traditional faults between realists and neoconservative hardliners. In this instance, the neocons can't come to a consensus among themselves. The Weekly Standard's editorialists, for instance, have remained silent on the subject. And neocons who have taken positions don't agree. Institutions that played a large role in making Saddam Hussein a top foreign policy concern, such as AEI and the Project for a New American Century, are split over how to proceed. The Committee on the Present Danger, a coalition of cold war intellectuals that recently reassembled to promote hard-line foreign policy, has heatedly debated a proposed white paper on Iran. Even two of the most prominent hawks in the administration aren't on the same page. In November, Under Secretary of State John Bolton spoke at a Washington confab hosted by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. When asked about the prospect of preemptive military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, he replied, "No options are off the table"--and then smiled broadly. Across the country in San Francisco, at almost the same time as Bolton's revelatory grin, Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith fielded the very same question but described strikes as "not a sensible option."

In part, the lack of neocon consensus can be attributed to the nature of the problem. Nobody--not the Council on Foreign Relations, not John Kerry's brain trust--has designed a plausible policy to walk Iran back from the nuclear brink. Or, as Kenneth M. Pollack concludes in his new book, The Persian Puzzle, this is a "problem from Hell" with no good solution. But the muted, muddled response of neocons is also indicative of a deep divide within the doctrine. [complete article]

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How Iran will fight back
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, December 16, 2004

The United States and Israel may be contemplating military operations against Iran, as per recent media reports, yet Iran is not wasting any time in preparing its own counter-operations in the event an attack materializes.

A week-long combined air and ground maneuver has just concluded in five of the southern and western provinces of Iran, mesmerizing foreign observers, who have described as "spectacular" the massive display of high-tech, mobile operations, including rapid-deployment forces relying on squadrons of helicopters, air lifts, missiles, as well as hundreds of tanks and tens of thousands of well-coordinated personnel using live munition. Simultaneously, some 25,000 volunteers have so far signed up at newly established draft centers for "suicide attacks" against any potential intruders in what is commonly termed "asymmetrical warfare".

Behind the strategy vis-a-vis a hypothetical US invasion, Iran is likely to recycle the Iraq war's scenario of overwhelming force, particularly by the US Air Force, aimed at quick victory over and against a much weaker power. Learning from both the 2003 Iraq war and Iran's own precious experiences of the 1980-88 war with Iraq and the 1987-88 confrontation with US forces in the Persian Gulf, Iranians have focused on the merits of a fluid and complex defensive strategy that seeks to take advantage of certain weaknesses in the US military superpower while maximizing the precious few areas where they may have the upper hand, eg, numerical superiority in ground forces, guerrilla tactics, terrain, etc. [complete article]

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The defense secretary we have
By William Kristol, Washington Post, December 15, 2004

"As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a town hall meeting with soldiers at Camp Buehring in Kuwait, Dec. 8.

Actually, we have a pretty terrific Army. It's performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has. President Bush has nonetheless decided to stick for now with the defense secretary we have, perhaps because he doesn't want to make a change until after the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections. But surely Don Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term. [...]

All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments. Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck? [complete article]

Comment -- This is a stinging rebuke coming from one of the war's leading proponents. But if Rumsfeld was glibly passing the buck, what was George Bush (sometimes known as the President of the United States) doing when he said, "if I were a soldier overseas, wanting to defend my country, I'd want to ask the secretary of defense the same question"?

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Keeping faith in reform, and Islam, in Iran
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 15, 2004

Mohsen Kadivar is a lonely voice in Iran these days.

A charismatic cleric with a salt-and-pepper beard and a spirited smile, Kadivar became a hero to Iranian youth during his 1999 trial for challenging Iran's rigid theocracy.

But the once-robust reform movement he symbolized virtually evaporated this year. Its political groups are in disarray. The last of 110 dissident newspapers or magazines have been shut down. Democracy advocates in parliament were barred from running again in elections last February, and student activists have been jailed or harassed.

These days, Kadivar, 45, is increasingly on his own -- and he is criticizing both conservatives and reformers.

He still stirs controversy with his scathing criticism of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the symbol of Iran's political system. Kadivar warns that Khamenei's position is growing even more powerful as reformers are marginalized.

"The supreme leader is increasing his powers . . . but not his authority. Authority you can see in the street from the people. Power you get from soldiers and security forces," said Kadivar, still defiant after spending 18 months in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison for "disseminating lies" and "defaming Islam." [complete article]

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Iraqi campaign raises question of Iran's sway
By John F. Burns and Robert F. Worth, New York Times, December 15, 2004

On a list of 228 candidates submitted by a powerful Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq's electoral commission last week, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's name was entered as No. 1. It was the clearest indication yet that in the Jan. 30 election, with Iraq's Shiite majority likely to heavily outnumber Sunni voters, Mr. Hakim may emerge as the country's most powerful political figure.

