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After the Palestinian elections
By Tony Karon,, January 7, 2005

The anxiety in the U.S. media following campaign statements by Palestinian presidential frontrunner Mahmoud Abbas on the fate of Palestinian gunmen and on the rights of Palestinian refugees may have been the sound of an illusion beginning to collapse.

It's not as if Abbas is actually changing his tune; he's simply emphasizing, as any candidate would, his fealty to the core beliefs of the vast majority of his electorate -- beliefs which the U.S. media and administration have tended to ignore in their bid to project a fantasy persona onto Abbas as the White Knight who will deliver Palestinian consent to Ariel Sharon's peace terms.

But Abbas is campaigning for the job of Palestinian Authority President, and more generally for the mantle of Yasser Arafat. And he's running as the consensus candidate of a Fatah movement whose membership ranges from aging diplomatically-inclined men like Abbas to the militants of the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, which continues to launch attacks on Israeli targets even as it campaigns for a leader who dismisses such attacks as futile and counter-productive. [complete article]

The first fragile shoots of Arab democracy
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, January 8, 2005

Mahmoud Abbas may be the favourite, but Mustafa Barghouti, his probable runner-up, has a notable flair for publicity. If you are an opposition Palestinian presidential candidate, being manhandled by three plainclothes Israeli policemen into an unmarked white pick-up as you attempt to attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as Mr Barghouti was yesterday, is the stuff of television pictures money can't buy.

Mr Barghouti, a 50-year-old academic, former communist and human-rights activist, may not be quite as charismatic as his very distant imprisoned relative Marwan, the missing candidate in the campaign which culminates in the election of a new Palestinian president tomorrow. But he knows a lot about how to use the media in a modern political campaign.

We were therefore told in plenty of time that Mr Barghouti would make his way down from the Mount of Olives to the Lion's Gate to the Old City; so of course we were there in time to hear the Israeli policemen ask for orders on his walkie-talkie: "Marwan Barghouti is here. What shall I do with him?" and the answer come crackling back: "Stop him, stop him for the time being, don't let him enter." And then Mr Barghouti, who when asked by one reporter a few moments earlier since when he had been so devout, had answered: "I am not a fundamentalist, but I respect my religion", raised his voice to levels that could be picked up by the TV soundmen and said: "I am a presidential candidate; you can't arrest a presidential candidate ..." before being bundled into the police vehicle.

Yet if this was no more than an election stunt, it was a highly effective one, pregnant with multiple meaning. Mr Barghouti's brief detention - he was later deposited outside the city limits at a checkpoint in Abu Dis - dramatised the story of Israeli control of the Old City under the occupation which followed the 1967 war. It helped to reaffirm Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. It drew attention to the restrictions - psychological and practical - that Palestinian election officials say are still obtaining in Jerusalem despite Israel's decision to allow 120,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians to vote. [complete article]

A leader banking on the U.S. to deliver a breakthrough
By Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, The Guardian, January 8, 2005

Much as his political ascent gave shape to the Palestinian landscape, Yasser Arafat's death will transform it. The man set to succeed him in tomorrow's elections is in most ways different, but in one critical respect the same. Abu Mazen is, like Arafat, a genuinely national Palestinian figure. But where Arafat attained national status by belonging to every single constituency, Abu Mazen did so by identifying with none. The Old Man ruled through an overwhelming rhetorical and physical presence. Unassuming and understated, the new president has built a career running from the limelight. Arafat inhabited a world where a thing and its opposite could cohabit. Abu Mazen's world is rooted in what is recognised by most as theorder of things. Instead of the politics of creative intensity, he stands for the politics of cool rationality.

He also holds to a core set of principles. In 1999, he presented US officials with a straightforward proposal for a final deal: a Palestinian state within the borders of June 4 1967; east Jerusalem as its capital; and recognition of the principle of the refugees' right of return. Within those parameters, he left room for discussion. There would be equitable swaps of land; provisions to allow Jews unimpeded access to holy sites; and the right of return would be implemented in a manner that would not threaten Israel's demographic interests. The US and Israel ignored his suggestion. Negotiations progressed along a bazaar-like path of posturing and deal-making. This mode of negotiating was anathema to Abu Mazen, who believed nothing good would come of it. [complete article]

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Report paints bleak picture of Iraqi forces
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, January 8, 2005

President Bush yesterday acknowledged that the training of Iraqi forces -- considered the linchpin to an eventual American withdrawal -- is a major challenge. He said an assessment team, headed by a retired general, will go to Iraq next week to review the training and recommend ways to ensure they can more quickly take on a greater role battling insurgents.

"Part of a successful strategy is one that says there will be elections, and the political process will be going forward, but one in which the Iraqis assume more and more responsibility for their own security," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "And that's precisely why the assessment team is going to Iraq, to make sure that at this historic moment in the history of Iraq, there is a focused, determined strategy to help the new government."

Bush added: "Ultimately the success in Iraq is going to be the willingness of the Iraqi citizens to fight for their own freedom."

Pentagon officials now acknowledge, however, that most of the 121,000 Iraqi security forces that have been trained so far are substandard and have little chance of standing up to insurgents seeking to upend plans for the Jan. 30 vote. Some say a wholesale restructuring of the training process may be required -- what one unnamed official described as "starting from square one." Training is now divided among various agencies and tasks, and some police are being put on the streets after just two weeks of preparation.

Congressional officials have expressed rising alarm in recent days that they are not being informed on the full extent of the training problems.

In a closed-door briefing from Pentagon officials on Capitol Hill earlier this week, Senator John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, ''raked them over the coals" about the lack of progress in training Iraqi forces, according to a participant. [complete article]

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Campaigning in Iraq has worsened ethnic, religious tensions
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, January 7, 2005

Asking someone whether he or she is Shiite, Sunni or Kurd was once taboo in Iraq. Iraq was one country, bound through wars and dictatorship, not a nation of divided sects or ethnic groups, came the standard answer.

But that national identity has been breaking down in the parliamentary election campaign. In the absence of political ideologies or competing policy agendas, the nation's newly formed political parties are increasingly depending on religious and ethnic labels to help voters distinguish among them.

While the appeals help build party support for the Jan. 30 elections, they contribute to a growing sectarianism. [complete article]

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Scowcroft skeptical vote will stabilize Iraq
By Dana Priest and Robin Wright, Washington Post, January 7, 2005

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for President George H.W. Bush and a leading figure in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, said yesterday that he has grown pessimistic about prospects for stability and democracy in Iraq, a view increasingly expressed by other foreign policy figures in both parties.

"The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict," Scowcroft said. He said he expects increased divisions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims after the Jan. 30 elections, when experts believe the government will be dominated by the majority Shiites.

Scowcroft predicted "an incipient civil war" would grip Iraq and said the best hope for pulling the country from chaos would be to turn the U.S. operation over to NATO or the United Nations -- which, he said, would not be so hostilely viewed by Iraqis. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld seeks broad review of Iraq policy
By Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, January 7, 2005

The Pentagon is sending a retired four-star Army general to Iraq next week to conduct an unusual "open-ended" review of the military's entire Iraq policy, including troop levels, training programs for Iraqi security forces and the strategy for fighting the insurgency, senior Defense Department officials said Thursday.

The extraordinary leeway given to the highly regarded officer, Gen. Gary E. Luck, a former head of American forces in South Korea and currently a senior adviser to the military's Joint Forces Command, underscores the deep concern by senior Pentagon officials and top American commanders over the direction that the operation in Iraq is taking, and its broad ramifications for the military, said some members of Congress and military analysts.

In another sign that the Iraq campaign is forcing reassessments of Pentagon policies, Army officials are now considering whether to request that the temporary increase of 30,000 soldiers approved by Congress be made permanent. One senior Army official said Thursday that the increase is likely to be needed on a permanent basis if the service is to meet its global commitments - despite the additional cost of $3 billion per year. [complete article]

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Nine U.S. troops are killed in Iraq
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, January 7, 2005

Seven U.S. soldiers were killed when a massive roadside bomb exploded under an armored vehicle in Baghdad and two Marines were killed in Anbar province on Thursday, the military said. It was the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Iraq since a suicide bomber struck a mess hall Dec. 21.

The roadside bomb exploded beneath a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, killing everyone inside the heavily armored troop carrier. The attack came in northwest Baghdad, a section of the capital that includes a Sunni Muslim neighborhood with a substantial presence of insurgents.

No details were released on the deaths of the Marines, announced separately from Anbar, which includes such hot spots as Fallujah and Ramadi.

The spike in U.S. deaths came on a day that Iraq's interim government announced it was extending martial law through Jan. 30, the date set for nationwide elections meant to produce a parliament that will oversee the drafting of a constitution. Insurgent groups, operating in Sunni areas, have threatened to derail the election. [complete article]

See also, Reservists may face longer tours of duty (WP).

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After leveling city, U.S. tries to build trust
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2005

The U.S. knows that, to keep the insurgents from reestablishing a clandestine headquarters here, it will need information from residents if fighters try to move back.

In addition, U.S. officials hope for at least a modicum of participation from Fallouja in the Jan. 30 national election, to help bolster the credibility of the fledgling Iraqi government.

At five heavily guarded entry points to the city, military interrogators are selectively asking returning residents whether they have heard of the upcoming election and, if so, which, if any, candidates they support. [complete article]

Death in Fallujah rising, doctors say (IRIN).

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Iraq: the devastation
By Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch, January 7, 2005

The devastation of Iraq? Where do I start? After working 7 of the last 12 months in Iraq, I'm still overwhelmed by even the thought of trying to describe this.

The illegal war and occupation of Iraq was waged for three reasons, according to the Bush administration. First for weapons of mass destruction, which have yet to be found. Second, because the regime of Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda, which Mr. Bush has personally admitted have never been proven. The third reason -- embedded in the very name of the invasion, Operation Iraqi Freedom -- was to liberate the Iraqi people.

So Iraq is now a liberated country.

