The War in Context  
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Holiday issue!   Daily news updates will start again on December 30.
How Bush really won
By Mark Danner, New York Review of Books (via TomDispatch), December 21, 2004

The attacks of September 11 restored to Republicans their traditional political advantage in matters of "national security" and "national defense" -- an advantage the party had lost with the end of the Cold War -- and Republicans capitalized on that advantage, not only by running President Bush as "a war president," as he repeatedly identified himself, but by presenting a vote for John Kerry -- whom the Republicans succeeded in defining (with a good deal of help from the Swift Boat Veterans, and from Kerry himself) as indecisive, opportunistic, and untrustworthy -- as a vote that was inherently, dangerously risky. The emphasis placed on Bush's much-promoted personal strengths -- decisiveness, determination, reliability, transparency --served to base his candidacy at once on "moral values" and on "national security," in effect making possession of the first essential to protect the second. Bush's decisiveness was put forward as the flip side of Kerry's dangerous vacillation, the answer to the threat of weakness Kerry was alleged to pose. This equation was dramatized, perfected, and repeated, with much discipline and persistence, in thousands of advertisements, speeches, and "talking heads" discussion programs on conservative networks, especially Fox. (In Lake Butler, Miss Babs's husband, she told me, "watches only Fox News. He believes all the other channels are propaganda.") Despite all the talk about "moral values," the 2004 election turned on a fulcrum of fear. [complete article]

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American nationalism and U.S. foreign policy from September 11 to the Iraq war (PDF format)
By Paul T. McCartney, Political Science Quarterly, Fall 2004

Paul T. McCartney examines how the Bush administration drew upon nationalist imagery first to interpret the terrorists attacks of 11 September 2001 and then to frame the war against Iraq. He demonstrates how President Bush drew on both enduring elements of American identity and security concerns following September 11 to provide normative justification for the Iraq invasion. He concludes that the exceptionalist dimension of American nationalism that underpins the Bush doctrine is outdated and dangerous to current foreign policy interests. [complete article]

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Red-state sneer
By Michael Lind, Prospect Magazine, January, 2005

Many Democrats blame the unenlightened people of red-state America for John Kerry's defeat. But most working-class Americans remain politically centrist and a rising number simply want to live in the fast-growing suburbs of middle America. Liberals should stop sneering at the people they aspire to lead. [complete article]

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The world's first multinational
By Nick Robins, New Statesman, December 13, 2004

Abuse of market power; corporate greed; judicial impunity; the "irrational exuberance" of the financial markets; and the destruction of traditional economies (in what could not, at one time, be called the poor or developing world): none of these is new. The most common complaints against late 20th- and early 21st-century capitalism were all foreshadowed in the story of the East India Company more than two centuries ago. [complete article]

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On thinning ice
By Michael Byers, London Review of Books, January 6, 2005

George W. Bush and his advisers are so deeply embedded in the oil, gas and coal industries that even the most rigorous scientific analysis cannot shake their commitment to fossil fuels, or make them acknowledge that burning these fuels has serious environmental consequences. In April 2001, Dick Cheney said of his energy plan (a plan that Enron helped to write): 'Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.' The vice-president was wrong: switching the US car and truck fleet to currently available petrol-electric hybrid technology would eliminate the country's need for Middle Eastern oil. Contemporary corporate America and the politicians who serve it seem unable to think beyond next month's share price, or to understand the true price of oil. [complete article]

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Can the sciences help us to make wise ethical judgments?
By Paul Kurtz, Skeptical Inquirer, September, 2004

Can science and reason be used to develop ethical judgments? Many theists claim that without religious foundations, "anything goes," and social chaos will ensue. Scientific naturalists believe that secular societies already have developed responsible ethical norms and that science and reason have helped us to solve moral dilemmas. How and in what sense this occurs are vital issues that need to be discussed in contemporary society, for this may very well be the hottest issue of the twenty-first century. [complete article]

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Goodbye to all that?
By Tony Judt, The Nation, December 16, 2004

"Anti-Semitism" today is a genuine problem. It is also an illusory problem. The distinction between the two is one of those contemporary issues that most divide Europe from the United States. The overwhelming majority of Europeans abhors recent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions and takes them very seriously. But it is generally recognized in Europe that these attacks are the product of local circumstances and are closely tied to contemporary political developments in Europe and elsewhere. Thus the increase in anti-Jewish incidents in France or Belgium is correctly attributed to young people, frequently of Muslim or Arab background, the children or grandchildren of immigrants. This is a new and disconcerting social challenge and it is far from clear how it should be addressed, beyond the provision of increased police protection. But it is not, as they say, "your grandfather's anti-Semitism." [complete article]

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Multiculturalism in medieval Islam
By Nushin Arbabzadah, Open Democracy, December 13, 2004

In recent European debates on multiculturalism, Muslims have often appeared as the black sheep of the multicultural family. From the French schoolgirls who refuse to remove their veils to the extremist who killed the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, the symbolic - and at times violent - resistance of some Muslims to fully 'assimilate' into the European way of life has been interpreted as multiculturalism gone wrong. As a result, politicians and social commentators across Europe have been forced to review their understanding of multiculturalism; a debate long assumed to be settled in its fundamentals is reopened.