Mr. Hakim, in his early 50's, is a pre-eminent example of a class of Iraqi Shiite leaders with close ties to Iran's ruling ayatollahs. He spent nearly a quarter of a century in exile in Iran. His political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was founded in Tehran, and its military wing fought alongside Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war. American intelligence officials say he had close ties with Iran's secret services.

For the United States, and for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have Sunni Muslim majorities, the prospect of Mr. Hakim and his associates coming to power raises in stark form the brooding issue of Iran's future influence in Iraq. [complete article]

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Odds are even in the 'information' war
By Ehsan Ahrari, Asia Times, December 16, 2004

In this information age, the American occupying forces in Iraq have come face to face with a terrible reality: insurgents of that country have become at least as savvy in conducting information warfare - which includes "perception management" through disinformation, propaganda, and even deception - as the US military in the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis, Arabs and Muslims.

For the uninitiated, the US military prides itself in being quite sophisticated - in terms of developing both new technologies and new tactics - at information warfare. Now the Pentagon is considering a new strategy to enhance its effectiveness. The essence of that strategy is to combine public-affairs activities with those of information warfare. However, this situation is causing considerable angst in Washington, for the US military is not supposed to conduct information operations if information contained therein is also available to the American people. A basic rule of the game thus far has been that only foreign audiences can be targeted for perception management.

But in an increasingly shrinking and highly interconnected infosphere, such distinctions are fast disappearing. A housewife in Ames, Iowa, or Hoboken, New Jersey, with a few clicks of a mouse, can reach the website of any newspaper in the Middle East that might be carrying a story planted by the US military as part of its information operations. American politicians are likely to get quite upset at the prospects of the military conducting propaganda campaigns that would also wrongly influence the thinking of the American people. The concern inside Washington is how to remain believable at home and abroad at the same time. A paradox here is that the requirements of believability for the domestic and foreign audiences are markedly different. [complete article]

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Details of Marines mistreating prisoners in Iraq are revealed
By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2004

Marines in Iraq conducted mock executions of juvenile prisoners last year, burned and tortured other detainees with electrical shocks, and warned a Navy corpsman they would kill him if he treated any injured Iraqis, according to military documents made public Tuesday.

The latest revelations of prisoner abuse cases, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against the government, involved previously unknown incidents in which 11 Marines were punished for abusing detainees. Military officials indicated that they had investigated 13 other cases, but deemed them unsubstantiated. Four investigations are pending.

Military superiors handed down sentences of up to a year in confinement after finding Marines guilty of offenses ranging from assault to "cruelty and mistreatment," the documents show. [complete article]

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U.S. goes back to the nuclear source
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, December 15, 2004

With the US government insisting that Iran has been secretly working on the development of nuclear weapons, and being frustrated that the United Nations' watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency is "too soft" on Tehran, a new investigation is under way in Pakistan to find evidence of that country assisting Iran's program.

In November the US Central Intelligence Agency reported that the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, was instrumental in selling advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges to Iran, and that he was likely to have sold it an actual nuclear-weapon design, along with nuclear-fuel material.

The disgraced Khan is currently under house arrest in Pakistan. Asia Times Online sources say that an investigation has begun in Pakistan to track the remnants of Khan's network and previous activities.

Although Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf has denied the fact, Pakistan has agreed to indirect US investigations into Khan and his former network. In terms of an agreement between Islamabad and Washington, the US has supplied a questionnaire to Pakistan for Khan, after which his answers will be returned to US authorities. In the light of the answers, the US will send investigators to Pakistan for ground checks at its nuclear plants, laboratories or any other facilities. [complete article]

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U.N. board cites U.S. contractor in Iraq
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, December 15, 2004

Pentagon auditors concluded that Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., charged "unsupported" and "overstated costs" in more than $800 million in U.S.-administered projects financed by Iraqi oil revenue, according to a report issued Tuesday by a U.N.-appointed financial oversight board.

The chairman of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB), Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, said that it was impossible to determine the extent of alleged overcharges because the figures had been redacted from a series of five Pentagon audits presented to the board last month. But he said that he had agreed to a U.S. proposal to appoint an independent auditor to conduct a "special audit" of all contracts awarded to Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) and other companies without competitive bidding.

The international board was created by the U.N. Security Council in May 2003 to monitor the U.S.-led coalition's management of Iraq's oil revenue. It had been pressing the Pentagon for months to release the audits of KBR as part of a broad effort to ensure that Iraq's oil revenue has been properly spent. The U.S. company had been awarded at least $1.4 billion from Iraqi revenue to repair the country's oil facilities and to import fuel for domestic uses, according to Halbwachs. [complete article]

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Voting their fears
By Ira Chernus (introduction by Tom Engelhardt), TomDispatch, December 15, 2004

Only 535 people get to vote for president of the United States: the electors. On Monday, they did their job. When their votes are tallied, George W. Bush will be announced as the winner. On November 2, the other 122 million of us just gave an advisory opinion. But what advice, exactly, did the rest of us get from that half or more of the electorate who voted for the President, even though he had tanked the economy and led us into war based on lies?