I've been in liberated Baghdad and environs on and off for 12 months, including being inside Fallujah during the April siege and having warning shots fired over my head more than once by soldiers. I've traveled in the south, north, and extensively around central Iraq. What I saw in the first months of 2004, however, when it was easier for a foreign reporter to travel the country, offered a powerful -- even predictive -- taste of the horrors to come in the rest of the year (and undoubtedly in 2005 as well). It's worth returning to the now forgotten first half of last year and remembering just how terrible things were for Iraqis even relatively early in our occupation of their country. [complete article]

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Fears for French journalist missing in Baghdad
By John Leicester, The Independent, January 7, 2005

A reporter for French daily newspaper Liberation and her Iraqi interpreter have gone missing in Baghdad, French officials said yesterday.

The newspaper said it has not heard from Florence Aubenas for more than 24 hours. "We're devastated," said François Sergent, the daily's foreign news editor. He said they were clinging to the hope that she may have been detained by US or Iraqi forces. Normally, she is in contact with the paper at least twice a day, he said. "We are waiting, with a little hope."

Aubenas, 43, and her interpreter, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, "haven't been seen since they left their hotel in Baghdad Wednesday morning", Liberation said on its website. [complete article]

See also, 2004 was deadliest year for journalists in a decade (E&P).

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CIA report finds its officials failed in pre-9/11 efforts
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, January 7, 2005

An internal investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that officials who served at the highest levels of the agency should be held accountable for failing to allocate adequate resources to combating terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to current and former intelligence officials.

The conclusion is spelled out in a near-final version of a report by John Helgerson, the agency's inspector general, who reports to Congress as well as to the C.I.A. Among those most sharply criticized in the report, the officials said, are George J. Tenet, the former intelligence chief, and James L. Pavitt, the former deputy director of operations. Both Mr. Tenet and Mr. Pavitt stepped down from their posts last summer.

The findings, which are still classified, pose a quandary for the C.I.A. and the administration, particularly since President Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom to Mr. Tenet last month. It is not clear whether either the agency or the White House has the appetite to reprimand Mr. Tenet, Mr. Pavitt or others.

The report says that Mr. Pavitt, among others, failed to meet an acceptable standard of performance, and it recommends that his conduct be assessed by an internal review board for possible disciplinary action, the officials said. The criticism of Mr. Tenet is cast in equally strong terms, the officials said, but they would not say whether it reached a judgment about whether his performance had been acceptable. [complete article]

Comment -- The fog inside the New York Times newsroom must be unusually thick today if in Douglas Jehl's mind it is unclear whether the White House has the appetite to reprimand Tenet. I'd venture to say that George Bush isn't about to ask for the medal back, or for that matter utter a single critical word about Tenet's performance. What a reckless soothsayer that makes me!

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On the Hill, where it's hot ... or not
By Hanna Rosin, Washington Post, January 7, 2005

Much about the Senate grilling yesterday could be described as "quaint," the infamous adjective choice of Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush's nominee for attorney general. In a plain, windowless chamber, the 12 men in a half-circle swivel in their fat leather chairs, refresh each other with refills of water, soak in a warm bath of mutual admiration.

They put Gonzales, who is looking up at them from a few feet away, at ease by calling him "Al." One senator begins a criticism by saying, "I love you, but ..." The senators compliment each other for being "fine lawyers," even when the subject at hand is whether Gonzales approved a memo condoning "waterboarding," an interrogation technique in which a detainee is strapped to a board and pushed underwater to make him think he might drown.

Occasionally his Democratic questioners engage in long, indignant tirades, even though Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) announces early on that -- despite any appearance of hostility -- none of them actually plans to vote against Gonzales and they all know he will be confirmed. [complete article]

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Hard-line State Dept. official to quit
By Carol Giacomo, Reuters, January 6, 2005

Undersecretary of State John Bolton, a leading hard-liner on nuclear nonproliferation who has raised hackles among America's allies as well as its adversaries, is expected to quit the Bush administration, sources said on Thursday.

His departure may signal a shift in U.S. diplomacy to a less confrontational approach as President Bush begins a second term in which he has pledged to reach out to allies estranged by the Iraq War and other policies.

Bolton, an outspoken and controversial policymaker, often provoked strong negative reactions from European allies and was identified more with the sticks than the carrots of U.S. diplomacy when dealing with countries like North Korea and Iran.

He had hoped for a promotion in Bush's second term, perhaps to deputy secretary of state, but the word went out that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick would get the No. 2 spot under Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state designate. [complete article]

See also, In surprise move, realist gets nod for Rice's deputy (Jim Lobe).

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Elections under fire
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly, January 6, 2005

Bobbing on the shoulders of Zakaria Zubeidi, Palestinian Authority president-in-waiting, Mahmoud Abbas, kicked off his campaign amid a packed, sceptical, armed and dangerous Jenin refugee camp. The irony was thick as the gunfire that greeted them.

Abbas's signature contribution to the Palestinian Intifada has been to denounce its "militarisation", not least in places like Jenin where militias have long replaced police forces as the embodiment of his "one authority, one weapon" injunction: Zubeidi's has been to emerge as one of the most prominent leaders of Fatah's West Bank Al-Aqsa militia, having survived four failed Israeli assassination attempts and the killing of his mother, brother and other comrades in arms in a score of more "successful" ones.

But times and the men change. Zubeidi and his men have become a vital political cog for Abbas as all wheel gingerly into the post-Yasser Arafat era. In return the young fighters seek amnesty from the Israelis and (in the not so distant future) "a role in the next Palestinian leadership, where I will continue to fight for the Palestinians", hopes Zubeidi. But they also represent one of the many ties that will bind Abbas's leadership. [complete article]

Presidential candidate arrested near mosque
The Guardian, January 7, 2005

A candidate in the Palestinian presidential campaign has been arrested while trying to say Friday prayers at the al Aqsa mosque - just 48 hours before voters go to the poll to elect a replacement for Yasser Arafat.

Mustafa Barghouti was detained this morning outside Jerusalem's Old City as he tried to enter the Lion's gate to the Old City.

It is the second time Mr Barghouti, who is running second to Mahmoud Abbas for Sunday's contest, has been arrested on the campaign trail. [complete article]

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Indonesian army said to block tsunami aid
By James Ridgeway, Village Voice, January 6, 2005

In the last few days there have been accusations that the Indonesian military has used the tsunami disaster as a means to further crush a long-running rebellion, denying food and aid to rebel groups. The devastated Aceh province is under virtual martial law.

Aceh is the center of the struggle, dating back to the 1970s, by local groups who want independence from Indonesia. The region, an ancient kingdom which once included much of Malaysia, actually predates Indonesia; after the struggle against the Dutch colonialists following World War II, Aceh came together with the other islands that make up Indonesia, with the understanding that it would keep considerable autonomy. But the central government wasted no time in encroaching on Aceh. Jakarta wants to hold on because the region is so rich in natural resources, especially oil and gas.

The financial linchpin of the Aceh province is Exxon Mobil. Its large liquefied-natural-gas plant there is the base of the region’s economy and provides gas to customers throughout Asia.

Now the region has been plunged into chaos. Allan Nairn, the American activist and journalist who has been active in the independence struggle in East Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia, this week told Seven Oaks, a magazine based in British Columbia, that the Indonesian military, which is supposedly doling out aid to devastated communities, is in fact using the earthquake as a pretext for attacking villages away from the coast in East and North Aceh. [complete article]

Read the interview with Allan Nairn (Seven Oaks).

Radical Islamic group aiding relief cause
By Chris Brummitt, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 6, 2005

An extremist Islamic group with alleged links to al-Qaida has set up a relief camp in the tsunami-stricken Aceh province on Sumatra island, raising concerns its fiercely anti-American members could stir up sentiment against U.S. and Australian troops helping to distribute aid.

The group, Laskar Mujahidin, posted an English-language sign at the camp that reads, "Islamic Law Enforcement." Its members said Thursday they have been collecting corpses, distributing food and spreading Islamic teachings among refugees.

The presence of the group, known for killing Christians during a long-running sectarian conflict in another part of Indonesia, generated fears that U.S. military personnel and others involved in relief work could become a terror target.

It also underscores the fine line that foreigners, especially the American military, must tread between being welcomed as Samaritans or viewed as invaders in a country where suspicion of outsiders runs deep. [complete article]

Comment -- Even though US military involvement in relief efforts is being hailed in America as an opportunity for US public diplomacy in a Muslim nation, one of the clearest lessons to be drawn from the current situation is that NGOs have an indispensable role in humanitarian operations - a role that can easily be undermined by governments whose generosity is politically motivated.

Journalists told to keep quiet on Aceh skirmish
By Martin Chulov, The Australian, January 7, 2005

Australian journalists who witnessed a confrontation between Indonesian soldiers and alleged separatists in tsunami-ravaged Sumatra yesterday were ordered to leave the area and warned not to report on the incident.

The clash occurred just 40km from the provincial capital Banda Aceh, the centre of the relief operation spearheaded by US and Australian forces in Aceh, where some 100,000 people died from the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunamis.

After being the apparent target of rebel snipers, government soldiers fired into the air and roughed up Indonesians they suspected were Free Aceh Movement (GAM) sympathisers.

The incident prompted special forces (Kopassus) soldiers to confront The Australian's representatives in the area.

"Your duties here are to observe the disaster, not the conflict between TNI (the Indonesian army) and GAM," a Kopassus commander told The Australian's journalist and photographer before ordering them to leave. [complete article]

The neocons have a hand in Aceh, too
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, January 6, 2005

The leading neoconservative at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence, has tried to overthrow US restrictions on aid to, and relations with, the Indonesian military. The neoconservative thrust is undeterred by the military's obstruction of the FBI investigation into the murder of two US businessmen in 2002, killings that appear to implicate the military. When the state department issued a human rights report on Indonesia's abysmal record, its spokesman replied: "The US government does not have the moral authority to assess or act as a judge of other countries, including Indonesia, on human rights, especially after the abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison."

