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Suffering adds up in a hurry in survey of tsunami survivors
By David Brown, Washington Post, January 15, 2005

For two days this week, an Australian doctor and his Acehnese assistant knocked on every 10th door in Calang, a seaside town on Sumatra island that was decimated by the Dec. 26 tsunami. At each house, they asked the same brief questions, thanked the residents and departed after about 10 minutes.

What they learned in their bare-bones, random statistical survey, conducted for the International Rescue Committee, was chilling.

Before the tsunami, 8,700 people lived in Calang; now, that number is 2,500, and a third of those are displaced from other towns. Sixty-five percent of households have had a death in the immediate family. Twenty-two percent have taken in orphans, usually more than one. Only 8 percent of the population is younger than 5, and 85 percent of those children have had diarrhea in the past two weeks.

The survey, conducted by Richard Brennan and his assistant, Kamaruddin, has provided the most precise look to date at the tsunami's effects on the people living in the worst-hit part of the worst-hit country.

The survey produced more than numbers, however. It will help the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian relief agency based in New York, plan how best to spend the $7 million it has budgeted to assist Indonesian survivors of the tsunami.

Relief organizations often use such systematic assessments during man-made disasters involving war, famine and forced dislocation, in which people's needs may not be obvious.

In natural disasters, relief experts said, the aid requirements are usually more clear-cut because the disruption tends to be short-lived and the sufferers start off healthy. But in the case of the recent tsunami, the magnitude of damage in Indonesia indicates that its effects will be severe and long-lasting. [complete article]

Indonesia Muslims warn against evangelism
Associated Press (via ABC), January 14, 2005

A senior Islamic leader warned foreign relief workers Friday of a serious backlash from Muslims if they bring Christian proselytizing to tsunami-struck Sumatra along with humanitarian help. [...]

At Friday prayers in the main mosque of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, a Muslim leader warned against any attempt by Christian aid workers to evangelize among tsunami survivors. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, and Aceh is particularly conservative.

"All non-governmental organizations, either domestic or international, with hidden agendas coming here with humanitarian purposes but instead proselytizing, this is what we do not like," said Dien Syamsuddin, secretary-general of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, or religious scholars.

He also condemned reports the U.S.-based welfare group WorldHelp had planned to adopt 300 Acehnese children orphaned by the disaster and raise them in a Christian children's home.

The group told The Associated Press on Thursday it had dropped the idea. [complete article]

Christian group never had custody of orphans
By Alan Sipress, Washington Post, January 15, 2005

Last weekend, WorldHelp launched an urgent fundraising appeal among evangelical Christians in the United States. "The Aceh people strongly and even violently oppose other religions. They are unreached with the gospel," the group said on its Web site. "If we can place [the Muslim orphans] in a Christian children's home, their faith in Christ could become the foothold to reach the Aceh people."

The Rev. Vernon Brewer, president of WorldHelp, which is based in Forest, Va., told The Washington Post on Tuesday that his group had raised $70,000 and hoped to collect $350,000 more. He said the children had already been airlifted to Jakarta with the permission of the Indonesian government, which he said had been "explicitly" told that the children would be raised in a Christian environment.

After The Post published an article Thursday about WorldHelp's fundraising effort and quoted an Indonesian official saying no permission to move the children had been granted, Brewer told news agencies that his group had abandoned its plan. [complete article]

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U.S. fury over E.U. weapons for China
By Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph, January 15, 2005

America is waging an intense behind-the-scenes battle to stop the European Union lifting its 15-year-old arms embargo against China, warning Britain that it will not tolerate the prospect of European military technology being used to threaten its soldiers in the Far East.

As Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, prepares to travel to Beijing next week to discuss ending the arms ban, The Telegraph has learnt that the Bush administration is alarmed by Tony Blair's "cave-in" to French and German pressure. [...]

The US sees China as its main long-term rival for global dominance and is worried about possible military conflict over China's declared desire to re-assert control over Taiwan, which America has vowed to defend.

US officials argue that any easing of European arms control exports poses a threat to its soldiers.

But EU officials point out that Israel, one of America's closest allies, sells large amounts of weaponry to China. [complete article]

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The Fallouja plight persists
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2005

The question was direct. So too was the answer.

"Where's your biggest threat area?" asked Marine Maj. Phillip Zeman.

"Anywhere, everywhere, sir," answered Cpl. Phil Shy as their Humvee sped through what was left of Fallouja's commercial district Friday.

Two months after Marines wrested control of the Sunni Triangle city from insurgents in a weeklong battle, some of the war-weary units involved in the fight are close to going home. But the U.S. job here is far from over.

This restive city will remain an American responsibility until Iraqi security forces are strong enough to take over the tasks of patrolling the rubble-strewn streets and keeping insurgents from reasserting themselves.

No one is predicting that day will come soon. [complete article]

See also, Desolate Falluja (TomDispatch).

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The critical battle for Iraq's energy
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, January 15, 2005

The armed men waited until at least 10 tanker trucks were in line outside the huge refinery in the Sunni Triangle city of Baiji, a major source of gasoline for Iraq. Then they made their move: Arriving in a blue Opel sedan, their faces obscured by checkered head scarves and wraparound sunglasses, the insurgents charged into the road and began moving from truck to truck.

The truckers were in no position to resist. One by one, witnesses say, they handed over the paperwork that permitted them to leave the tank farm with a load of gasoline. When the gunmen had a fat sheaf of documents, they simply got back in their sedan and drove away, effectively shutting down one more strand of gasoline distribution in a country where energy has emerged as one of the war's most critical battlefields.

"I have been waiting here a week," said Hussein Awad, who had driven from Baghdad to fill a truck for the 7th of April service station last week. His beard was several days along and his ankle-length robe was dirty from a week of constant wear. Back in the capital, the gas lines were running three miles long.

"Every day I come here to sit and wait, wishing that those armed men will not show up so I can fill my tanker and go back to Baghdad," Awad said. "But they are here every day."

Frustrated Iraqi and U.S. officials say insurgents in recent months have displayed an impressive capacity to cripple Iraq's most vital infrastructure.

"What they're doing is focusing efforts on intelligent attacks on infrastructure, especially oil and electricity," said a senior U.S. diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The number of attacks is down, but the effectiveness of the attacks is up significantly." [complete article]

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Fear and voting in Baghdad
By Robert Fisk, Seatle Post-Intelligencer, January 14, 2005

Journalism yields a world of cliches but here, for once, the first cliche that comes to mind is true. Baghdad is a city of fear. Fearful Iraqis, fearful militiamen, fearful American soldiers, fearful journalists.

Jan. 30, that day upon which the blessings of democracy will shower upon us, is approaching with all the certainty and speed of doomsday. The latest Zarqawi video shows the execution of six Iraqi policemen. Each shot in the back of the head, one by one. A survivor plays dead. Then a gunman walks confidently up behind him and blows his head apart with bullets.

These images haunt everyone. At the al-Hurriya intersection Tuesday morning, four truckloads of Iraqi national guardsmen -- the future saviors of Iraq, according to President Bush -- are passing my car. Their rifles are porcupine quills, pointing at every motorist, every Iraqi on the pavement, the Iraqi army pointing their weapons at their own people. And they are all wearing masks -- black hoods or ski masks or kuffiyas that leave only slits for frightened eyes. [complete article]

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Powell gives bleak assessment of Iraq security problems
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, January 13, 2005

One counterinsurgency expert said Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, had a "brutally accurate" picture of the situation and the potential dangers.

But a member of an influential neoconservative policy group said that such warnings "stop well short of the president".

He said Mr Rumsfeld, criticised for the conduct of the war, had an interest in hiding the true picture from the president.

According to Chas Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and head of the independent Middle East Policy Council, Mr Bush recently asked Mr Powell for his view on the progress of the war. "We're losing," Mr Powell was quoted as saying. Mr Freeman said Mr Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave. [complete article]

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Happy talk
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, January 14, 2005

'Metrics" is one of secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld's obsessions. In October 2003, he sent a memo to his deputies and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: "Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror." Rumsfeld demanded precise measurements of progress, including the "ideological". By the "war on terror" he meant Iraq as well as Afghanistan. A study was commissioned by the JCS and conducted by the Institute for Defence Analyses, a military thinktank. In utterly neutral terms, the IDA report detailed a grim picture at odds with the Bush administration's rosy scenarios. Not only has Rumsfeld suppressed the report, but the Pentagon has yet to acknowledge its existence.

In the invasion of Iraq, Rumsfeld applied his doctrine of using a light combat force against the advice of the senior military. General Eric Shinseki, commander of the army, was cashiered and publicly ridiculed for suggesting that a larger force would be required. But it was assumed by Rumsfeld and the neocons that there would be no long occupation because democracy would spontaneously flower.

In April 2004 the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College produced a report on the metrics of the Rumsfeld doctrine: Toppling Saddam: Iraq and American Military Transformation. It concluded that the swift victory over Saddam was achieved by overwhelming technological superiority and Iraqi weakness, and therefore using operation Iraqi Freedom as "evidence" for Rumsfeld's "transformation proposals could be a mistake". The Pentagon has refused to release the study. [complete article]

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Babylon wrecked by war
By Rory McCarthy and Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, January 15, 2005

Troops from the US-led force in Iraq have caused widespread damage and severe contamination to the remains of the ancient city of Babylon, according to a damning report released today by the British Museum.

John Curtis, keeper of the museum's Ancient Near East department and an authority on Iraq's many archaeological sites, found "substantial damage" on an investigative visit to Babylon last month.

The ancient city has been used by US and Polish forces as a military depot for the past two years, despite objections from archaeologists.

"This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain," says the report, which has been seen by the Guardian. [complete article]

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Israel breaks off contact with Abbas
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, January 14, 2005

Israel announced last night that it was suspending all contact with the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his government, claiming that members of the Palestinian security agencies were involved in an attack in Gaza which killed six Israelis.

Aides to Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, said relations would be suspended until Mr Abbas took action against the militant groups behind Thursday night's attack.

The assault on the busy Karni crossing point from Gaza into southern Israel was the deadliest attack since Mr Abbas was elected Yasser Arafat's successor on Sunday, and amounted to open defiance of his repeated calls for an end to four years of violence.

Three Palestinian gunmen sprayed automatic fire and grenades at the checkpoint after detonating a truckload of explosives, and were shot by security forces.

Israel refrained from military retaliation yesterday but said the suspension of all contacts was inevitable when it became obvious that "members of the Palestinian security agencies were involved in [the] attack". [complete article]

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Iraq new terror breeding ground
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, January 14, 2005

Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries."

Low's comments came during a rare briefing by the council on its new report on long-term global trends. It took a year to produce and includes the analysis of 1,000 U.S. and foreign experts. Within the 119-page report is an evaluation of Iraq's new role as a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists. [complete article]

Read the National Intelligence Council's complete report, Mapping the global future (CIA).

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Grand Ayatollah Sistani is once again the trump card in Iraqi politics
By Hannah Allam and Huda Ahmed, Knight Ridder, January 13, 2005

Iraq's highest-ranking cleric isn't running for office. He hasn't officially endorsed any candidates. He hasn't even left his home in five months.