On Election Day, before the counting was done, the media chorus was already singing out the official answer: values. The voters' advice is to take us back to that ol' time morality. All those abortion-hating, gay-bashing, "moral values" conservatives gave George W. his victory.

The only problem is that it's not quite true.

The news told us ad nauseam that 22% of the voters chose "moral values" as their number one issue. But the real news is that this is a historically low number. It was 35% in 2000 and 40% in 1996. [complete article]

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Can Bush notice the Palestinian olive branch?
By David Hirst, The Daily Star, December 15, 2004

Since the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, there has been a shift of international attention away from Iraq toward that other, older, and most imperishable of Middle East crises.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged the re-elected U.S. President George W. Bush to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, "the single most pressing political challenge in our world today," while Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called it more important than Iraq itself. Then the view that the two crises are malignantly linked found forceful corroboration in a surprising quarter. In a report flatly contradicting Bush administration orthodoxy, the Pentagon's Defense Science Board said America's problems in Iraq and elsewhere arose from Muslims' hatred of its policies, not of its freedoms, and especially "what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights." [complete article]

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Muslim scholar gives up Notre Dame post
By Tom Coyne, Associated Press (via The Guardian), December 15, 2004

A Muslim scholar resigned his appointment to the University of Notre Dame on Tuesday four months after the Bush administration revoked the scholar's work visa before he could take up his teaching position.

"I'm abandoning the idea of moving to the United States," Tariq Ramadan told The Associated Press from Geneva. "I want to maintain my dignity."

Ramadan notified the university on Monday, citing the stress on him and his family from the uncertainty of their situation, said R. Scott Appleby, director of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. [complete article]

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Poland to cut troops in Iraq by a third
By Monika Scislowska, Associated Press (via Yahoo), December 14, 2004

Poland will cut its troop strength in Iraq by nearly a third in February as part of long-standing plans to reduce its presence there, the government said Tuesday.

Poland's 2,400-member contingent will be cut to 1,700 from mid-February, with 700 soldiers remaining on standby in Poland, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told a news conference.

Poland, a staunch U.S. ally on Iraq, commands an international stabilization force of about 6,000 troops in central Iraq. The cuts will come as part of a regular troop rotation due to begin in early January, but Szmajdzinski stressed that troop levels will remain stable for Iraq's Jan. 30 elections. [complete article]

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As Kurds return to oil-rich city, a fragile detente
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, December 14, 2004

Hassan Mohammed Amin brought his seven children to a 200-square-yard patch of mud and set up home on the edge of this city in August as part of an ambitious attempt to reverse Saddam Hussein's ethnic cleansing.

A 50-year-old Kurd who spent more than a decade as a refugee, Amin joined thousands of Kurds who have returned to Kirkuk over the past 6 months as part of a concerted plan by the two major Kurdish parties to solidify control of the oil-rich province in northern Iraq and absorb it into the autonomous Kurdish region.

The returning Kurds are seeking to undo Hussein's policy of "Arabization," whereby hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Turkomen were driven from Kirkuk in the 1980s and replaced by Arabs brought in from Iraq's south.

Some Arabs have chafed at the "Kurdization" now occurring, and some worry that the tense calm could crumble, pushing Kirkuk into the maelstrom of violence engulfing much of Iraq.

Still, the steady peace that has prevailed in Kirkuk has confounded observers, including many American officials, who predicted an ethnic civil war in the city as a result of the Kurdish determination to resettle here. The Arabs seem resigned to some kind of accommodation with the returning Kurds, who know that their strength is growing relentlessly. [complete article]

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Army repair posts scramble to keep the troops equipped
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, December 13, 2004

In muddy gravel lots, along weedy railroad tracks and in grassy fields, the flotsam of war is washing up at a sprawling Army-run repair post: five- and 10-ton trucks, road graders, river boats, forklifts, coils of tank track, piles of road wheels and Humvees by the score, doors pocked with shrapnel scars, windows riddled with bullet holes or frosted white by explosive heat, their fenders gashed by rocket-propelled grenades, their crews' names still etched on the windshields.

When Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was confronted by a soldier in Kuwait recently about why troops in Iraq had to scrounge for parts, he might have pointed to the Red River Army Depot on the outskirts of Texarkana for the answer. Here, in unadorned open-air factories, bustling hives of workers struggle through budget limits and a burgeoning repair load to keep the troops equipped.

Twenty-one months after U.S. forces entered Iraq, the Defense Department is only now coming to terms with the equipment shortages caused by the prolonged fighting there. The Pentagon has prepared an unprecedented emergency spending plan totaling nearly $100 billion -- as much as $30 billion more than expected as recently as October -- say senior defense officials and congressional budget aides. About $14 billion of that would go to repairing, replacing and upgrading an increasingly frayed arsenal. [complete article]

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Aznar 'wiped files on Madrid bombings'
By Giles Tremlett, The Guardian, December 14, 2004

Spain's former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar wiped all computer records at his office referring to the March 11 Madrid train bombings and the rest of his period of government, his successor Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said yesterday.