On his tour of Banda Aceh, Powell made no determined effort to restore the cease-fire. Meanwhile, GAM [Free Aceh Movement] reports that the Indonesia military is using the catastrophe to launch a new offensive. "The Indonesians get the message when you have no high-level condemnation of what they're doing," Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch told me. A renewed effort by Wolfowitz against sanctions is expected soon. [complete article]

For more detailed background information on the war in Aceh see, FPIF's self-determination conflict profile and a Human Rights Watch report.

For more on ExxonMobil's role in Aceh see, International Labor Rights Fund and Democracy Now!

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The shifting politics of global giving
By Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 2005

When world leaders look around at their summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday to coordinate their tsunami relief efforts, they will notice some new faces at the table.

The traditional symmetry of aid that once matched rich, developed donors with poor Third World recipients is now skewing. Victims like India are helping other victims; beneficiaries of foreign aid like China are handing out money and sending doctors to Indonesia; and badly hit Thailand is turning down Europe's offers of debt relief for fear it could hurt its credit rating.

Governments and citizens of wealthy countries still feel a moral obligation to help poor nations - particularly in times of telegenic disaster - as the outpouring of more than $3 billion in state tsunami aid shows. Wednesday, Germany, Australia, and Britain all upped their pledges significantly.

But as the Dec. 26 disaster highlights, recipients are not always as receptive as they once might have been. Some countries don't want the "deserving poor" label - and the associated baggage of colonial paternalism. They prefer a more dynamic, self-reliant image. [complete article]

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U.N. warns against fighting, tsunami pledges rise
By Irwin Arieff, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 6, 2005

Governments and rebels in Sumatra, Sri Lanka and Somalia must keep the peace or risk a cut-off in tsunami aid, the United Nations said on Wednesday, as Australia and Germany pledged more than $1.4 billion in disaster assistance.

"We have a message to the parties to the conflicts: Suspend your conflict and work together with us to help your own people," a senior U.N. official said.

There was now peace in Sumatra's Aceh province, a cease-fire where Tamil Tigers had been active in Sri Lanka, and warlords were not fighting in much of Somalia, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told reporters.

But he added: "We need that cease-fire, that peace, to hold because if new conflict breaks out, we cannot help the people." [complete article]

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You're either with the U.N. or against it
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 6, 2005

President Bush's dubious record as a leader of international coalitions passed another milestone yesterday. In Jakarta, Koji Tsuruoka, Japan's deputy director general of the ministry of foreign affairs, announced that the core group of nations that the US formed last week with India, Japan and other countries to coordinate aid and recovery efforts, will be dissolved. The United Nation's de facto leadership of recovery operations was formalized in response to a collective request from countries hit by the tsunami. Why, almost two weeks after the disaster struck, should such a request even have been necessary? Was it simply because in the immediate aftermath, when the United States could have unambiguously affirmed its support for the UN's efforts, instead, it assumed the role of leading those efforts?

Only two days ago, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal declared that "this tsunami is putting on display exactly what United Nations and European bureaucrats are loath to admit: that the US and its military are forces for good in the world." Earlier, an op-ed in the Washington Times asserted that, "The quiet-spoken secretary general is not the problem, but only a symptom of it: the UN system itself which is simply unable to cope with the assignments of its 1945 Charter."

Why then are the countries hit by the tsunami turning to the UN and not the United States? For two simple reasons: the United Nations has the expertise and it is an organization in which these countries have representation. The United States -- even when a publication like the Wall Street Journal has the gall to run a headline declaring "We are the world" -- represents its own interests above all others.

In recent months, Kofi Annan has increasingly been under attack from the administration's proxies. Yet appeals for his replacement carry strong undertones that the underlining objective is not simply to drive necessary bureaucratic reforms by placing the UN under new leadership, but rather to destabilize the organization and ultimately to see it dismantled as a political entity.

For the past four years the Bush administration has been challenging the value of internationalism while asserting its unique role as global leader. Though the world was initially intimidated by America's military superiority, the war in Iraq has demonstrated that America's power is limited, its economy is vulnerable, and its friends are few.

If over the coming months as it coordinates disaster relief and reconstruction in South and South East Asia, the United Nations effectively demonstrates its unique authority as an international organization, the time may have come for Kofi Annan to lay down the gauntlet (in suitably diplomatic terms) and challenge the Bush administration to either assert or withdraw its support. America can renew its partnership with the international community by demonstrating its willingness to engage in genuine dialogue, collaboration and exchange. Otherwise it should consider ways of institutionalizing its status as an exceptional nation.

American critics of the UN might scoff at the suggestion that the organization's own leadership would have the nerve to challenge its largest contributor, but while the UN was founded by and is headquartered in the United States, the increasing power and shared interests of Europe, Russia, China and India, raises the possibility that the UN might some day be better accommodated in Geneva. The prospect of a bipolar balancing of powers that solidifies the divisions that already exist between America and the rest of the world might help focus everyone's attention on the value of internationalism.

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We are all torturers now
By Mark Danner, New York Times, January 6, 2005

At least since Watergate, Americans have come to take for granted a certain story line of scandal, in which revelation is followed by investigation, adjudication and expiation. Together, Congress and the courts investigate high-level wrongdoing and place it in a carefully constructed narrative, in which crimes are charted, malfeasance is explicated and punishment is apportioned as the final step in the journey back to order, justice and propriety.

When Alberto Gonzales takes his seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for hearings to confirm whether he will become attorney general of the United States, Americans will bid farewell to that comforting story line. The senators are likely to give full legitimacy to a path that the Bush administration set the country on more than three years ago, a path that has transformed the United States from a country that condemned torture and forbade its use to one that practices torture routinely. Through a process of redefinition largely overseen by Mr. Gonzales himself, a practice that was once a clear and abhorrent violation of the law has become in effect the law of the land.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Americans began torturing prisoners, and they have never really stopped. However much these words have about them the ring of accusation, they must by now be accepted as fact. From Red Cross reports, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba's inquiry, James R. Schlesinger's Pentagon-sanctioned commission and other government and independent investigations, we have in our possession hundreds of accounts of "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment - to use a phrase of the Red Cross - "tantamount to torture." [complete article]

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Ties to power put Gonzales on a fast track
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, January 6, 2005

In his rise from a San Antonio barrio to Harvard Law School, Alberto Gonzales relied principally on his own talent and hard work. But a decade ago, when he leapt from little-known lawyer to prominence in Texas politics and then White House counsel, he also relied on patronage and financial support from new friends in high places.

Since entering public life, President Bush's nominee for attorney general, whose confirmation hearing opens today, has benefited from association with Texas's political and business elites, according to an examination of hundreds of pages of records and interviews with Texas political observers.

Gonzales invested in a company backed by billionaire Ross Perot and the son of former Senator Lloyd Bentsen, then got out at an opportune time. When Gonzales gave up his law firm salary to work for then-Governor Bush, the Texas attorney general, a law school classmate, gave his wife a job. When he was on the Texas Supreme Court and faced reelection, he accepted campaign funds from firms that had cases before the bench.

Friends say Gonzales rose due to his legal acumen, and his story is a testament to hard work. Even detractors on the left concede that on abortion and affirmative action, Gonzales can be a rare moderate among conservatives in the Bush administration.

But as he has operated at escalating echelons of power, Gonzales has been dogged by questions suggesting his legal reasoning is neither independent nor, at times, sufficiently rigorous.

He was responsible for Texas death penalty clemency memos that omitted key legal issues. His analysis of the application of the Geneva Conventions to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was denounced as woefully mistaken by international law specialists. And he was in charge of evaluating the nominee for secretary of homeland security, Bernard Kerik, who withdrew after embarrassing revelations Gonzales failed to catch. [complete article]

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Inquiry ordered into alleged Guantanamo prisoner abuse
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2005

The U.S. armed forces ordered an investigation Wednesday into allegations that terrorism suspects were abused at the military detention facility here, and appointed a general to head the probe.

The U.S. Southern Command named Brig. Gen. John T. Furlow, deputy commander of its U.S. Army South wing at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, to lead the investigation. The move came six weeks after an FBI memo detailed reports from 26 agents saying they had witnessed interrogation excesses at the prison at the U.S. naval base that held 558 "enemy combatants."

According to the memo obtained through Freedom of Information Act by the American Civil Liberties Union in late November, interrogators at the Guantanamo detention center allegedly chained an inmate in the fetal position for as long as 24 hours, as the man lay in his own feces and pulled out his own hair in distress.

Other FBI agents told their superiors that they had seen "personnel of other agencies," an apparent reference to Department of Defense interrogators, confronting shackled prisoners with growling dogs; exposing them to extreme heat or cold to "soften" them ahead of questioning; and wrapping suspects in Israeli flags and subjecting them to blaring rap music.

Allegations have surfaced that a female interrogator grabbed a detainee's genitals and bent back his thumbs, and that another prisoner was muzzled with duct tape for singing verses from the Koran. [complete article]

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Army doctors implicated in abuse
By Joe Stephens, Washington Post, January 6, 2005

U.S. Army doctors violated the Geneva Conventions by helping intelligence officers carry out abusive interrogations at military detention centers, perhaps participating in torture, according to an article in today's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Medical personnel helped tailor interrogations to the physical and mental conditions of individual detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the article. It says that medical workers gave interrogators access to patient medical files, and that psychiatrists and other physicians collaborated with interrogators and guards who, in turn, deprived detainees of sleep, restricted them to diets of bread and water and exposed them to extreme heat and cold.

"Clearly, the medical personnel who helped to develop and execute aggressive counter-resistance plans thereby breached the laws of war," says the four-page article labeled "Perspective."

"The conclusion that doctors participated in torture is premature, but there is probable cause for suspecting it."

The article was written by M. Gregg Bloche, a law professor at Georgetown University and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, and by Jonathan H. Marks, a London barrister who is a bioethics fellow at Georgetown University Law Center and Johns Hopkins. It is based on interviews with more than two dozen military personnel and on a review of documents released to the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act. [complete article]

See also, Newly released reports show early concern on prison abuse (NYT) and Self-portrait in a tortured world (TomDispatch).

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General says Army Reserve is becoming a 'broken' force
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, January 6, 2005

The head of the Army Reserve has sent a sharply worded memo to other military leaders expressing "deepening concern" about the continued readiness of his troops, who have been used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and warning that his branch of 200,000 soldiers "is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force."