So why does the solemn, grandfatherly face of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Husseini al Sistani peer out at Iraqi voters from thousands of campaign posters across the country? Because leading Shiite Muslim politicians - to the frustration of their opponents - know that when promises of security and electricity won't persuade voters, a beloved ayatollah's tacit support is a clincher for the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections.

Once again, the reclusive Sistani is likely to be the deciding factor in Iraqi politics. Sistani repeatedly forced U.S. occupation authorities to revise political plans, and his intervention ended a three-week military standoff in Najaf involving U.S. troops.

His white-bearded photo now appears on posters promoting the United Iraqi Alliance, a powerhouse slate of mostly Shiite candidates, even though Sistani's office says the cleric doesn't endorse the slate, or any other. [complete article]

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Fear of Shiite rule in Iraq grows
By Trudy Rubin, Knight Ridder, January 12, 2005

"Welcome to the Berlin of the Middle East," a senior U.N. official told me.

Just as Berlin was a city where the tensions of the Cold War played out, so present-day Amman is a city where the tensions of present-day Iraqi politics are writ small. Indeed, this hilly Jordanian capital has become the crossroads where Western and Arab officials hold open and secret meetings with Iraqis, in fruitless efforts to prevent that country's descent toward disaster. Foreigners fear travel to Baghdad, so Iraqis come to neighboring Jordan instead.

Amman also has become Baghdad West, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have taken refuge. Many are rich Sunni supporters of Saddam who know they have no future in Iraq. Their children wander Amman's glitzy Mecca Mall (which many Jordanians now call "Iraqimall"). Sixty percent of real estate sold in Amman last year is said to have been bought by Iraqis.

Iraqis congregate in clusters in the smoky lobby of the posh Four Seasons Hotel to discuss the latest news from home, dialing up Baghdad on their cell phones. Training courses are held in Jordan for Iraqi police - and for Iraqi election monitors.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi came here to try to entice prominent Sunni Iraqis-in-exile to abandon their community's widespread boycott of Iraq's elections. He failed.

In Amman, a visitor quickly senses the tensions that threaten to tear Iraq apart. [complete article]

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U.S. ignored warning on Iraqi oil smuggling
By Claudio Gatti, Financial Times, January 13, 2005

For months, the US Congress has been investigating activities that violated the United Nations oil-for-food programme and helped Saddam Hussein build secret funds to acquire arms and buy influence.

President George W. Bush has linked future US funding of the international body to a clear account of what went on under the multi-billion dollar programme.

But a joint investigation by the Financial Times and Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian business daily, shows that the single largest and boldest smuggling operation in the oil-for-food programme was conducted with the knowledge of the US government.

"Although the financial beneficiaries were Iraqis and Jordanians, the fact remains that the US government participated in a major conspiracy that violated sanctions and enriched Saddam's cronies," a former UN official said. "That is exactly what many in the US are now accusing other countries of having done. I think it's pretty ironic."

Overall, the operation involved 14 tankers engaged by a Jordanian entity to load at least 7m barrels of oil for a total of no less than $150m (€113m) of illegal profits. About another $50m went to Mr Hussein's cronies.

In February 2003, when US media first published reports of this smuggling effort, then attributed exclusively to the Iraqis, the US mission to the UN condemned it as "immoral".

However, FT/Il Sole have evidence that US and UK missions to the UN were informed of the smuggling while it was happening and that they reported it to their respective governments, to no avail. [complete article]

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FBI may scrap vital overhaul of its outdated computer system
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, January 14, 2005

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is on the verge of scrapping a $170 million computer overhaul that is considered critical to the campaign against terrorism but has been riddled with technical and planning problems, F.B.I. officials said on Thursday.

In a last-ditch effort to save the program, the bureau has hired a research firm at a cost of $2 million to evaluate the mounting problems in creating a "paperless" work system and to determine whether any parts of the project can be salvaged, officials said. One idea under strong consideration is for the bureau to use off-the-shelf software instead of the expensive customized features it has unsuccessfully sought to develop.

The development is a major setback for the F.B.I. in a decade-long struggle to escape a paper-driven culture and replace antiquated computer systems that have hobbled counterterrorism and criminal investigations. Robert S. Mueller III, the bureau's director, along with members of the Sept. 11 commission and other national security experts, have said the success of that effort is critical to domestic security.

"It's immensely disappointing to learn of this type of failure," Lee H. Hamilton, the vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, said in an interview. "The F.B.I. cannot share information and manage their cases effectively without a top-flight computer system, and we on the commission got assurances again and again from the F.B.I. that they were getting on top of this problem. It's very, very disappointing to see that they're not." [complete article]

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Religious leaders urge Bush seize the moment on Mideast peace
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via, January 14, 2005

Three dozen of the nation's most prominent Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders Wednesday issued a special appeal to U.S. President George W. Bush to appoint a high-level special envoy to work full time on promoting peace talks between the governments of Israel and the Palestine Authority (PA).

The leaders, who together represent 25 national religious organizations, said the recent realignment in the Israeli government and its plan to disengage from Gaza, coupled with Sunday's election of Mahmoud Abbas to succeed the late Yassir Arafat as PA president, offer a major opportunity for resuming the peace process. [complete article]

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Militants defy Abbas with deadly Gaza bombing
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, January 14, 2005

Mahmoud Abbas, the newly elected Palestinian president, faced his first big test last night when Palestinian militants detonated a bomb on the edge of the Gaza Strip, killing at least five Israelis.

The attack, by far the biggest since he was elected on Sunday, blatantly defied his call for an end to the violence and a revival of some form of peace process with Israel. [complete article]

See also, Karni attack part of Palestinian power struggle (Haaretz).

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Tribals looking down a barrel in Balochistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, January 15, 2005

With its deep, warm sea waters, extremely rich mineral resources and most vital strategic position, southwestern Pakistan's Balochistan province has been the home of many regional and international intrigues for almost half a century. With the Cold War over, new players, including Iran, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, India, Iran and the United States have new agendas in the region, ranging from a proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, oil and gas exploration, a deepsea port to military bases.

In the past, Pakistan adopted different strategies, which included its role as a frontline state in the Cold War to prevent the former USSR from reaching Balochistan's deep waters, as well as land-adjustment agreements with Iran and Oman. In the post-Cold War era, Pakistan is again playing a frontline-state role in the US-led "war on terror" by providing bases and facilities for the US in Balochistan to monitor Taliban and al-Qaeda activities along the border with Afghanistan. Now, with this alliance with the US, Pakistan does not want any more arrangements with any other country - it wants Balochistan for itself once and for all.

Balochistan is in the news again after skirmishes between Pakistani security forces and insurgent Bugti tribals in the province's Sui region, famous for its natural-gas reserves, in which eight paramilitary security men were killed and four were seriously wounded. Authorities say that the tribesmen want more royalties from the gas taken from their lands.

The latest troubles have persuaded Islamabad to wipe out all rebels once and for all with force and re-establish its writ through permanent army positioning. For the rebels, they desperately want to use this chance, too, to deliver a knockout blow to Pakistan's ruling establishment and its close friend - the US - and change the power nucleus in Balochistan. [complete article]

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Tin soldier
By Mariah Blake, Columbia Journalism Review, January/February, 2005

In April 2004, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier named Jonathan Keith Idema started shopping a sizzling story to the media. He claimed terrorists in Afghanistan planned to use bomb-laden taxicabs to kill key U.S. and Afghan officials, and that he himself intended to thwart the attack. Shortly thereafter, he headed to Afghanistan, where he spent the next two months conducting a series of raids with his team, which he called Task Force Saber 7. By late June, he claimed to have captured the plotters, and started trying to clinch a deal with television networks by offering them "direct access" to one of the terrorists who, he said, had agreed to tell all. [complete article]

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Imperative vote
By Omayma Abdel-Latif, Al-Ahram Weekly, January 13, 2005

Friday sermons across Baghdad carried the same message -- the real debate is not about whether elections should be held but how they can be when Iraq still labours under a ruthless occupation.

"We all support holding the elections," Mahmoud Al-Somaidai, imam of Um Al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad told his audience, "but they must be free and fair and should be held when Iraq is free from occupation."

Al-Somaidai's views are shared by the young Shia leader Muqtada Al-Sadr who, in his Friday sermon at Al-Mohsen Mosque in Sadr City, said he will accept to participate in elections only on the condition that US troops are withdrawn.

"I will keep away from elections," Al-Sadr told his followers, "until the occupiers leave my country."

It is an argument that has increasingly come to dominate the public debate over Iraq's elections. Harith Al-Dhari, head of the Muslim Clerics' Association (MCA), Iraq's most prominent Sunni group campaigning for a postponement of the poll, said that despite the fact that the MCA was not participating in the elections they would still accept the results, though not without conditions.

"We will accept and give full support to a Shia-dominated government provided that it draws a timeline for the withdrawal of occupation troops," Al-Dhari told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Monday. He downplayed any differences with Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq's leading Shia cleric, over the date of elections. Al-Sistani is a staunch advocate of elections being held on time. [complete article]

Comment -- If the election (free, fair or otherwise) actually occurs, the new Shia-dominated government may then find itself with a very hard choice to make. Support offered by the Muslim Clerics' Association but contingent on a timetable for ending the occupation will likely carry with it the implication that the alternative is an insurgency that will escalate into civil war. But if the new government accedes to Sunni pressure to send US troops packing, there is no guarantee that the Sunni political groups actually have sufficient influence to reign in the insurgency. An insurgency that merely simmers down while the Americans are leaving, may well come back with a vengeance before the new government has effective security forces of its own.

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U.S. 'erodes' global human rights
BBC News, January 13, 2005

Violations of human rights by the US are undermining international law and eroding its role on the world stage, a leading campaign group says.

Human Rights Watch says the US can no longer claim to defend human rights abroad if it practises abuses itself.

It urges the creation of an independent US commission to examine prisoner abuse at Iraq's US-run Abu Ghraib jail. [complete article]

See also, Abu Ghraib, Darfur: call for prosecutions (Human Rights Watch).

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Iraq's imperfect election
By Tony Karon,, January 13, 2005

Fear of violence may stop many Iraqis going to the polls [on January 30], but those that do get there will be handed a ballot paper that could prove deeply confusing. It will simply list, in an order decided by lottery, 111 different options, for which the voter can cast one vote. This list comprises 75 parties, 9 coalitions and 27 individuals. It ranges from mega coalitions like the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), comprising the major Shiite religious parties and scores of independents grouped together on a single slate at the discreet behest of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to individuals who have put their own names on the form in the hope they can achieve the approximately 44,000 votes nationwide that will be needed to gain a seat in the 275-member National Assembly.

The parties on the ballot will be identified simply by name, symbol and the name of the candidate at the top of their list. The vast majority of these parties and coalitions have been created over the past year, and are unknown to most Iraqis. Each party or coalition has put forward a list of candidates, and it will be allocated seats in the assembly proportionate to the share of the nationwide vote it wins on January 30. For example, if a party or coalition wins 20 percent of the nationwide vote, it will be allocated 55 of the 275 seats in the Assembly -- automatically filled by the first 55 names on the list submitted by that party or coalition to the Iraqi Electoral Commission in December. But in order to protect the candidates from assassination, each party or coalition's list remains secret less than three weeks away from election day. Right now, Iraqi voters will be asked to choose a party list without knowing the names of any but the top candidate -- giving a whole new meaning to the term "secret ballot." [complete article]

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Two aides to Sistani killed
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters (via WP), January 13, 2005

Two aides to Iraq's top Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani have been killed in separate attacks, a Sistani representative said on Thursday, deepening fears of sectarian bloodshed ahead of Jan. 30 elections.