Mr Zapatero told a parliamentary commission on the bombings that he had no idea whether records were made of crisis meetings held at the prime minister's office after the attacks that killed 191 people, as computer hard-drives and security copies were wiped clean.

"There was nothing, absolutely nothing... everything had been wiped," Mr Zapatero told a raucous session of the parliamentary commission. "There is nothing from March 11 to March 14 in the prime minister's office."

Mr Zapatero, whose Socialists won a surprise election victory three days after the bombings, said the incoming government had been left the bill for the erasing.

The newspaper El Pais reported yesterday that the job cost €12,000 (£8,200) and included erasing all email records. [complete article]

See also, Aznar asserts ties between Eta and Islamists over Madrid terror attack (The Guardian).

Comment -- On March 16, 2004, I wrote:
Before the election, Spain's prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, had already expressed his hope that George Bush be defeated in the US presidential election. Out of personal friendship and with a vested interest in the continuation of Aznar's government (and along with that Spain's ongoing participation in the occupation of Iraq), Bush clearly had a strong interest in the outcome of the Spanish election. In Aznar's hour of need how did his loyal friend respond? On March 11 President Bush helped promote the idea that the Madrid bombings were the work of ETA when, in his brief comments from the White House South Lawn, he said, "I appreciate so very much the Spanish government's fight against terror, their resolute stand against terrorist organizations like the ETA." Was he simply echoing the opinions expressed by Jose Maria Aznar, or had their prior conversations led them to agree that in the run-up to the election, irrespective of evidence to the contrary, it was in their mutual interest to blame ETA?

On March 12, in an interview with Spanish television, President Bush said that "people shouldn't speculate right now as to who did it" but again made reference to ETA while the name "al Qaeda" never passed his lips. The possibility that the bombings were the work of al Qaeda posed not only a threat to Spain's willingness to leave its troops in Iraq but also exploded the absurd argument that we must fight them over there so we don't need to fight them here.

The fact that we now know that the Aznar government destroyed communications records from the days after the bombings, again raises this question: Was the Bush administration complicit in an attempt to mislead the public about the nature of the terrorist threat both at home and abroad?

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Blacklisted Russian tied to Iraq deals
By Stephen Braun, Judy Pasternak and T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2004

Air cargo companies allegedly tied to reputed Russian arms trafficker Victor Bout have received millions of dollars in federal funds from U.S. contractors in Iraq, even though the Bush administration has worked for three years to rein in his enterprises.

Planes linked to Bout's shadowy network continued to fly into Iraq, according to government records and interviews with officials, despite the Treasury Department freezing his assets in July and placing him on a blacklist for allegedly violating international arms sanctions.

Largely under the auspices of the Pentagon, U.S. agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Air Force, and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which governed Iraq until last summer, have allowed their private contractors to do business with the Bout network.

Four firms linked to the network by the CIA and international investigators have flown into Iraq nearly 200 times on U.S. business, government flight and fuel documents show. One such flight landed in Baghdad last week.

The list of the Bout network's suspected clients over the years includes the Taliban, which allegedly bought airplanes for a secret airlift of arms to Afghanistan. The Taliban is known to have shared weapons with Al Qaeda. [complete article]

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McCain has 'no confidence' in Rumsfeld
By Beth DeFalco, Associated Press (via Seattle P-I), December 13, 2004

U.S. Sen. John McCain said Monday that he has "no confidence" in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, citing Rumsfeld's handling of the war in Iraq and the failure to send more troops.

McCain, speaking to The Associated Press in an hourlong interview, said his comments were not a call for Rumsfeld's resignation, explaining that President Bush "can have the team that he wants around him."

Asked about his confidence in the secretary's leadership, McCain recalled fielding a similar question a couple weeks ago.

"I said no. My answer is still no. No confidence," McCain said. [complete article]

Comment -- So if McCain has no confidence in Rumsfeld, why isn't he calling for his resignation. Is it because -- as a Seattle Post-Intelligence columnist quipped -- we have to make do with "the leaders we have, not the ones we might want"?

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'Hitler figure' could rise from Iraq's instability
By Margaret Neighbour, The Scotsman, December 14, 2004

The Iraqi president, Ghazi Yawar, yesterday warned that long-term instability in his country could give rise to an "Iraqi Hitler" if citizens continued to feel humiliated and despondent.

Mr Yawar also criticised the US-led coalition for dismantling Iraq's security services too soon after the war and accused neighbouring states of doing nothing to stop the insurgency.

The Iraqi president said bombings and kidnappings had plagued the country since last year's invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, while the relentless Sunni-led insurgency had crippled reconstruction and development projects.