This reopening is painful to some but an opportunity to many others. It allows us to expand the borders of discussion – geographical, historical and psychological - by looking beyond contemporary Europe and acknowledging that multiculturalism is neither a new phenomenon nor unique to the west. Plural societies have always existed in history and there are many examples of non-western multicultural societies that are worthy of further exploration for what they might teach. [complete article]

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What were the Crusades really about?
By Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, December 6, 2004

In its original meaning, a crusade was a Christian holy war, and in that sense it was a contradiction in terms. Christ's whole teaching was to love thy neighbor, not kill him. But, like everyone else, the early Christians had enemies, whom they needed to fight on occasion. So the Church fathers went to work on the doctrine, and by the eleventh century it was agreed that in certain circumstances God might not only condone war but demand it. Of course, there had to be an important cause. The Church claimed that it had such a cause: Jerusalem had fallen into the hands of infidels. Actually, that had happened more than four hundred years earlier, and in the ensuing period Christians were generally treated far better in the holy city than non-Christians were in Europe. But there was another call to arms: Alexius I Comnenus, the emperor of Byzantium -- that is, of Catholic Europe's Eastern brother -- had asked the Pope for help against Muslim forces threatening his borders. Again, however, this was something less than an emergency. Byzantium and Islam did fight, but no more frequently than most neighboring powers of the time. [complete article]

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Pleading the First
By Janisse Ray, Orion, December, 2004

I was raised in Georgia in the particular brand of gentility that makes public dissent reproachable. Good southern girls are docile and pretty, they are not disagreeable or obstreperous; good southern men are gentlemen. A subliminal threat of violence runs through most societies, but in the headstrong South, the layer of manners that protects us from that violence is breathlessly thin. We've been a region of lynchings, duels, shootings, whippings, church-burnings. Here, the need to be quiet has been a matter of self-preservation, and although I have worked hard to overcome it, the voice of refinement still whispers in my ear, Don't cause a scene. [complete article]

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The sources of American legitimacy
By Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson, Foreign Affairs, November/December, 2004

The 18 months since the launch of the Iraq war have left the country's hard-earned respect and credibility in tatters. In going to war without a legal basis or the backing of traditional U.S. allies, the Bush administration brazenly undermined Washington's long-held commitment to international law, its acceptance of consensual decision-making, its reputation for moderation, and its identification with the preservation of peace. The road back will be a long and hard one. [complete article]

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Think again: Middle East democracy
By Marina Ottaway, Thomas Carothers, Foreign Policy, November/December, 2004

People in the Middle East want political freedom, and their governments acknowledge the need for reform. Yet the region appears to repel democracy. Arab regimes only concede women’s rights and elections to appease their critics at home and abroad. If democracy arrives in the Middle East, it won’t be due to the efforts of liberal activists or their Western supporters but to the very same Islamist parties that many now see as the chief obstacle to change. [complete article]

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The Cassandra quotient
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, December 17, 2004

Optimism has got to have some place in real-world scenarios. But apart from the opinions of our immortal Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, who've been reliably wrong about almost everything, the news you're going to hear in the near term is likely to be bad. And worse.

In what looks like a search for more upbeat predictions, lots of think tanks and conferences, including the CIA's National Intelligence Council earlier this year and the World Economic Forum at its annual meeting in Davos this coming January, are turning their attention to the world as it might look 15 years from now. [complete article]

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America beyond capitalism
By Gar Alperovitz, Dollars and Sense, November/December, 2004

Many books in recent years have portrayed promising grassroots economic alternatives in the United States and around the world, many have forwarded visions of what an alternative to capitalism might look like, and many have analyzed the recent sharp rightward turn in American politics. Gar Alperovitz's new book, America Beyond Capitalism, does all three of these things -- and much more. It also suggests a strategic political-economic path for long-term change. Alperovitz, a University of Maryland political economist and president of the National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, argues that the decay of liberal politics in the United States, combined with the evident inability of the existing system to meet our most basic policy challenges, could well open the door to a conversation about our political-economic system and how to restructure it -- starting with who owns wealth. This brief excerpt from the book outlines a desirable and efficient alternative system and discusses why fundamental progressive change should be seen as an achievable aspiration in the decades to come. [complete article]

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Rethinking doomsday
By Linda Rothstein, Catherine Auer and Jonas Siegel, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December, 2004

There is no doubt that the attacks of September 11, 2001 made clear that Americans faced very real dangers at home that few had foreseen and even fewer had taken seriously. Three years later, many, if not most, of us remain frightened.

But so many doomsday scenarios have been paraded on TV, in the newspapers, and in the course of political campaigns, that we can't help asking: How many possible terrorist attacks with how many possible weapons can there be? Must we, while worrying about nuclear holocaust or about terrorists commandeering airplanes or detonating conventional explosives, also worry that tomorrow we will come in contact with an evildoer bearing live smallpox stolen from somewhere in Siberia, with which he intends to infect the entire unsuspecting United States? (Government officials blithely assure us that we are all safer than we were before 9/11, but also say a smallpox epidemic is a case of "not if, but when.") How much time should we have devoted to the idea that the United States faced a gathering threat from Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons? About a plot to poison the food supply? Or should we worry if foreign visitors are seen taking snapshots of the Flatiron Building? [complete article]

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Taking no prisoners
Erik Schechter interviews ex-CIA senior analyst Michael Scheuer,, December 15, 2004

From 1996 to 1999, the no longer anonymous Michael Scheuer headed the CIA's Osama Bin Laden unit, and in his newest book on the subject, "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," he attacks, often quite acerbically, many of the accepted orthodoxies about al-Qaeda and US foreign policy.

He argues that Osama Bin Laden -- a hero to millions, if not tens of millions -- is not bent on subjugating the non-Muslim world or scapegoating the West for political corruption and development failures in the Middle East. He is simply waging a defensive jihad against America because it supports Israel, Russia, India and other countries that fight Muslim militants. [complete article]

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Political Islam: image and reality
By Mohammed Ayoob, World Policy Journal, Fall 2004

Guilian Denoeux... writes of Islamism as "a form of instrumentalization of Islam by individuals, groups and organizations that pursue political objectives. It provides political responses to today's societal challenges by imagining a future, the foundations for which rest on reappropriated, reinvented concepts borrowed from the Islamic tradition."