In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and "dysfunctional" policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.

The three-star general, who has a reputation for speaking bluntly, said the situation has reached a point at which the Army Reserve is "in grave danger of being unable to meet" its operational requirements if other national emergencies arise. Insistence on restrictive policies, he continued, "threatens to unhinge an already precariously balanced situation in which we are losing as many soldiers through no use as we are through the fear of overuse." [complete article]

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Saddam invitees believed behind insurgency
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via Seattle P-I, January 5, 2005

Internationally isolated and fearful of losing power, Saddam Hussein made an astonishing move in the last years of his secular rule: He invited into Iraq clerics who preached an austere form of Islam that's prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

He also let extremely religious Iraqis join his ruling Baath Socialist Party. Saddam's bid to win over devout Muslims planted the seeds of the insurgency behind some of the deadliest attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces today, say Saudi dissidents and U.S. officials.

"Saddam invited Muslim scholars and preachers to Iraq for his own survival," said Saad Fagih, a London-based Saudi dissident. "He convinced them that Shiites are the danger."

Shiite Muslims make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people and they strongly support planned Jan. 30 elections, hoping to reverse the longtime domination of Iraq's Sunni minority. The insurgency is thought to be run mostly by Sunnis who fear losing power. [complete article]

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Iraqi insurgents waging 'all-out war' on oil industry: Minister
Agence France Presse (via Daily Star), January 3, 2005

Iraqi insurgents are waging an all-out war on the country's vital oil industry which has lost nearly $8 billion in revenue since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Oil Minister Thamer Ghadban said Sunday.

"We want to tell the Iraqi people that there is an all-out war against the country's oil infrastructure," Ghadban told reporters as he toured the capital's Dura refinery, which came under mortar fire last week.

Ghadban estimated lost export revenue from sabotage at about $8 billion since the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which sits on the world's second largest reserves of crude oil.

"Exports are now limited only to the south, there are no exports in the north," he added. Oil exports from southern terminals in Basra are averaging 1.8 million barrels per day. [complete article]

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Najaf, spiritual center of Shiite Islam, may become center of Iraq's political power
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, January 4, 2005

After years of praying for mercy and receiving little, Najaf's leaders say their day of deliverance is finally near - Jan. 30, to be precise.

The city of Najaf is the spiritual center for Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority. On election day, clerics and residents pray, Najaf's religious importance will turn into political power.

Barring a delay in the vote, conservative Shiites stand to sweep the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, opening an era of unprecedented influence for Najaf, whose people suffered for decades under the dictatorial rule of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority.

In what may be the ultimate unintended consequence of America's invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, Iraq's new seat of power would be this sacred southern city on the Euphrates River, 100 miles and a world away from cosmopolitan Baghdad. [complete article]

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Keeping the wounded out of sight
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 5, 2005

As the Pentagon announced that the number of US military personnel wounded in Iraq is now more than 10,000, a US Army physician's blog in which Maj. Michael Cohen, of the 67th Combat Support Hospital unit, described treating victims of the Mosul mess-hall bombing, has been shut down. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported:
Cohen's Web log provides a medical twist to the genre, with gripping accounts of removing lungs and catheterizing urethras, and of blood parasites spread by sand flies.

He describes downcast American soldiers queuing in the hospital for hours to see a dying comrade one more time, and on a different day, a wounded Iraqi insurgent quoting Shakespeare on the examination table. There is the dreaded thud of insurgent mortar attacks against the base, the subsequent cry of "Bunkers! Bunkers!" and later, the inevitable crackle of the medical dispatch radio, "EMT, TOC," signaling casualties.

Readers watch Cohen face grisly injuries with an urgent "Oh my God" flashing across his brain but never, ever escaping his lips.

The Web log is available to civilians, insurgents and military moms alike at

No more.

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From a distance, hope glimmers like a mirage amid the misery
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, January 5, 2005

We've entered the moment of insipidity. No matter what may be happening on the other side of the globe, where hundreds of thousands are dead and injured, millions homeless and whole regions in shambles, the narrative arc of the stories Americans expect requires hope. So even before the real actors in this faraway drama have felt the full burden of despair, journalists have moved on to inspiring tales of survival, affirmation that life is returning and that healing proceeds apace.

There's some small evidence of this: a lucky survival story here and there, a few instances of people finding relatives they thought surely were lost. And, of course, it's in the nature of being human to get on with life.

So the network superstars have arrived in the stricken areas, as if only by being there can they dig out the essential feel-good stories that allow Americans to reassert faith in a benign God and order and meaningfulness in the world. The print media are there, too, searching for the same scraps of redemption, but without the sentimentalizing touch of the television camera, the tone of familiarity, the relentless, oozing empathy of first-person celebrity journalism. [complete article]

Comment -- Along with this quest for hope, a sideshow that on this side of the world often looks like the main show has been the contest to find out which is the most generous nation on earth. Though America made a slow start, a ten-fold increase in aid briefly gave it the lead, but now it finds itself trailing Germany -- but no, now Australia takes the lead! Cannot America restore its rightful place as most generous nation by now pledging to contribute as much as it spends on one week of operations in Iraq?

America can still claim the most generous celebrity (Sandra Bullock) and of course most generous philanthropist (Bill Gates), but the Norwegian who fired the starting gun in this race -- Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator who last week suggested that Western nations are "stingy" -- is now being quietly praised for having so skilfully wielded such an effective diplomatic stick. (What has been the largest anonymous donation so far, I wonder?)

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If Sunnis won't vote, then what?
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, January 5, 2005

Iman Abit al-Wahid is so afraid that she pulled her oldest daughter out of medical school and sent her son to a rural village for safety. Hassan Kazal Omran says many stores stopped distributing voter registration cards after death threats were slipped under their doors. Ahmed al-Mashdany says the whole thing is fixed and will taint everyone associated with it.

In the Sunni Arab communities of Iraq there seem to be as many reasons - fear, anger, confusion - to plan to stay away from the polls as there are people. The message is clear. While many Sunnis say they'd like to vote in the election scheduled for Jan. 30, most say they probably won't.

With growing tension between Iraq's majority Shiites and the Sunni Arab minority who have always dominated the country's government, low Sunni participation come election day is likely to further divide, rather than unite, Iraq's two most important constituencies. Further division, in the worst case, could nudge Iraq closer to civil war. [complete article]

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Ally of militant cleric is on the stump in Sadr city
By Erik Eckholm, New York Times, January 5, 2005

With all the pluck and pleasure of a natural politician, he sprang from his car and glad-handed the gathering throng. He led the children in a raucous chant and then delivered a timeless political appeal.

"You need to elect someone from your own city, someone who understands your problems," the candidate shouted. "You need someone who suffered the way you did."

The candidate, Fatah al-Sheik, 37, is the leader of a newly formed slate that is competing in the national elections scheduled for Jan. 30. But what is unusual is that he and his running mates are all from the vast, impoverished Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad called Sadr City, and all are acolytes of Moktada al-Sadr, the young cleric whose stern visage glares down from nearly every wall. [complete article]

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Syria at the crossroads
By Ferry Biedermann, Salon, January 2, 2005

The giant mobile-phone company ads that have replaced the grandiose posters of the late president Hafez Assad in Damascus cannot conceal the crumbling behind the country's newly commercialized façade. Yet in its foreign policy Syria seems to be as assertive as ever. Its ambiguous attitude toward the insurgency in Iraq has angered Washington. Its meddling in Lebanon has drawn criticism even from European sympathizers such as France. And both Europe and the United States are irritated by Syria's oldest hobby, stoking the fires of Palestinian militancy, at a time when the death of Yasser Arafat and exhaustion with the intifada may mean another chance for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Many foreign diplomats and some Syrian analysts say the government of Hafez's son Bashar can no longer afford those policies. And there are reasons to believe that the Syrian leader himself is trying to move away from his nation's traditional role as a bastion of Arab militancy. Yet during a recent visit to Damascus, a wide range of observers -- including a senior Palestinian leader, Iraqi politicians and local activists -- attested that the policies are continuing. Definitive proof is hard to come by here, in one of the most closed and controlling regimes in the world. Lebanon, which Damascus regards as its own private fiefdom, is the only place where Syria makes no attempt to hide its hand. But Syria still seems to be playing the games that under Hafez Assad made it famous for "punching above its weight" in the region.

The problem for Damascus, diplomats say, is that times have changed since 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- not to mention that the son is just not as adept as the father. [complete article]

See also, U.S. said to weigh sanctions on Syria over Iraqi network (NYT).

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Gonzales helped set the course for detainees
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, January 5, 2005

In March 2002, U.S. elation at the capture of al Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubaida was turning to frustration as he refused to bend to CIA interrogation. But the agency's officers, determined to wring more from Abu Zubaida through threatening interrogations, worried about being charged with violating domestic and international proscriptions on torture.

They asked for a legal review -- the first ever by the government -- of how much pain and suffering a U.S. intelligence officer could inflict on a prisoner without violating a 1994 law that imposes severe penalties, including life imprisonment and execution, on convicted torturers. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel took up the task, and at least twice during the drafting, top administration officials were briefed on the results.

White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales chaired the meetings on this issue, which included detailed descriptions of interrogation techniques such as "waterboarding," a tactic intended to make detainees feel as if they are drowning. He raised no objections and, without consulting military and State Department experts in the laws of torture and war, approved an August 2002 memo that gave CIA interrogators the legal blessings they sought. [complete article]

See also, Bush's counsel sought ruling about torture (NYT) and Ugly truths about Guantanamo (WP).

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G.I. families united in grief, but split by the war
By Monica Davey, New York Times, January 2, 2005

They have met on the Internet and on cross-country road trips. But mostly they find one another at the funerals.

As the number of American troops killed in Iraq has risen above 1,300, mothers of the dead have built a grim community of their own, mostly invisible to outsiders and separated by geography, but bound together by death. Some have met in pews, recognizing each other from newspaper photographs or with the simplest introduction: I lost my son, too.