"This could in the long term create an environment in which an Iraqi Hitler could emerge like the one created by the defeat of Germany and the humiliation of Germans in the First World War," Mr Yawar said in an interview with the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. [complete article]

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U.S. battalion condemned to isolation in Ramadi
By Pierre Celerier, Middle East Online, December 13, 2004

The US battalion that has set itself up in the western Iraqi insurgent bastion of Ramadi lives in total isolation thanks to the city's insecurity and the local population's refusal to cooperate.

The 1st Battalion, 503rd Regiment is "in the process of building a relationship with the local population", said Captain William Snook, whose responsibilities include media relations.

But the process is taking some time if you think that the army has been in this mainly Sunni Muslim city, a hundred kilometres (60 miles) west of Baghdad, for more than a year.

Since he arrived a week ago, Snook's only contact with city authorities has been with the man in charge of the technical college that serves as the battalion's headquarters. [complete article]

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Rights group reports deaths of men held by U.S. in Afghanistan
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, December 14, 2004

Human Rights Watch said Monday that new cases of deaths of men in American custody in Afghanistan had come to light. It accused the Defense Department of operating outside the law there and failing to investigate abuses, including killings.

In an open letter to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York, described the deaths of three detainees, including a member of the newly established Afghan Army. Six men are now known to have died in American custody here, and only two people have been charged in the deaths, the organization said.

The detention system operated by American forces in Afghanistan continues to operate outside the rule of law, the letter said. The United States continues to hold Afghan detainees in legal limbo and in many cases incommunicado, in violation of American obligations under the international laws of armed conflict and applicable Afghan law, it said. Accusations of abuse and arbitrary detention continue to surface at American bases around Afghanistan, it added. [complete article]

See also, An open letter to US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Human Rights Watch).

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Where democracy's greatest enemy is a flower
By Ashraf Ghani, New York Times, December 11, 2004

In his inaugural address on Tuesday, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan laid out his priorities for the next five years. Chief among them was stopping the country's growing drug trade. Mr. Karzai knows well that drug wars are often declared, but rarely won. In the 1990's, the United Nations tried to give Afghan farmers incentives not to grow opium, but the plan was not backed with adequate force. In 2001, the Taliban tried force without financial rewards. Neither approach convinced Afghan poppy farmers to give up opium cultivation.

Similar efforts elsewhere have met with mixed results. In Colombia, brutal military campaigns against drug-cultivating communities have devastated local economies, setting off violence, which in turn has led to further repression. Drug production in Colombia continues to rise.

Meanwhile, Thailand has significantly dented the narcotics trade by balancing tough enforcement with equitable and farsighted economic policies. While the drug economy was being dismantled, Thailand managed to recover from the economic crisis of 1997 and has enjoyed fairly steady economic growth since then.

Having underestimated Afghanistan's narcotics problem since 2001, the international community now recognizes the connection between drugs and terrorism, and believes that urgent action is essential. But lessons from other nations show that today's quick wins can sow the seeds of future poppy harvests. Afghanistan's war on drugs will not be won quickly - nor can it be won without economic growth and political stability. Crop destruction "victories" will prove pyrrhic if Afghan farmers cannot find other ways to make a living and do not understand why drugs threaten their future. [complete article]

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President spares Blair by avoiding trip to Britain
By Roland Watson and Philip Webster, The Times, December 13, 2004

President Bush will avoid Britain on his post-inauguration trip to Europe amid concerns that his presence so close to the general election would make life uneasy for Tony Blair.

Mr Bush is to visit Brussels and at least two other countries in late February on a visit billed as a post-war "kiss and make up" tour, but he will steer clear of London, where the Prime Minister is likely to be in the final stages of a phoney election campaign that he is expected to make official at the end of March.

Mr Blair's strategists were concerned that Mr Bush's presence, which would showcase his close relationship with the Prime Minister as well as the Iraq war, would raise the hackles of Britons, including many Labour voters who fiercely opposed the conflict.

"Downing Street was not exactly queueing up for the President to visit," an official in Washington said. Mr Blair and Mr Bush discussed the trip when the Prime Minister visited Washington last month.

Mr Blair did not suggest that Mr Bush should include Britain on his itinerary, according to American and British officials. Instead, he encouraged Mr Bush to visit countries where he needs to work on his image.
[complete article]

Comment -- In other words, Bush's image in Britain is beyond repair.

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Hamas member escapes Damascus attack, Israel blamed
By Inal Ersan, Reuters, December 13, 2004

Syria blamed Israel's Mossad intelligence service for a bombing in Damascus on Monday which a Palestinian source in Beirut said was a failed attempt to kill a member of the militant Hamas group.

Three people were slightly hurt in the explosion which destroyed the silver sports utility vehicle owned by the unidentified Palestinian, who escaped unhurt.

The attack was the second one of its kind in the Syrian capital in less than two months, and it came one day after Hamas and another armed Palestinian group killed five Israeli soldiers in a carefully planned attack on their outpost in Gaza. [complete article]

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Pentagon weighs use of deception in a broad arena
By Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 13, 2004

The Pentagon is engaged in bitter, high-level debate over how far it can and should go in managing or manipulating information to influence opinion abroad, senior Defense Department civilians and military officers say.