The reappropriation of the past, the "invention of tradition" in terms of a romanticized notion of a largely mythical golden age, lies at the heart of this instrumentalization of Islam. It is the invention of tradition that provides the tools for de-historiciz-ing Islam and separating it from the various contexts in which it has flourished over the past fourteen hundred years. This decontextualizing of Islam allows Islamists in theory to ignore the social, economic, and political milieus within which Muslim communities exist. It provides Islamists a powerful ideological tool that they can use to "purge" Muslim societies of the "impurities" and "accretions" that are the inevitable accompaniments of the historical process, but which they see as the reason for Muslim decline. [complete article]

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Korea: forgotten nuclear threats
By Bruce Cumings, Le Monde diplomatique, December 2004

The forgotten war - the Korean war of 1950-53 - might better be called the unknown war. What was indelible about it was the extraordinary destructiveness of the United States' air campaigns against North Korea, from the widespread and continuous use of firebombing (mainly with napalm), to threats to use nuclear and chemical weapons, and the destruction of huge North Korean dams in the final stages of the war. Yet this episode is mostly unknown even to historians, let alone to the average citizen, and it has never been mentioned during the past decade of media analysis of the North Korean nuclear problem. [complete article]

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At least 24 killed in Mosul attack
By William Branigin and Scott Wilson, Washington Post, December 21, 2004

At least 24 people were killed and more than 60 wounded at a U.S. military base in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul today when the installation came under attack by suspected insurgents, U.S. military officials said.

Initial reports indicated that a dining hall at the forward operating base, called Camp Marez, was hit by a rocket and mortar attack. But U.S. officials specified that the casualties were caused by a single explosion and said the type of weapon used in the attack was still under investigation. [complete article]

See also, eyewitness report from Jeremy Redmon (Richmond Times-Dispatch) who writes that "insurgents have fired mortars at the chow hall more than 30 times this year."

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The new military life: heading back to the war
By Monica Davey, New York Times, December 21, 2004

Earlier this year, as Sgt. Alexander Garcia's plane took off for home after his tense year of duty in Iraq, he remembered watching the receding desert sand and thinking, I will never see this place again.

Never lasted about 10 months for Sergeant Garcia, a cavalry scout with the First Armored Division who finished his first stint in Iraq in March and is now preparing to return.

He and the rest of his combat brigade at Fort Riley, the Army base a few miles from this town, have been working for weeks, late into the frigid prairie nights, cleaning and packing gear and vehicles for the trip back to Baghdad after the New Year.

"I figured that the Army was big enough that one unit would not have to go back again before this thing was over," said Sergeant Garcia, 20. "It's my job and it's my country, and I don't have any regrets. But I kind of feel like I did my part. Just as I was readjusting to life back home, just as I was starting to feel normal again, this kind of throws me back into the waves." [complete article]

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Bush foresees a deeper U.S. role in Iraq
By Maura Reynolds and Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2004

President Bush warned the American people Monday that the U.S. engagement in Iraq will intensify in the coming year, with the Jan. 30 election marking the "beginning of a process" toward democracy that will require higher troop levels and continue through 2005.

Painting a far more sober picture of the situation in Iraq than he did during his reelection campaign, Bush acknowledged that efforts to train Iraqi security forces have had only "mixed" results and that a violent insurgency has eroded morale among Iraqis and Americans.

In what is likely to be his last full-dress news conference before his inauguration next month, Bush appeared to be laying the groundwork for the first year of his second term. He argued that the Social Security system was in "crisis" and needed dramatic reform. He pledged to start simplifying the tax system. And he made it clear that troop levels in Iraq -- which the Pentagon plans to raise from 138,000 to 150,000 to increase security during the election -- are unlikely to be reduced next year. [complete article]

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56 percent in survey say Iraq war was a mistake
By John F. Harris and Christopher Muste, Washington Post, December 21, 2004

President Bush heads into his second term amid deep and growing public skepticism about the Iraq war, with a solid majority saying for the first time that the war was a mistake and most people believing that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should lose his job, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

While a slight majority believe the Iraq war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, 70 percent of Americans think these gains have come at an "unacceptable" cost in military casualties. This led 56 percent to conclude that, given the cost, the conflict there was "not worth fighting" -- an eight-point increase from when the same question was asked this summer, and the first time a decisive majority of people have reached this conclusion. [complete article]

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Disgraced by silence
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2004

A Marine guard in Iraq sprayed an alcohol-based liquid on a detainee, struck a match and ignited the prisoner, burning and blistering the man's hands. Another Marine held wires from an electric transformer to a detainee's shoulders, so that the man "danced as he was shocked," according to military documents made public this month.

In photographs now under investigation, Navy SEALs appeared to sit on a hooded and handcuffed Iraqi prisoner and to point a gun at another, bleeding detainee. Army troops repeatedly beat Afghan prisoners in their custody, ripped off their toenails, shocked them and dunked them in cold water, according to recent reports from a U.N. group. Most incidents occurred in 2002 and 2003.

The cascading allegations of prisoner abuse, of which these are but a few examples, long ago demolished the president's claim that only a few bad apples were responsible. So did reports that soldiers and officers who complained to their superiors about this mistreatment were threatened with reprisals and even physical harm. Yet as reports of unexplained deaths, humiliations and depravity across the services multiply, President Bush has recently remained silent. [complete article]

FBI agents complained of prisoner abuse, records say
By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2004

FBI agents have lodged repeated complaints of physical and mental mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Cuba, saying in reports that military officials have placed lighted cigarettes in detainees' ears and humiliated Arab captives by wrapping Israeli flags around them, according to new documents released Monday.

The FBI records, which are among the latest set of documents obtained by the ACLU in its lawsuit against the federal government, also include instances in which bureau officials said they were disgusted by military interrogators who pretended to be FBI agents as a "ruse" to glean intelligence from prisoners.