Cleric Mahmoud Madaen, Sistani's representative in the ancient town of Salman Pak south of Baghdad, was killed on Wednesday along with his son and four bodyguards.

Another aide, a cleric working in Sistani's office in Najaf, was also found dead on Wednesday. He was not named.

Iraqi officials say a series of attacks on Shiite targets in Iraq show that Sunni Muslim insurgents are mounting a campaign to inflame sectarian distrust, which has already been stoked by divisions over the elections. [complete article]

Comment -- With ominous predictions having already been made that "spectacular" attacks are yet to come, it's hard not to wonder whether Ayatollah Ali Sistani may himself be the next target. An insurgency which, far from engaging in random acts of violence, has been pursuing what appears to be a carefully calculated strategy, may well have been saving its most provocative attack until a moment when it could wreak most havoc - right before the election.

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U.S. lowers expectations on Iraq vote
By Robin Wright and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, January 13, 2005

With just over two weeks until the Iraqi elections, the United States is lowering its expectations for both the turnout and the results of the vote, increasingly emphasizing other steps over the next year as more important to Iraq's political transformation, according to U.S. officials.

The Bush administration played down voter turnout yesterday in determining the elections' legitimacy and urged Americans not to get bogged in a numbers game in judging the balloting, a reflection of the growing concern over how much the escalating insurgency and the problem of Sunni participation may affect the vote.

"I would . . . really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don't have any meaning, but to look on the outcome and to look at the government that will be the product of these elections," a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity at a White House briefing yesterday. The official highlighted the low voter turnout in U.S. elections as evidence that polling numbers are not essential to legitimacy. [complete article]

Comment -- If the White House doesn't believe that the numbers have any meaning, why bother with the election? Why not just announce the result!

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This election could plunge Iraq further into the abyss
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, January 13, 2005

We are familiar with "managed" elections the world over. And phoney polls under foreign occupation have a long pedigree. Take the US client regime in South Vietnam, where fraudulent but contested elections were held from the 1950s to the 1970s, including at the height of the American war. Just as in Iraq, newspapers were suppressed and parties staged boycotts or were banned, while polling was often suspended in Vietcong-controlled areas - or alternatively the government won a miraculously high vote. Then there were Iraq's own rigged elections under the British-installed regime before 1958: as in Iraq today, thousands of prisoners were held without trial, newspapers and parties were banned and torture was rampant.

The credibility of Iraq's January 30 poll is so flagrantly in doubt, it is no wonder that there is pressure both from within the US administration and prominent Iraqi politicians for a postponement. The danger is that the election won't simply lack credibility, but could actually intensify Iraq's crisis by fuelling sectarian divisions. The combination of the effective truce with Sadr's Mahdi army while the US military concentrates its fire on the Sunni-based resistance, lack of Shia support for Fallujans during November's onslaught and the commitment to the elections by the governing Shia parties has strained relations to the limit. There are increasing fears among Iraqis that the US is deliberately fostering sectarian tension to divide and rule - or even open the way to the de facto partition of the country. When the New York Times's Thomas Friedman argues that "we have to have a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war" and Charles Krauthammer suggests in the Washington Post that we should "see Iraqi factionalisation as a useful tool", it's hardly surprising such ideas flourish. [complete article]

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Iraq car bombings up under interim gov't
By Nick Wadhams, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 12, 2005

Car bombs echo across Baghdad and a constellation of cities around Iraq nearly every day, inflicting slaughter and billowing oily smoke, a reminder to all who see or hear them that the country's insurgents can strike almost anywhere.

Vehicles packed with explosives, often detonated by suicide attackers, have become one of the insurgency's most lethal weapons. An Associated Press tally shows there have been at least 181 of them since Iraq's interim government took over June 28 -- just a handful at first but surging to a rate of one or more a day in recent months.

Those bombs killed about 1,000 people, both Iraqis and Americans, and wounded twice as many. The tally found that 68 bombings were suicide attacks and the rest were detonated by other means. Most involved cars, but some used trucks and even motorcycles.

Less common before June, car bombs have become part of a punishing psychological campaign that has made almost everyone here feel unsafe. They have been used to assassinate Iraqi leaders, attack troop and police convoys, penetrate U.S. armored vehicles being rushed to the country and, seemingly, simply to spread terror. [complete article]

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Fallouja insurgents fought under influence of drugs, Marines say
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2005

Although the ferocity of insurgents is generally attributed to religious fervor and a hatred of America, Marines who participated in the November assault on Fallouja say many of their foes also had something else to bolster their tenacity: drugs.

The Marines say they found numerous stockpiles of needles and drugs such as adrenaline and amphetamines while battling insurgents in the fiercest urban combat waged by U.S. forces since the Vietnam War. [complete article]

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Iraq rebels in video taunt
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, Janaury 12, 2005

Departing from fiery Islamic slogans, Iraqi guerrillas have launched a propaganda campaign with an English-language video urging U.S. troops to lay down their weapons and seek refuge in mosques and homes.

The video, narrated in fluent English by what sounded like an Iraqi educated in the United States or Britain, also mocked the U.S. president's challenge to rebels in the early days of the insurgency to 'bring it on'.

"George W. Bush; you have asked us to 'bring it on'. And so help me, (we will) like you never expected. Do you have another challenge?," asked the narrator before the video showed explosions around a U.S. military Humvee vehicle.

Threats intended to demoralise and frighten in the tense build up to elections at the end of the month were tempered with invitations to desert and escape retribution. [complete article]

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Toll of missing, dead in Indonesia estimated near 210,000
By Tim Johnson, Knight Ridder, January 12, 2005

An official document posted here says that nearly 210,000 people in Indonesia are dead or missing from the Dec. 26 tsunami, a toll that appears to be far higher than officials have reported publicly. Rescue workers think even that number may be low.

The larger Indonesia toll would bring the total of dead and missing from the tidal surge across the Indian Ocean to nearly 272,000, ranking the tsunami as the fifth or sixth deadliest natural disaster in about 250 years.

The new toll came as Indonesian officials restricted the movements of foreign relief workers, U.N. employees and journalists in devastated north Sumatra, the Indonesian island that took the brunt of the tsunami's force, and said foreign military units would be allowed to work in the country for only a limited time. [complete article]

Comment -- Thus far, what amounts to a massive increase in the death toll in the tsunami disaster is a story that has only been reported by Knight Ridder. For most of the US media this has become an old story -- it now apparently merits less attention than the deadly mudslide in California.

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Detainee says U.S. handed him over for torture
By Megan K. Stack and Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2005

The burly men who Mamdouh Habib says bundled him onto a small jet in Pakistan bound for a grisly torture cell in Egypt didn't give their names. But their nationality seemed clear.

"They ... spoke American English with no foreign accent," Habib's lawyer later told a U.S. court. Several of the men sported large tattoos, including one who bore "a tattoo of an American flag on or near his wrist."

Habib had already been interrogated in Pakistani jails by three other Americans -- two women and a man. Now, according to court papers, they watched silently as one of the tattooed men forced the handcuffed prisoner to the ground, placed a foot on his neck and posed for pictures. The tattooed "Americans ... sat at the front of the plane" as he was flown to Cairo in October 2001.

Habib, a 48-year-old Australian citizen who grew up in Egypt, was about to disappear for six months into an Egyptian prison. There, he says, his Egyptian captors shocked him with high-voltage wires, hung him from metal hooks on the wall, nearly drowned him and mercilessly beat and kicked him. [complete article]

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White House fought new curbs on interrogations, officials say
By Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, 2005

At the urging of the White House, Congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure last month that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by American intelligence officers, Congressional officials say.

The defeat of the proposal affects one of the most obscure arenas of the war on terrorism, involving the Central Intelligence Agency's secret detention and interrogation of top terror leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and about three dozen other senior members of Al Qaeda and its offshoots.

The Senate had approved the new restrictions, by a 96-to-2 vote, as part of the intelligence reform legislation. They would have explicitly extended to intelligence officers a prohibition against torture or inhumane treatment, and would have required the C.I.A. as well as the Pentagon to report to Congress about the methods they were using.

But in intense closed-door negotiations, Congressional officials said, four senior members from the House and Senate deleted the restrictions from the final bill after the White House expressed opposition.

In a letter to members of Congress, sent in October and made available by the White House on Wednesday in response to inquiries, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, expressed opposition to the measure on the grounds that it "provides legal protections to foreign prisoners to which they are not now entitled under applicable law and policy."

Earlier, in objecting to a similar measure in a Senate version of the military authorization bill, the Defense Department sent a letter to Congress saying that the department "strongly urges the Senate against passing new legislation concerning detention and interrogation in the war on terrorism" because it is unnecessary. [complete article]

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Tim Spicer's world
By Andrew Ackerman, The Nation, December 29, 2004

Military contracts are big game. And one of the most notorious hunters is a former British soldier whose past business ventures include violating a UN arms embargo in Sierra Leone and unwittingly triggering a coup in Papua New Guinea. His name is Tim Spicer, and in March his London-based company, Aegis Defense Services, bagged a $293 million contract from the Pentagon to protect US diplomats in Iraq.

One might think that the government would be wary of awarding such largesse to a man with a dubious background. But not only did the Pentagon have no idea who Spicer was when they gave his company a huge contract, they didn't seem to care when challenged about it.

Five Democratic senators, led by Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, protested the Aegis contract on humanitarian grounds, urging the Pentagon to reconsider the deal in light of Spicer's background. He is, they noted, a man with a remarkable talent for entangling himself in scandal. In August, they asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to review the Spicer deal. In a response last month, the Army admitted that its contracting officer was unaware of trouble spots in Spicer's past, but it refused to reconsider the contract. [complete article]

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Syrian reformer rankles Islamists
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, January 13, 2005

In a country where conservative Islamic sentiment is rising, Islamist scholar Mohammed Habash's moderate views strike a jarring chord.

Dressed in a tailored tweed suit, he looks more like a college professor than the traditional image of an Islamic religious leader in robes and headdress. But Mr. Habash says he is indeed from the conservative tradition of Islam and was educated only in religious schools.

His interpretation of Islam, however, is anything but conservative. He promotes a reformist vision of Islam that accepts Western ideas, including secular forms of government. Women, he says, are permitted by Islam to receive the same level of education as men and to fully participate in public life, even as religious, political, and business leaders. He advocates peaceful resistance to the US-led occupation in Iraq, in contrast to some clerics in Syria's Sunni Muslim heartland who have encouraged the insurgency. And he rejects what he calls the "monopoly of salvation," the belief that Islam is the only true religion. [complete article]

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Secrecy surrounds Iraq vote
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, January 13, 2005

Secret ballots are the cornerstone of any democratic process. But little more than two weeks before Iraq's first free elections on Jan. 30, the country is finding that secrecy is being taken to new heights.