Such missions, if approved, could take the deceptive techniques endorsed for use on the battlefield to confuse an adversary and adopt them for covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations.

Critics of the proposals say such deceptive missions could shatter the Pentagon's credibility, leaving the American public and a world audience skeptical of anything the Defense Department and military say - a repeat of the credibility gap that roiled America during the Vietnam War. [complete article]

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It is essential to talk to the 'terrorists'
By Alistair Crooke, The Guardian, December 10, 2004

The west uses the pejorative tag "terrorist" to close off critical thought. Terrorists are like a cancer, the argument goes: you don't over-analyse your disease, you just kill it. This "terrorist" label is key to the mindset that projects the mistaken view that "they hate our values". The threat, we are told, is existential - "they want to destroy us". Therefore our only response can be to destroy them. Anyone who disagrees is either naive, an enemy, or guilty of legitimising the use of violence.

This is wrong. We do diverge on a few values, but the overwhelming bulk of Islamists and Muslims support elections, good governance and freedom (more so than in some European states, the polls show).

I have witnessed many insurgencies. The Afghan mujahideen understood warfare very well. They knew their victory was not about body counts. They understood that their task was to gain that psychological advantage and to keep it. They understood the need, day by day, that more and more people should be convinced that your current would ultimately prevail - not only in military terms, but by winning the struggle for legitimacy.

Never have I seen insurgencies defeated by bombing. Traditional military thinking categorises these actions as "wearing down the enemy". Generally, it just made ordinary people mad. I recall what is described as the "Jenin paradox". The Israeli military justified an incursion into Jenin in the West Bank on the grounds that there had been 10 terrorists in the city and after the military action there were only four. The threat was reduced. Six had been killed. But to others, and to Jenin's inhabitants, there was a different perception. There had been 10 resistance fighters, the Israeli military had killed six - and now there were 24. The question is: was the use of superior military force a tool for subtraction or multiplication? [complete article]

Alastair Crooke is a former British intelligence officer who worked in the Middle East, Ireland and Afghanistan. He was until last year special adviser to Javier Solana, the European Union high representative, and is a founding member of Conflicts Forum.

See also, Theories on the origins of and reasons for terrorism (Los Angeles Times).

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A hostile land foils the quest for bin Laden
By James Risen and David Rohde, New York Times, December 13, 2004

Hunting for Osama bin Laden, the C.I.A. established a series of small, covert bases in the rugged mountain frontier of northwest Pakistan in late 2003. Mr. bin Laden, the terrorist leader, was being sheltered there by local tribesmen and foreign militants, the agency had concluded, and controlled a group of handpicked operatives dedicated to attacking the United States.

But since the bases opened, the C.I.A. officers stationed there have been strictly supervised by Pakistani officials, who have limited their ability to operate and have escorted them wherever they travel in the Pakistani border region. As a result, it has been virtually impossible for the Americans to gather intelligence effectively, say several officials familiar with the operation who would only speak anonymously.

More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and New York transformed Osama bin Laden into the most wanted man in the world, the search for him remains stalled, frustrated by the remote topography of his likely Pakistani sanctuary, stymied by a Qaeda network that remains well financed and disciplined, sidetracked by the distractions of the Iraq war, and, perhaps most significantly, limited by deep suspicion of the United States among Pakistanis. [complete article]

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Seven-year drought puts Afghanistan on the brink
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, December 12, 2004

The Afghan farmers, coated in dust, some of them barefoot, wielded their hoes, not in the fields they are accustomed to, which lay barren, but at the bottom of a dried canal.

"For the last seven years there is no work, no water," said one old man, Muhammad Azam, after scrambling up a steep bank of crumbly soil to tell his lament. "I am 70 years old. I did not eat at all this morning. We would die if it weren't for this work."

The work is a canal-clearing project run by the United Nations World Food Program, and the farmers employed are among 6.4 million Afghan people who the agency estimates do not have enough to eat this year. [complete article]

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Foxes in Iran's henhouse
By Vali Nasr and Ali Gheissari, New York Times, December 13, 2004

As the Bush administration looks at its options in dealing with Iran's nuclear threat, it should consider some little-noticed but significant recent changes in that country's leadership. The assumption in Washington has long been that Iran is ruled totally by a clerical clique headed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Behind the facade of theocracy, however, the balance of power between religious elite and the military in the Islamic Republic has been changing.

The clerical regime's version of a praetorian guard, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been growing in prominence in recent years, and may be poised to gain control of main levers of power. This has broad implications for Iranian politics, and for the future of American policy on Iran.