The FBI complained that military interrogators had gone beyond the restrictions of the Geneva Convention that prohibit torture; the agents cited Bush administration guidelines that permit the use of dogs and other techniques to harass prisoners. [complete article]

CIA loses bid to keep records secret
Reuters (via MSNBC), December 21, 2004

The U.S. government lost a bid Monday to block civil rights groups from obtaining CIA records of its internal investigation into abuse of detainees held by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a ruling from the bench, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein denied a government motion aimed at stopping an earlier order to turn over documents.

The decision was made in a lawsuit brought against the government by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups for what they said was the illegal withholding of records about U.S. military abuse of prisoners held in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and other locations. [complete article]

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My fight against American phantoms
By Tariq Ramadan, Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2004

The essence of my message to Muslims throughout the world is this: Know who you are, who you want to be. Find common values and build, with your non-Muslim fellow citizens, a society based on diversity and equality. Our collective success hinges on breaking out of intellectual ghettos, collaborating beyond our narrow associations and fostering mutual trust — without which living together is nearly impossible.

That is my record, open and clear. I have no cause for concern. So in September, when the university [of Notre Dame] was advised that I should reapply for my visa, I did so. At that time, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that my case would be reviewed fairly.

That was two months ago, but since then neither the university nor I have heard anything. The latest contact with the Bush administration indicated that no decision was forthcoming in the near future. In essence, my petition, the university's request and the outcry from the academic community and the public were being ignored. This is an affront to justice, to my dignity as a scholar, and it is a violation of my basic human right to know what I am accused of and what proof there is to support it.

Living in a state of limbo, in a bare apartment, not knowing where -- or on which side of the Atlantic -- my children will go to school in a few weeks has been extremely taxing for my family. To alleviate this and to preserve my dignity, I had to make the very difficult decision last week to resign my post at the university. My resignation notwithstanding, I am waiting for the Bush administration to reveal the results of its investigation, and for my name to be cleared of all the untrue and humiliating accusations I have been subjected to these last few months. [complete article]

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Bush backs Rumsfeld as party support fades
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, December 21, 2004

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is facing the most serious challenge yet to his leadership of the military, with a growing number of Republicans calling for his resignation and President Bush forced once again to publicly endorse his embattled Pentagon chief.

President Bush said yesterday he "looks forward" to working with Rumsfeld in his second term. "I asked him to stay on because I understand the nature of the job of the secretary of defense and I believe he's doing a really fine job," Bush said in an end-of-the-year White House press conference.

But leading Republicans have joined their Democratic colleagues in recent days in condemning Rumsfeld for the lack of progress in Iraq, saying they no longer have confidence that he can lead the military toward defeating the deadly insurgency in Iraq and stabilizing the country. Analysts say Rumsfeld's future effectiveness depends on his ability to strengthen his standing in his own party. [complete article]

Comment -- While the demands to dump Rumsfeld grow louder, it's worth remembering who would almost certainly take his place: Paul Wolfowitz.

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Fragmented leadership of the Iraqi insurgency
By Annia Ciezadlo, Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2004

For six weeks, the US military pounded Fallujah in an effort to crush the core of Iraq's insurgency - and kill or capture its putative leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

But two top Kurdish intelligence officers say that even before the campaign destroyed that base, insurgents were scattering, evolving into dozens of small cells determined - and empowered - to disrupt security ahead of the country's national elections Jan. 30, with or without Mr. Zarqawi.

The two, who have interrogated dozens of insurgents, say that to catch Zarqawi and his followers, the United States and Iraqi militaries will have to launch a much broader counterinsurgency campaign than the one in Fallujah. "The important thing is to do something beyond one or two concentrated operations," says Dana Ahmed Majid, head of security for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). "It has to be something broader, with its own special program and focus. It needs to work on economic, political, social, and ideological fronts."

Zarqawi is important, but more as a symbol and ideological guide than as a direct commander.

In Iraq, Zarqawi is like Zorro - a wily master of escape - to many Iraqis, and a frustrating symbol of their own impotence to others. Most Iraqis swear that he does not exist, and was invented by the Americans to justify their bombing campaigns. [complete article]

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Uncertain quiet descends on Syrian front
By Ferry Biedermann, IPS (via Asia Times), December 22, 2004

The United States has put steady pressure on Damascus to stem what it insists is a continuing flow of people and money to support insurgents in Iraq. After initially complaining about the porous border, the United States has shifted its attention to the presence of members of the former Iraqi regime and its Ba'ath party in Syria and their alleged role in funding and supporting the insurgency. Syria officially hosts some 45,000 Iraqis, but wildly inflated figures of up to a million refugees also circulate.

"There are many people here from the regime," said Mahdi al-Obeidi, who calls himself a representative of the "original Ba'ath party, from before Saddam [Hussein]". Obeidi has been in Damascus for some 30 years, a refugee from Saddam, not an associate.

In his shabby office in Damascus, he claimed to have met with many new arrivals. He no longer makes a distinction between those who have been "Saddam's men" and others; this is Iraq's hour of need and everybody should unite to fight the Americans, he said.

"Even if I only have one dime left, I would give it to the resistance," he told Inter Press Service. Most Iraqis who are in Syria feel that way, he said, so it should come as no surprise that they try to support the "freedom fighters". Syrians are in "total sympathy with the resistance", Obeidi said. Sadly, he added, the Syrian government has done little to help. [complete article]

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The 'olive branch' that ought to cross the wall
By Abdul-Latif Khaled, Christian Science Monitor, December 21, 2004

After four years of intifada and the resulting intensification of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the natural and social continuity of the Palestinian landscape is severely disrupted. In Jayyous, as in many towns here, the most significant change has been the tall militarized fence constructed through village lands in 2003. This "security fence," - what we Palestinians call simply "the wall" - has brought social, environmental, and economic catastrophe. In our village it has cut off our farmers from the olive groves, tomato greenhouses, and wells that lie west of the village.