"My closest friends now are three other mothers I have met who lost their sons," said Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., whose son, Specialist Casey Sheehan, died in an ambush on April 4. "I feel closer to them, even the ones who live far away, than I do to the people I have known for years. I feel closer to them than to the people who knew Casey. Us moms are really the only ones who know what we're going through."

In this network linked by sorrow and empathy, however, one issue divides them: the wisdom of the war. [complete article]

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Meditation gives brain a charge, study finds
By Marc Kaufman, Washington Post, January 3, 2005

Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something that Buddhist practitioners of meditation have maintained for centuries: Mental discipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain and allow people to achieve different levels of awareness.

Those transformed states have traditionally been understood in transcendent terms, as something outside the world of physical measurement and objective evaluation. But over the past few years, researchers at the University of Wisconsin working with Tibetan monks have been able to translate those mental experiences into the scientific language of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, or coordination. And they have pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the left forehead, as the place where brain activity associated with meditation is especially intense.

"What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before," said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university's new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. "Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance." It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine. [complete article]

Comment -- Introducing article color-coding (scroll to the bottom of this page to see what the colors represent) means not only that readers can now instantly differentiate between three categories of article; it also means that in the category of issues and ideas, I intend to broaden the scope of The War in Context.

The article above, as it relates to the phenomenon of neuroplasticity, makes an interesting compliment to the article I posted yesterday on the evolutionary roots of intra-species violence in primates. Taken together they indicate the extent to which human behaviour is genetically conditioned while also being amenable to cultural re-conditioning -- it's what makes us such creative creatures!

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What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?
By John Brockman, The Edge, January, 2005

The 2005 Edge Question has generated many eye-opening responses from a "who's who" of third culture scientists and science-minded thinkers. The 120 contributions comprise a document of 60,000 words. [...]

This year there's a focus on consciousness, on knowing, on ideas of truth and proof. If pushed to generalize, I would say it is a commentary on how we are dealing with the idea of certainty.

We are in the age of "searchculture", in which Google and other search engines are leading us into a future rich with an abundance of correct answers along with an accompanying naïve sense of certainty. In the future, we will be able to answer the question, but will we be bright enough to ask it?

This is an alternative path. It may be that it's okay not to be certain, but to have a hunch, and to perceive on that basis. There is also evidence here that the scientists are thinking beyond their individual fields. Yes, they are engaged in the science of their own areas of research, but more importantly they are also thinking deeply about creating new understandings about the limits of science, of seeing science not just as a question of knowing things, but as a means of tuning into the deeper questions of who we are and how we know.

It may sound as if I am referring to a group of intellectuals, and not scientists. In fact, I refer to both. In 1991, I suggested the idea of a third culture, which "consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are. "

I believe that the scientists of the third culture are the pre-eminent intellectuals of our time. But I can't prove it. [complete article]

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Study urges bigger role for State Dept.
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, January 5, 2005

A senior advisory board to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is recommending a significant expansion of the State Department to cope with the diplomatic challenges of nation-building efforts that cannot be met by the Pentagon.

The new study by the Defense Science Board also takes indirect aim at the Bush administration's preparations for postwar Iraq, saying that achieving political success following military victory requires "effective planning and preparation in the years before the outbreak of hostilities."

It also declares that nation-building efforts in unstable environments, such as in Iraq, require about 20 occupation troops for every 1,000 people. In Iraq that would mean a US stabilization force of 500,000 troops, vastly more than the 150,000 US troops now battling the insurgency.

The report was commissioned a year ago by Rumsfeld to explore the lessons of the military's lack of preparedness for the insurgency in Iraq, and to recommend ways to better prepare for similar missions in the future.

But in addition to calling for better planning within the military for postwar operations, the report, now being circulated among top Pentagon brass, calls for dramatically greater involvement by the State Department, whose planning for the aftermath of the Iraq war was largely ignored by Rumsfeld and his senior aides. [complete article]

See also the Defense Science Board report, Transition to and from hostilities (PDF format, 229 pages).

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Iraqi premier calls Bush to discuss obstacles to election
By Richard A. Oppel Jr. and David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 5, 2005

Hours after a wave of bombing attacks that left at least 20 people dead on Monday, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi telephoned President Bush and discussed the many impediments still facing the country as it heads toward elections in 27 days, according to senior American officials familiar with the contents of the call.

The officials insisted that Dr. Allawi, Iraq's interim leader, did not tell Mr. Bush that the elections should be delayed, though his defense minister said in Cairo on Monday that the voting could be postponed to ensure greater participation by Sunnis. "There was no substantive conversation about delay," a senior administration official said. Dr. Allawi, the official said, "wasn't even a bit wobbly" on that point.

But some officials in Washington and in Iraq interpreted the telephone call as a sign that Dr. Allawi, who is clearly concerned his own party could be headed to defeat if the election is held on schedule, may be preparing the ground to make the case for delay to Mr. Bush.

"Clearly the thinking on this is still in motion in Baghdad," a senior administration official said Monday evening. "And President Bush is holding firm," the official said, telling Dr. Allawi that the Iraqi government has met every deadline so far, including assuming power from the United States in June. [complete article]

See also, Baghdad governor assassinated (WP).

Comment -- If our gutsy president is bold enough to hold a news conference in the next couple of weeks, one of those gutsy White House reporters might ask this question: "If voting in an election meant risking your life and those you love, would you vote and would you encourage your wife and daughters to vote?"

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U.S. may add advisers to aid Iraq's military
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, January 4, 2005

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, is reviewing a proposal to add hundreds of American military advisers to work directly with Iraqi units, whose disappointing performance could jeopardize the long-term American exit strategy from Iraq, senior military officials said Monday.

Americans are training Iraqi police officers and national guard troops to replace them in securing the country, but the results over all have been troubling, with growing desertion rates in the most violent provinces, gaps in leadership, and poor battlefield performance, American military officers and troops say.

The advisers would bolster the Iraqi will to fight, help train officers who would lead the troops, curb desertion and provide Iraqi forces with the confidence that American units would back them up - in some cases fighting alongside them if needed, military and Pentagon officials said. [complete article]

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Bomber of mess hall was reportedly Saudi
Associated Press (via LAT), January 4, 2005

The suicide bomber who killed 22 other people in a U.S. mess hall near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul was a Saudi medical student, an Arab newspaper reported Monday.

Saudi-owned Asharq al Awsat identified the bomber as 20-year-old Ahmed Said Ahmed Ghamdi, citing unidentified friends of the man's father. The friends said members of an Iraqi insurgent group contacted Ghamdi's father to tell him his son was the suicide bomber who carried out the Dec. 21 attack, the deadliest on an American installation in Iraq. [complete article]

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U.S. backs away from Arab political reform
By Adam Morrow, IPS (via, January 4, 2005

In February last year, the United States introduced its Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI), which aimed to compel the region's authoritarian regimes to liberalize politically, economically, and socially.

The geographical area in question, the "Greater Middle East," was taken to mean the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa, including non-Arab states such as Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. Washington policymakers believed that progress in terms of democracy, human rights, and economic liberalization could be made in a traditionally authoritarian region via cooperation between local governments, private sectors, and civil society.

Moreover, within the context of the ongoing U.S.-led war in Iraq, the threat was implicit: change your ways or face regime change, a la Saddam Hussein.

While the smaller, less influential states of North Africa and the Gulf signed on to the program with varying caveats, regional heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia were less accommodating, particularly given the initiative's ambiguous approach to implementation. "I don't know," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was quoted as saying at the time, "but I sense something strange in the air."

Arab League head Amr Moussa called the original draft "very vague, and riddled with question marks."

What is more, Arab public opinion found the still-undefined notion of a "Greater Middle East" disturbing. "This 'Greater' or 'Broader' Middle East concept is nonsense," said a 33-year-old Cairo resident. "There's only one Middle East -- not a small one or a big one -- and it's Arab. I'm not talking about Christians and Muslims, I'm talking about Arabs. We speak one language -- Arabic." [complete article]

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Israeli soldier 'urged revolt'
By Conal Urquhart and AP, The Guardian, January 4, 2004

The Israeli army says a soldier has been arrested for calling on his comrades to refuse to evacuate a West Bank settlement outpost. It is the first case of its kind.

It happened the day after settler leaders said hundreds of soldiers might refuse to carry out orders to evacuate Gaza Strip settlers if the government went ahead with its plan to withdraw this year.

The prime minister, Ariel Sharon, said yesterday that refusal to obey orders would be punished.

"This would be a serious mistake if a movement arises that supports refusal to carry out an order. The decision regarding the disengagement plan was made democratically by the government and approved by a large knesset majority.

"I see no justification for refusal, neither by soldiers, nor by political leaders, nor by rabbis. There might be attempts at refusal but... the law will be upheld."

But Ze'ev Boim, the deputy defence minister, said the army might not be able to carry out the Gaza withdrawal if it faced determined opposition from the settlers. [complete article]

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Jenin's guns overshadow peacemaker
By Conal Urquhart, The Observer, January 2, 2005

The sense of anticipation was palpable as 10,000 men and women sang Palestinian revolutionary songs. They surged around a black Mercedes and then the source of the excitement was among them; a shock of light grey hair in a sea of black hair.

The crowd's diminutive hero was Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's candidate for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, who was bringing his message of an end to fighting and a focus on negotiations to Jenin, the city that has come to symbolise the Palestinian intifada.

Abu Mazen, as he is known, has a commanding lead in the opinion polls. The Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion announced on Boxing Day that he has 51 per cent support. In second place is Mustafa Barghouti of the New Palestinian Initiative with 21 per cent. There are five other candidates. While victory seems certain for Abu Mazen in the elections a week from today, his trip to Jenin showed the difficulty he faces in trying to represent the Palestinian struggle while also trying to extinguish it.

Abu Mazen did not take any easy options on his visit. He went to the graveyard and refugee camp. He embraced Israel's most wanted man, Zacaria Zubeida, leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin, and accepted his protection. The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee had little security on his walkabout apart from Zubeida's gunmen, all of whom Israel would consider legitimate targets for assassination or arrest. [complete article]

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Iraq battling more than 200,000 insurgents
Agence France Presse (via Daily Star), January 4, 2005

Iraq's insurgency counts more than 200,000 active fighters and sympathizers, the country's national intelligence chief said, in the bleakest assessment to date of the armed revolt waged by Sunnis.