The Revolutionary Guards were formed in May 1979 by young rebels loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; their job was to combat the well-organized leftist militias that had challenged clerical control of the revolution. The guards evolved into a full-fledged military force during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980's, and were involved in many of the key campaigns. They also played a direct role in the organization and training of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Badr Brigade in Iraq. [complete article]

How to approach Iran
By Madeleine Albright, Robin Cook, Hubert Vedrine, Lamberto Dini, Lloyd Axworthy, Niels Helveg, Ana Palacio and Jozias van Aartsen, Washington Post, December 13, 2004

Foreign ministers from France, Germany and Britain meet with Iran's top nuclear negotiator this week at a moment of enormous consequence. The United States will not be there, but the subtle signals it will send from a distance will have a tremendous impact on the outcome. There are some who believe that Washington expects, and perhaps hopes, that the talks will collapse altogether. But if the United States and Europe are to be successful in preventing a radical regime from gaining nuclear weapons, there will have to be much greater coordination and new approaches on both sides of the Atlantic.

We are a group of former foreign ministers from Europe, Canada and the United States who are very concerned about the current state of transatlantic relations and the effect it is having on our ability to join together to address a number of global challenges. Halting Iran's nuclear ambitions is a case in point. We have met a number of times under the auspices of the Aspen Institute to consider why habits of cooperation are yielding to a psychology of competition and strain. We believe that genuine transatlantic cooperation is the only path to viable solutions. [complete article]

The U.S. vs. a nuclear Iran
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, December 12, 2004

The Bush administration says the prospect of Iran's obtaining a nuclear weapon is "intolerable," and from the White House to the State Department, officials express considerable skepticism that Europe's efforts to negotiate quietly an end to Iran's nuclear activities will succeed.

Yet, though President Bush threatened Iraq before the war there, he has said almost nothing about the possibility of resorting to military action in Iran.

That may reflect the fact that Pentagon war planners, reviewing available options, say there are no good options for Mr. Bush - or for Israel, which has expressed even greater alarm about a nuclear-armed Iran if negotiations fail. [complete article]

Khatami takes a final bow
By Safa Haeri, Asia Times, December 11, 2004

On December 6, outgoing Iranian President Mohammad Khatami went to Tehran's main university on the occasion of Students National Day - named after three engineering students killed in demonstrations during president Richard Nixon's visit to Tehran decades ago - and for the first time in three years he faced thousands of angry, frustrated students chanting "Daaneshjoo bidaar ast, az Khatami bizaar ast" (Students are alert and loathe Khatami).

It seems the failed reformist's era has come to an end, as the event was the "the most difficult" Khatami had faced since his election as president eight years ago, thanks mostly to students and youngsters of both sexes, who make up more than 70% of Iran's population of over 70 million. [complete article]

25 years later, a different type of revolution
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 12, 2004

Victoria's Secret has arrived in Tehran. So have the Gap, Diesel, Benetton and Black & Decker. A quarter-century after a mass movement inspired by Islam ended 2,500 years of monarchy, Iran's revolutionary society is moving on.

Yet, still trapped in transition, the Islamic republic is full of telling and sometimes bizarre contradictions.

At demonstrations marking the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover last month, participants handed out cards listing companies to boycott, including Calvin Klein, because they do business with Israel. But all over Tehran, billboards that once would have been reserved for revolutionary slogans and portraits of Iranians killed in the war with Iraq now advertise Calvin Klein. [complete article]

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Ballot boxing
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, December 13, 2004

It's not exactly election fever, but over the next couple of months voters will go to the polls in three very different parts of the Arab world. On January 9, Palestinians will choose their new president. Iraqis are due to vote on January 30, and on February 10, Saudi Arabia will hold the first in a series of local government elections.

The Saudi elections are the first for 40 years and, if handled properly, might have been hailed as a first tentative step on the road to constitutional democracy. Instead, they are likely to do little more than confirm the timidity of the royal family when it comes to reform.

Polling for 178 local councils across the kingdom will be held in three phases between February and April, but only half of the seats are up for grabs - the others will all be filled by royal appointees.

Although election law says all Saudi citizens can take part, only men will be allowed. After dithering for some time about whether to include women, the authorities sidestepped making a decision and allowed "technical difficulties" to make it for them. The official reason is that too few women have photo ID cards and there are not enough female officials to register women voters. This sounds a rather feeble excuse, especially since the Saudi authorities have had well over a year to prepare. [complete article]

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Barghouti withdraws from the race to succeed Arafat
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, December 13, 2004

Marwan Barghouti, the popular Fatah leader imprisoned by Israel, dropped out of the contest for the Palestinian Authority presidency last night in his second change of heart within a fortnight.

In a move which makes Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation chairman, a clear favourite to succeed Yasser Arafat, Mr Barghouti's wife, Fadwah, is expected formally to withdraw her husband's candidacy today.