But the wall doesn't just separate us from the livelihood of our land, it also creates a cultural barrier of forced separation from our Israeli neighbors. This can only harm prospects for peace. When interaction between Israel and the West Bank was at its height in the 1970s, there was greater security for both Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians and Israelis could drive freely between Israel and the West Bank, and it was normal for Israelis to visit Palestinian villages to buy olive oil directly from our presses in October and November. When I was a child, Israeli TV came to make a film about the oil presses in Jayyous.

Progress toward peaceful solutions must come from the people themselves, not solely through governments. Communication and interaction, not separation, are necessary for us to work together. This can never be done with a wall between us. [complete article]

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Israelis fear civil war over Gaza
By Richard Beeston and Ian MacKinnon, The Times, December 21, 2004

Israel yesterday faced the growing threat of civil war after militant Jewish settlers supported the call for a campaign of disobedience against Ariel Sharon's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next year.

On the eve of Tony Blair's visit to the Holy Land, where Britain will offer to help to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the peace efforts now look set to provoke a new struggle within the Jewish state.

Last night the Yesha Council -- an umbrella group representing 240,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- supported the call by a militant leader for a campaign of mass resistance.

"Any law that permits taking Jews from their homes is a law against the basic principles of the state of Israel," the council's leaders said in a statement. "It's illegal. The disengagement plan is illegal and unethical. Removing Jews from their homes is against their human rights and anti-democratic." [complete article]

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Purging Pakistan's jihadi legacy
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, December 22, 2004

The silent tug of war being fought between the Pakistani army's Islamists and its liberal army leadership appears to have reached a boiling point, with well-placed sources telling Asia Times Online that the army, for the first time in its history, has taken on a different - and much more harsh - strategy to deal with its internal struggles, one that includes the death penalty. In the 1980s, for the sake of maintaining its "strategic depth" against India, the Pakistani army modified the structure of its jihadi outfits, with the aim of boosting its leverage in Central Asia and Afghanistan before forging a strategic alliance to establish Pakistan's political hegemony on South Asia. Since September 11, 2001, however, under immense US pressure, Pakistan was forced to take a U-turn and undo this policy, which resulted in many internal divisions within the army - the only organized institution in the country. Over the past year, several pictures have emerged to support this connection, but the latest discovery by Asia Times Online points to an obvious change already in place.

Behind the iron curtains of Pakistan's military bases, an army that for two decades was oriented in Muslim renaissance and pan-Islamism dwells. Whatever little news that spills out from the closed doors of the army's cells is enough to determine that a serious problem has indeed been simmering since September 11; President General Pervez Musharraf himself admitted after the two failed attempts on his life in Rawalpindi late last year that army officials were involved in the conspiracy. [complete article]

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Khan's nuclear ghost continues to haunt
By B. Raman, Asia Times, December 22, 20004

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the self-styled father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, has been back in the headlines after a statement disseminated by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a group opposed to the present regime in Tehran, last month that between 1994 and 1996, when Benazir Bhutto was in power, Khan gave Iran a Chinese-developed nuclear-warhead design.

The statement enjoyed a certain credibility in nuclear-non-proliferation circles in the United States because an earlier allegation of the same organization about the existence of a clandestine uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, Iran, was found to be correct on inquiry by officials of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [complete article]

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In Iraq: One religion, two realities
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 20, 2004

In Um al-Qura, built by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as the Mother of All Battles Mosque, the insurgency is celebrated as an act of resistance against a faithless and deceitful American occupier. In no less strident rhetoric, at the venerated Baratha mosque, that same insurgency is condemned as wicked and senseless violence waged by loyalists of Hussein and foreigners. Elections are subjugation at the Sunni sermon, liberation at the Shiite one. And at each, the community's patience, the preachers insist, is wearing dangerously thin after yet another provocation or slight.

Since the fall of Hussein in April 2003, Iraqi communities have resisted the impulse to settle scores, some of which are based on grievances dating back decades, even centuries. But in the words that fill the halls of Baratha and Um al-Qura are signs of what some in Iraq fear may lie ahead. Across a divide between sects who split in a 7th-century dispute over leadership of the Muslim community, each sermon offers the same combustible mix. There is utter certainty, blessed by God and justified by faith.

Sharing little, the sermons leave scant room for dialogue, even less for compromise. [complete article]

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Saddam tells Iraqis to unite against U.S.
By Jamal Halaby, Associated Press (via Seattle P-I), December 19, 2004

From his prison cell, Saddam Hussein urged his compatriots to remain united against the U.S. occupation and warned that upcoming elections could divide the country, his lawyers said Sunday after the legal team's first meeting with the ousted Iraqi leader since his capture.

Iraqi lawyer Khalil al-Duleimi met with Saddam on Thursday, his Jordan-based legal team said, as the Iraqi government has begun to push forward the process for trying Saddam and 11 of his top deputies.

"Our representative in Iraq told us that the president warned the people of Iraq and the Arabs to beware of the American scheme aimed at splitting Iraq into sectarian and religious divisions and weakening the (Arab) nation," said Bushra Khalil, a Lebanese member of Saddam's defense team of 20 attorneys. [complete article]

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Saudi Arabia fears attacks from insurgents battle-hardened in Iraq
By William Wallis in Cairo and Mark Huband, Financial Times, December 20, 2004

Saudi officials are concerned that insurgents fighting US-led forces in Iraq are gaining military experience that could be used within the kingdom.

Suspected militants with military experience gained in Iraq have been detected in several Middle Eastern countries, and some have been found as far afield as western Europe, according to intelligence officials.