Speaking in an interview, Iraqi intelligence service director General Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani said: "I think the resistance is bigger than the U.S. military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people."

Shahwani said the number includes at least 40,000 hard-core fighters but rises to more than 200,000 members counting part-time fighters and volunteers who provide rebels everything from intelligence and logistics to shelter. The numbers far exceed any figure presented by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Shahwani pointed to a resurgent Baath Party as the key to the insurgency's might. The Baath has split into three factions, with the deadliest being the branch still paying allegiance to jailed dictator Saddam Hussein, he said. [complete article]

See also, The developing Iraqi insurgency: status at end-2004 (Anthony H. Cordesman) (PDF format).

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Rules relaxed to tempt Sunni vote in Iraq elections
By James Hider, The Times, January 3, 2005

The head of the UN body overseeing Iraq's elections at the end of the month revealed plans yesterday to bring the increasingly disenfranchised Sunni minority to the polls, as insurgents bent on wrecking the vote killed another 19 Iraqi soldiers and several policemen.

Carlos Valenzuela said that the population of Anbar province, the western desert region better known as the Sunni Triangle, would be allowed to register and vote on polling day, even though the rest of the country finished registering its voters weeks ago.

All electoral preparations in the volatile province ground to a halt in November when the US military launched an all-out offensive on one of its most dangerous cities, Fallujah, while fighting running battles with insurgents in Ramadi, the provincial capital. The attack displaced almost the entire population of Fallujah, while thousands of other Sunnis fled their homes for fear of violence.

"They will be given the possibility of registering on the same day, which gives them the possibility of deciding where it is they will be voting," said Senor Valenzuela. The same conditions will apply for Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, which has been racked by violence recently and where an additional 8,000 US troops have been deployed to secure the elections. [complete article]

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Bleeding the weak
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, January 3, 2005

Yaqub Moussa sits in his liquor shop in Baghdad. One hand is hidden under the counter holding a black pistol, the other taps nervously on the surface. "People from the Hawza [the Shiite religious authority] come here every month; they take $100 from me every time. If I don't pay they say they will burn my shop because I am breaking the sharia Islamic law."

He looks at a teenage boy wearing a baseball hat and standing a few feet away from him. "Once I told them, 'I don't have any money and can't pay any more.' Next day my son was kidnapped and I had to pay them $500 to release him. This time I am going to kill anyone who touches my son."

What started as a campaign by religious extremists to impose sharia law in Baghdad and Iraq's other main cities, by attacking liquor shops, hairdressing parlours and music stores, has turned into a very lucrative mafia-style protection business. [complete article]

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Meeting violence with a volley of optimism
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, January 1, 2005

At a tiny meeting spot for Arab culture, the search for direction quietly continues.

Here at the Arab Culture Shack, a toolshed-size bookstore in the heart of downtown Amman, Hassan al-Beer, a man who lives by the book and intends to die by the book, has a motto that he regards as inviolable. "Only the mind can conquer the Kalashnikov," he says, as he has for decades.

With war raging in Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict grinding steadily on, Mr. Beer, 63, guardedly calls himself an optimist. He is better known as Abu Ali, a champion of the very Arab culture forgotten over decades of turmoil. And from his unlikely perch, he presides over a daily debate with his customers over the future of the Arab world, inciting, refereeing and hoping to inform their quest for a new direction.

"Where did these extremists and fundamentalists come from?" Abu Ali demands rhetorically. "How did we get to the stage where people are being executed on evening TV?"

He pins part of the blame on America, but he has an even bigger problem with his Arab friends and neighbors. "This is mainly because of closed minds and closed mouths," he says in answer to his own questions. [complete article]

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Militants' campaign twists logistics of Iraq election
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2005

The parties have registered, the alliances have formed and the calls for a delay have mostly died down. With the first frantic stage of Iraq's landmark electoral saga past, planners face the nuts and bolts of holding a credible vote in four weeks' time.

Until now, the campaign was almost a theoretical concept. Much of the work took place inside Baghdad's Green Zone fortress, and the far-flung local offices of the Independent Electoral Commission kept a low profile. Most of the estimated 14 million eligible voters were automatically registered without having to leave their homes.

Now, the campaign planning inevitably will become more visible -- and more of a target. Thousands of temporary employees are being recruited as quietly as possible. They will operate under constant threat of attack and somehow have to offer enough voting opportunities in the insurgency-racked Sunni Muslim heartland to produce a result acceptable to that vital minority.

Organizers must also oversee the transport of 7 million pounds of equipment, including ballot boxes, ballots, special ink and 142,000 collapsible polling booths. Where those stations will be situated on election day has not yet been revealed. [complete article]

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Going ape
By Chris Wright, Boston Phoenix, November 14, 2002

In mid-September of this year [2002], Harvard professor Richard Wrangham stood before an audience at the university and told of a "startling" new development in weapons technology. But the talk Wrangham gave that day did not concern dirty bombs or weapons-grade anthrax. There was no mention of Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. Instead, to the ominous opening chords of Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, Wrangham faced his rapt audience and produced ... a stick.

As instruments of destruction go, tree limbs aren't generally held in such esteem. But this wasn't just any old tree limb. This was the tree limb with which Imoso, a male chimpanzee in Uganda's Kibale Forest, had beaten the tar out of a female chimp named Outamba. In the space of a few minutes, this thuggish, enterprising ape may have revolutionized chimpanzee society. He certainly succeeded in turning the field of primatology on its head. [...]

That humans and chimpanzees display similar patterns of behavior shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Recent studies have shown that the two species' DNA make-up is about 99 percent identical. Indeed, there are many primatologists who believe that modern-day chimps are a fair representation of what our own ancestors must have looked like, and acted like, six million years ago; Wrangham has often described the animals as "time machines." "The underlying emotional systems that guide humans," he says, "are almost certainly very similar to those that guide chimpanzees."

The implications of this statement are troubling. If aggressive chimpanzee behavior corresponds to our own aggressive behavior six million years ago -- and also to our behavior today -- this implies that our violent tendencies have persisted throughout our evolutionary history. In other words, humans are hard-wired for violence. We're stuck with it. "There is that implication, that's right," Wrangham says. "We're stuck with the propensity for violence, at least. That is the slightly alarming thing about this. It is daunting." [complete article]

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Two types of disasters
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, January 2, 2005

What would have happened, heaven forbid, if the tsunami had struck the coast of the Gaza Strip? It's a safe guess that Israel would have gone out of its way to proffer aid. Aid delegations would have left immediately for Gaza via the Erez checkpoint. Physicians, medicines and blankets would have made their way to Jabalya refugee camp and military correspondents would have reported from there with pride about the humanitarian operation mounted by the Israel Defense Forces. Every Palestinian child pulled from the ruins would have received deeply felt coverage in the media, hotels in Tel Aviv would have competed in making offers of shelter to those left homeless by the disaster and Channel 2 would have organized a marathon to raise funds for the new refugees.

Even if people are born equal, they are not equal in their death. It's important where they died and under what circumstances. The world has already pledged billions for the regions in Southeast Asia that were ravaged, conglomerates and individuals in Europe and the United States have mobilized to donate and dozens of countries are sending aid, among them Israel, albeit with its usual grandstanding. When it comes to natural disasters, the world - and Israel, too - shows far greater generosity and alacrity than it does in cases of man-made disasters. [complete article]

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Aceh feels the fallout
By Bill Guerin, Asia Times, January 4, 2005

In the wake of the tsunami tragedy that has claimed more than 80,000 Indonesian lives, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called on his people to approach the New Year with optimism. The latest death toll in the country's poorest region - the resource-rich but war-ravaged province of Aceh on the northwestern tip of Sumatra Island - has been estimated at 82,000, mostly in Banda Aceh, Sabang and the west coast regencies of Aceh Jaya and Aceh Besar.

More than 40% of the population of the province was living below the poverty line before the disaster, which has deepened the poverty of thousands more by snatching away their livelihoods. Communities are shattered by the deaths of older people, traditional leaders and local officials. Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari has said officials would now offer only general estimates of the death toll because there were simply too many bodies to count. [complete article]

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Powell says he's leaving politics
CNN, January 3, 2005

As he prepares to end his tenure as secretary of state, Colin Powell is ruling out a run for political office.

Asked on the Sunday talk shows if he had any plans to seek elective office, Powell responded with a firm and quick, "No."

He said he has no immediate plans to write a book, either. [complete article]

Comment -- No immediate plans to write a book -- music to the ears of the White House! I suspect that the desire to mute criticism is also what led President Bush to award Medals of Freedom to George Tenet and Paul Bremer (along with rewarding Tommy Franks for his abiding loyalty - a fine example for Messrs. Powell, Tenet and Bremer). But what's good for the White House won't necessarily be good for the Republicans. Books not written now may well be written later and in the process burn the coattails on which Bush's successor will be hoping to ride.

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Long-term plan sought for terror suspects
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, January 2, 2005

Administration officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries, according to intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.

The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts. The outcome of the review, which also involves the State Department, would also affect those expected to be captured in the course of future counterterrorism operations.

"We've been operating in the moment because that's what has been required," said a senior administration official involved in the discussions, who said the current detention system has strained relations between the United States and other countries. "Now we can take a breath. We have the ability and need to look at long-term solutions."

One proposal under review is the transfer of large numbers of Afghan, Saudi and Yemeni detainees from the military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center into new U.S.-built prisons in their home countries. [complete article]

See also, Lugar condemns plan to jail detainees for life (WP).

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Guantanamo Briton 'in handcuff torture'
By David Rose, The Observer, January 2, 2005

A British detainee at Guantanamo Bay has told his lawyer he was tortured using the 'strappado', a technique common in Latin American dictatorships in which a prisoner is left suspended from a bar with handcuffs until they cut deeply into his wrists.