The identities of many of the candidates haven't been publicly disclosed and are likely to remain secret until after election day, an illustration of the difficulty in mounting an election amid war.

"Not having the candidates' names known is far from ideal for an election, but I think we can all understand the fears over their safety," says a foreign election adviser. "Security is a very big issue for all candidates." [complete article]

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Facing facts about Iraq's election
Editorial, New York Times, January 12, 2005

When the United States was debating whether to invade Iraq, there was one outcome that everyone agreed had to be avoided at all costs: a civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that would create instability throughout the Middle East and give terrorists a new, ungoverned region that they could use as a base of operations. The coming elections - long touted as the beginning of a new, democratic Iraq - are looking more and more like the beginning of that worst-case scenario.

It's time to talk about postponing the elections.

If Iraq is going to survive as a nation, it has to create a government in which the majority rules - in this case, that means the Shiites - but the minorities are guaranteed protection of their basic rights and enough of a voice to influence important decisions. [complete article]

Comment -- The fact that the meaning of democracy is being reduced to "majority rule" is a clear indication of how much George Bush has done to undermine democracy.

Democracy is not alive if political affiliations are rooted in ethnicity, tribe or religious sect. When an electorate is defined by marks of birth, an election amounts nothing more than a voluntary census. There is no expression of political will. Instead, the government that results from such a process will in all likelihood do no more than mirror a social structure and thereby reinforce its divisions.

Consider again what the editors of the New York Times are saying but substitute a couple of words and it becomes clear how far removed this is from our understanding of the nature of democracy:

If America is going to survive as a nation, it has to create a government in which the majority rules - in this case, that means the Christians - but the minorities are guaranteed protection of their basic rights and enough of a voice to influence important decisions.

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Search for banned arms in Iraq ended last month
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, January 12, 2005

The hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq has come to an end nearly two years after President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein. The top CIA weapons hunter is home, and analysts are back at Langley.

In interviews, officials who served with the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) said the violence in Iraq, coupled with a lack of new information, led them to fold up the effort shortly before Christmas.

Four months after Charles A. Duelfer, who led the weapons hunt in 2004, submitted an interim report to Congress that contradicted nearly every prewar assertion about Iraq made by top Bush administration officials, a senior intelligence official said the findings will stand as the ISG's final conclusions and will be published this spring. [complete article]

Comment -- So, the "interim" report turns out to have been the final report but they couldn't manage to wrap up the loose ends until after the election. I guess the ISG's definitive statement could have distracted the voters.

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Iraqi insurgents seem worried bin Laden will hijack their cause
By Salah Nasrawi, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), January 12, 2005

Osama bin Laden has vowed to turn Iraq into the front line of his war against the United States, but Iraqi insurgents seem worried that he's out to hijack their rebellion.

At times, the Iraqis and foreign Muslim militants seem to be competing. Media reports and Web statements have speculated that a Saudi carried out the Dec. 21 suicide bombing of a U.S. mess tent in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul that killed 22 people. But Ansar al-Sunnah, the homegrown group that took responsibility for that deadliest of attacks on a U.S. target in Iraq, named the bomber as Abu Omar of Mosul, a nom de guerre that pointedly claims him as an Iraqi.

Earlier this month, a posting on Ansar al-Sunnah's Web site told foreign militants to stop coming. The group, which defines itself as both nationalist and Islamic, said it needed money, not more recruits.

"We have concrete information that a sharp division is now broiling between" Iraqis waging a nationalist war and foreign Arabs spurred by militant Islam, said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. "They are more divided than ever." [complete article]

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Ukraine teaches U.S. lesson in Iraq
By Martin Sieff, UPI (via Washington Times), January 11, 2005

The democratic "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine has just had its first unanticipated blowback for the United States: When outgoing President Leonid Kuchma decided to pull Ukraine's military contingent out of Iraq, his successor and political enemy, President-elect Viktor Yushchenko supported the move.

And on Tuesday, Ukraine's Supreme Rada, or Parliament made the decision official. A motion to withdraw the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent from Iraq was approved overwhelmingly by 308 out of 450 deputies.

Yushchenko's support for the pull out of Ukrainian troops from Iraq should come as no surprise. He had made that position clear during his hard-fought presidential election campaign. Still, it makes a mockery of the neo-conservative and Bush administration fantasy that they could rely on a "new Europe" in the former communist East to replace the caution and skepticism of the "old" Europe in the West of the continent. [complete article]

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Nominee criticized over post-9/11 policies
By John Mintz, Washington Post, January 12, 2005

Michael Chertoff, President Bush's nominee to be secretary of homeland security, is widely hailed for his intellectual heft and tireless work habits as a federal prosecutor and judge. But he also faces criticism as an architect of some of the most controversial elements of the Bush administration's domestic war on terrorism that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

As an assistant attorney general in the months after the attacks, Chertoff helped oversee the detention of 762 foreign nationals for immigration violations; none of them was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A subsequent report by the Justice Department's inspector general determined that Justice's "no bond" policy for the detainees -- a tactic whose legality was questioned at the time by immigration officials -- led to lengthy delays in releasing them from prison, where some faced "a pattern of physical and verbal abuse."

"We're very concerned that Judge Chertoff views immigration solely through the lens of national security and counterterrorism, and that his record on counterterrorism needs to be closely examined," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties group. [complete article]

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Musharraf blusters as Balochistan boils
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, January 13, 2005

A battle lasting several hours on Tuesday between Pakistani security forces and insurgent tribals in Balochistan province's Sui region, famous for its natural-gas reserves, is likely to turn into a full-scale insurgency as all the powerful oligarchs of Baloch society support this insurgency. Although President General Pervez Musharraf, speaking on a local television channel, gave a clear warning of a major military operation in retaliation, this is likely only to lead to further troubles.

According to officials, eight paramilitary security men were killed and four were seriously wounded on Tuesday night when armed tribesmen attacked the Sui gas fields, the biggest in Pakistan. Authorities say the tribesmen want more royalties from the gas taken from their lands.

Heavy fire was exchanged, during which Bugti tribals, numbering about 10,000, used rocket launchers, mortars and automatic weapons. The armed men seized control of some buildings in Sui field for several hours, oil managers said. Damage to a compressor interrupted the gas flow to customers in Punjab and Sindh provinces. In a press release issued late Tuesday, Pakistan Petroleum Ltd announced the suspension of gas supplies. [complete article]

See also, Tribesmen kidnap 10 Pakistani utility workers (Reuters).

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Manhunt after jailbreak by militant accused of Musharraf murder attempt
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, January 12, 2005

Pakistani officials have launched a nationwide manhunt for an Islamic militant implicated in an assassination attempt on President Pervez Musharraf after he escaped custody, apparently by climbing through a bathroom window.

Mushtaq Ahmed, 26, was accused of playing a key role in an al Qaida-linked bombing that nearly killed Mr Musharraf in December 2003. Yesterday the information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, admitted that Mr Ahmed had escaped air force custody.

"He managed to open the lock at dawn, the guard was sleeping outside, and he ran away," he told the Guardian.

The loss of a high-profile prisoner in such a sensitive case is a severe blow for the government, which waited at least a week before announcing his escape.

Details of the escape from an air force cell in Rawalpindi, heart of Pakistan's powerful military establishment, remained cloudy, fuelling speculation about inside involvement. [complete article]

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Indonesia says foreign troops must leave by March 26
By Jane Perlez, New York Times, January 12, 2005

Indonesia today stepped up its effort to assert control over international relief operations here, saying all foreign troops have to leave the country by March 26, and that its own forces would take over.

Two more battalions of Indonesian forces will be sent in to aid the relief effort, Indonesia's vice president, Jusuf Kalla, said.

"Three months are enough; the sooner the better," Mr. Kalla was quoted as saying by the official Antara news agency, according to Reuters. When asked about long-term relief efforts, he said, "We don't need foreign troops," Reuters reported.

The United States ambassador to Indonesia, B. Lynn Pascoe, said, "We will stay as long as needed." [complete article]

Comment -- One might have expected that, as a career diplomat, Ambassador Pascoe would choose his words a bit more carefully. When Americans promise to stay "as long as needed," that's no guarantee that they'll avoid overstaying their welcome.

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Where are the new recruits?
By Mark Thompson, Time, Janaury 17, 2005

Even as the Iraq war has dragged on, offering no foreseeable end, top Pentagon officials have maintained that the nation's Army is fit enough and big enough to fight it. But last week the military's taut tendons--at the breaking point for better than a year--could be heard painfully snapping from the Pentagon to the Sunni triangle. First came a warning from the head of the Army Reserve that those troops are "rapidly degenerating into a broken force." Then Army officials, speaking privately, conceded that a long-standing policy limiting deployments of National Guard and Army Reserve forces is likely to be scrapped. That's going to make the already difficult job of recruiting--and retaining--such part-time soldiers even tougher. Finally, they added, the continuing instability in Iraq will probably force the Army to make permanent what was supposed to be a temporary addition of 30,000 troops to the active-duty force. [complete article]

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The Pentagon's new math
By Lawrence J. Korb, New York Times, January 11, 2005

Because of the cost of the war in Iraq and the mounting federal deficit, the Office of Management and Budget has ordered the Pentagon to make major budget cuts over the next six years. According to the Pentagon, these could come to more than $55 billion and will affect almost all major weapons programs. Like most reports about reductions in Pentagon spending, however, there is less to it than meets the eye.

First, the overall size of the Pentagon budget would not come down very much. A large amount of the money that is supposedly being cut is in fact only being transferred from the Air Force and Navy budgets to the Army's, which is scheduled to increase by $5 billion a year. The overall military budget will continue to rise; from 2006 through 2011, the Pentagon will still spend more than $2.5 trillion, not counting the costs of the war in Iraq, which now exceed $200 billion.

Second, the proposed savings will take some time to translate into actual budget reductions. For example, in its 2006 budget, which will be sent to the Congress next month, the Pentagon plans to cut budget authority - which includes spending, borrowing and contractual obligations - by $5.9 billion. But because so much of that money was scheduled to be spent toward the end of the decade, the actual reduction in 2006 alone will be only about $1 billion. Most of the money that will be spent on new weapons next year has already been authorized by Congress.

Third, many of the reductions are not real cuts. For example, the Navy still plans to buy 30 Virginia-class nuclear submarines for some $60 billion, but rather than buying two a year for the next six years, as had been planned, the Pentagon will buy only one per year. This will "save" about $5.3 billion in the next six years, but simply pushes the cost to the following years. [complete article]

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Ayatollah alarms Sunnis with pledge of security force purge
By James Hider, The Times, January 12, 2005

An Iranian-backed Ayatollah tipped to become Iraq's first elected leader in decades said yesterday that he would carry out a purge of Iraq's intelligence and security structures if his party wins power.

Ayatollah Abdelaziz al-Hakim told The Times that under US occupation and the interim administration the security forces had become infested with former officers of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime and needed to be shaken up. His comments are likely to worry Sunnis, who already fear that their grip on government is slipping.