"They are coming back with security experience, ranging from skills in how to lose people who are trailing them, as well as having the qualities of guerrilla fighters. They also know how to do surveillance," a senior European intelligence officer said.

Despite some foreign fighters having been killed in clashes with US, Iraqi and other forces, evidence that others have gone to Iraq to gain skills they can use elsewhere is now of serious concern to intelligence and security officials. [complete article]

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Lebanon may retaliate against U.S., French media
Aljazeera, December 19, 2004

Lebanon said that it was considering the possibility of retaliating against French and U.S. media after they banned Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV broadcasts.

Lebanese Information Minister, Elie Ferzli, said that "at the recommendation of parliamentary foreign affairs committee, we are studying the possibility of taking retaliatory measures against the U.S. and French media,"

He noted that "careful study is needed and any decision has to be in Lebanon's higher interests". [complete article]

See also, Dangerous precedent seen in decision to put Al-Manar on list of terror organisations (Reporters Without Borders).

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Lebanese wary of a rising Hezbollah
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, December 20, 2004

Although Lebanon has not conducted a national census since the 1950s, many analysts said an up-to-date count would show that most of Lebanon's 4 million people were Shiites. Not all Shiites are loyal to Hezbollah. But Western diplomats and political analysts said the party's highly developed organization, reputation for clean government and populist message would make it a strong contender for national leadership in any election unbound by the current power-sharing system of governance that brought an end to years of sectarian civil strife. Hezbollah leaders have begun openly criticizing that system, which apportions the country's top political jobs based on religious affiliation. [complete article]

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2001 memo reveals push for broader presidential powers
By Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, December 18, 2004

Just two weeks after the September 11 attacks, a secret memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales' office concluded that President Bush had the power to deploy military force "preemptively" against any terrorist groups or countries that supported them -- regardless of whether they had any connection to the attacks on the World Trade Towers or the Pentagon.

The memo, written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, argues that there are effectively "no limits" on the president's authority to wage war -- a sweeping assertion of executive power that some constitutional scholars say goes considerably beyond any that had previously been articulated by the department. [complete article]

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I will bring peace to Middle East, Bush promises
By Inigo Gilmore and Alec Russell, The Telegraph, December 20, 2004

President George W Bush yesterday predicted that he would bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians during his second term in office, making a strikingly bold assessment of his foreign-policy goals for the next four years.

"I want you to know that I am going to invest a lot of time and a lot of creative thinking so that there will finally be peace between Israel and the Palestinians," Mr Bush told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth.

"I am convinced that, during this term, I will manage to bring peace."

Mr Bush entered the White House determined not to follow the path of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who devoted much of his presidency to an ultimately fruitless search for an end to the conflict.

But as he prepares for the start of his second term next month, Mr Bush sees the elusive quest as a principal ambition of his presidency. [complete article]

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A deadly road to democracy
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, December 20, 2004

By targeting election workers in Baghdad and Shia Muslims in southern Iraq, insurgents yesterday struck at the two pillars of next month's national elections: the logistical planners and the religious group most likely to vote in large numbers.

The bold ambush in central Baghdad of a car carrying employees of the Iraqi agency that is organizing the Jan. 30 vote highlighted the vulnerability of election workers. The attack, which was carried out by about 30 gunmen using grenades and machine guns, will make it difficult for the elections agency to hire thousands of additional workers it needs to man polling stations.

Last week, suicide bombers struck two days in a row at the same entrance to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Those attacks, coupled with yesterday's ambush, reinforce the fears of Sunni Muslim groups that a proper election cannot be held on Jan. 30. If the center of Baghdad cannot be secured by thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops, they ask, how will more than 9,000 polling sites throughout Iraq be protected? [complete article]

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Violence and votes
By Amira Howeidy, Al-Ahram Weekly, December 16, 2004

Should Iraqi elections, due on 30 January, actually take place, the process will at best be unique, at worst a dangerous mess. A swathe of political parties and groups has announced it will boycott the vote and even the Iraqi president said he was in favour of postponing elections until the security situation improved. Last week he was forced to reverse his position following a meeting with the American president in Washington. As the poll approaches positions have hardened on all sides -- from those contesting the election, those boycotting it and, perhaps most significantly, those resisting occupation.

On the ground the situation is far more nuanced than many reports suggest, though the lack of reliable information and a virtual media blackout make it almost impossible to disentangle fact from fiction. No wonder, then, that the visit of a five-member delegation from the Election Boycott Front to Cairo this week -- they were guests of the Arab League -- was received enthusiastically, at least in non-official quarters. That they were placed in a shabby three-star hotel, in stark contrast with the lavish November Sharm El-Sheikh ministerial conference on Iraq, spoke volumes about their host's official position vis-a-vis the players in Iraq.

In a roundtable discussion with Al-Ahram Weekly the delegation, headed by prominent Iraqi politician and ex-information minister Salah Omar Al-Ali, painted an unremittingly grim picture of the situation in Iraq as election day approaches amid growing violence and the prospect of civil war. [complete article]

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Car bombs hit Karbala and Najaf, killing at least 60 people; three election workers killed in Baghdad ambush
By Paul Garwood, Associated Press (via San Francisco Chronicle), December 19, 2004

Car bombs rocked Iraq's two holiest Shiite cities Sunday, killing at least 62 people and wounding more than 120, while in downtown Baghdad dozens of gunmen carried out a brazen ambush on car, pulling out three election officials and executing them on the pavement in the middle of morning traffic.

The bombs exploded an hour apart. First, a suicide blast ripped through parked minibuses at the entrance to the Karbala bus station. Then a car bomb shattered a central square in Najaf, crowded with residents watching a funeral procession. The city police chief and provincial governor were among the group but were not hurt.