The reason, the prisoner says, was that he was caught reciting the Koran at a time when talking was banned.

He says he has also been repeatedly shaved against his will. In one such incident, a guard told him: 'This is the part that really gets to you Muslims, isn't it?'

The strappado allegation was one among many made about treatment at both Guantanamo and the US base at Bagram in Afghanistan made to the British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith when he visited his clients Moazzam Begg and Richard Belmar at the Cuban prison six weeks ago, having tried for the previous 14 months to obtain the necessary security clearance.

But it is clear the disturbing claim is only the tip of the iceberg. Under the rules the United States military has imposed for defence lawyers who visit Guantanamo, Stafford Smith has not been allowed to keep his notes of meetings with prisoners, and will not be able to read them again until they have been examined and de-classified by a government censor. [complete article]

See also, Fresh details emerge on harsh methods at Guantanamo (NYT).

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How nature changes history
By Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times, January 2, 2005

What follows in the wake of a tsunami? The death of a nation? Secessionist warfare or, conversely, the unexpected drift of warring parties toward a peace table? A surge in Islamic fundamentalism?

If the past is any guide, the response to the shock of Dec. 26 will loom larger in history than the wave itself. Disasters rip away social moorings as harshly as they tear children from their mothers' hands, and while faceless nature may be to blame for the first blow, governments may reap the political whirlwind that follows it.

In this case, the wave that rose out of the Andaman Sea broke over some remarkably fragile societies:

Indonesia's Aceh province had been under virtual martial law, largely closed to the outside world as 40,000 troops hunted separatists.

Sri Lanka was cut in two by civil war, and new killings had raised fears that a two-year cease-fire was collapsing.

In Thailand, fighting between the government and Muslim rebels not far from its beach resorts claimed at least 500 lives last year. [complete article]

See also, Chronicle of a disaster (Los Angeles Times).

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Iraq: winning the unwinnable war
By James Dobbins, Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2005

The recent American presidential campaign has had the perverse effect of postponing any serious national debate on the future U.S. course in Iraq. Electoral considerations placed a premium on consistency at the expense of common sense, with both candidates insisting that even with perfect hindsight they would have acted just as they did two years ago: going to war or voting to authorize doing so. The campaign also revealed the paucity of good options now before the United States. Keeping U.S. troops in Iraq will only provoke fiercer and more widespread resistance, but withdrawing them too soon could spark a civil war. The second administration of George W. Bush seems to be left with the choice between making things worse slowly or quickly.

The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the ongoing war in Iraq is not one that the United States can win. As a result of its initial miscalculations, misdirected planning, and inadequate preparation, Washington has lost the Iraqi people's confidence and consent, and it is unlikely to win them back. Every day that Americans shell Iraqi cities they lose further ground on the central front of Iraqi opinion.

The war can still be won--but only by moderate Iraqis and only if they concentrate their efforts on gaining the cooperation of neighboring states, securing the support of the broader international community, and quickly reducing their dependence on the United States. Achieving such wide consensus will require turning the U.S.-led occupation into an Iraqi-led, regionally backed, and internationally supported endeavor to attain peace and stability based on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. [complete article]

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Once-dominant Sunnis rejecting Iraqi elections as Jan. 30 nears
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, January 2, 2005

Less than a month before Iraq's election, Sunnis nationwide are deciding to sit it out.

Political leaders of Iraq's once-dominant sect say that it's because insurgents are intimidating Sunnis when they try to register to vote and threatening voter registration officials in Sunni strongholds. Opponents say the Sunnis - a 30 percent minority of Iraqis - are withdrawing to save face in the Jan. 30 election, which they appear sure to lose to majority Shiite parties.

Whatever the reason, there are neither voter registration centers nor any registered voters in the Sunni strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi, according to the Independent Electoral Commission, which is in charge of the Jan. 30 election. In several other major Sunni cities - Samarra, parts of Diyala, and nearly all of Mosul - no voters have registered either, said Ayad A. al Ezy, a spokesman of the main Sunni political party, the Islamic Party. [complete article]

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Delay the elections
By Adnan Pachachi, Washington Post, January 2, 2005

Iraq is now barely four weeks away from scheduled elections, which will not merely install the next government but will also put in place an assembly to draft a permanent constitution. It is clear, however, that no constitution drafted while parts of Iraq are unrepresented can possibly have a claim to legitimacy. Under the existing system of proportional representation, Iraq is treated as one electoral district, so that a low voter turnout in some parts of the country and a heavy turnout in others will leave a large segment of the population disenfranchised and many regions underrepresented.

In spite of my misgivings, we are ready to participate in the elections, and I have submitted a list of candidates for my party. But delaying the elections for a few months would enable us to engage groups that are now outside the political process while addressing the security situation.

That situation has deteriorated significantly. None of us could have imagined a year ago that parents would refuse to send their children to school because of rampant kidnapping in the capital, Baghdad. Baghdadis have told me that they have no intention of leaving their homes on Election Day, because they fear the terrorists. The same can be said of areas such as Fallujah, Samarra and Mosul, where a recent attack on a U.S. Army base shows how easy it would be to disrupt elections, as do the recent bombings in Karbala. Nothing remotely like electioneering takes place in Iraq, even in relatively peaceful areas in the south and north. For candidates to announce mass rallies would be to issue an open invitation for terrorists to attack. Not many electoral messages beamed on radio and television will be seen or heard because of the nationwide electricity crisis. [complete article]

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Suicide car bombing in Iraq kills 19
By Erik Eckholm, New York Times, January 2, 2005

In a surprise press conference today, leaders of the Shia-dominated coalition that is expected to prevail in national elections sought to dispel fears that they are under the secret sway of Iran, or have any desire to create an Islamic theocracy.

Speaking in offices that were damaged by a car bomb just six days before, leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance urged disaffected Sunnis to join in the elections for a national assembly, scheduled for Jan. 30.

They also said that if their coalition gains power it will not demand the immediate withdrawal of American troops, instead waiting first for a stronger Iraqi military.

But insurgents continued today their unrelenting campaign to demolish the fledgling Iraqi forces, killing 18 members of the national guard and 1 civilian with a suicide car bomb near the town of Balad, to the north of Baghdad. [complete article]

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In Iraq, a clear-cut bin Laden-Zarqawi alliance
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 2004

The connection between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was cemented with Mr. bin Laden's latest taped statement on Tuesday, in which he praised the Jordanian militant and said anyone who participates in Iraq's Jan. 30 election will be considered an infidel and fair game for attack.

When Mr. Zarqawi's terrorist movement emerged in Iraq more than a year ago, intelligence analysts saw it as separate from Al Qaeda, with more ferocious rhetoric than the better-known terror group and a willingness to kill large numbers of Muslim civilians.

But now, the US and its allies face a grave and growing threat: an alliance of mutual interests and convenience between the group that carried out the 9/11 attacks in the United States and the one that has contributed so much to Iraq's chaos. [complete article]

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Iraq out of spotlight, but still volatile
By Nick Wadhams, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 1, 2005

Iraq had a rare moment out of the world spotlight in the past week, eclipsed by the tsunami devastation in Southeast Asia. But the country saw a host of critically important political developments and deadly attacks that could cripple elections set for Jan. 30, and that suggest the insurgents are refining their strategy to wreck the vote.

On Monday, insurgents tried to assassinate Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite leader who is among the candidates for the election, in an apparent bid to exacerbate religious tension. The same day, the leading Sunni Arab party withdrew from the race, dealing perhaps the heaviest blow so far to the vote's legitimacy.

Over the rest of the week, guerrillas mounted a campaign of violence that pointed to new tactics: luring police into booby-trapped buildings and targeting an American outpost with squad-sized units and at least three nearly simultaneous car bombs.

Despite U.S. claims that insurgents are growing desperate, their attacks continued to exact a high toll -- dozens of Iraqis and at least four American servicemen were killed. How the events of the last week will play out is far from clear, but it showed the insurgents were more willing to make their voices heard politically as well as through violence. [complete article]

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Whither political Islam?
By Mahmood Mamdani, Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2005

The debate over why the attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred has been dominated by different versions of "culture talk," the notion that culture is the most reliable clue to people's politics. Their differences notwithstanding, public intellectuals such as Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis agree that religion drives both Islamic culture and politics and that the motivation for Islamist violence is religious fundamentalism. Ascribing the violence of one's adversaries to their culture is self-serving: it goes a long way toward absolving oneself of any responsibility.

The singular merit of two new books by Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy is that they take the debate about the rise of political Islam beyond culture talk. Kepel seeks to understand the intellectual history of political Islam, Roy the social conditions under which Muslims think and act. Of the two, Roy makes the most forceful break from culture talk. He dismisses "the culturalist approach" that treats Islam as "the issue" and that assumes it bears a relation to every preoccupation of the moment, from suicide bombings and jihad to democracy and secularism. Not only does culturalism treat Islam "as a discrete entity" and "a coherent and closed set of beliefs," Roy explains, but it turns Islam into "an explanatory concept for almost everything involving Muslims."