"There are major infiltrations, varying in degree from the Mukhabarat (secret intelligence service) to Interior Ministry and to a lesser degree the Ministry of Defence. Some of them are semi-infiltrated," he said. "Sometimes we come across their secret reports, where they use similar idioms and expression to those used in Saddam's time, as if Saddam's times were still here. This is sometimes painful, but sometimes it makes you laugh." [complete article]

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Diplomat questions validity of Iraq voting
By Barry Schweid, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 11, 2005

Taking a pessimistic view, a senior Jordanian diplomat on Tuesday questioned the validity of the elections Iraq is due to hold at the end of the month if many Iraqis do not vote.

More than 40 percent of Iraqis will be unable to participate in electing an interim assembly, said Karim Kawar, Jordan's ambassador to the United States, adding, "This raises questions about the authenticity of the elections."

The Arab diplomat said some of the Iraqis would be prevented from voting by threat of insurgents while others lack the will to vote.

"We are in a kind of bind," Kawar said during a discussion at the Nixon Center. "I am not as optimistic about the Iraqi election as I was about the Palestinian election."

Jordan, which borders Iraq and has had a long and profitable economic and strategic relationship with its much larger, oil-rich neighbor, has trained more than 35,000 Iraqi police in the past year, but refuses to be part of the U.S.-led military coalition that is fighting insurgents. [complete article]

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India finds a $40bn friend in Iran
By M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, January 11, 2005

India's oil diplomacy took a giant leap forward on Friday when New Delhi unveiled a multibillion-dollar deal with Iran and Russia that will be crucial to India's long-term energy security, and took the initiative the same week to host the first-ever conference on regional cooperation among Asian oil-producing and consuming countries.

In its US$40 billion deal with the National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC), India committed to import natural gas from Iran over a 25-year period and to develop two Iranian oil fields and a gas field. Iran will sell the liquefied natural gas (LNG) to India at a price linked to Brent crude oil. According to the agreement, India will pay $1.2 plus 0.065 of Brent crude average, with an upper ceiling of $31 per barrel. Iran will ship 5 million tonnes of LNG to India annually, with a provision to increase the quantity to 7.5 million tonnes.

As part of the deal, India's ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) gets a 20% share in the development of Iran's biggest onshore oilfield, Yadavaran. The Indian company will also get 100% rights in the 300,000-barrel-per-day Jufeir oilfield. The stake in Yadavaran translates into 60,000 barrels per day of oil for India. Significantly, Chinese state oil company Sinopec (China National Petroleum and Chemical Corp) operates the Yadavaran field. With the deal signed in Delhi, India will now hold a 20% stake in Yadavaran, Iran 30%, while China retains its existing 50% share. [complete article]

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Iran says Halliburton won drilling contract
Agence France-Presse (via Washington Times), January 11, 2005

Iran said yesterday that U.S. oil services giant Halliburton won a major contract to drill for gas, despite U.S. sanctions against foreign investment in the country's energy industry.

"Halliburton and Oriental Kish [an Iranian company] are the final winners of the tender for drilling South Pars phases 9 and 10," Pars Oil and Gas Company Managing Director Akbar Torkan said, according to state television.

An unnamed Pars company board member said the deal for the gas fields in the Persian Gulf off the south coast of Iran was worth about $310 million.

He said Halliburton did not directly sign the contract but that it offered its services via Oriental Kish.

Under a law introduced in 1996, the United States threatens sanctions on both American and foreign companies investing more than $40 million in Iran's petroleum industry. [complete article]

See also, Halliburton involvement may be part of larger diplomatic effort (RFE/RL).

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Reporters Without Borders condemns mistreatment of cyberjournalists and webloggers
Reporters Without Borders, January 6, 2005

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the mistreatment in prison of cyberdissidents and webloggers after an Iranian committee report concluded that public confessions of two of them, Omid Memarian and Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi, were obtained under duress.

"We fear that the authorities are succeeding in purging the web of all critical content through brutality, intimidation and censorship," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "In a country in which weblogs and news sites have flourished in the past few years such a setback would be a catastrophe for freedom of expression."

Confirmation that Memarian and Mir Ebrahimi were mistreated after their arrests in November 2004, along with a group of other online journalist, was given on 4 January 2005 in a report from the committee for Monitoring the Implementation of the Constitution, on which both conservatives and reformists sit.

Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about police threats against Omid Memarian, Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi and Shahram Rafihzadeh, and pointed out that weblogger Mojtaba Saminejad, along with online journalist, Javad Gholam Tamayomi, are still in prison. [complete article]

See also, Journalists receive death threats after testifying (Human Rights Watch) and Iran to Probe journalists' torture claims (AP).

Comment -- Anyone in any doubt about whether the Iranian regime is getting hypersensitive? The War in Context is now included among the growing ranks of web sites that cannot be accessed inside Iran!

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Despite false claim, his star rises
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, January 11, 2005

The man who insisted that President Bush make the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons in Africa is poised to assume a top State Department job that would make him the lead US arms negotiator with Iran and North Korea, according to administration officials.

Robert G. Joseph, a special assistant for national security to President Bush until a few months ago, is on the short list to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, the nation's senior diplomat in charge of negotiating arms control treaties, said the officials, who spoke on the condition they not be named.

Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, who was Joseph's boss at the National Security Council, has been a strong supporter of Joseph, the officials said. Joseph did not respond to messages yesterday.

White House and intelligence officials have identified him as the official who included the uranium claim in the president's 2003 State of the Union address, despite strong CIA objections. Joseph has said he believed the CIA's disagreement was over the sourcing of the assertion, not whether the claim was accurate, the White House said about six months after the speech. But the apparent willingness of the administration to consider promoting someone who was involved in one of its biggest embarrassments drew immediate fire from critics. [complete article]

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The next nuclear wave
By Jon B. Wolfsthal, Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2005

Not since the early days of the Cold War have proliferation experts and the general public been so attuned to the threat of nuclear weapons--and with good reason. There are more than 28,000 nuclear devices in existence today, more and more countries are acquiring the means to produce them, and there is mounting evidence that al Qaeda has every intention of using a nuclear weapon if only it can get its hands on one. Simply recognizing these dangers, however, is not a strategy for confronting them; workable remedies are sorely needed.

Nuclear threats fall into two basic categories. In the short term, nuclear terrorism poses the most acute risk. Once al Qaeda or another group possesses a weapon, deterring or preventing an attack will be all but impossible. Luck, as much as money and hard work, has helped prevent such an attack to date. A second, more complex danger stems from the proliferation of nuclear capabilities to governments. In the long term, the wider state acquisition of nuclear weapons dramatically increases the odds that one might be used, intentionally or not. This concern applies not only to so-called rogue regimes, but to key U.S. allies as well. Given the global insecurity of much weapons material, state proliferation also contributes to the risk of a nightmarish nuclear terrorism scenario. [complete article]

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From Sparta to Nicaragua, disasters alter political history
By Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, January 11, 2005

If they hadn't been pulverized by an earthquake, the Spartans of ancient Greece might have defeated the Athenians, changing the course of Western culture.

But for a volcano, the Panama Canal would be in Nicaragua. And if the modern Greeks and Turks had not helped each other after their own earthquakes five years ago, they might well still be mortal enemies instead of friendly neighbors.

As Asian nations reel from the tsunamis that struck two weeks ago, history suggests that the tragedy could engender political fallout - both good and bad - that will re-shape the region as surely as the giant waves redrew its coastlines. [complete article]

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Interrogating Donald Rumsfeld
By Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel (introduction by Tom Engelhardt), TomDispatch, January 11, 2005

The "torture memos," as they have come to be known, reveal much about the current administration. They point to a level of secrecy matching, or even surpassing, any sought or achieved by the executive branch in prior eras, even during wartime. They point to a lack of concern for accountability that veers far from previously acknowledged limits on unchecked executive power. They deliberately disregard, even nullify, the balance-of-powers doctrine that has defined the United States since its inception. Essentially, much of what has been put in place by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 has relied on the fear of terror as a means to establish a new doctrine of state; it is a doctrine that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, had lingered in the outer corridors of power. Much of the Patriot Act, for instance, had already been drafted before 9/11; and the proposal for the Department of Homeland Security was also in draft form at that time. So, too, were plans for a war in Iraq.

The torture memos developed inside the White House by a task force of lawyers headed by presidential confidant and White House Legal Counsel Alberto Gonzales are important, and not just as evidence of a policy that disregards human rights and reciprocity in the treatment of soldiers, civilians, and prisoners. The torture memos are also -- perhaps primarily -- important because they reveal the most basic attitudes with which the administration greets the Congress, the courts, the American public, and the world at large. [complete article]

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Guantanamo: Three years on
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, January 10, 2005

Three years ago, the world caught its first glimpse of a new breed of prisoners, captured in a new sort of war. They were shackled, orange-suited figures, seen through telephoto lenses, arriving in a makeshift jail on an American base on a tropical island, 8,000 miles from where they had been captured on the battlefield of Afghanistan.

According to US officials at the time, they were "the worst of the worst." They had been chained to the seats of their transport plane for the journey half way round the world because "these are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines on a C-17 to bring it down," General Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, explained in an interview on 10 January 2002, as the first 20 prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay in south-eastern Cuba.

Today the "the worst of the worst" better describes the prison than those who are confined there. At its height, Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo housed about 660 detainees. The number has fallen to around 550 today, from 42 countries. The place and manner of their detention, however, has become the embodiment of much that the world detests in President George Bush's global "war on terror". "Guantanamo has become an icon of lawlessness," the human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement marking Camp X-Ray's third anniversary, "a symbol of the US government's attempts to put itself above the law." [complete article]

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City of ghosts
By Ali Fadhil, The Guardian, January 11, 2005

On November 8, the American army launched its biggest ever assault on the Iraqi city of Falluja, considered a stronghold for rebel fighters. The US said the raid had been a huge success, killing 1,200 insurgents. Most of the city's 300,000 residents, meanwhile, had fled for their lives. What really happened in the siege of Falluja? In a joint investigation for the Guardian and Channel 4 News, Iraqi doctor Ali Fadhil compiled the first independent reports from the devastated city, where he found scores of unburied corpses, rabid dogs - and a dangerously embittered population. [complete article]

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Why most embeds don't tell all
By Greg Mitchell, Editor and Publisher, January 7, 2005

An article written by another embed this week quotes an unnamed Marine lieutenant in Ramadi: "If anyone gets too close to us we fucking waste them. It's kind of a shame, because it means we've killed a lot of innocent people." This came from a British reporter, traveling with American forces, writing for the respected magazine The Economist. Few American embeds have passed along a quote like that, and I wonder why.

In another passage, the Economist embed observes that bystanders to an ambush are liable to be killed by Marines, who sometimes hide near the body of a dead insurgent and kill whoever comes to collect it. According to that same Marine lieutenant, commenting on the general situation in Iraq: "It gets to the point where you can't wait to see guys with guns, so you start shooting everybody. It gets to the point where you don't mind the bad stuff you do."

The embed (whose work, like most in the magazine, appears without a byline) points out that the Americans are superb fighting machines, but at peacekeeping or policing "they are often inept." He mentions an 18-year-old Texan in Mosul who, confronted by jeering school kids, shot canisters of buckshot at them, then explained: "It's not good, dude, it could be fatal, but you gotta do it."

Then there are the soldiers who seem to enjoy kicking down doors and calling the Iraqi women they find "Bitch."