Also Sunday, a militant group claimed to have kidnapped 10 Iraqis working for an American security contractor, threatening to kill them unless the company pulls out of Iraq. [complete article]

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A poll governed by fear: millions will get no chance to vote, and the war will go on
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, December 19, 2004

The Iraqi election on 30 January, for which campaigning began last week, will be one of the most secretive in history. Iraqi television shows only the feet of election officials rather than their faces, because they are terrified of their identity being revealed. It will be a poll governed by fear.

Those fears were amply borne out yesterday when insurgents launched attacks on election offices in northern Iraq. Two people were killed and eight wounded when mortars landed on an election office in Dujail, one of many around the country registering and educating potential voters. Two Iraqis were killed in execution-style shootings and four American contractors were wounded by a roadside bomb in other incidents.

When Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister, announced his slate of candidates for the 275-member National Assembly in Baghdad last week, it was to a small audience of American security guards. The venue had been changed at the last minute to baffle potential assassins, and foreign journalists deemed it too dangerous to attend. [complete article]

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In northern Iraq, the insurgency has two faces, secular and jihad, but a common goal
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, December 19, 2004

After a three-hour firefight here in northern Iraq this month, American commanders were surprised to learn that one of the 22 insurgents they had killed was a Saudi. Even more intriguing, one of the principal leaders of the insurgency attended the funeral, the commanders learned.

This was Mohammed Sharkawa, who is described as a former member of the Ansar al-Sunna organization who now directs several hundred insurgents here in Mosul. As one commander, who said Mr. Sharkawa had killed several of his own cousins, put it, he is "a brutally ruthless criminal, almost like a mob wiseguy who started whacking dudes."

Yet Mr. Sharkawa represents only one face of the insurgency. He works for jihadist goals, but another movement is secular, the Americans say, though both have a common goal: disrupting the Jan. 30 national parliamentary elections and intimidating prospective voters.

As they do so, each group operates with sophisticated leaders careful to stay in the background while relying on part-timers to carry out attacks and killings on a pay-by-assault basis, according to American officials, who are always striving to calculate the extent and nature of the insurgency. [complete article]

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Look for a future Palestine in the past
By George E. Bisharat, San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 2004

Six decades ago, my family celebrated Christmas in its Jerusalem home, as did the families of other Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem, Nazareth and throughout the Holy Land.

Then, in 1948, Palestinian society was destroyed. More than 700,000 Palestinians -- many, like us, Christians, but even more Muslims -- fled or were forced into exile by Israeli troops. The Palestinians' only fault was that they were not Jewish, and, by their presence and predominant ownership of the land, were obstacles to the creation of a Jewish state. Their exodus -- called the nakba or "catastrophe" by Palestinians -- was already nearly half- complete by May 1948, when Israel declared its independence and the Arab states entered the fray.

That is the history of the establishment of Israel that is often forgotten in the United States -- but is stubbornly remembered by Palestinians. [complete article]

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Bush's capital, and its costs
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, December 19, 2004

President Bush could have used other metaphors to describe the opportunity his reelection gave him to pursue his agenda. He could have said that he had the wind in his sails, or a little breathing room; or that he was anticipating another honeymoon, or the chance to call in some favors. He could have talked of his legacy, his gift to the people, his place in history. Instead, he used a metaphor borrowed from the realm of finance and economics.

"Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," he said at a Nov. 4 news conference. The choice of expression is an odd one, and not just because, as some pointed out, in economic terms, capital is usually meant to be invested, not spent.

The use of the saying also summons up the identity Bush has most assiduously avoided showing to the electorate: the capitalist and man of privilege, who has thrived not only through his own political skills but also through a mix of inherited wealth and inherited status. It doesn't call to mind the image he much prefers -- the common-tongued rancher, in work boots and jeans, clearing brush on his Texas ranch. [complete article]

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After outcry, Rumsfeld says he will sign condolence letters
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 19, 2004

The Pentagon has acknowledged that Donald H. Rumsfeld did not sign condolence letters to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, but it said that from now on the embattled defense secretary would stop the use of signing machines and would pick up the pen himself.

In a statement provided to Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, Rumsfeld said: "I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action. While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter."

The controversy arose when soldier-turned-writer David H. Hackworth penned a column on Nov. 22 reporting that two Pentagon-based colonels told him that Rumsfeld "has relinquished this sacred duty to a signature device rather than signing the sad documents himself." After checking with various families of the dead, Hackworth wrote that "one father bitterly commented that he thought it was a shame that the SecDef could keep his squash schedule but not find the time to sign his dead son's letter." [complete article]

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Rumsfeld's exchange with soldier could prove to be his undoing
By Drew Brown, Knight Ridder, December 17, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has always been a lightning rod for controversy, but his icy exchange with an American soldier over why troops in Iraq don't have adequate armor for their vehicles could be his undoing.

Rumsfeld has weathered plenty of criticism, but his remarks have provoked fury among fellow Republicans, rank-and-file soldiers, influential military thinkers and retired brass who've generally supported his handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and his efforts to reshape the military.

The secretary's brusque dismissal of Spc. Thomas Wilson's concerns, however, raises questions about whether he's publicly betrayed the trust of the men and women in the armed forces, and whether they've lost faith in his leadership. [complete article]

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Pentagon seeks to expand role in intelligence-collecting
By Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 19, 2004

The Pentagon is drawing up a plan that would give the military a more prominent role in intelligence-collection operations that have traditionally been the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, including missions aimed at terrorist groups and those involved in weapons proliferation, Defense Department officials say.

The proposal is being described by some intelligence officials as an effort by the Pentagon to expand its role in intelligence gathering at a time when legislation signed by President Bush on Friday sets in motion sweeping changes in the intelligence community, including the creation of a national intelligence director. The main purpose of that overhaul is to improve coordination among the country's 15 intelligence agencies, including those controlled by the Pentagon.