Roy argues that the Koran's most important feature is not what it actually says, but what Muslims say about it. "Not surprisingly," Roy observes, "they disagree, while all stressing that the Koran is unambiguous and clear-cut." Like culturalists, Roy and Kepel examine very carefully the Islamist discourse about both the Koran and the rest of the world. But they understand it as the product of many forces, rather than as the necessary development of its religious origin. In doing so, they provide a more nuanced understanding of doctrinal and political Islam than do the culturalists. [complete article]

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The war inside the Arab newsroom
By Samantha M. Shapiro, New York Times, January 2, 2005

For most of the short history of the Arab media, television stations have been run by national governments, who used them as extensions of their information ministries. Satellite TV changed that dynamic by allowing Arab journalists to go offshore -- initially mostly to London -- and beam Arab news into the Arab world without fear of being arrested or shut down. MBC was the first network to do so, but after 11 years in London, it was lured in 2002 to Dubai, the glimmering hub of capitalism and tourism in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is a city under construction, 24 hours a day, and what is being built often seems like a caricature of Western excess: an archipelago of man-made islands shaped like the continents; the tallest skyscraper in the world; and, still on the drawing board, the largest mall in the world, replete with an indoor ski slope, and an underwater hotel. As part of the development of Dubai, the emirate established ''free zones'' -- tax-free areas with financial incentives to lure businesses into clustered luxury office parks. The Al Arabiya offices are in the flagship building of Media City, facing a man-made lake with unnaturally even waves, not far from Internet City, Health Care City and Knowledge Village. [complete article]

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Perpetual war for a lasting peace
By Richard Peet, Monthly Review, January, 2005

The geopolitics of war are theorized in a Pentagon-centered system of war colleges, defense universities, academic departments, institutes of strategic and international studies, and quasi-private think tanks. Together these make up a powerful, rightist military-ideological complex. For the most part, waging war is discussed behind closed doors by people sharing similar attitudes, beliefs, and values—of patriotism for their beloved country, and antagonism toward its circle of enemies, real and supposed. This closed discursive formation is dangerously non-democratic, in the sense that positions are assumed within it that would be impossible to sustain outside, in a more open environment of deep criticism. The restricted spatial formation of this discourse on geopolitics allows a mentality to prevail, and to be taken for granted, that is out of touch with reality as perceived by the rest of the world, and out of touch with public opinion. Basically this military-ideological complex has recently assumed what originally began as an extreme, neoconservative stance, one that believes in preemptively attacking countries deemed to be potential threats to the United States. The recent record of invasions, attacks, and tragedies merely confirms the veracity of the dominant view that the world has to be made into a safe haven for the further development of U.S. civilization. Yet within this hegemony there are differences in emphasis, and debates on strategy, between what might once have been called liberals and conservatives, but now are best termed neoliberals and neoconservatives, between those who convince themselves that they want only to give peace a chance, and those who openly believe in aggressively waging war...just in case. We can glimpse these positions by reading Thomas P. M. Barnett's recently published The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. Barnett is a senior strategic researcher at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, a "vision guy" in the Office of Force Transformation at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Each year he lectures to thousands of military officers and paramiltary personnel from what might be termed a progressive, neoliberal perspective. A Wall Street Journal article calls Barnett a key figure in the debate on what the modern U.S. military should look like -- he influences, the article says, the way the Pentagon understands its enemies, vulnerabilities, and future strategies. [complete article]

See also, The Pentagon's new map (Thomas P.M. Barnett) and Mr. President, here's how to make sense of our Iraq strategy (Thomas P.M. Barnett).

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U.S. intelligence shake-up meets growing criticism
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, January 2, 2005

President Bush is expected to name the nation's first director of national intelligence as early as this week -- the crowning change won by critics of America's spy services who fought a bruising political battle to centralize spy activities and create a clearinghouse for terrorism reports after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But a growing number of current and former intelligence officials and spies are concerned that the organizational changes that were requested by the Sept. 11 Commission, backed by victims' families, and adopted by Congress, could be drawing attention away from more-serious shortcomings in the national security net that need to be addressed.

"I feel sorry for these 9/11 families who thought passing this intelligence bill will improve things," said retired Air Force General William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, the nation's largest spy organization. "They have been swindled. The more I think about it, the more awful it is. It's tragic."

Odom and more than a dozen other intelligence professionals interviewed by the Globe said the changes, hailed as the most sweeping overhaul of America's intelligence system in a half-century, do not address the system's biggest problems: a lack of accurate intelligence coming in from the field and a shortage of skilled analysts to synthesize the data collected. [complete article]

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Bush is urged to quickly outline foreign policy goals
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, January 2, 2005

Over the next two months, President Bush faces a daunting array of challenges around the world -- complicated by Asia's tsunami disaster -- that will be pivotal in determining how much momentum he can generate for the intensely ambitious agenda of his second term. Nothing less than the Bush doctrine is at stake, say U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts.

With the added burden of tsunami relief, however, the problem is no longer just figuring out how to achieve lofty political and diplomatic goals. It is also coming up with the resources to pay for U.S. commitments abroad, U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts say.

"There's no question that the Bush administration is going to be dealing with an immense budget challenge," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. "The pressure from our budget difficulties will allow the Bush administration very limited margins in both foreign and domestic policy. What to do about it is one of the great challenges of our time." [complete article]

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Safe democracy
By Mary Kaldor, Open Democracy, December 23, 2004

America's "9/11" and Spain's "3/11" (or "11-M" as Spaniards refer to the terrible events of 11 March 2004) have become the icons of a pervasive global sense of insecurity. There is a huge temptation for politicians to pander to and to amplify the public's proper anxiety and concern. Measures like over-strict immigration rules, draconian anti-terrorist legislation, indefinite imprisonment without charge and even war, may make them look tough and decisive. But such policies can compound the mood of fear and prejudice, they tacitly permit growing racism, Islamophobia or anti-immigrationism. Worst of all, they can increase rather than reduce the threat of terrorism and violent fundamentalism. In other words, democracy is being undermined both by terrorism and the fear of terrorism.

On the anniversary of 11 March 2004, the political leaders who come together in Madrid will formulate a set of principles and policies to address this double problem. I hope that they will take terrorism seriously but also refuse to allow electoral calculations to influence their conclusions. I want them to call for the mobilisation of global civil society involving people of all faiths from all over the world, especially in those areas where terrorism is most pervasive, to create programmes which will protect individuals and communities, counter extremist ideologies, extend the rule of law and social justice worldwide, and help to build democracy at global, national, and local levels. [complete article]

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Voices unheard
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 3, 2005

In the networked world that we now inhabit, diverse pathways of connection still yield far too little inter-connection. This is a world in which most listen, but few have the privilege of being heard. The channels of communication are open but the traffic is mostly one-way. As we witness the devastation in South Asia or the carnage from the latest bombing in Iraq we see survivors struggling to piece together their lives, but by and large they are seen but not heard.

During a presidential election where Democrats warned that the United States must mend its tattered alliances and restore its tarnished image, this internationalist message, based on the belief that it behooves America to listen to the rest of the world, fell on deaf ears among that great swath of voters across the heartland who remain convinced that all forms of antipathy towards this country are rooted in envy.

We live in a land set apart. The world is "out there" - a waiting station for aspiring immigrants, and the occasional terrorist - the source of all threats to our freedom. Every visitor is now a suspect who must be finger-printed and carefully observed.

Yet as more and more doors get closed, separating America from the rest of the world, commerce still flows freely and the insatiable appetites of consumers continue to be nurtured and well fed. The world populates the shelves of every store while the veneer of a familiar brand naturalizes the merchandise and obscures the foreign markings beneath each package. So long as the people who animate the assembly lines stay on their side of the ocean or the other side of the border while cheap goods easily make their way over here, then all is well.

But also out there is an American war whose name has become synonymous with the country of Iraq. Over a million soldiers have now served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers rotate in, out and back again, faster than during the Vietnam War. But unlike that war where a draft spread the burden of conflict across most of America, the military network through which the troops now get funneled is a network that intersects with the lives of only a minority of Americans. Its principal nodes are located geographically in the South and socially among the disadvantaged. Even for the armchair warriors who still believe this is a just war, it is also most likely someone else's war; a drama that plays out through violence and destruction depicted on TV screens, while the actual costs - human and material - have their most immediate impact on other people in other places.

For most Americans the fact that this is someone else's war means that we can give it as much or as little attention as we choose. Yet for most Iraqis this is also someone else's war. The difference for them is that turning off the TV won't shut it out.

On New Year's Eve, as Fox News broadcast images of celebrations rolling around the globe from east to west, suitably somber scenes of mourning from Phuket, Thailand, were followed by a cozy celebration for a handful of Afghanis in a secure but undisclosed location somewhere in Kabul - but of course Baghdad was excluded. If by chance anything had happened to light up the midnight sky it was unlikely to have been fireworks.

By now it has dawned on most Americans that this misadventure would best have been avoided, though a sense of innocence lingers. The failure flows not from an ill-conceived policy of preemptive war, but from the ingratitude and belligerence of those Iraqis who continue to resist America's efforts to make this a better world.

And now our attention has been arrested by a catastrophe that dwarfs 9/11. Some Americans are calling the tsunami Asia's 9/11, ignoring the fact that 26/12 if paralleled three years ago would have meant 3,000 killed in every major city across this country.

Conservative commentators such as Robert Novak, while making their obligatory expressions of sadness, also suggest that the magnitude of the disaster represents the difference between those countries that are run well and those that are run badly. Perhaps while Governor Jeb Bush surveys the damage in Asia he might care to note that the $13.6 billion hurricane relief aid from Congress (mindful of Florida's pivotal role in the imminent election) made his job much easier this fall. He and Florida might better be described as the beneficiaries of a well-run presidential campaign than a well-run country. That the president would send his brother to Asia is I imagine intended to convey his earnestness, but the governor of Florida may well come home having discovered that he had more to learn than he had to teach.

The fact that three days had passed before President Bush found time to comment on the tsunami catastrophe has been widely cited as yet another example of flat-footed diplomacy from an administration that scoffs at world opinion. Though that has often been a reliable characterization, in this instance I suspect that the delay was a result of political calculation rather than plain insensitivity.

This event, like all others, entered the administration's decision-making process after having passed through a political prism. The refracted element that stood out most clearly might not have been the human toll but instead the relationship between the United States and the United Nations.

In response to desperate cries for help, George Bush promised that America would lead a relief coalition. He made no mention of the UN's role in the relief effort but stuck in the groove of his wartime rhetoric praised the "steadfast leadership" of his counterparts in the region. Piqued by the suggestion that western nations (apparently code for America in UN-parlance) are stingy, recent days have been marked by concern for the victims mixed in equal measures with a celebration of American generosity.

As for eyewitness accounts of the tragedy, still, the voices heard most often have been of those returning home rather than those who lost theirs. And as talking heads debate whether generosity should be measured in straight dollars or as a percentage of GNP, the most extraordinary acts of generosity came from people who had lost relatives, homes, livelihoods and possessions yet gladly shared their food with stranded foreigners. Such simple acts of kindness are indeed the hope of humanity.

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