The question is: Do American soldiers only talk and act like this around foreign journalists, or are our embeds only telling half the story? [complete article]

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Iraqi security forces: hunters and hunted
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, January 11, 2005

The masked men in the streets of Iraq's capital see themselves as the good guys. Manning checkpoints and darting through traffic on foot, Iraqi policemen, soldiers and National Guardsmen assume a distinctly defensive posture: rifles up, ski masks down.

"It's part of the uniform," said Ahmed, a first lieutenant with a black woolen balaclava tugged down to the collar of his camouflage jacket. Both jacket and mask are now standard issue for the security forces of Iraq's interim government, newly trained troops who do double duty as hunter and hunted.

Ahmed and four fellow police commandos said they would not go on duty without their ski masks, give out their full names for publication or tell their neighbors what they really do for a living. [complete article]

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Ex-Baathists play crucial insurgent role, U.S. says
By John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2005

U.S. military commanders say a new assessment of the Iraqi insurgency has led them to focus on 34 former Baath Party leaders who they believe are financing and directing attacks against American troops and their allies.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid and other senior Defense officials interviewed in Iraq said much of the insurgent violence was being carried out by a network of regional cells that loosely coordinate their operations with former officials of Saddam Hussein's ruling party.

Insurgent leaders often operate out of Syria and Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, officials said.

"There is a level of tactical coordination and direction that still comes from the remnants of the Baath Party, and I believe a certain amount of this tactical coordination effort is orchestrated from Syria," said Abizaid, the Central Command chief who is directing the war in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- In the current issue of The New Yorker, Dan Baum writes that, '...the Army is facing an enemy whose motivation it doesn't understand. "I don't think there's one single person in the Army or the intelligence community that can break down the demographics of the enemy we're facing," an Airborne captain named Daniel Morgan told me. "You can't tell whether you're dealing with a former Baathist, a common criminal, a foreign terrorist, or devout believers."

That almost two years into this war the Pentagon is still struggling to understand the nature of the insurgency points to one extraordinary but glaringly simple fact: America has virtually no friends in Iraq. This doesn't mean that the majority of Iraqis support the insurgents or think that security would improve if American troops left. It simply means that the social relations on which human intelligence is based are so tenuous that most of the time, American soldiers can do no more than speculate about who they are up against.

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Iraqi rebels grow strong in Saddam's old haunts
Agence France Presse (via Arab News), January 11, 2005

Violence has spiked against Iraqi and US forces in the battleground provinces of north-central Iraq, with less than three weeks to go before landmark national elections. US Army officers at their headquarters in Saddam Hussein's old palace in Tikrit describe an insurgency that has grown since last March despite the best efforts to win over the Iraqi people living in the northern provinces of Salahuddin, Diyala and Tamim, home to Iraq's alienated Sunni Muslims.

"What we've seen was the insurgency gather steam since last April and May. It probably would have gained steam a whole lost faster if it were not for courageous Iraqi National Guard and police standing up for their country," said Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the First Infantry Division (1st ID).

Despite the insurgency's ability to recruit new members, Batiste believes the US Army is winning in Iraq. He points to the training of11 , 000Iraqi national guardsmen in his area of operations which he considers a success story. "These things take time. You have to take a long view," Batiste said. [complete article]

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Ukraine announces pullout of Iraq force
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, January 11, 2005

The government of Ukraine, acting a day after an explosion killed eight of its soldiers in Iraq, announced Monday that it would withdraw its 1,650-member force by the middle of 2005.

Ukraine has been moving for months toward pulling out its forces, but officials have remained vague about dates; Monday's statement, which followed a meeting between President Leonid Kuchma and his defense and foreign ministers, gives new firmness to those intentions.

The blast occurred as the troops were loading an explosive onto a truck in Suwayrah, 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. One Kazakh was also killed. The Islamic Army in Iraq, an insurgent group, asserted responsibility for the blast, which was first reported as an accident but is now being investigated as an attack.

Ukraine's contingent is the fourth-largest in the U.S.-led military coalition and operates under Polish command in southern Iraq. Nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed in previous incidents. [complete article]

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Governor invites new Iraq army recruits
By Rawya Rageh, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 10, 2005

The governor of Iraq's volatile Anbar province on Monday urged members of Saddam Hussein's dissolved military to form a unit under the new Iraqi army to help defend the troubled region.

Sheik Fassal Raikan al-Gout said the move would enhance stability in the province which includes Ramadi, a hotbed of Iraq's insurgency, and Fallujah, the former guerrilla stronghold overrun in a major U.S. Army offensive in November.

"Implementing the state's policy and out of keenness on the country's unity ... we call on all our brothers and sons of the dissolved army, officers and all ranks, to form a squad in the new Iraqi Army," al-Gout told The Associated Press.

A defense ministry spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the interim government wants former army members and technical experts to volunteer and form teams under the command of the new Iraqi army. He declined to provide details. [complete article]

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How a vote could derail democracy
By Larry Diamond, New York Times, January 9, 2005

Iraq is about to reach a point of no return. If, as President Bush insists, it goes ahead with elections for the new transitional government on Jan. 30, Iraq may score a huge moral and political victory for democracy over violence and terrorism. More likely, however, these elections will only increase political polarization and violence by entrenching the perceptions of Sunni Arab marginalization that are helping to drive the violence in the first place. This would not be the first instance when badly timed and ill-prepared elections set back the prospects for democracy, stability and ethnic accommodation. Think of Angola in 1992, Bosnia in 1996, Liberia in 1997.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the problem is not simply that there is too much mayhem and disorder in significant parts of Iraq. Let's face it, at some point Iraq will have to hold elections, and foreign terrorists, religious fanatics and diehard defenders of the old order will try to use violence to obstruct them.

Rather, the problem right now is that the opposition to holding elections goes well beyond these irreconcilable spoilers. It includes a great many other actors - many of them moderate and democratic - who believe that elections this month cannot possibly be fair, and who have therefore resolved not to legitimize them by participating. [complete article]

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Iran plays a role in Iraq vote
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2005

As Iraq lurches toward elections this month, its neighbor Iran is emerging as one of the hottest campaign issues.

Iraq's outspoken defense minister fired one of the first salvos last month, charging that the front-running slate, the Shiite Muslim-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, was controlled by Tehran and was determined to "build an Islamic dictatorship and have turbaned clerics rule in Iraq."

The minister, Hazem Shaalan, is a Shiite, but is running on a rival, more secular slate.

Part of the focus on Iran is pure politics. In light of the nations' history of rivalry and eight-year war in the 1980s, the mention of Iran is a convenient way to attack candidates, spook citizens and galvanize voters, experts say. Many leaders of the alliance's leading party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, spent years in exile in Iran after fleeing Saddam Hussein's regime.

But the debate is also raising serious questions about what sort of government Iraqis will choose Jan. 30, what role religion should play in the constitution and how much influence Iran will wield over the next crop of Iraqi leaders. [complete article]

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In shadow of tragedy a bitter conflict is rekindled
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, January 10, 2005

Tensions between separatist militants in northern Aceh and the Indonesian government were growing last night after a series of violent clashes in which at least seven Indonesians were shot dead.

The Indonesian military warned that renewed activity by the rebels, known as Gam, or the Free Aceh Movement, could pose a serious threat to the relief effort in the tsunami-hit province.

Yesterday, gunfire erupted in the province's capital, Banda Aceh, outside the house of the deputy chief of police, and close to the main UN aid office. It was not immediately clear who had fired the shots. Indonesian police blamed the separatists, while aid workers said a traumatised security guard was responsible.

The gunfire in Banda Aceh follows a clash in the devastated seaside village of Lampook at the end of the last week in which Indonesian soldiers shot dead seven young men. The village, 25km south-west of Banda Aceh, was destroyed by the tsunami, with most of its 6,000 inhabitants killed or missing. [complete article]

Militants jump into Aceh aid efforts
By Richard C. Paddock and Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2005

Hundreds of Muslim militants, best known for smashing up Jakarta discos or advocating Islamic rule, have poured into devastated Aceh province with the help of the Indonesian military to aid in disaster relief.

The Islamic Defenders Front and the Indonesian Mujahedin Council have set up camp at the same Indonesian military air base in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, being used by U.S. Navy helicopters for aid flights to victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami.

So far, the two sides have kept their distance. But the militants' presence and their apparent plan to develop long-term influence here could complicate efforts to bring peace to a region long troubled by a separatist conflict and make the province a religious battleground. [complete article]

Indonesia restricts Aceh aid work
BBC News, January 11, 2005

Indonesia's army is to restrict relief workers from reaching remoter parts of the tsunami-hit province of Aceh.

The army said aid workers must now register to travel outside the towns of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, because it could not guarantee safety elsewhere.

Correspondents say the army wants to re-establish control over Aceh, where it has been battling separatist rebels. [complete article]

For Honduras and Iran, world's aid evaporated
By Ginger Thompson and Nazila Fathi, New York Times, January 11, 2005

The people of San Miguel Arcangel know all too well what it is like to be struck by disaster, and they have watched the world rush to Asia's rescue with sober eyes.

Elder Nahum Caceres said his entire community was swept off a hillside six years ago by Hurricane Mitch. In his wallet he keeps a handwritten list of the dozen international aid organizations that have come and gone since then.

"I don't know how much they sent, but they tell me this is a million-dollar project," Mr. Caceres said, looking down over an unsightly patch of flat gray houses in different stages of completion. "I would like them to see what has happened with all their money."

Eric Moscoso, a neighbor of Mr. Caceres, was more succinct: "We are abandoned."

Six years ago it was scenes from Honduras that filled television newscasts and newspaper pages. Then as now, there was a public outpouring of sympathy and support. Then as now, heads of state pledged huge amounts of aid. International relief agencies committed themselves to "build back better," promising to stay for the long term and provide the tools needed to overcome the social and economic forces that make the poor so vulnerable. [complete article]

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The hot seat awaits - and goodwill can evaporate fast
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, January 11, 2005

Britain, the US and moderate Arab countries will begin a concerted drive this week to push Palestine's president-elect, Mahmoud Abbas, towards a historic post-Arafat compromise with Israel.

But what these states and their leaders want does not necessarily coincide with Palestinian needs and aspirations, or with what Mr Abbas can deliver in practice.

Like any politician, Mr Abbas made numerous election promises. They included the return of millions of refugees and of territory lost in 1967, and a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.

Ordinary voters who put their faith in the democratic process will hold Mr Abbas to these pledges. Many Palestinians feel they have already compromised enough.

And even allowing for campaign hyperbole, Mr Abbas's room for manoeuvre is limited. From the moment he takes office later this week, the heat will be on. Expectations are running dangerously high. [complete article]

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Settlement population rose by 6 percent in 2004
By Relly Sa'ar, Haaretz, January 10, 2005

The number of people living in the West Bank and Gaza settlements increased by 6 percent last year, according to statistics published Sunday by the Interior Ministry's Population Registry.