The details of the plan remain secret and are evolving, but indications of its scope and significance have begun to emerge in recent weeks. One part of the overall proposal is being drafted by a team led by Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, a deputy under secretary of defense.

Among the ideas cited by Defense Department officials is the idea of "fighting for intelligence," or commencing combat operations chiefly to obtain intelligence. [complete article]

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Missile defense system won't be launched this year
By John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2004

After the Pentagon's national missile defense system failed a key test this week, the Bush administration has dropped its plans to activate the system by the end of the year.

A spokesman for the military's U.S. Northern Command said Friday that the missile system would not become operational until early 2005 at the earliest, meaning the Pentagon would miss a goal advanced by President Bush.

The delay in the system followed the failure of an $85-million test Wednesday -- the second major test in two years to fail -- but officials at the Northern Command said the timing of the announcement was unrelated to the failure. Instead, they said a "shakedown" of the system had not been completed. [complete article]

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Pentagon pressed to cut its budgets
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2004

The White House is pressing Pentagon officials to cut tens of billions of dollars from their proposed budgets over the next several years, signaling that the Bush administration's massive defense buildup in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks is coming to an end.

The White House move to rein in Pentagon spending -- described by defense officials and outside experts monitoring the negotiations -- comes as the nation faces rising budget deficits and growing costs for the Iraq war, currently about $4.4 billion a month.

The Pentagon budget cuts will not affect spending on the war in Iraq and operations in Afghanistan, which are paid through separate emergency allocations.

The Pentagon is preparing a supplemental war budget for 2005 that officials said could total $80 billion, up from $66 billion the previous year. [complete article]

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Iraq terror chief recruits Britons
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, December 12, 2004

The most wanted terrorist in Iraq is recruiting cell members in Britain and Europe. Terrorism experts believe Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is preparing his new recruits for attacks somewhere in Europe.

Al-Zarqawi, who has a $25m reward on his head and now leads Al-Qaeda in Iraq, is also thought to be using Europeans for his terror campaign against the Americans in Iraq.

Rohan Gunaratna, one of the world's foremost Al-Qaeda experts with access to intelligence, said last week that al-Zarqawi was a growing threat.

"He is the biggest recruiter in Europe. He has become better known among extremists in Britain and Europe and his group is becoming very multinational," said Gunaratna, author of Inside Al-Qaeda and a former research fellow of St Andrews University's centre for the study of terrorism and political violence.

Fears of a plot led by al-Zarqawi will heighten the sense of alert among western Europe's intelligence agencies. He has claimed responsibility for a series of beheadings in Iraq, including the killing of British hostage Kenneth Bigley. [complete article]

Comment -- The idea that "we must fight them over there so that we don't have to fight them here" might have appealed to uncritical crowds on the presidential campaign trail, but it never held any weight considering that preparations for the 9/11 attacks took place in Berlin, not Baghdad. Now it appears that Iraq has become not only a haven for terrorists but also a live-ammunition training ground for individuals whose ambition may be to bring the war back to the West.

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Al Qaeda shifts its strategy in Saudi Arabia
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, December 19, 2004

Al Qaeda forces in Saudi Arabia have shifted their strategy and are now almost exclusively searching for U.S. and other Western targets in the kingdom while avoiding attacks on domestic institutions in a bid to strengthen their flagging network, according to security officials and Saudi experts on radical groups.

While al Qaeda retains its primary goal of eventually toppling the Saudi royal family -- as Osama bin Laden made clear in an audio recording released Thursday -- an 18-month campaign of car bombings, gun battles and kidnappings has so far failed to generate many new recruits and has resulted in a backlash among many Saudis, even those who otherwise are critical of the government, the officials and experts said.

More than 80 people have died in the attacks, the majority of them Saudis or non-Western immigrant workers. Many people in the kingdom are not only angry over the bloodshed but also fearful of al Qaeda's attempt to turn Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative tribal society, into an even more conservative Islamic theocracy, several Saudi reformers said in interviews. [complete article]

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Sizing up the new toned-down bin Laden
By Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times, December 19, 2004

What does Osama bin Laden want?

The vexing question emerged again last week with the release of an audiotape on which the Qaeda leader seems to be speaking. On it, he applauds the Dec. 6 attack against the United States Consulate in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, and urges the toppling of the Saudi royal family.

The tape indicated that Mr. bin Laden has apparently moved the fomenting of a revolution in his Saudi homeland toward the top of his lengthy and ambitious wish list, which also includes the reversal of American foreign policy in the Middle East, the retreat of the American military from the Arabian Peninsula and the creation of a Palestinian homeland.

Mr. bin Laden has advocated these sea changes before. What intelligence officials and terrorism experts find particularly remarkable in his recent pronouncements is a shift in style from the raw anger and dark imagery of the post-9/11 days. They say he has subtly tempered his message, tone and even persona, presenting himself almost as an ambassador, as if he sees himself as an elder statesman for a borderless Muslim nation. [complete article]

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Two face death after Iran morality trial
By David Smith, The Observer, December 19, 2004

Two women convicted of crimes against morality in Iran are facing imminent execution, one by being buried up to her chest and stoned, Amnesty International said last night.

One of the women, a 19-year-old with a mental age of eight who was forced into prostitution by her mother, is to be flogged and executed. An official said yesterday he was waiting for orders on whether to stone or hang her. The other woman was convicted of adultery and is due to be stoned to death this month in accordance with Iran's severe penal code.

Amnesty issued an urgent warning that time was running out for both women and urged the international community to tackle Iran over its executions of women and child offenders. In August another mentally ill girl, 16-year-old Atefeh Rajabi, was hanged in a street for having sex before marriage. [complete article]

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."
See also, Mohsen Kadivar's own web site,

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?
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.

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.

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