In a letter written in his prison cell and read out in his campaign's Ramallah offices last night, Mr Barghouti harshly criticised the Fatah leadership, threw his weight behind his "dear brother" Mr Abbas, and made a series of policy demands of the PLO chairman. [complete article]

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Seeds of chaos
By Edward T. Pound, US News and World Report (via Yahoo), December 11, 2004

In the fall of 2002, several months before the United States and its allies invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein dispatched more than 1,000 security and intelligence officers to two military facilities near Baghdad where they underwent two months of guerrilla training, according to a secret U.S. military intelligence report. Anticipating his defeat, intelligence reports show, the Iraqi dictator began laying the foundation for an insurgency as Washington worked to convince the United Nations and allies around the world that Saddam had to go.

The insurgency that has gripped much of Iraq the past 19 months wears many faces and has many different actors. But Baath Party operatives linked to Saddam, along with Sunni extremists from both inside and outside Iraq, have played a central role in resisting U.S.-led forces and the creation of a new democratic government in Baghdad. Although Saddam and many of his relatives and top aides have been captured or killed, American intelligence officials and others say that his supporters remain a formidable foe. "I believe that Saddam regime elements are still playing a significant role in the insurgency," says Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq. "Of course, there are many other insurgents--radical Islamists supported by Iran, for example--but most certainly, Saddam planned his insurgency long before we invaded Iraq."

Until now, it hasn't been clear how Saddam created his guerrilla force or what role he played in directing attacks against U.S. troops and allied forces on the ground. But classified intelligence reports, reviewed by U.S. News, provide the clearest picture yet of his role in planning and carrying out an insurgency before he was captured in his "spider hole" last December, near his hometown of Tikrit. They also detail the roles some key regime aides have played in the insurgency. [complete article]

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Iraqi fighters keep up attacks
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 12, 2004

A series of car bombings, ambushes and assassinations across the country's most restive regions Saturday killed several civilians, police and clerics. An insurgent leader said a day earlier that fighting in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah had drawn hundreds of fighters to rebel ranks.

The leader, Abdullah Janabi, 53, a Sunni Muslim cleric from Fallujah who has eluded a dragnet by the U.S. military, vowed Friday in an interview that the fighting in the devastated city on the Euphrates River would continue for months.

"In one day, we received 400 Iraqis and Arabs," he said from a village near Fallujah. U.S. soldiers, he said, "crossed the ocean obligated to fight people who want to die, while they still love life." [complete article]

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Arab issues eclipse U.S. agenda
By Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2004

U.S. efforts to launch an ambitious reform program across much of the Islamic world during the inaugural meeting of a forum of Western and Muslim nations were overshadowed Saturday by Arab concerns about outside meddling, the American-led war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Forum for the Future gathering unfolded here amid strong anti-Americanism throughout the Arab world, and the speeches of delegates from Muslim nations and the meeting's final communique reflected a deep suspicion of the U.S.-inspired initiative. Although U.S. officials had insisted the Israeli-Palestinian issue should not be a part of the meeting, the communique said that "reform in the region will go hand in hand with... support for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict."

The same document asserted that reform "cannot be imposed from the outside." [complete article]

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Feith : U.S. action against Iran can't be ruled out
By Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, December 12, 2004

The US hopes that Iran will follow Libya's lead in abandoning its nuclear program, but nobody should rule out the possibility of military action against Teheran's nuclear sites if it does not, US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview.

Feith stated that the US is now concentrating on "a process to try to get the existing international legal mechanisms – the nonproliferation treaty [and] the International Atomic Energy Agency – to work, to bring the kind of pressure to bear on Iran that would induce the Iranians to follow the path that Libya took in deciding that they were actually better off in abandoning their WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programs."

Feith stressed that the Americans are interested in seeing whether the suspension of uranium-enrichment activities that the Iranians agreed to last month in a deal with France, Germany and Britain "can get turned into a permanent abandonment."

But strikingly, whereas British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw last month ruled out any possibility of military action against Iranian nuclear sites should the diplomatic path lead to failure, Feith said that "I don't think that anybody should be ruling in or ruling out anything while we are conducting diplomacy." [complete article]

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IAEA leader's phone tapped
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, December 12, 2004

The Bush administration has dozens of intercepts of Mohamed ElBaradei's phone calls with Iranian diplomats and is scrutinizing them in search of ammunition to oust him as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to three U.S. government officials.

But the diplomatic offensive will not be easy. The administration has failed to come up with a candidate willing to oppose ElBaradei, who has run the agency since 1997, and there is disagreement among some senior officials over how hard to push for his removal, and what the diplomatic costs of a public campaign against him could be.

Although eavesdropping, even on allies, is considered a well-worn tool of national security and diplomacy, the efforts against ElBaradei demonstrate the lengths some within the administration are willing to go to replace a top international diplomat who questioned U.S. intelligence on Iraq and is now taking a cautious approach on Iran.

The intercepted calls have not produced any evidence of nefarious conduct by ElBaradei, according to three officials who have read them. But some within the administration believe they show ElBaradei lacks impartiality because he tried to help Iran navigate a diplomatic crisis over its nuclear programs. Others argue the transcripts demonstrate nothing more than standard telephone diplomacy. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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