In 2004, 250,179 people lived in the territories, compared to 236,381 in 2003 - an increase of 13,798. In the Gaza Strip alone, there was an 11 percent increase in the number of residents in Jewish settlements. In 2004, 8,693 people lived in 17 settlements, compared to 7,820 in 2003. [complete article]

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Report claims to debunk 'demographic bomb'
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz, January 10, 2005

An extra-academic document that debunks one of the foundations of the disengagement plan, "the demographic bomb," will be presented in Washington on Monday to a prestigious academic institution with substantial influence on the Bush administration. The document, which Haaretz has obtained, argues that 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today, and not the 3.8 million claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

In sharp contrast to population studies conducted in Israel by professors Arnon Sofer and Sergio della Pergola, the document argues that Jews continue to maintain a solid 60 percent majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

An Israeli-American group whose members are clearly identified with the right authored the ABC Demographic Project. The group undercuts a prevailing assumption in Israel's public debate - that Jews have ceased, or will soon cease to be, a majority in that territory. The demographic danger is not "all it's made out to be," the writers state. [complete article]

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Abbas wins landslide victory
By Mark Oliver, The Guardian, January 10, 2005

Mahmoud Abbas won a landslide victory last night in the Palestinian presidential election and was today expected to outline his vision of a post-Yasser Arafat future.

The militant Islamic group Hamas, which boycotted the elections along with another militant group, Islamic Jihad, said today it could work with Mr Abbas, but questioned his real margin of victory and complained of electoral irregularities.

Final results announced today gave Mr Abbas 62% of the vote. Earlier an election official said Mr Abbas's nearest rival, Mustafa Barghouti, had secured 21%, and Mr Barghouti conceded defeat. [complete article]

Many hopes ride on choice of new leader
By Harvey Morris, Financial Times, January 10, 2005

Salamah Yacoub was only 12 when Palestinians last voted for a president and yesterday, as the 21-year-old cast his ballot at a Ramallah refugee camp, he said he felt he was deciding his destiny.

"We started our uprising to recover al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. So far, we have got neither al-Aqsa nor anything else. Instead, it destroyed us," said Mr Yacoub. "I hope the victor will be able to end the intifada in exchange for peace."

Many different hopes were riding on the choice of a successor to the late Yassir Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. Mr Yacoub wants to see the release of 8,000 political prisoners, including a cousin serving life for killing collaborators.

Others were looking for greater democracy and accountability within the corruption-plagued PA, a widespread demand that accounted for many of the votes that went to Mustafa Barghouti, an independent challenger to Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas.

"In 1996, the PA told us they were going to turn the country into Singapore," said Sami Shaath, a university teacher and Barghouti supporter. "Instead of Singapore, we got Somalia." [complete article]

See also, Fate of president rests with Sharon (The Guardian) and Arafat in a suit (Haaretz).

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Captivity is over, but not fear
By Roger Cohen, New York Times, January 9, 2005

Glasses of gin fizz are served at the bar of the Hotel Crillon, the well-heeled of Paris recline in chairs of red velvet, and Georges Malbrunot, recently released after four months in the hands of Islamic militants in Iraq, gives a blunt assessment of where America's Iraqi war is headed: "Straight into a wall."

Not an unusual view for a Frenchman, given the country's opposition to the war. But Mr. Malbrunot, 41, a journalist with the daily Figaro, has observed the Iraqi insurgency from the inside, seen its organization, lived its reasoning. A world obscure to most observers of Iraq became his universe, albeit one where his vision was necessarily limited.

Captured on Aug. 20 on the road from Baghdad to Najaf, held in five different locations, tried by a self-styled Islamic court, Mr. Malbrunot and his Arabic-speaking colleague Christian Chesnot, 38, of Radio France Internationale, came away with an impression of a well-organized movement that had a clear strategy. A militant who said he had trained in Osama bin Laden's Afghan camps listed the objectives as: the overthrow of the Egyptian and Saudi regimes; the defeat of American forces in Iraq; the driving of a wedge between Europe and the United States; the re-creation of the Arab caliphate; and the prosecution on a wide front of a war against the West, depicted as one of self-defense. [complete article]

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After threats, Iraqi electoral board resigns
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, January 10, 2005

In another significant blow to Iraq's upcoming elections, the entire 13-member electoral commission in the volatile province of Anbar, west of the capital, resigned after being threatened by insurgents, a regional newspaper reported Sunday.

Saad Abdul-Aziz Rawi, the head of the commission, told the Anbar newspaper that it was "impossible to hold elections" in the province, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims and where insurgent attacks already have prevented voter registration. The province includes the restive cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

"They are kidding themselves," Rawi said about officials hopeful that the elections, set for Jan. 30, could take place in Anbar.

An Iraqi at the commission's office in Anbar said the members had resigned and had gone into hiding. [complete article]

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Saddam allies join terrorist crusade
By Borzou Daragahi, Washington Times, January 10, 2005

The torture and killing of a 56-year-old labor rights advocate had all the hallmarks of Saddam Hussein's security forces, not the ritual executions of militant Islamists, illustrating a multiheaded terrorist crusade to stop the Jan. 30 elections.

Hadi Saleh, an official with Iraq's Communist Party, was found in his home strangled with a steel wire, his face beaten to a pulp, his hands bound behind his back.

His personal files, containing the names and addresses of colleagues in both the party and a labor federation he led, were stolen, his home ransacked.

With its signs of politically motivated brutality and torture, the scene brought to mind the interrogation rooms of deposed President Saddam Hussein's security forces, officials said.

"The people who did this are very clearly members of the Ba'ath Party from the former regime," said Mohammad Jassem al-Abad, a leader of the once-outlawed Communist Party, which is campaigning boisterously for the Jan. 30 parliamentary election.

"The way they killed him makes it very clear they're the ones who did this," he said. "It is their methods. His assassination wasn't random. It was perfectly chosen." [complete article]

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Militants said to send fighters to Europe
By Tony Czuczka, Associated Press (Seattle P-I), January 8, 2005

Islamic extremists accused of plotting to kill Iraq's prime minister in Germany are smuggling battle-hardened fighters from Iraq to Europe, raising a potential new terrorist threat on the continent, according to German officials.

More than 20 alleged supporters of Ansar al-Islam have been arrested in Europe in the past year as authorities move against the group that has links with al-Qaida and Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who's been leading bloody attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Ansar al-Islam is suspected of spiriting dozens of fired-up young Muslims to Iraq to join the insurgency, but the latest raids in Germany - the most spectacular yet against the group - heightened concerns that the organization also could pose a menace outside Iraq, too. [complete article]

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Let Bin Laden stay free, says CIA man
By Tony Allen-Mills, Sunday Times, 2005

The world may be better off if Osama Bin Laden remains at large, according to the Central Intelligence Agency's recently departed executive director.

If the world's most wanted terrorist is captured or killed, a power struggle among his Al-Qaeda subordinates may trigger a wave of terror attacks, said AB "Buzzy" Krongard, who stepped down six weeks ago as the CIA's third most senior executive.

"You can make the argument that we're better off with him (at large)," Krongard said. "Because if something happens to Bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror." [complete article]

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The scandal of the evangelical conscience
By Ronald J. Sider, Christianity Today, January/February, 2005

Alan Wolfe, famous contemporary scholar and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, has just published a penetrating study of American religious life. Evangelicals figure prominently in his book. His evaluation? Today's evangelicalism, Wolfe says, exhibits "so strong a desire to copy the culture of hotel chains and popular music that it loses what religious distinctiveness it once had." Wolfe argues, "The truth is there is increasingly little difference between an essentially secular activity like the popular entertainment industry and the bring-'em-in-at-any-cost efforts of evangelical megachurches." [complete article]

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The torture files
By Michael Duffy et al, Time, January 17, 2005

Like a recurring nightmare, Abu Ghraib never quite goes away. The alleged ringleader of the horrors inflicted at the Baghdad prison, whose grin and thumbs-up over the body of a dead Iraqi prisoner became an image of national shame, showed up for his court-martial in Fort Hood, Texas, last week, with a clean shave and a solemn face. A day earlier, President George W. Bush's choice for Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, who played a large role in orchestrating, if not actually drafting, a change in the Administration's rules on torture, was asked to explain himself before the Senators of the Judiciary Committee who are considering his nomination. Three years after 9/11, the question remains: How did we end up abusing prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba--almost 20 inmate deaths are being investigated--and what is our policy now?

No one disputes the fact that the Bush team departed abruptly from convention when it loosened rules governing interrogations of prisoners. Some critics say those decisions amounted to an authorization of torture--a charge the Administration has flatly and repeatedly denied, right up through last month, when it abruptly revised its legal basis for interrogation rules for the second time in 28 months. During his confirmation hearing, Gonzales was quick to say he opposed torture in any form. But the question was never whether Gonzales supported torture--it was whether he helped narrow its legal definition so much that he licensed the use of any technique that did not cause grave injury or death. [complete article]

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'The Salvador option'
By Michael Hirsh and John Barry, Newsweek, January 8, 2005

What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon's latest approach is being called "the Salvador option" -- and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can't just go on as we are," one senior military officer told Newsweek. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November's operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency -- as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time -- than in spreading it out.

Now, Newsweek has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration's battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success -- despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.) [complete article]

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U.S. is haunted by initial plan for Iraq voting
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, January 9, 2005

In its struggle to transfer sovereignty back to Iraq last spring, the Bush administration made some tough decisions about the makeup of the political system and how Iraqi elections could occur quickly and fairly. But now a little-noticed decision on election procedures has come back to haunt administration officials, just weeks before the vote is to take place, administration and United Nations officials say.

The fundamental decision set up one nationwide vote for a new national assembly, rather than elections by districts and provinces. [...]

But now, with the violent insurgency and more than 7,000 candidates, many in alliances with other candidates, running for 275 seats nationwide, the disadvantages of the current system are becoming all too apparent, according to American, Iraqi and United Nations officials.

For one thing, these officials say, there is no possibility of postponing the election selectively in those districts gripped by the insurgency. For another, the expected low turnout in perhaps a fifth of the country, where the Sunni minority lives, will presumably lessen the chances of candidates who are popular there.

This problem is discouraging Sunnis from running or campaigning, and a failure of these candidates to win proportionate to their share of Iraq's population, could easily reinforce the Sunnis' alienation from the Shiite majority.

Thus an election intended to bring Iraq together and quell the insurgency could produce the opposite outcome, in part because of the way it has been organized. [complete article]

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U.S. said to hold more foreigners in Iraq fighting
By Douglas Jehl and Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, January 8, 2005

After raids in recent months that captured hundreds of insurgents in Iraq, the United States has significantly increased the number of prisoners it says are foreign fighters, a group the Bush administration contends are not protected by the Geneva Conventions, American officials said.

A Pentagon official said Friday that the United States was now holding 325 foreign fighters in Iraq, a number that the official said had increased by 140 since Nov. 7, just before the invasion of Falluja. Many of the non-Iraqis were captured in or around that city.

Many of them are suspected of links to Al Qaeda or the related terror networks supporting the insurgency in Iraq, senior Bush administration officials said this week.

Some of the non-Iraqis who were involved in the insurgency there could be transferred out of the country for indefinite detention elsewhere, the officials said, as they have been deemed by the Justice Department not to be entitled to protections of the Geneva Conventions. [complete article]

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Tsunami impact on Somalia
By Damon Ansell, The Scotsman, January 8, 2005

Puntland, Somalia, the geographical horn of east Africa, was among the areas of the world rocked by tsunami waves last week. In a region characterised by wide, flat beaches and communities clustered along the Indian Ocean shore, flash-floods and monsoons are no stranger. But no-one in living memory can recall such a force erupting from the sea.

Residents of four cities along the coast - Banderbayla, Gara'ad, Hafun and Alula - suffered losses in the hundreds. Precise information is scarce, but approximately 54,000 Somalis lost their homes, businesses and livelihoods. Even at a distance of 4,500 kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake, tsunami waves washed away roads and disabled parts of Somalia's highly successful wireless telecommunications network.

The natural disaster hit just as Somalia, torn apart by factional wars immortalised in the book and film Black Hawk Down, seemed, ever so slowly, to be finding its own footing. For 14 years, the country lived without a government, ever since Mohamed Siad Barre, a bloody ruler, was thrown out of office in 1991 by the Hawiye clan. The ensuing civil war carved the country, initially formed by a merger of Italian and British colonies, into warlord-ruled territories. Somaliland clans in the area west of Puntland declared independence, and the border between the two regions remains contested. A UN mission provided famine relief, but not peace; the United States hastily pulled out in 1993 when 18 American servicemen were killed in guerrilla fighting with warlord loyalists. [complete article]

In the forgotten ghost town, thousands still wait for aid
By Jason Burke, The Observer, January 9, 2005

They are still bringing out the dead in Meulaboh. Two weeks after the tidal wave that destroyed half the town, days after a stream of international dignitaries had their pictures taken in Banda Aceh, 200 miles to the north west, Meulaboh's ruined streets are still strewn with corpses.

There is no clear-up operation. Shell-shocked residents picked through the rubble of their homes with their own hands. The Observer watched as one householder removed the putrid corpse of a child from a heap of splintered timber outside what was his living room, laying it gently in the street outside. Desultory fires sent acrid smoke pluming into the heavy tropical air. On street corners, heavily armed paramilitary police stood listlessly in the heat, on guard against the desperate and the hungry.

In the overflowing refugee camps that ring the city, rice is rationed to four ounces daily. Aid workers and soldiers say there are thousands more victims outside the city, unable to travel, who have yet to receive any assistance at all since the tsunami struck. [complete article]

Congo, with 4 million dead, watches the world aid Asia
By Bryan Mealer, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), January 8, 2005

Even now, as thousands of children die each week from drinking dirty water and not having enough food, and the people of once-thriving communities hide like the hunted in the forests, the Congolese expect little from the world's big spenders.

But as Congo watches the global scramble to raise billions in aid for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami, many here wonder why Asian suffering stirs action while African suffering is greeted largely with apathy.

The International Rescue Committee, based in New York, said nearly 4 million people have been killed in Congo since the start of five-year war in 1998, most from war-induced disease and starvation. Fighting persists in the county's east, the epicenter of the war, and 1,000 are dying each day, half of them younger than 5.

The tsunami, in comparison, has killed an estimated 150,000 as of yesterday. The disaster was a sudden scourge of nature, while Congo's toll has accumulated slowly, at the hands of man. [complete article]

Storm-battered Bangladesh a model of preparedness
By Gregory Beals, Newsday, January 9, 2005

Walls of water knocked out roads for miles and entire communities were swept away. It took months to bury the bodies of as many as 500,000 men, women and children, who in a matter of hours had succumbed to the 30-foot tidal surges.

This was not the destruction of Dec. 26, when a tsunami slammed into Indonesia and spread an arc of death from Sri Lanka to Somalia. These were the victims of a massive cyclone - one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century - in November 1970 in what is now Bangladesh.

The cyclone and the war of independence that followed in 1971 rendered Bangladesh one of the poorest nations in the world. Surprisingly little was done to prepare for future disasters. Then, another huge cyclone ravaged the country in 1991, leaving 138,000 dead.

Today in Bangladesh, even the most remote villages have access to concrete storm shelters that can withstand 20- to 30-foot floodwaters.

Every child is taught from the third grade what to do in the case of a natural disaster, and the country has more than 35,000 volunteers who are charged with getting people to safety. [complete article]

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Is the world falling out of love with U.S. brands?
By Dan Roberts, Financial Times (via YaleGlobal), January 5, 2005

Joseph Nye, the Harvard academic who coined the phrase "soft power" to describe indirect US influence in the world, likes to recall the dining deliberations of a family in India to explain what he means.

Asked what attracts them to McDonald's, the middle-class parent she cites suggest something more seductive than a Chicken Maharaja Mac and fries cooked in vegetable fat. They say they want to take the children out "for a slice of America".

When burgers can stir such emotional aspirations, it is no accident that 64 of the most valuable 100 global brands, as measured by Interbrand, are owned by US companies. For more than half a century, the US and its products have stood for progress, glamour and freedom in the minds of consumers around the world.

But Mr Nye sees a growing challenge for US companies in the attitudes of people such as John McInally, a Scottish management consultant living in Brussels, whose boycott of US products goes as far as asking that his four-year-old son not be given Coca-Cola at birthday parties.

"I used to have a lot of respect for America; now there is mostly fear," says Mr McInally. "You feel pretty powerless, but the one thing you can do is stop buying American products." [complete article]

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Rude awakening to missile-defense dream
By Scott Ritter, Christian Science Monitor, January 4, 2005

On Christmas Eve 2004, the Russian Strategic Missile Force test fired an advanced SS-27 Topol-M road-mobile intercontinental ballistic Missile (ICBM). This test probably invalidated the entire premise and technology used in the National Missile Defense (NMD) system currently being developed and deployed by the Bush administration, and at the same time called into question the validity of the administration's entire approach to arms control and disarmament. [complete article]

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Bush failing at nuclear security
By Lawrence J. Korb, Boston Globe, January 2, 2005

In the recent presidential campaign, President Bush and Senator John Kerry disagreed on most foreign policy issues. However, both agreed in their second debate that the single gravest national security threat facing the United States is the prospect of a weapon of mass destruction (particularly a nuclear weapon) falling into the hands of a terrorist. As evidence of their success, the Bush administration cites several achievements -- but each of these achievements are revealed to be marginal victories at best when examined more carefully.

First, the administration applauds itself for negotiating the Group of Eight Global Partnership against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Under this arrangement, the United States has agreed to spend $10 billion over the next 10 years to safeguard and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and related materials in the former Soviet Union, while the other seven members agreed to raise another $10 billion. However, what they don't mention is that this agreement does not obligate the United States to spend any funds beyond what it has already spent annually since the end of the Cold War. Similarly, the other G-7 nations are allowed to count the funds they had previously allocated for clean-up in the former Soviet Union as part of their $10 billion contribution. More important, most of the pledged funds have not been allocated, and in any case are woefully short of what is needed: Securing the nuclear materials of Russia (not to mention the other states of the former Soviet Union) will cost $30 billion. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven plus days:

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.

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

India, for example, where nearly 10,000 people are reported dead, has raised eyebrows by turning down international offers of help. As the Indian military launched its biggest-ever peacetime disaster relief operation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he had told President Bush and other world leaders that "as of now we feel we have adequate resources to meet the challenge." He added, "If and when we need their help, we will inform them."

Development workers on the ground suggest that the Indian government is coping without the kind of foreign help that's pouring into neighboring Sri Lanka. "If things were not going well here we would raise the alarm," says Corinne Woods, spokeswoman for the UNICEF. "But everything at this point is working just fine given the circumstances."

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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).

The truth about terrorism
By Jonathan Raban, New York Review of Books, January 13, 2005
In his November 3 victory speech, President Bush, sounding the keynote of his second administration, pledged to "fight this war on terror with every resource of our national power." By saying "this" rather than "the" Bush stressed the palpable, near-at-hand quality of the war whose symbols have grown to surround us in the last three years -- the tilted barrels of security cameras, BioWatch pathogen-sniffers, and all the rest of the technology of security and surveillance that Matthew Brzezinski somewhat overexcitedly details in Fortress America. Voters, at least, have been impressed. Responding to the exit pollers' question "Which ONE issue mattered most in deciding how you voted for president?" 32 percent of Bush supporters named "Terrorism" (as against 5 percent of Kerry supporters), 85 percent of Bush supporters said that the country was "safer from terrorism" in 2004 than it was in 2000, and 79 percent said that the war in Iraq "has improved the long-term security of the United States." Bush's successful conflation of security at home and military aggression abroad, his insistence that Iraq "is the central front of the war on terror," was the bravura rhetorical gambit that drove much of his electoral strategy.

If you live, as I do, in an American city designated as a likely target by the Department of Homeland Security, the sheer proliferation of security apparatus in the streets assures you that there is a war on. Yet the nature and conduct of that war, and the character -- and very existence -- of our enemy, remain infuriatingly obscure: not because there's any shortage of information, or apparent information, but because so much of it has turned out to be creative guesswork or empty propaganda.

Getting an education in jihad
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2004
The handsome, 35-year-old teacher had many things to live for -- a PhD, a steady job, a healthy salary -- but still he decided to leave home, make his way to Syria and then sneak over the border into Iraq, intent on fighting Americans, even if it meant dying in a suicide attack.

In the beginning, the schoolteacher had struggled to decide how he felt about the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It spelled humiliation and sorrow to Arabs. But as an Arab who had tasted the despair of despotism, he had a small spot of hope.

"At first, I thought, 'OK, the Americans want to bring democracy to the region,' " he said.

That was before he turned on the television to the grainy images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. "The human triangle. The woman dragging the man by the leash," said the teacher, a broad man with a clipped beard and intense gaze. "These images affected me deeply. The shame the Americans brought. I was fervently monitoring the TV images, not so much the words as the pictures."

He remembered that President Bush called the war on terrorism a "crusade." He thought about American helicopters being used by the Israeli army to attack Palestinians. And he decided that sitting impotently in Lebanon wasn't enough.

Over dates and sweet coffee in a middle-class living room here, he recently spoke in measured tones about his fervor to fight in behalf of Muslims against U.S. troops -- and his decision to leave the battle in Iraq to make his way home again.

The story of the teacher, who spoke on the condition that neither he nor his hometown be named, reflects the oft-stated notion that the war in Iraq has opened a regional Pandora's box of jihad. In a region where so many people feel helpless before repressive governments and U.S. policy, the road to Iraq has become a trail of independence in the minds of some men, a way for young Muslims to come of age and to join the battles they see on television.

Iraq 2004 looks like Vietnam 1966
By Phillip Carter and Owen West, Slate, December 27, 2004
Soldiers have long been subjected to invidious generational comparison. It's a military rite of passage for new recruits to hear from old hands that everything from boot camp to combat was tougher before they arrived. The late '90s coronation of the "Greatest Generation" -- which left many Korean War and Vietnam War veterans scratching their heads -- is only the most visible cultural example.

Generational contrasts are implicit today when casualties in Iraq are referred to as light, either on their own or in comparison to Vietnam. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, for example, last July downplayed the intensity of the Iraq war on this basis, arguing that "it would take over 73 years for US forces to incur the level of combat deaths suffered in the Vietnam war."

But a comparative analysis of U.S. casualty statistics from Iraq tells a different story. After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966, and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.

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